No-Fault Marriage

When a columnist discusses marriage, the piece usually captures my attention, at least for a few paragraphs. John Hawkins’ recent essay — Why I’m Glad I Haven’t Gotten Married … Yet — provided an interesting perspective.

I don’t know Hawkins … his post indicates he’s a thoughtful man who acknowledges his hope to marry one day. He explains how his (un)employment and personal development necessarily have dictated (for the time being) a lower priority for matrimony.

Laudable. Reminds me of Dirty Harry (aka Clint Eastwood) in Magnum Force: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” Hawkins reflects insight and the sagacity with which one should approach the prospect of marriage.

When Hawkins justifies his pause, he is well-advised. Alas, I am driven to nit-pick, especially because Hawkins cites “the ramifications of divorce up close … ” as a possible rationale for remaining single — and safe?

I don’t think Hawkins intended it, but follow the implicit logic:

  1. If people must be married in order to divorce,
  2. and some marriages end in divorce,
  3. therefore, marriage causes divorce.

Hmm. Is divorce ugly/awful/devastating? Absolutely! But please don’t condemn the institution of marriage because some couples divorce. Don’t minimize the holiness and grandeur of marriage due to the stain of divorce.

Our culture uses absurd language to sanitize D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Divorced individuals adopt impersonal verbiage:  “we grew apart” or “we fell out of love.” (Interpretation:  “It’s not my fault.”)

Hawkins utilizes similarly impersonal language, noting “marriages implode” and the horror of seeing a “relationship shatter despite your best efforts.”

Speaking from more than 41 years married, I bristle when someone tells me so-and-so’s “marriage failed.” Hogwash! Marriages don’t fail! People do. We’re selfish, frequently indifferent, and geared from birth to want our own way. When a couple marries, they aren’t automatically less selfish. That’s why people shouldn’t get married on a whim.

Hawkins will never know what might have been, had he married when he was a younger man.

But when and if this man marries — in six months or a decade — he should know this:  marriage transforms. The wedded state is a unique laboratory wherein the lives of two distinctly different and mostly ordinary people are altered by an inexplicable and majestic oneness (a oneness that even the “finality” of a divorce decree cannot completely obliterate).

Over a lifetime together, married couples learn that both the pinnacles of joy and the depths of pain exist in close proximity, that growing up and growing old are more tolerable when shared, that we become better people by honoring our marriage vows (even when there are a thousand reasons to forsake those vows), that a good marriage requires tenacity every single day but the rewards are lifelong, that love can and does grow more precious with each milestone along the way.

Mr. Hawkins, contemplate marriage with caution, but once you’ve tied the knot, the words of the Scottish Wedding Prayer are instructive:  Lord, help us to remember when we first met and the strong love that grew between us. To work that love into practical things so that nothing can divide us. We ask for words both kind and loving and hearts always ready to ask forgiveness as well as to forgive. Dear Lord, we put our marriage into your hands.

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