Chapter One: LOVE
Love is universally accepted as the single most popular topic of storytelling. Writers, Producers, even Politicians bend and weave stories of love with personal worth and value. Love lost, love found, love that ignites and love the brings us to our painful end. The pursuit of happiness; the ultimate achievement. Above all, our life's work is given perspective and purpose once we find that one person, genetically designed, as our perfect match. Our success measured in terms of years love is sustained, and no greater disgrace will be met than in divorce.
As one of love's polemicists I've paid scant attention to that equation. Turned the other cheek and thumbed my nose at the values deeply carved into modern society by church and state, ruled by fear of non-conformity and revered by law makers and big business as the foundation of our democratic nation. I don't fault those who've followed suit, avoiding the pain they perceive they'd endure without love. Fear prevents risk, and a society of fear, avoiding risk is a sedentary one. Following the path of least resistance, governing heads of office rest easy that a coup d'état is unlikely. Modern day love and the union of matrimony is less about the human experience, and more about creature comforts: joint accounts, dual income, shared responsibility. Loneliness averted as the years tick away. Maybe that’s the biggest fear of all; loneliness. Alone with ourselves. Scratching and crawling in discomfort in our own skin.
In the pursuit of happiness, we forgot to stop and get acquainted with ourselves. Which might have led many to make different choices. I see the faces of friends who succumbed to the pressure to marry and they look sullen. They’d tell you they have everything they wanted, but is everything they have really what they wanted or was it society who imposed on them?
I was recently asked why I hadn’t married; my response was simple, “I’ve been too busy living.” Not that being married isn’t living, it’s more that ignoring the pressure to marry gave me room to put a different life in its place.
"Relationships take work" says a friend who is struggling in his marriage. What starts as love's great adventure, bends and shapes itself into something resembling what we commute to each day. The work ethic of our 9-5 selves wiggling its way into our after-work life. No playing around on the clock and when we punch out for The Man we punch in for Love; corporate lingo has become the language for matrimony;[ Examples] a factory of domesticity.
Though erotically speaking, isn’t play is what works?
One of Freud's less popular ponders was the disconnect between our instincts as humans and the rules set forth by society. Consider that marriages are made "legal", so by association isn't the state governing love? It's almost a kind of social suppression; the ultimate conspiracy of government to hold society under its fat little thumb.
A marketing champaign that starts when we're young; taught from as far back as we can remember, that love and commitment is the ultimate portrait of happiness. Fairy tales in the crib and Hollywood spun yarns in every multiplex. It's a search; some sort of scavenger hunt of traits in another human being that we find acceptable for the long haul. What starts in fireworks and romance ends when we decide they fit, and we can "settle" down with that one person. Settle. Settle for the things that don't completely annoy us and behaviors that we can live with. The culmination of this adventure of the human spirit being marriage; without it you're morally cast aside for living in sin.
Be it church, or state, as they are mutually exclusive; in cahoots with one another in this mass marketing of social suppression. Your friends and parents, the great sociological peer pressure group, will then commence convincing you that without babies you're not fulfilling your true self worth. Your individualism becoming less defined with each decision that aligns you with societies expectations. Suddenly that college degree helped you find the great job, you and your loving spouse reproduced a few mini versions of your now combined identities. Toss in that all important debt; a 30 year mortgage and a car payment in the shape of an SUV that you convince yourself is hipper than a mini van, and just like that you’re a complacent member of society living out your years in some manufactured bliss.
Until that bliss comes to a screeching halt in one moment; as you polish off the last drop of scotch and realize it's been 6 months since you've said more than three sentences to your spouse that required any intellect beyond who was picking little Jimmy up from soccer, or ballet. It'll happen, according to a recent census, you've got a one in two chance of failing in your attempt to do what is normal. A marketing campaign with a 50% success rate would have a company rethinking strategies and investments. Likely firing their current PR firm and moving to a sexy new one with more promise. In the technology world that promised us a better life, a product with a 50% return on investment would get that product yanked from shelves, completely redesigned and relaunched with fanfare that included mocking its previous generation and admitting failure to make this new product look even better.
In love, this is called the second marriage.
Does a marriage that ends in divorce so that a second marriage can take place count as a failure?
