Believing that Marriage Will Improve Your Relationship is the Wrong Reason to Get Married

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Because the world is a mysterious place, they have given that dude who wrote Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus an advice column. Who are “they”? I don’t know. People who are reassured by “logic” that basically boils down to “Men be watchin’ football, bitches be shoppin’,” I guess.

And because I only deserve nice things part of the time, I read this advice column. The fact that anyone would ask this stooge for tips on how to unclog a garbage disposal, let alone how to fix one’s relationship, shocks me into a long, slow rubberneck practically every time. But one letter in particular has stuck with me since I read it. In this letter, “Kissless” in Colorado wonders why getting married didn’t magically make her husband want to kiss her all the time?

She writes:

“I felt his kisses were a bit reserved while we were dating, but I thought over time they would become more passionate as we got closer and closer in our relationship. When that didn’t happen, I started telling him what I wanted and asking him why he wouldn’t kiss me passionately.”

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A year into their marriage, she’s fantasizing about other dudes and doesn’t “want to do something stupid that will jeopardize our marriage.” As we say in Texas: bless this lady’s heart. She’s already done “something stupid.” She got married. To a dude she knew wasn’t interested in giving her the kind of physical intimacy she wanted.

Marriage doesn’t automatically “fix” what’s wrong with your partner. Marriage isn’t going to make a cheater commit. Marriage isn’t going to make a deadbeat get a job. Marriage won’t make anyone smarter, funnier, more charming, more thoughtful, more anything you want them to be besides … more married.

Marriage and its attendant traditions and expectations have changed significantly just in the last one hundred years or so.

Marriage turns single people who do shit that annoys their partners into married people who do shit that annoys their partners.

Now, couples who have good, open, trusting lines of communication with their partners will address this annoying shit. They’ll say: “I love when you do this, but I hate when you do that other thing, can we find a way to talk about it and maybe make some changes?” And they will actually talk about it and work through it, and they know whether the problem is being addressed or whether they’re hoping putting a ring on it will put a sock in it. I’m not worried about the good communicators. They’re fine. I’m worried about the people who think, She’ll stop being so work-focused after the honeymoon or He’ll change his mind about kids in a few years.

I wonder at people who get engaged because they want things to change, and not because they want things to stay the same. When I think back to the night Patrick and I decided to get married, I remember most of all thinking, while sitting out on the porch of the lake house, sipping on Jim Beam and holding his hand in a lawn chair: Please let my life never be different than this, with this man.

If I had any apprehension going into our wedding day, it was “What if marriage changes everything?” and not, “Please, let marriage change something.” I’m plenty open to change, and I expect that our life together will bring us a few surprises. But fundamentally I want to meet the future with the man I married, not the man I hope he turns into someday.

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What about the flip side to the “Kissless” letter? Here’s the imagined husband’s version: “I felt her kisses were a little aggressive while we were dating, but I thought over time they would become more reserved as we got closer and closer in our relationship.” You can’t think or hope or expect or marry anyone into changing; you can talk and work with people into seeing if that’s something they’re willing to do. If, in the end, they’re not changing, for whatever reason? Either accept them as they are and drop the issue forever, or don’t marry ‘em in the first place.

But I don’t feel like I can especially fault people who see a wedding as a cure to what ails their relationship, amazed as I might be by anyone who thinks an incompatible kisser is going to be helped by a legal arrangement dressed up with flower arrangements. Because the life that the Wedding Industrial Complex sells us is a life of magical perfection. How else do you get people to buy $10,000 dresses and splurge on the monogrammed napkins, if not to convince them that they’re all just parts of the greatest investment ever?

Our lives aren’t rom-coms or pages from pretty wedding magazines; they’re messy and awkward and lovely and fun.

Marriage and its attendant traditions and expectations have changed significantly just in the last one hundred years or so. Today, we fully expect the vast majority of marriages to be based on mutual love, rather than financial, political or social convenience or obligation. And we expect love to conquer all.

I’ve no doubt that folks who, in years past, entered into marriage out of convenience or obligation hoped their partners would change. But did they expect it? Did they have a plethora of wedding magazines and dress-shilling reality specials painting pretty pictures of their shiny new futures? I can’t help but think that the WIC grows ever stronger with each publication of Modern Bride and season of bridal expos, convincing a new crop of people that a party’s going to convince someone to have five kids or pay down their debt in a timely fashion.

Whatever happened in the past — hell, maybe affianced folks have always believed that marriage would change their intendeds — I think today’s relentless hard-sell of the wedding fantasy (and the fantasy wedding) must play an important part in convincing people that a wedding, and marriage, will turn their lives from mundane to magical.

And it comes at us from all angles, from the relentless Facebook ads (I’m still getting them, nine months after my wedding) to the thin, white, beautiful model-brides staring out from the magazine rack, to the precious earnestness of the “alternative” wedding community (of which you will find me a member). The shill is the same: A wedding! The answer to problems you both did and didn’t know you had!

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Because we so rarely talk about not getting married as a reasonable life decision. After all, there’s nothing special to sell to people who just get on with their lives, dating or not dating, cohabitating or not cohabitating, breaking up or giving it another shot. There’s no once-in-a-lifetime dress you buy because you rented a condo. There’s no white dove release for a graduate degree. Nobody wears a tuxedo because the company softball team took first place.

I saw a preview earlier this week for “The Bachelor,” wherein the announcer teased us with some truly risible bullshit about the upcoming season of ultimate romance, red roses, making out on a beach, crying hysterically in limousines, all that stuff people associate with true love. I wonder if part of the success of the show is that, at the end, they don’t send the couple off to, you know, go on some proper dates and see how they feel about things. They’re sent off to get married, because that’s what happens in the sequel.

But there doesn’t have to be a sequel, y’all. Our lives aren’t rom-coms or pages from pretty wedding magazines; they’re messy and awkward and lovely and fun. The WIC gets us to buy all kinds of stuff we can’t even resell for a tenth of the price on eBay. Anybody want 12 whiskey-stained navy blue polyester tablecloths? I’ll throw in 80 gold polyester napkins as a bonus. But it also sells us the idea that marriage is a cure-all for what ails our relationships, or for what we think ails our partners.

Me? I’m fine with hanging on to the tablecloths and napkins, same as I’ll hang on to Patrick’s snoring, and his tireless dedication to taking the long way home.

— Andrea Grimes

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This post originally appeared on The Frisky.