I was once a fan of “all-consuming love”.
I used to think that for a marriage to be successful there must be an intense connection and passion between the partners. When I read online that romantic love – loving as the Romans do – was once considered an extramarital phenomenon which could not mix with the seriousness of matrimony, I thanked God that I was born much later. For me, marriage was simply an extension of a delightful, passionate, fun-filled relationship; a way of making this bliss more permanent.
Years down the line in matrimony, I’ve come to discover that marriage works very differently from relationships. In fact, what makes for a good romantic relationship does not necessarily make for a good marriage.
The not-so-romantic truth is that marriage is a contract. No matter how much we wrap love around it like a cloak, both partners must keep their end of the bargain, spoken or unspoken, otherwise the marriage will collapse. We don’t talk about this in courtship because it’s not the kind of sentimental stuff we like to dwell on, but fewer marriages will collapse if we strip marriage down to the bare bones; this is what I’m bringing to the table, and this is what I expect. We tend to choose business partners more carefully and practically than marriage partners, perhaps because we do not recognise the power of marriage to make or break a person.
In her article, “The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough”, Lori Gottlieb writes, “Once you’re married, it’s not about whom you want to go on vacation with; it’s about whom you want to run a household with. Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring non-profit business. And I mean this in a good way.”
I balked at this when I first read it. How dare she minimise marriage so? What about being in love? Sadly, what the romantic comedies and love songs don’t tell you is that lasting love isn’t really about feelings, and marriage means different things to different people. We marry the people we choose to marry for a reason, and we expect certain things from them. It’s just unfortunate that we are usually not open and straightforward about our expectations. We hide them under things like romance and religion, which are not bad, but are not meant to replace the contract or the covenant.
Not everyone has the same expectations in marriage. “I can live with this and be happy most of the time” is good enough for some. For others, marriage must be to someone who makes them feel alive, someone they care about so much that it physically hurts, and who feels the same about them. For certain kinds of people, marriage is about something bigger than the two people involved; it’s about having a shared vision and purpose that defines the union, be it raising a close-knit family or building an empire. None of these is superior; both partners just need to be upfront about what they need from marriage, and what they can contribute.
Some people do miscalculate. Some marry for love and wish they hadn’t attached so much importance to it and married “sensibly” instead. Others make practical choices and later wish they had held out for love. There are no guarantees to this thing. What sucks is underestimating the power of who you really are, and marrying someone who is unable to provide what you need, eyes wide open.
People who do this are normal people like you and me. They often suspect before the wedding that they’re short-changing themselves, and so they avoid discussing the contract. Affection is a vital need for Ayo, but she marries a man who is aloof, because he has money and can give her the good life.
The prayer team leader doesn’t stir Dave as a lover should, but she would be a good accessory to his pastoral ministry so he goes ahead and marries her.
Nkechi needs quality time to thrive, but she marries a man who is always travelling, because time is running out and she needs to settle down.
When we do this, the result is usually adultery, or lives of quiet desperation. Same happens when we marry because we are “in love” and fail to consider what we really need to live fulfilled lives.
Love is delicious – I’m a huge fan – but it is never enough to sustain a marriage. Why can’t we tell ourselves the truth about what we really need, what we can give up, what we can live without, what we can offer, and marry accordingly?