The State of Marriage

I have far more to say on this subject than I can fit into one blog post. Check back for more thoughts on this subject later. Or just click the Category entitled “The State of Marriage” for all posts that I’ve written on the subject. 

I recently was in a play called The Beaux Strategem, and played a character named Sullen. This character was a drunkard and an asshole, and married to a very lovely woman, named Kate. At the beginning of the second act, Sullen has a very amusing monologue about the “state of marriage.”  Here is an excerpt:

“Getting married is easy enough, staying married is the tricky part. What’s so difficult about marriage? Everything. Do I believe in it? No. Why did I get married? Stupidity. Why do I stay married? Stubborness.”

Given my own history with my one brief marriage, I feel these lines were made for me. I actually agree whole-heartedly with all of these sentiments. In fact, I even got married due to stupidity, and stayed married three years longer than I should have, partly due to stubbornness. But I feel that I have learned my lesson;  once my divorce was final in March of 2013, I was asked by a friend if I would re-marry some day, and I was adamant that I wouldn’t. I have changed in many ways in the last 16 months, but one thing that hasn’t changed for me is my lack of interest in marriage.

Image courtesy of Aleksandr Kutsayev /

Image courtesy of Aleksandr Kutsayev /

This, obviously, puts me at odds with the vast majority of people in our society. It seems that marriage is a goal of almost everybody. I often talk about societal norms, and why they exist, and how we can overcome these norms. Norms of heterosexuality and monogamy are quite strong, obviously. But these norms are being broken down rather quickly, and we find ourselves in a brave new world where straight individuals partnering with only one other person isn’t the only option. But even among gay and polyamorous populations, the ideal of marriage is still sought.

I realize I must tread quite lightly when I write about this subject. Many of my readers are married or seek marriage. Most of my close personal friends are married, or seek marriage. So, here is disclaimer time!  These are my own personal feelings on marriage. I know that we’re all different, and we all have different needs. I acknowledge that for some people, the “need” to get married might be a very real, and ingrained one, just as the state of monogamy might be a very real and ingrained relational orientation for some. But through a series of posts that I will do on marriage, I encourage my married and marriage-minded readers to keep an open mind. These posts will in no way be an attack on your marriage or desire to be married. I can understand the knee-jerk reaction to turn defensive when an important part of your cultural belief system is attacked. All we need to do is look at the extreme reactions to homosexuality among some Conservative Christians to understand that it is easy to feel threatened when an entire way of living is called into question.

I also want to say that the goal of this and my future posts on this subject won’t be to destroy marriage as an institution. My goal is to analyze marriage from a practical and pragmatic viewpoint, while strengthening it for years to come. Just as I believe the model of traditional monogamy is deeply flawed, and not workable in the modern era, I believe the same of marriage. And this can’t be that surprising, as marriage is, at it’s heart, a direct ancestor of monogamy. I believe that if monogamy hadn’t emerged as a societal norm, then marriage (as we know it today) also wouldn’t have emerged.

And yes, I do believe that marriage as an institution has lost much of it’s power. When nearly 50% of people entering into marriages will end them, it’s clearly not a system that’s working. But I truly believe that marriage can work, if those entering into the marriage contract do it with a realistic frame of mind. I know, it sounds like blasphemy to be practical about this part of our lives which we’ve romanticized so much – but I think it’s absolutely necessary to move forward into life-long commitments with not just our hearts, but also our minds.


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4 Responses to The State of Marriage

  1. Yes, marriage is indeed a primitive institution. I believe more relationships would be successful if we simply allowed ourselves to be who we really are: vibrant sexual beings with the capacity to love many. Whenever we can meet up, Patrick, we need to go to karaoke and sing Erasure’s “Chains of Love.” 🙂

  2. Deirdre says:

    Mawwiage is a sacwed institootion.

  3. monogamousbychoice says:

    Marriage is a choice, it’s a commitment to work every day, show up and be fully engaged every day. Marriage does not assume that you’ll never find someone else who turns your crank; on the contrary, it acknowledges that there will be others who are prettier, stronger, smarter, funnier, whatever, but you CHOOSE to remain faithful to your spouse and committed to making the marriage grow stronger. There will ALWAYS be temptations, but are you strong enough, do you love your spouse enough, to turn away from the tempting morsels on the buffet of life and focus on what you chose? I see polyamory as people who order something at a restaurant and then see someone else’s plate and regret their choice. They resent the person they chose if they aren’t allowed to run from table to table eating off of everyone else’s plates. They can commit as long as no one (including themselves) tells them NO, you can’t have that. If they are ever asked to deny themselves anything, they start looking for an exit.

    The arguments I hear for polyamory are “sex falls off, is boring, I’m bored, I want more/different/new”. All of the problems every long term relationship faces. Here’s a novel approach. Engage your energy and efforts in the commitment you made to strengthen, refresh and renew your relationship with your spouse. Reinvigorate your marriage. Commit to communicate and explore and find excitement with your own spouse rather than running around looking for it in someone else. And if you just can’t commit to that kind of deep devotion to one person, but can do little minor commitments with a bunch of people, God speed. Just don’t expect to see any of them long term.

    • I think that long-term can come from ethical non-monogamy. It’s clear that you’ve had a very bad experience with non-monogamy, so I can entirely understand your feelings, though.

      The thing is when we go to a restaurant, we are free to order anything. Imagine if you went to a restaurant, and always had to order the exact same meal. Every day. And you weren’t allowed to go to other restaurants. You had to eat at the same place, day in and day out, and always order the exact same meal. For many people, that is what monogamy is like. That’s what it was like for me. I got bored by the same meal every single day, even if at the start, it was my favorite meal ever. In fact, over time, your favorite meal can become your least favorite meal. I again point out that human nature tends towards variety.

      I think that what you’re saying is all true. And I hope that before people get married today, they talk very frankly about what will happen when their sex life falls off down the road. Because it will. Or what will happen when somebody gets attracted to another person – what will you do then? Because it’s going to happen. I can say that in my dozen or so serious monogamous relationships over the course of 20 plus years of dating, I never had one of those conversations at the start. I wish I had, before I got married. Did you? Most people don’t.

      The strongest argument for polyamory isn’t really about sex, though. That’s the strongest argument for swinging. The strongest argument for polyamory is the fact that we have this infinite capacity for love, and we can’t shut it off. We will become intensely attracted to many people in our lives, and trying to shut that down is so very difficult for most people – hence the amount of cheating and divorce that happens. We try to deny this attraction that we have to multiple people, but the fact is, it exists. And it’s not a bad thing – if we go about it in an ethical way. We can find commitment to multiple people. Commitment and exclusivity are no mutually inclusive.

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