I’ve been trying to find various tabs I can close, thinking that it would be sensible to declutter all my technology for some reason, and rediscovered a bleak piece of writing that I might as well comment on before I dispatch it. It is about marriage and you can find it in the NYTimes. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but somehow I wasn’t able to laugh:
And then our dashing hero begins to hold forth on “the learning sciences” — how I hate that term! — and he quickly wilts before my eyes into a cursed academic, a cross between a lonely nerd speaking some archaic language only five other people on earth understand and a haunted ice cream man, circling his truck through the neighborhood in the dead of winter, searching for children. I see Bill with a scorching clarity that pains me. This is why surviving a marriage requires turning down the volume on your spouse so you can barely hear what they’re saying. You must do this not only so you don’t overdose on the same stultifying words and phrases within the first year, but also so your spouse’s various grunts and sneezes and snorts and throat clearings don’t serve as a magic flute that causes you to wander out the front door and into the wilderness, never to return.
This part was super depressing:
Do I hate my husband? Oh for sure, yes, definitely. I don’t know anyone who’s been married more than seven years who flinches at this concept. A spouse is a blessing and a curse wrapped into one. How could it be otherwise? How is hatred not the natural outcome of sleeping so close to another human for years?
Oh, and this:
“Well, speak for yourself. I don’t hate my husband,” one of you holier-than-thou marrieds might announce, folding your hands primly in your lap. Do you think I can’t see your left eye twitching ever so slightly, as you resolve to never let each little irritation add up and move into your conscious mind like a plastic bag floating out to sea and then joining the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? I admire your restraint. But you can’t spend 17 years with someone as noisy as my husband and never let it get under your skin. Yes, of course I also love him. And for years, I couldn’t remotely imagine a suitable replacement for all of those bad noises.
The piece then wanders into the depressing account of how this person and her husband and their daughters took a trip to Australia where they hated everything but it was ok in the end. They didn’t get divorced, she just sort of was fine with everything:
So I resolve to let everyone squawk and caw until they get bored, or become distracted, or fall asleep, or cheer up. And when Bill says the wrong thing, I think, Forgive him, forgive yourself, let it go. It’s harder than it sounds. But during these conversations, Bill looks handsome to me again. He sounds like someone I’m still in love with. The feeling comes back. The camera zooms in, the focus sharpens, charming little details emerge. I remember why I chose him. In spite of everything, he’s still my favorite person. I can see why we’re together. We might stay this way forever.
Why is this bleak, you may ask? If a person can’t go to the New York Times to complain about the people closest to her, what can she do? Everyone needs to complain sometimes. And marriage is hard.
I mean, I know marriage is hard, and devastating sometimes. It’s true that the capacity to be hurt by another person comes into its sharpest focus in marriage, even before you add in the possibilities of being hurt by your offspring, if you have them. It’s almost as if marriage was peculiarly designed to deal out a pain that no other kind of life can produce. And it was foolish of previous generations to paint the institution in too rosy a hue, if that’s what they did, or to make it the be-all and end-all of one’s existence. As the assumptions about what it means to be happy shapeshift, a new case for marriage has to be made that doesn’t fluff over the hard bits.
Still, I think what depresses me about pieces like this comes down to two points. The first is that as the word ‘love’ flattens to refer exclusively the feelings one has about oneself and other people, hate is less and less a discomfiting emotion. It is increasingly ok to ‘hate’ people and things. I find that this is not a very good look–not only for people who claim to be Christian, but for all people, even the ones like this person who writes for the NYTimes. Even if it is just an emotional feeling, like the emotional feeling of love, it can be quite strong, and, well, if I’m allowed to say it, it’s ugly. Reading this particular article, I don’t come away disliking the husband so much as the writer, who is able to let everyone know how good she is for not leaving such an unpleasant man. Couldn’t there be some other kind of writing about love? Surely no one would bother to get married if this is what it is like. Or is that the point?
Which brings me to the second source of my depression–happy marriage requires a third party, God. I don’t want to be exclusive or anything, but if you want to have a happy and satisfying marriage where hate gives way to love–Twwuuueee Wuvvv–you need to have God, who is love, to come along to help you. And that is because both parties in any marriage are, by nature, ugly. Marriage will show you the other person’s ugliness, but it is meant to show you your own also. This, as I said, is painful, and why the thing should not be entered into lightly. Love isn’t just a feeling. It is an action. It is the emptying of oneself for the other over and over and over. It is the reflection of God’s nature, that he himself emptied himself for our sake.
So anyway, I will just say that I have never hated the person I am married to, nor my children. I have been frustrated and sometimes disappointed, and hurt on occasion. But I have never felt the kinds of feelings described by the writer of this piece. I suppose that makes me into some bad person. But I think rather that it is that I have always been pulled away from myself by Jesus, first, and then by the blessings of a husband and children. I haven’t ever had to think about any people the way she does. It hasn’t ever occurred to me. Birds on the other hand–yes–they are loud and someone should do something about them.
Have a nice day!