All You Need Is Love

A recent poll I saw on Yahoo!.ca, the primary bastion of scientific measurement of opinion and group psychology, showed that two thirds of respondents did not feel that love was enough to make a marriage succeed. Since I’m siding with the majority here, I don’t really feel that concerned that my cynical lack of romantic idealism will be looked down upon by very many of you. But, I have to ask, when did the world lose this sense of romantic idealism? Or, did we really ever have it at all?

Contrary to the heartfelt assertions of the Beatles, love really isn’t all you need. Actually, air and water are even more critical than love, but that probably wouldn’t sound as nice in a song. Love is a welcome presence in life, but I don’t think it has ever solved hunger, staved off starvation or dehydration, or stopped anyone from drowning. Sure, maybe the Beatles weren’t trying to imply that life could be sustained by love alone, but you’d at least think that they would argue that love should be enough to keep social contracts from falling apart, right?

Like marriages?

There’s no denying that there are generational differences in how we view social interaction and romantic involvement. My parent’s parents had certain views on what it meant to fall in love and get married, just as my parents had different ideas, just as I have different ideas from them all. For instance, it used to be that you finished high school, started dating, got married, had children, and lived the rest of your life with this family. My parents were married in a time that saw divorce become a little more common, but remain the kind of thing that was not spoken of loosely. Today, people try marriage on like shoes; if the first pair doesn’t fit, you can always give another pair a try.

Why, though? Why do people take marriage so seemingly lightly? Were people just more romantic or principled in the time of my grandparents? Have we simply lost our heart and the wonderment that comes with two people joining their lives in matrimony?

The world has definitely become a more complex place. Global population has exploded since the time of my grandparents. Technology has advanced to a state that they never could have foreseen. Unfettered information is shared rapidly across a global community. All of this has to have had an effect on our ideas of propriety, morality and virtue.

And, that’s really the bedrock of marriage, isn’t it?

My grandparents acted in a certain manner, conducting their courtship and beginning their life together in accordance with a certain schedule of steps, because of the background ideas that they had had imparted to them in their upbringing and by the society they lived in. It was right, even advised, that a healthy young person should seek marriage and a family. In fact, being a confirmed and long-term bachelor or single woman carried with it all sorts of suspicion and stigma. It was “normal” to get married and have kids. Pre-marital sex was frowned upon. The ladder of events was date, engagement, marriage, children.

Divorce was unheard of. Marriage was a commitment, and one not to be broken lightly. Those who got divorced were often treated as something alien, apart from the rest of proper society. Divorcing was very much the breaking of a promise, and society took it to be a promise made to them, rather than to God or to bride and groom.

A lot of this attitude persisted in my parents’ time. Sure, pre-marital sex wasn’t a cause for shunning quite the same way, but divorce was still largely looked upon as a blemish on both parties involved. Maybe some of that is generational overlap; the older generation carrying forward and judging the younger generation by their ideals.

Maybe I’m a cynical bastard, having explained all of this evolution in social psychology without once talking about the deep and skwooshy redness of true love.

Seriously, though, did love ever keep a marriage glued together once the many headed hydra of divorce had reared its ugly mugs? Marriages that experienced deep and critical trouble weren’t kept together so much because of the feeling that was felt in the beginning, but because of practical consideration. You didn’t get divorced because it would stain your reputation amongst your friends and your community, and because it just wasn’t done. You didn’t stay together despite it all just because of the particular expression she wears when sleeping and how it makes your heart go a’twitter. This is why women who were beaten regularly stayed with their husbands. This is why couples that grew apart and became more like friends than lovers stayed married and faithful rather than getting divorced to seek happiness somewhere else.

A hell of a lot more than love is needed to keep a marriage together, happy and successful.

What about financial security? That old romantic image of the young married couple living in a dingy hovel barely being able to afford to eat, but remaining happy because “At least we have our health and our love” really is a pile of mouldering horseshit. Sure, maybe that’s fine for a while, but financial hardship is probably still the number one factor in divorce. I don’t care how much you love someone, if you’re always broke and unable to make ends meet, the frustration and unhappiness that engenders is bound to seep into and disrupt your romance as well.

What about respect and mutual understanding? Don’t give me some yap about how you can’t love someone without respect and mutual understanding; trying to imply that love, by definition as an emotional response an irrational thing, can have a rational formula. It’s not “add attraction, respect, understanding, etc” and get love as an outcome. Besides, people change with time, and respect in some matters might not mean respect in others. Maybe you understand everything but a particular side of the person you love. None of this means that you don’t love them, but they do provide chinks in the romantic armour that can allow thoughts of separation and divorce to enter.

And, what about maturity and integrity? It’s a little too easy to think of marriage as something that can be undone and tried again afresh, isn’t it? We’ve lost that fear of societal rejection that earlier generations had, quite frankly because society condones and even promotes divorce as a tool for seeking a future happiness. If you’re not happy where you are, pick up and move somewhere else, ignoring the fact that marriage is supposed to be a promise “through sickness and health, for better and worse,” and all that rot. Quite simply put, people take too lightly the making of that promise, and don’t have the integrity to keep it.

I’m not suggesting that people who are truly miserable stay together and live in misery. I’m not suggesting that the battered wife stay with the abusive husband. But, at the same time, I think people get married too much “on a whim” without enough thought for the consequences and implications, and break the bond a little too quickly. In short, people don’t respect the spirit of marriage, as it was meant to be. And, that spirit has nothing to do with all-powerful love bringing you through every conflict and confrontation. Marriage is meant to be something that is worked at, every day, through whatever you encounter. The ease with which people marry, divorce and remarry these days does not imply that love is not as present now as it was in the days of my grandparents, it implies that we aren’t putting enough thought and consideration into the making of our decisions before marriage, and we’re not showing enough strength of character and integrity during marriage.

We haven’t become more cynical, and romance wasn’t any more present generations back than it is today. We’ve simply become more complacent, more willing to enter into important relationships haphazardly, and a lot more willing to pop the chute. Divorce isn’t more common now because of a lack of romance, it’s because of a lack of responsibility.

Then again, what problems of our generation aren’t?

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