Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Love and Marriage

Commitment Adam Spitz wrote on his blog:
Our culture tries to make us think that it's a good thing to promise to never change your mind about someone, but I don't think that it is. I think love is more meaningful when you can say to the other person, "I could leave, but I choose not to, because I still want to be with you more than I want to be with anybody else." Once you've promised not to leave, you can't say that anymore.
Adam's comments came up in a a lively discussion about SSM at Andrew's Bound by Gravity. The question of commitment is a bit off the topic but it's interesting nevertheless. I'd to put forward an argument why I think Adam's argument, which he admits he hold tenuously, is not a good idea. "I could leave, but I choose not to, because I still want to be with you more than I want to be with anybody else." There are a lot of I's in that sentence. In fact, the whole thing is bound up with what "I" think and what "I" feel. If a marriage really is based on Love - not luv, but capital L, mature Love - then you will care about that other person as much as yourself, if not more. With this formulation, you are staying in the relationship because "it works for me"; the implication is that if it works for the other person, well, that's nice but not necessary. It means you are using the other person in order to evoke feelings in yourself that are pleasurable. In contrast, taking a public vow of lifelong duration is admirable because it says that "I know there may be times when my passion for you will rise and fall, but I will not put my own personal feelings over my commitment to you." This view of love is properly other centered. This is the kind of love that stays when something horrible happens - cancer, brain damage, etc. Under the first definition, as soon as you're not getting what you want, or it becomes hard, you'll probably bug out. We all have moments when we are not out best. Who wants to live in such a way that our behavior is always hostage to our marriage? That is how any old friendship or acquaintance works. There are obviously limits, but marriage is different from those kinds of relationships because when the commitment is in place you can let your hair down a bit, without fear that you will be judged and rejected in short order. Marriage should be about giving, not getting. It is a sanctuary from the upheaval of ordinary friendships. C.S. Lewis described the idea that a marriage is binding only so long as one or both parties are in the full throws of passion as a parody of what love really is. I'm of the same view. One of the best descriptions of marriage that I have heard is that it is like rock polishing. You place two rocks into a grinder with some sand (call it family) and let them be turned over and over in the machine, for years and years. All the rough edges are ground away and when you finally take the stones out, what you have are two highly polished, smooth and beautiful objects that are almost nothing like the stones you started with.

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