Monday, May 17, 2010

Thoughts on Marriage - The Screwtape Letters: XVIII

In The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, specifically in letter XVIII, Screwtape describes how they have undermined the institution of marriage:
We have done this through the poets and novelists by persuading the humans that a curious, and usually short-lived, experience which they call "being in love" is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding.
And later:
... thanks to us, the idea of marrying with any other motive [than being in love] seems to them low and cynical. Yes, they think that. They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion.

I have rejected many (many being highly relative) people that are good matches on paper simply because I didn't feel that spark. Having felt that spark - sometimes incredibly intensely, I really do feel that is the way it should be. I want to marry someone whose presence is all I desire. I want my first thought upon seeing her to be "I want to hold her hand." I think the key is the second half of the first quote: "...marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding." That attitude is a major problem for the institution of marriage. It's not reasonable to expect a feeling to last, unchanged, forever. Still, I think marriage should definitely start with that excitement.

On the other hand, I understand the pressure to find someone so as to not be alone, or because your biological clock is ticking, or both, or other. There are also plenty of stories of arranged marriages resulting in two people loving each other very much. In short, it does not appear that that excitement is necessary for a successful, happy marriage. "[T]he intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life" might really be a sound basis for marriage. I think that feeling of being completely in love might be necessary for me, though.

It really boils down to whether or not I feel like I'm settling, I think. Having felt that intense love, would it ever be OK for me to marry someone I simply love? Having dated someone, would it be fair to either me or another person if I married someone I didn't think was quite as spectacular? Having merely known someone I can find no fault in, have I limited myself to the 0.00001% of the population I find absolutely perfect? Or do I just find these people perfect because I'm already in love?

I think I only have more questions left, so I will open this up for discussion. Do you think love is necessary before marriage, or do you trust that it will develop? How intensely should love be felt at various stages in the relationship? When do you move your standards up or down when single? I've been assuming so far that monogamous marriage is the goal because it's my goal, but feel free to discuss alternatives to traditional marriage, too.


Chris said...

well, sir, this is a rather random and intense blog post. At least random to one such as I who's been out of the blog-o-sphere for a while. Certainly more intense than the two surrounding it, but I didn't look farther than that.

Love. Love love love love love. I believe that what you are describing throughout most of your blog post is more along the lines of infatuation dubbed "love" more so than, where I'm coming from, the sense of love that I feel called to as a gent who attempts to follow Christ whenever I manage to stop running around looking for Him and finally consent that I am blind and simply let Him lead me. This type of love is absolutely necessary for a marriage* because it's a love that not only sees the best of the person, but also the worst of the person so that they can help that person become better.

True love doesn't seek to appease the beloved in hopes of having the beloved return the same appeasement. That's just some cold arrangement for mutual benefit.

If you dated someone in the past who was perfect, you certainly shouldn't have married them because you certainly didn't know them. The more perfect you think a person is the more you're going to be disappointed when you finally see their "dark side". I would affirm your possibly rhetorical question of, "Or do I just find these people perfect because I'm already in love?" operating under the assumption that by saying "in love" you are actually infatuated with them.

And yes, when we're infatuated with someone they can do no wrong. That is where I believe Mr. Lewis to be coming from. The bigger the initial spark of infatuation, the more deceived and tricked the parties will feel once the spark is gone and they find themselves committed to someone who's just as imperfect as they are, and likely in most of the same areas, and since we hate to see reflections or have reminders of our own short-comings the marriage get's the snip.

"I'll tell you you don't look fat. You tell me my dick's big. We'll go the movies twice a month. We'll have some friends over every month and laugh at each others jokes. Deal? I'll use you and in return I'll let you use me. Sound good?" And I know that's exactly not what you're talking about, but it can end up that way fairly easily.

Certainly this might not still apply to you, but if you come at marriage from a Christian standpoint - an actual Christ-following standpoint and not the moral-code Christian religion of today - then you want them to be the best they can be, but you always love them because they're never gonna be the best they can be. You don't try to change them to suit your needs, you don't try to use they're downfalls as leverage in arguments to get them to concede to whatever it is you want them to concede, you love them as Christ loves us. Always with open arms but always demanding that they stop their sinning. Helping them become who Christ wants them to be, not trying to wear them down until they're malleable enough to be bent to the shape that suits you best.

Love love love. So cheap a word these days. Humbug.

*this all from a man who is not married or anywhere close to finding himself in a relationship

eis271828 said...

I admit that I have fallen victim to the imprecise nature of the English language, especially surrounding the word "love." In some places, I am talking about attraction/infatuation more, and in others I mean to talk about a deeper love. I think either definition fits in most places as far as sparking discussion. I don't think the two types of love are mutually exclusive, either.

I'm pretty sure I reject the assertion that perceived perfection implies infatuation. First, I think there is a difference in our use of the word perfection. When I used it in the blog post, I was referring to the criteria we all have in evaluating potential partners, and knowing someone that meets them all superbly. For me, that's a non-smoker, no drugs, kind, intelligent, generally attractive to me, self-aware, etc. Nothing too specific. But even in the details, there's a difference between infatuation and full acceptance and appreciation; both of which can result in perceived perfection.

Is (was?) Summer Glau's mole an imperfection to be removed(?), or is (was?) it another wondrous feature of her overall attractive face? I'm not infatuated with Summer Glau - I know very little about her - but I accepted her face with the mole, and appreciated it as part of the larger beauty. A trivial example, perhaps, but applicable in general. It leads nicely into my next topic. Does it matter what I accept and/or find beautiful? If the mole is interfering with Summer's ability to appreciate herself, should she get (have gotten?) it removed? In that case, what can/should I do but accept her face again and support her decision as long as it doesn't interfere with her acting - i.e., her relationship with me as far as it goes?

In the same way, it really seems to be a person's own self-awareness that matters. Yes, you should feel comfortable telling a partner, or a friend, things to contribute to their self-awareness. There are people, though, that are as close to perfect as I've ever imagined. And it's not for a lack of investigation - at every level they remain absolutely amazing. I would be happy to point out any problems, or help them overcome any problems they think they have, but I really haven't noticed anything non-trivial. I have noticed that the set of items I consider trivial tends to be larger than most other people's, though.

From a Christian point of view, we are not supposed to judge others, for we do so imperfectly. 1 Samuel 16:7, as an example; Matthew 7:1 as another. Should I really find fault in anyone, beyond the obvious? When it comes to potential partners, there are incompatibilities, to be sure. Perhaps I should have used that instead of "faults." The English language sucks!

I also don't think you need to approach marriage from a Christian standpoint to match your last major paragraph. It sounds basically like you shouldn't be selfish or manipulative, and you should want what's best for them. That's just common decency. Or not so common, these days, perhaps.

Chris again said...

Well, sir, once expanded and explained, most points seem quite fair. Though to the last paragraph, I do fear it falls to the not-so-common side, these and past days.