On the goodness of marriage

Three years, three months and fourteen days ago I stood before my God, my family and my lifelong friends to swear an oath to protect and care for Emily all the days of my life. I took my wife’s hand from her father’s, signifying he and her mother’s primary role in the welfare of Emily was at an end and it was now upon my shoulders to see to her physical and emotional needs. She then swore to do much the same for me, acknowledging before those we love that she would share the burdens and joys of marriage till she or I plotz. I have regretted a few things I have said, done or not done in our marriage, however the decision to marry my Emily remains the best decision I have ever made or will make.

It is a difficult thing to convey to those who have not witnessed good weddings or marriages. From the outside they can seem like a ghastly expense, an impediment to happiness or a cancerous, damaging institution for all those involved, be they the couple themselves or the children trapped in the cross-fire. I am truly sorry that this may have been your experience and I wish it were not so for you. 

All that considered, I would say that marriage is the single greatest thing a person can do. It demands your time, your resources and your patience. To be married is to submit ourselves to the close scrutiny of someone who knows our every flaw, a humbling and grounding thing. In the words of the late, great G.K. Chesterton, “I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable.” 

There are parts of me that my wife would like removed with a red-hot poker, like my penchant for using a Mickey Mouse voice in otherwise serious discussions. This is her burden to bear, and she bears it well. She has a chronic heart condition, and would I prefer a fictional Emily without such a difficult diagnosis? Yes, but this is the woman I have chosen and every day is a chance to serve her and be cognizant of her needs. I am incredibly proud of her as she teaches full-time to fifth graders — nature’s demon-spawn in utero. 

There are practical advantages as well. We pay far less in rent and groceries on a per-person basis, there are tax benefits and you do not have to turn the heat up as high in winter because there is another warm body in the bed. Built-in heat, great stuff for cold Wisconsin nights. But one does not have to get married to share a bed or rent, right?

In the immortal and frustrating words of all professors everywhere, “Yes and no.” Marriage creates a higher threshold of buy-in. I had to date my wife, buy a rock, figure out how to propose, propose in White Sands, NM, deal with wedding planning — thankfully I was still in the Navy and she and her mom handled most of it — and then stand in front of all of these people and give my word to do this marriage thing. I have invested in this relationship and its success far more than texting, “Hey, wanna move in? We can share rent and stuff.” 

Because of this higher threshold, my wife doesn’t have to worry that a particularly expensive Target trip on her part — with throw pillows and other sundry house decorations — does not mean I’m walking out the door with my bag. Instead, I have enough invested to say, “Hey, could we maybe roll back the influx of throw pillows? I’d really appreciate it.” A housemate has no reason to stick with you long-term, especially if you are annoying; a spouse has an interest in your betterment because they have to live with you. 

But is marriage not a patriarchal institution hell-bent on the oppression of women? No, marriage is liberating for both parties involved. It gives us room to develop, to share the load and saves us a lot of time otherwise spent trying to get into other people’s pants. In marriage, you already know whose pants you’re getting into and they are nice pants, comfy pants — the best kind of pants. If marriage were inherently patriarchal and oppressive, do you think all of these brilliant and incredibly well-educated professors at Lawrence would be married, a good number with kids of their own? I think not. Marriage is a mediating institution if you let it be, taking the best and the worst of two people and improving them over the course of many years.

So, dear reader, I wish for you a happy marriage someday. May it bring you joy, and may you be bettered by it. Thank you for reading, I can be contacted at abell@lawrence.edu with any feedback you may have. Cheers!

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