There’s a story in the beginning of a Dashiel Hammett novel where a guy gets hit by a brick falling from a tall building and loses all memory of his former life. He moves to another city where he finds and marries a girl just like the girl he married before the accident, takes up the same job, has the same number of children.
This story haunts me. It has kept my marriage together without my husband even knowing it through some very, very rough patches, days, weeks, months and years. Because of this story, I believe that if I do leave my marriage, I am going to reproduce it, or maybe even worse. Not only that, but if I leave my husband and remarry, I’ll have to listen to the next guy’s entire Ring Cycle of childhood memories, accidents, fights with siblings, to what his Mom cooked, what his Mom said. Frankly, I just don’t have the juice for it.
This doesn’t mean, that I am ‘cynical about love’ as the Desiderata puts it. Nor do I think anyone should stay in a marriage one nanosecond longer than they have to if their partner is abusive, threatening or malevolent in any way. Life is short, run!
But marriages, first, second or hundredth cannot do what we want them to do. When we say our marriage vows, even if we write them ourselves, we are trying to hedge our bets against eternity, against fate. Its a sucker’s bet. Nothing can keep you together and nothing can keep you safe. Marriage is boring, oppressive, unfair, limiting and sometimes terrifying, and that is just an average day in a “good” marriage.
So why bother?
Well, because for one thing marriage is not only a bet, it’s an intention, and it’s one that grows you into something bigger, something more than you were before you married, whether you wanted it to or not. An old saying holds that the road to hell is paved with good intentions and I get that, but as bad as it is, marriage is not always, or even 90% hell, (if yours is, see last sentence in paragraph 3, please). I don’t want to oversell sticking to that pesky old first, second or hundredth marriage, I’m hardly an expert and I honestly don’t care what people choose to do with their marriages as long as they don’t hurt anybody. But if there is any magic to real-life love affairs, part of it may lie in these very intentions. With this ring, we say, I intend to honor you, I intend to care for you even when you’re sick or down, I intend to stay faithful to you with my body, I intend to raise our kids with you, to be with you when we have to put the dog down, to celebrate graduations and weddings with you, to worry about our parents and relatives together, to eat with you, to sleep with you, to do all my best partying with you and most of all to love you, no matter what, for as long as we both shall live.