I recently had a conversation with Julie about marriage. Her question was whether we should reverence long-term marriages. It's a good post and a good conversation. Check it out if you haven't already.
My take, much distilled, is that marriage shouldn't be reverenced at all, but relationships need to be supported and nurtured. I also pointed out that for whatever reason, people still want/need long-term, committed relationships. We seem to be built that way. Whether it's family, friends, or lovers, we want people who will be in our lives for the long haul, and ending those relationships is extrememly painful.
Last night while I lounged on the bed sporadically reading my book, Iturned on the TV and caught part of a movie titled Shall We Dance? The movie is so-so, but it has an interesting message about marriage, midlife changes, and "finding yourself." (How cliche is that?) The character played by Susan Sarandon hires a private investigator because she thinks her husband is having an affair. The PI asks a rhetorical question at one point- "Why do people still want to get married?" Sarandon's character gives this answer, "People get married to have a witness for their life." She goes on to expand on that thought in a short monologue that I think is full of truth and insight. We live on a crowded planet. Marriage, or any long-term relationship, helps give our life continuity and meaning. Having someone witness our life helps validate it. I know as I get older the people who have known me for 10, 15, or even 20 years hold a special place in my life. They have the back story, they know the score, and they are still there. Witnessing my life, giving it meaning, supporting and loving me. In a society where other long-term relationships are fragile- community, friends, extended family- we want to think someone is committed to being there, not leaving, not moving away, but always there giving continuity to our days. Our lives are like art masterpieces that need viewers to appreciate them. What do they matter if no one is there to share the joy, beauty, and pain? Lovers, friends, families, communities all give our lives that shared meaning.
Why do people still hope and pray marriage works? At least partly because we want someone there to witness our life so we know it matters; that we matter.