Who signs a contract for eternity? Locks in an interest rate for life? Our most significant investment, a home, caps out at a 30 year mortgage and in today's economy we only sign up for 5, paying the minimum interest-only so we don't overly commit too much of our weekly paycheck. Yet with our own lives. Our eternal happiness. Our forever, we are willing to give it all to one single person. Humans, with an attention span of 13 minutes and the ability to squeeze a thought into 140 characters. We can't even commit to a safe commute with undistracted drive time because oh lord we've got phone calls that we desperately need to make. We are the same people who, in a matter of months can decide on one person suitable to have sex with for the rest of our lives? How is that a solid business decision? We put more time into the individuals we select as employees. After a series of interviews we select the best possible candidate for that office position. Annually we review them and when they can't carry their weight or their work ethics no longer align with ours, we replace them with a new and excited worker bee. But wives all over the world put up with sub-par chore execution and husbands eat less than innovative meals every single day. Dulled into numbness with the same person day after day. Seven days a week. 365 days a year. For. Fucking. Ever.
It stands to reason that under these conditions, the divorce rate would certainly be much higher if analysts were able to factor in couples who would divorce if it weren't for financial burdens, children and the fear of social ridicule by the neighbors, who by and large, are equally unenthusiastic with their choice for a mate after about 7 years.
This is more than the seven year itch, it's how we are wired. Mortality used to take care if this nasty little discourse. It's simply not good life sense; a contract that restricts the spirit and soul. Confines the heart and body. Slowly chips away at our individualism.
In bourgeois times, marriage was a business arrangement. A contractual agreement that involved the man getting a paid via dowry to take a woman off the hands of her parents. In turn, the woman was "kept"; cared for financially, with the money that her father gave her husband, for performing basic life management skills; cooking, cleaning, looking pretty for the boss and friends. In those days, women weren't equipped with the education to earn, let alone manage their own money, so marriage became key to one's survival.
What's entirely ignored, and very much taboo, is that there was a third in these arrangements; the mistress. She too "kept" to some extent but free to explore other opportunities at will. Providing services that wives tired of, or due to ill suited attractions were less enthusiastic about; intimacy services. Wives were dutiful and loyal. Mistresses, Courtesans, were at-will employees providing playful erotic interactions without the hassle of having to tend to the man's collars and cuffs. Employment was not always guaranteed for a mistress so soft skills were helpful to make ends meet; seamstresses and typist were always needed and some even turned those skills into careers. Without the lulls in Courtesan's employment we'd likely not have some of the fashion trends and revered novels, short stories and poems of those times.
In the late 19th century, the idea of Free Love was introduced; love entered into, and left freely was, of course, considered a rouse for promiscuity as it threaten the social economic structure of the bourgeoisie. It's goal was to separate the state from the sexual choices as they relate to marriage, children and adultery. Eliminating the slavery bonds that marriage had created for women; having no rights to property, assets or even their own children should they leave their husbands. Free Love did not preach polygamy or advocate adultery but merely support the idea that relationships should be entered into freely and not governed by laws.
Though the idea was rift with language of civil disobedience, it does seem to have changed the course of arrange marriages. Love was now given a relevance. A factor in choosing a mate; rather than having ones mate chosen for them. Though as I see it, centuries of breeding and social brain washing eliminated the need for one's parents to negotiate a match, and people naturally did it themselves. Still choosing mates based on social status compatibility and tallied economic scorecards. It was unlikely to meet someone outside of one's social circle simply by the sheer fact that classes separated ill suited mates from one another rather effectively. Sure there is the case of the ugly old rich dude marrying the hot young thing but we can blame the Playboy mansion for likely introducing them. For the most part, we're following the same coupling standards as parents did for centuries choosing mates, only we now factor in the one thing that is unsustainable and most fleeting; romantic love.
Mutual attraction wasn’t important in a marriage until about a century ago. As market economics changed there was less need to get permission to marry because couples didn’t need inheritance or to work parents land. Women also had gained more independence and were able to play more of a contributing role in the economics of marriage.
Still, falling madly in love and marrying because of it makes about as much sense to me as jumping into a pool you're not certain has any water in it. It's risky at best and love will not keep you afloat when your marriage face plants into concrete. True romantic love is fleeting. Wonderful and intoxicating but unsustainable. Look at history; Romeo & Juliet, the icons of unrequited love. Dead because of it.
