They say there are three rings in marriage: the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffering. Four years ago today the wife and I exchanged the second of these rings. The third started much, much earlier, but that’s a post for another day.
I consider this an accomplishment for which we’ll welcome congratulations, as many people don’t even make it this far. In most of the Western world it is known that between forty and sixty percent of marriages end in divorce. I once read that a very high percentage (I cannot remember the exact figure) of these marriages that fail, fail within the first two years. That tells me the wife and I have already beaten some considerable odds to get where we are today.
And it hasn’t been easy. There have been days where neither of us have spoken a word to each other. There have been days when I stood at our fourth-storey window, not admiring the view, but measuring the distance to the ground and calculating whether it is high enough for a lethal fall or whether I should try and lure her onto the roof. I’m sure there have been days where both of us simply wanted to walk out. But we didn’t, and for that I am extremely grateful.
Marriage takes work. It’s not always pleasant. It’s not just staring into each other’s eyes and riding down a Venice canal in a gondola (though that would be nice). It’s dishes, and cooking, and fixing the car and rearranging furniture. It’s bad moods, and getting irritated, and not sleeping properly. There’s an old proverb in Afrikaans, “Trou is nie perdekoop nie” – getting married isn’t buying a horse. I can only assume buying a horse back then was relatively simple. Marriage is not.
Nowadays divorce is so much easier than marriage, to be honest. Unless there’s custody and alimony to sort out, it’s pretty much a signature on a page and you’re done. And the stigma attached to it is also much less than when I was a kid. It is not uncommon to hear of a couple splitting up mere months after you pelted them with rice, rose petals or peppermints (don’t ask) outside the church. And you’d exclaim, “That’s a shame!” and move on with your life. Even among same-sex couples, divorce rates are climbing, and that while in many areas same-sex couples are still fighting for the right to get married.
One can very well ask why get married at all. Around the world legislation is changing and co-habiting couples are being given the same legal rights as married couples. For many those legal rights are the only reason they go through the ceremony at all. It’s not to say their relationships are loveless or unromantic – they simply don’t feel they need a ceremony, be it in front of a priest or other minister of religion, or a representative of the law, to prove their love. A wedding is just an unnecessary expense, they argue. Rather invest that money in a house or something else we really need. We know we love each other and that is enough. We don’t need a piece of paper.
I cannot deny that they have a point. Weddings these days cost ridiculous amounts of money, not to mention the months of preparation and stress for something that’s over in a few hours. And then the odds are that you’re going to split up anyway before two years are up. Why take that risk?
Interestingly, among couples who had arranged marriages the divorce rate is almost non-existent. In fact, the concept of marrying for love is a quite recent development in human history. Originally a marriage was a social contract, not between the bride and groom, but between their families. Breaking the contract was not an option, for that would bring shame to your family. So, if things got bad, they stuck it out. Many, over time, learned to love each other, even if they did not even know each other on their wedding day.
This hasn’t changed. Marriage is still a contract. Not so much anymore between the families perhaps, but between two people who love each other. It’s a commitment that we’ll stick with each other, no matter how bad things become. We have become so obsessed with the romance-aspect, that we’ve forgotten this is what it’s really about.
People who merely live together would argue that they have made a commitment, and they’d most probably be completely earnest. But when things get really bad there’s nothing to remind them of that commitment.
I have a reminder. I wear it on the fourth finger of my left hand. It reminds me that on a certain day, four years ago, I made my commitment out loud in front of God and in front of people who love me. It reminds me that She did the same. And when those days come when I just want to walk away, it reminds me of the promise I made, and that I am not allowed to break that promise, no matter how bad things get, because it was a promise for life.
I’m glad to have this reminder because after only four years of being together, I can’t imagine spending even one apart, and it keeps me from doing something stupid which might lead to that.