Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Rebuttal: "Marriage Isn't for You"

I am certain most of you have seen the viral post by blogger Seth Adam Smith entitled "Marriage Isn't For You." If you haven't, give it a read and then read this. I must have read it myself about 10 times. Maybe more. You see, I kept trying to read it in the hopes that it would come off less douchey and I'd eventually be able to agree with his sentiment. But, it doesn't and I don't (really).

His hook is in the title and is opening sentence. Very clever, Seth, but 'clever' is all the praise I can give you. His marriage philosophy comes from a piece of advice from his father. This advice was given after Seth shares his concerns about marrying his childhood sweetheart; his father tells him: "Seth, you're being totally selfish. So I'm going to make this really simple: marriage isn't for you. You don't marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy." And this is where I went..."Huh?" Then I kept reading and realized it gets even more cringe-worthy:
"More than that, your marriage isn't for yourself, you're marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children."  I seriously had to resist the urge to shout out- OH NO HE DIDN'T. What is almost more shocking is how viral this went, and how many people were like "OMIGOD he's so right!" (in my circle, it was young, non-married women, oddly enough).

Mr. Smith is correct, but only on a small level. Selflessness is certainly key in a marriage; there needs to be give where there is also take. Each partner needs to do their best to try to make the other person happy. You should treat your partner with love and respect and honesty. If you are being a d-bag, you should stop because you are hurting the other person's feelings. These are all real truths. Still, Seth seems to scream from the rooftops, reminding us: "To all who are reading this article -- married, almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette -- I want you to know that marriage isn't for you. No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love."  I get what he's saying; it's a nice message. But it leaves something out. Marriage is for the other person, but it should also be for you.   

Our blogger talks candidly about feelings of "fear" and "resentment." He was "callous and selfish." Now, if you are being selfish in that douchey "I-have-all-the-toys-and-you-can't-have-any" way, then you deserve to have your wrist slapped. But, I argue that there is room for selfishness in a relationship; to some degree, there should be selfishness in a relationship. Let me tell you why and how.

My first marriage was to my high school sweetheart (my story is so similar to Seth's) and we were young, terrified, in love, and young. There was some give and take, until it became one giving more and one taking more and then no giving at all. Until I couldn't reach him and he couldn't reach me, and the Great Wall was erected between us. Until we had outgrown each other. Everything was falling down around us. And because, I, like Seth, believe in being totally selfless and have always cared for those around me, I stuck it out. I stuck it out longer than I should have, through our wedding, buying a house, our first jobs. I had so much anxiety and sadness and fear, but we had something to prove, and I was operating under the "Marriage Isn't For You" umbrella. I ignored my own needs and feelings. Self-care went completely out the window. Not too long after the feelings started bubbling, I did things I regret (he did too), and things that hurt him because I didn't want to hurt him and I didn't want to hurt is family. When everything was coming to a head, I called my therapist and said " I feel like I am being selfish, but I am not happy and I think I need some space." She told me, sometimes, you have to be selfish. This is my caution to you all: Selfless is good, but do not ignore self-care.

What Seth fails to point out is that marriage should also be for you; you should be getting what you need spiritually, physically, and emotionally from a relationship. Completely sacrificing yourself, your needs, your feelings to appease the other person isn't love. I'd LOVE to hear Mrs. Smith's take on this. What was going through her head in the moments when he was being a jackass? He claims she showed him an "outpouring of love," gave him a hug and suddenly 'it's all good.' I am sorry. I love my husband, but when he's a jackass, I will tell him so, and not always "lovingly." I will tell him my needs aren't being met. I will tell him he is hurting my feelings, because my feelings are important too.  Because this marriage is for me, too.

 The other part of Seth's philosophy, about marriage being for family, is even more rage-inducing. First, he implies that every married couple wants children. Newsflash, Seth, some couples are childless (whether by choice or inability) and are okay with that. He also implies that the only way to have a family is to have two married people and they must have children. What about people who have children but never marry? What about single parents and widowers and LGBT people who may not be able to get married where they live? His father's reference to PFO (potential future offspring) came with the question: "Who do you want to help raise them? Who do you want to influence them?" These are fair questions, to be sure. Lots of us who are interested in having children want a partner who would make a good parent. But as I point out in my post on family, many people can become part of a family. Many adults can have an influence on children. It is a rather antiquated notion that the family unit be comprised of married people with children. Ethan and Ophelia and I are a family as we are. We plan to grow as a family, but we are no less a family now because we have no non-furry children, and we were a family before we were married. 

