Marriage is like undies, it’s all about strong bonds
Imagine if marriage were like a passport or a driver’s license; every five or 10 years, you have to fill in paperwork to renew it, or you can choose to walk away, no questions asked.
This ingenious idea was raised at my book-club meeting, although it bore no relevance to the novel we were discussing.
“Marriages wouldn’t slide into such a state of disrepair if you had to recommit to them once a decade,” said a friend in a diversionary tactic (like me, she hadn’t finished the book).
Previously, a wedding band emotionally enclosed a couple, but now everyone is talking about marriage. The “glass shade” that E.M. Forster says “cuts off married people from the world” has smashed on our polished concrete floors. Whereas once we could only observe others – “Jane and Mark were very affectionate at dinner” – today’s social candour is stripping marriage bare.
At a recent dinner with two couples I’d never met before, one guest suggested we get to know each other by stating our partner’s worst trait. I’m freakin’ serious! Fortunately, my mate James insisted we focus on “positive attributes” instead.
The most bizarre conversation ensued, in which I learnt my companions were variously “spontaneous”, “unfailingly generous” and, er, talented at oral pursuits. (My husband, who loathes this sort of navel-gazing, said something so shockingly unromantic, I sulked for 24 hours.)
There’s an openness afoot: “My husband and I regularly see a therapist,” a woman told me upon meeting her for the first time. “I’m determined to be faithful,” said a divorced mate on the eve of his second wedding.
A new year typically brings reappraisals – new body, hair, job… same exasperating marriage. But this is more than that; marriage has been under the microscope for months. In Australia, who can marry has tentacled into talk about the worth of marriage. In the UK, an attempt to recast marriage as a post-romantic pact idealising the stable over the sublime has set off passion punters. (I dare say Downton Abbey has spurred things on a bit.)
Marriages, as I see it, are like underpants. Does it matter if they grow comfy, grey and a bit saggy around the crotch? Or should they remain frivolous, jaunty, urgent – more Victoria’s Secret than tummy-concealing Bonds?
Last month, the UK’s The Sunday Times ran an essay arguing that since so many of us now come to marriage “preloved and previously heartbroken”, we need to be more pragmatic.
“Maybe marriage can be semi-happy and forever, or maybe it can be blissfully happy and not forever,” wrote Pamela Haag. Perhaps it is, she continued, “more friendship, less sizzle”. Think the Clintons, rather than the Blairs (Cherie has charmingly revealed Tony “still excites me in all possible ways”).
I’m sorry, but all this “settling for” and “good enough” is annoying the pants off me (often Bonds but never saggy). Eleven years in, of course it’s not all spice, but I don’t want a bland, mashed-potato marriage. Or, as a friend describes: “It’s as if we’re odd socks with no hope of finding our pair.”
Marriage doesn’t come with a manual, so we have to learn on the job. What if we gave it the attention we give to our careers? What relationship wouldn’t benefit from some upskilling and brainstorming? Marriage may have gone through a modern mauling, but how much more care would we take if we knew it was something we had to renew?
Catch Angela Mollard on Weekend Today, Sundays at 7am on the Nine Network. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/angelamollard
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