March 21, 2005

Till Death Do Us Part

Originally uploaded by Goodknight.

I'll be brutally honest and confess that I do not understand nor appreciate the concept, the pressure and the hoopla surrounding marriage. Spoke to a friend of mine who claimed that the only valid reason for sentencing yourself to a lifetime of "till death do us part" is kids. If you want kids, it helps for the government to know who made them - at least on paper. It's simply a way of keeping track of where these kids come from. What other conceivable reason can there be for the institution of marriage?

At the risk of sounding hopelessly unromantic and cynical, I must first defend myself by stating that this argument was not bred out of bitterness or cynicism or anything of that sort. To a large extent, I feel that marriage is a concept imposed upon us by society and religion. Because of social pressures and expectations, people are putting on their running shoes and making a mad dash for the altar. I suppose you can argue that no, they do it because they are fueled by love. Well, that statement is flawed because I would take that to mean that every single person who gets hitched does it because they have found The One, and we all know that is simply not true.

Truth be told, at this point in my life, marriage holds little allure for me. If I were to jump onto the bandwagon, it would - to a considerable extent - be because of what society expects of me (society being mother, grandmother and family relatives whose favourite question never rings too far from, "So, found anyone yet?").

I have wondered if I am talking like this simply because I have not found The One. Perhaps once I find The One, I'd be singing a different tune. Perhaps once The One appears in my life, I'd be happily traipsing through every bridal store in town, checking out the gaudy selections of sequined evening gowns and haggling over the price of fruitcake takeaway for the guests. Perhaps when I find The One, my brain will be polluted with nothing but thoughts of screaming pink-faced babies, soiled diapers and the Teletubbies theme song. Perhaps when He comes into my life, I will miraculously rediscover new meaning to my life and find no greater fulfillment than handpicking lint off his clothing and watching him down a gallon of beer in a single masculine gulp. Perhaps.

But since I haven't experienced even the most infinitesimal urge to do these things, it is safe to conclude that I haven't met The One. For now, anyway.

So my point remains: why get married? Doesn't the concept go against every natural human instinct? Forgive me but aren't we humans neophiliacs by nature? Don't we crave the new and exciting? Don't we live by the credo that variety is the spice of life? I mean, we get restless when sitting through a half-hour TV drama, relentlessly channel surfing just to see what else is on. We have about five hundred million different ice-cream flavours. We get sick and tired of the cute little outfit we bought just a week ago. We hop from job to job in scarily rapid succession. Is it just me or is it a tad ludicrous to expect a race this fickle to commit to one single person for the rest of their lives? In essence, what we're doing is swearing to commit ourselves to a lifetime of sameness, of non-variety. A pretty big step especially since most of us can't even stick to the same cellular phone for more than a year.

In this sense, isn't marriage (to put it crudely) similar to buying an electronic gadget? Isn't it a natural human instinct to exchange the current - and therefore, older and crummier - model for something better when the latter comes along? Of course, you can argue that it's utterly ridiculous to compare a spouse to say, a really fancy digital camera with enough features to make grown men salivate. But are the two really all that different? The same impulses kick in, don't they?

So isn't that what marriage really is? Simply a way to make sure we don't give in to what is, at the end of the day, our most basic, natural impulse? Because they know (I confess I have no idea who "they" is) that, left to our own devises, we'd be changing models faster than you can say "in sickness and in health". So, in order to thwart what we would, under very natural circumstances, be very likely to do, they (I confess I still have no idea who "they" is) trap us in this unnatural state where we suffer great bouts of guilt the second we entertain the merest idea of being - dare I say it - bored.

And to think we spend our entire lives attempting to claw our way into such a situation? Scheming and plotting to gain entry into this seemingly hallowed institution? To think that the perceived success or failure of your entire existence can be extricated from your answer to the million dollar question, "You getting married yet?" Is this all that really matters? That you have a rock on your finger and you have somebody to microwave that frozen pizza for?

"Sure she's traveled around the world on a makeshift boat three times and was part of the team that fashioned a sphinx out of chopsticks but does she have a husband to cook and clean for? No!"

The strange thing is, despite how some of us might feel about marriage, we inevitably play right into the whole fiasco. Marriage is like men - you can't live with it, can't live without it (at least you have the knowledge that your family will do everything short of rushing headlong into an elephant stampede to make sure the curse of non-marriage never befalls you). We still want it. For all sorts of reasons. Of course, there are the elite few who would find more fulfillment being chained to a cement mixer than joining the ranks of the ol' ball and chain contingent, but they're a different story all together.

Social conditioning runs deeper than anyone thinks. We've been so psyched into thinking that life is meaningless and purposeless unless we have someone to wake up next to that to be happy is to be married. Even when we may disagree with practically everything we've been brought up to think, we still find ourselves being swept up in the current of popular opinion. To still be single after a certain age is like having the word "loser" stamped across your forehead. The only upside to this predicament is that it saves you the trouble of having to explain why you're still unmarried (which is a good thing since people usually act as if you've just announced that you're planning to dissect a puppy).

Which brings up an interesting point: why in the world do we have to somehow defend ourselves for not being caught up in the ecstatic throes of matrimony? Why is the following question to "are you married?" always "but why?" I think a more fitting scenario would go something like this:

"Are you married?"
"Why yes, I am." Smug smile.
"But why?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"But why are you married?"

Befuddled silence while trying to ascertain true intent of interrogator. Based on previous experience, an answer in the affirmative usually signified the end of the conversation and they would move on to other intellectually challenging topics such as why the tablecloths don't match the upholstery.

"Well, because I love him."
"Uh huh." A glaring lack of conviction can be heard.
"I really do. Besides, we've been dating for eight years and our families were bugging us and we weren't getting any younger and we had these coupons..."
"Uh huh."

When people are interrogated on why they are unmarried, it implies that being unmarried is an unnatural state and being married is whereas we have already pointed out that it very clearly isn't. So what gives? Perhaps it's a numbers game - two are more intimidating than one. It goes without saying that when a married couple (therefore, two people - unless it's one of those bizarre, unorthodox-type marriages) is pitted against a poor, defenseless singleton (one), the duo usually wins. Or perhaps the married couple is floundering in the paralytic state of ennui so badly that anything - even (or especially) the merciless ribbing of an unarmed unmarried individual - can be touted as amusement.

"Are you married?"
"Why in the world not?"
"Well, I haven't met anyone whom I'd want to touch with a ten-foot pole much less take an oath to spend eternity with."
"Really?" There's so much incredulity that you might as well have told her you were planning to surgically remove your uterus.
"Yes. Really."

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