We've tried to kid ourselves, but even today, marriage is still a business; an enterprise of the human condition. Targeted and inflated by PR firms, Hollywood, politicians and even the church. Modern marriage creates a consumer audience which in turn creates a need for products and services. Even the demise of marriage, divorce, is a lucrative business for lawyers, therapist and the pharmaceutical industry. In order to have a successful marketing campaign, you need to convince your consumer they have a need. Creating a like minded audience and rooting desire in the direction of products or services. It's an impressive approach requiring the coordination of all entities governed, or not, towards the same goal. What was once a business arrangement within a handful of individuals, is now a mega bazillion dollar enterprise, hundreds of years in the making. Weddings, children, mortgages, divorce; everyday companies are getting rich off a decision that you think you made from the heart. It's a conspiracy to the utmost degree; romanticizing the business arrangement of yesteryears into a must have-or-I'll-never-be-fulfilled-as-a-human necessity and you've got a suppressed society you can guide at will. When the outliers raise up against the man, label them with a Scarlett Letter and shun them for daring to be different.
We can't mend our own broken bones so we'd never think of going at sustaining something so revered as marriage without the help of a professional. Enter the Relationship Counselor. We created a need, an industry, a huge section in your local bookstore to help us maintained what historically didn't last much past it's first decade because one, or both participants died. Now that is about the point in time nowadays where we seek help. Ignore the DNR and take heroic actions to resist a love that's flatlined. Poor gobs of money into the economy so we never have to give up our creature comforts. If divorce was commonplace; marriages renegotiated every seven years, would our economy survive? Sure!! Second marriages feed the same wedding industry and at the rate we are all living well into our 80s, add in a few more divorces and a third marriage and JACKPOT, everyone who should get paid still is.
50% of marriages fail, yet in my commitment to escaping the clutches of this emotional and intellectual suppression, I've been labeled a failure. A broken citizen of this morally responsible society. A disappointing contributor earning a Needs Improvement on my life performance review. Left to answer the "What's wrong with you? Why haven't you married yet?" on every first date with the multi-divorcee. "I'm doing my part to not contribute to the divorce rate." I once saw a therapist in an attempt to cure my single-hood. Probably the result of too many of Nora Ephron’s modern romantic comedies, I’d suffered short term brain washing, convinced that these theories were a cover-up for some disease that had plagued me from an early age. An inability to commit. A fear of intimacy. She dug deep; on the edge of her seat waiting with such certainty for the revelation that there had been a childhood trauma. Some mistreatment by an adult. A disconnected father. A distracted mother. Alcoholism. Anger management issues. Anything that would point to my inability to blindly accept this social norm of long term commitment. As a therapist, her job was to listen, probe and remain unbiased. At times, I felt more like she was working for the conspiracy of marriage; a lieutenant in the army of all that is right. Labeling me a misfit; my actions immoral and non- conforming. A behavioral problem that could be suppressed with fists full of Prozac; numbing my desire for my own good. Or more likely to further protect the sanctity of marriage by locking up the floozy running a muck and tempting married men.
I admit, I’ve never been terribly popular with wives, but found their disgruntled husbands enormously good company.
I don't think for a second I can reverse the brainwashing of corporations and governments for the last 150+ years. I do think that I can test the boundaries of an individual's thinking. Provide a different perspective and an allowance for the what society considers a mis-step in the commitment of marriage. I'm not by any means out to degrade or sabotage. To wreck a home would imply that I might desire to have that for myself. I'd prefer whatever commitments made in white in front of invited guests, remain your business, not mine; it's not my job to uphold. Judge me it's what you should do. It's what they want you to do. But don't judge yourself if you find some truth in what I say. Don't curl up in shame for letting go, even for a moment, of everything you have that is so blissfully fulfilling, and wandering into a fantasy of "what-if".
It's the stuff story-telling is made of.
While my now ex-therapist might disagree, I’d not consider myself a failure at love; quite the contrary, I’m lucky to have loved many times. Heartbreak comes with the territory but every ending provides a new beginning. Just because one doesn't marry, doesn't eliminate the opportunity to love. It certainly ensures I'll never divorce and really, who couldn't do without that mess?
Does forever happiness and companionship have to equal marriage?