Waiting for the next upgrade?
[I wrote this post over a year ago, back in February 2013. For whatever reason, I could never muster up the courage to publish it. But I still think these articles are great, so here goes…]
Disclaimer: I’m not married, nor have I been married before. I write this as a single person with limited life experience and an unimpressive relationship track record. I recently read four articles that have validated and further shaped my own fledgling ideas about marriage, and about the relationships that lead to marriage. I wanted to share the articles.
We are living in an age of upgrades. Technology has exploited our longing for perfection, so that we are constantly looking for the newest version, ready to discard the current model as outdated and no longer satisfactory. We expect instant gratification. Things that require patience and effort are dismissed as obsolete versions, and we look for the thing that will meet our needs the most effectively, with the least amount of personal inconvenience. If we don’t like what we have, we look for the next upgrade to something better.
Is it possible that this mindset has permeated our approach to relationships as well? Is it possible that one of the reasons why singleness is a growing trend is because we fear being stuck with an “outdated version” of a spouse? Or because we are engaged in a frustratingly futile search to find the “next upgrade” that most conveniently and effectively meets our needs (while requiring little to no effort from us)?
Sharing these articles became important to me because they challenge a lot of general modern misconceptions about what it takes to make a relationship work. I’ve shared quotes that I particularly like from each one, but I hope you will take the time to read them all in their entirety.
Three things anyone should know before they get married, I’d imagine. This article challenges the concept of what it means to live “happily ever after.”
“Although happiness is often a very real byproduct of a healthy relationship, marriage has a far more significant purpose in sight. It is designed to pull dysfunction to the surface of our lives, set it on fire and help us grow.”
“Along the way, we happened upon a derailing hypothesis that goes something like this: If one makes their husband or wife priority number one, all other areas of life benefit. […] Notably, on the days my wife genuinely felt valued, I observed her advocating for me to invest deeply in to my work. She no longer saw our relationship and my career pursuits as competitors for my attention, and as she partnered with me in my career, I have experienced the benefits of having the closest person in my life champion me.”
“The next time you find yourself dreaming about living significantly or succeeding in your career or being a better parent than yours were to you, do the world a favor: Go home and love your wife. Go home and and love your husband.”
It is a sad and scary thing to see couples discarding their relationships based on a misunderstanding of what it means to be compatible. This article challenges our notions of “compatibility.” Don’t miss the forest of who your partner is simply because you chose to fixate on one hacked-down stump.
Describing marriage as “two flawed people coming together to create a space of stability, love and consolation, a ‘haven in a heartless world,'” and challenging the idea of “looking for someone who will accept them as they are, complement their abilities and fulfill their sexual and emotional desires,” this article suggests that “a marriage based not on self-denial but on self-fulfillment will require a low- or no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you.”
“Why would it be easy to live lovingly and well with another human being in light of what is profoundly wrong within our human nature? […] So the biblical doctrine of sin explains why marriage—more than anything else that is good and important in this fallen world—is so painful and hard.”
So, please. Read this article before you decide to follow through with whatever half-baked “justification” you are currently contemplating as an excuse to avoid the challenge to love better.
This article uses the movie “The 5 Year Engagement” to analyze the growing culture of “singletons” and the misconceptions of where marriage fits into our sense of individuality. I’ve not seen the movie, but I like the point that the author makes.
“Under the impression that marriage will be right when both are self-fulfilled (or when things “slow down,” or upon “getting there”), they both paradoxically lose themselves…”
“It is evident here that being alone is simply not enough: celebrations are by definition gatherings of people, doing things together. Being singletons, we still want to go home at the end of the night to our own orbital safehouse—television, toothbrush, Twitter—but we do want to be loved by the people we love, at least before we turn in. […] Look at me, love me, but leave me alone. […] All of a wedding celebration—the ceremony and reception, the gifts and guests, the toasts and dancing shoes—is not so much a celebration of the persons as much as it is the celebration of their decision to let go and be known. Rather than Love me, leave me alone, it is the sacrament of that Love that will not let me be alone.”
I like this article’s treatment of love as a choice.
“The most dangerous part about the myth of falling in love is that it is based on a definition that has no sense of predictability or control. It offers no guarantees. If you can fall into it, you can surely fall out of it. […] The truth is, love was never just intended to be, it was intended to do. […] Frankly, it’s the hardest verb you will ever do. It’s a verb that requires a selflessness and altruism beyond any other experience on earth. It’s a verb that is not always felt but must always be chosen. It is a commitment to do what is right, even though the one standing before you may be entirely undeserving.”
If you are married, or thinking about getting married, or dream of getting married someday, I hope that you will spend the 15 minutes it probably takes to read through these articles. If you are feeling dissatisfied with your current relationship, I hope you will read these articles. Maybe, just maybe, one of them might uncover the root of your dissatisfaction, and help you determine how you will deal with it going forward. If you are single, I hope you will read these articles. Maybe they will help you cultivate a mindset of what to expect going into your next relationship – what to look for, what the real deal-breakers are. Maybe they will help prepare you for when your partner inevitably messes up and you realize that he/she is not the vision of perfection they seemed to be when you were first infatuated with them. Remember, you aren’t perfect and neither is your significant other. People are not pieces of technology to be discarded when they “malfunction” or “stop working.” There isn’t something better just around the corner. Relationships aren’t about upgrading, they are about investing in each other, caring for each other, and encouraging one another to grow within a safe space of security and support.
I can’t find the right words to conclude this. So, at the risk of invalidating my point by referencing a romantic comedy, I’ll borrow from Beverly Clark:
“We need a witness to our lives […] In a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”
Or how about this, from Inception, when Cobb talks about trying to recreate a dream-version (literally) of his wife through his imagination and memories:
“But I can’t imagine you with all your complexity, all you perfection, all your imperfection. Look at you. You are just a shade of my real wife. You’re the best I can do; but I’m sorry, you are just not good enough.”
If we are always waiting for the partner we have dreamed of to materialize – the “something better” that is supposed to be “just around the corner” – we sell ourselves short and do others a disservice by settling for a shadow of reality rather than embracing what is living, breathing, imperfect, and wonderfully real.