Forgive me some philosophical musings, but a couple of recent events have rekindled a line of thinking.
[Note an important caveat, the following post is based mostly on my thoughts and observations, not from my experience. This is a critical distinction.]
Ten days ago, to modest fanfare, Prince William, the future King of England, married Kate Middleton. Yesterday, another celebrity couple's marriage all but ended when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver announced their separation. They have been married for 25 years.
On reading the news today, I couldn't help but contrast these two marriages because it brings up a central dilemma that has dominated my adult thinking: how can you be sure that a marriage will succeed? I've never been married, so I can't attempt to answer that question. And I won't write about what I don't know. Instead, think about all the hoopla surrounding the Royal Wedding.
I'm sure much of the attention in Britain and the rest of the world is the result of the princess/fairy tale nature of this type of (rare) wedding, but that aside, in many ways this event differs only in scale from most other weddings. After all, weddings are accompanied by large celebrations. Perhaps the largest celebrations the bride and groom will ever experience. I see weddings as an occasion for celebration because the wedding, representing the marriage, is a great symbol of hope. As I've written before, hope is that intrinsic human ability to see better for the future. Marriage at it's core is about hope. The belief that you have found lasting love, happiness, and companionship in someone else. That there is someone you can share your life with. That your marriage will succeed.
Divorce is the opposite; a disappointment, indeed the greatest of disappointments.The realization that love, happiness, companionship do not last forever. I choose my words carefully here, divorce isn't the greatest tragedy, worse things can happen, the death of a loved one for instance, but I doubt anything can ever be as disappointing.
I find it deeply unsettling that such antithetical perspectives, the highest hope and the deepest disappointment, are so intimately attached to marriage. Most of the people we know are, have been, or will be married at some point. And we all know marriages that have failed. What does this teach us? What guarantees are there that a happy wedding day won't lead to a discouraging split? Surely, relationships are doomed without dedication, work, loyalty, trust, and many other similar behaviors and attitudes. But is that enough?
By most estimates, somewhere between 40% and half of American marriages end in divorce. One could reasonably assume that a sizable proportion (10-20%?) of those marriages that don't end in divorce would be described by one or both spouses as unsatisfying for one reason or another. So half or more of marriages fail. That's a depressing statistic.
Nevertheless, I'll get married. I have hope that marriage can succeed (I only have to look to my parents for the finest exemplar of marital achievement). The same hope that captivated the world watching William and Kate. Disappointments like divorce are part of life, but they can't, and more accurately, they won't stop us from reaching for the better.
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