So Seth, my marriage is for me and it's for Ethan. It's for Ophelia, our fish, our extended family and for our future children. And friends, I appreciate his sentiment on some levels, I do. Promise. But don't let this, or any other marriage 'advice' dictate whom your marriage is for or what it should be about (like, for instance, this piece of nonsense which deserves its own rebuttal). In the words of my good friend Dove Chocolate: If it feels good, do it.


Friday, November 1, 2013

On Family

In follow-up to my posts On Friendship and On Love, this time of year is worthy of a post on family. As my faithful readers and friends know, my mother died when I was a young girl. Tuesday the 29th of October marked 16 years since, and this time of year always makes me reflect on her, on family, and on thankfulness. I have realized that it seems I have a lot to say about family, and this is the best forum I have to say it.

My childhood was so different from that of most of my peers. There's the obvious difference of losing my mom when I was young, though that happens more often than it should. But there are other things that set my family apart. My parents were in their late 40s when they had me; dad was pushing 50. This means that there was a generational gap between my parents and their children; a gap MUCH bigger in some cases than my peers (case in point; Ethan is 10.5 years older than me, and his parents are 10+ years younger than my dad). File that away and add this; there is also a cultural gap. Dad was born in Budapest Hungary in 1938. English was not his first language, democracy was not his first government. He's a history lesson for another day, but suffice it to say that this added another interesting -and sometimes frustrating- layer into the family soup. Now file THAT away, and add in my big brother, who is a wonderful and sweet human being on the autism spectrum and who is one of my most favorite people on this planet. That's us. The 4 of us were a small, unique unit. I never knew my dad's parents nor my mom's father. My maternal grandmother was alive but lived in Washington State and I only met her a few times before she died at the age of 97 when I was 13 (she outlived two of her children and was a tough lady who is also worth another blog post of her own). This means that I never really had a relationship with my grandparents, or at least not the kind that most people my age do. My dad is an only child, and my mom's living sibling (my Aunt Liz) and her family lived and still live in Washington State. Thanks to the aid of technology, I keep in touch as much as I can, but I've never felt truly close to them. That's the abridged version of my family, the moral being that it's pretty small, and that's both happy and sad.

Dad Peter, Stephen holding baby Maria, ugly furniture

Our family really shapes us; their presence or absence, who they are and who they teach us to be. The first humans/adults we are ever exposed to are our parents, or people who are like parental figures. I used to think my small, odd family was something to be ashamed of. It alienated me sometimes a lot of the time. My brother and I were raised by "old school" parents, so we didn't do a lot of things other kids did. Our family trips were educational in nature, or to visit the extended family. People used to mistake my parents for my grandparents. I know now, as an adult, that I was fortunate to be brought up this way. We had dinner together almost every night. Sundays were reserved for church and lunch. My dad read to us at night and did all the voices (he does a mean Woody Woodpecker). My mom was a SAHM and had snacks and homework help waiting after school. Dad often told us his own really interesting stories, which are better than any textbook. When mom got sick, I learned to cook, clean and iron. She brought me to chemo with her and taught me subtle lessons in compassion. I know with certainty that I am the woman I am because of the family I came from.

True Peter silliness * not his real mustache
 This is not to say that it was all sunshine and roses. Death, age, mental illness; these all take a huge toll on the family unit. My dad lost his best friend; the woman who kept him grounded and took care of the kids. Suddenly, it was just him. This is where things unraveled a bit, and what makes a nice segue into a discussion on families in general.

I've been extremely fortunate to be welcomed into two big, loving families who are not blood related, but who may as well be. Growing up, we had a church family, which was so important and so lovely. But that too, was polarizing. Enter: friends who turn into family. I met the Poulins probably in 1996. They moved in right next door and had a daughter named Aimee. She is one of the few friends I have who knew my mother. We became fast friends, and remain to this day like family. I held her baby brother David (who is turning 16 soon- yikes) when he was a few days old. I get invited to the family Christmas party every year. Her mother is my FARM (female adult role model- it's our running joke) and her grandparents are the closest thing to actual grandparents (my dad rented from them for years; it was a family affair!). At the risk of getting too mushy and embarrassing anyone, I will just say that Aimee's family has been as much a part of shaping who I am, if not a little more. Much as I believe our family shapes who we are, I believe also that we can choose our family; or else, God or The Universe assigns us a family when one is not available. Susie has many brothers and sisters; I became the adopted cousin of a big, nutty family nearly seamlessly. My immediate family was so small and so different; and then, by more than chance, a family showed up just when we needed it the most.

Aimee and Maria, Ice Storm of 1998,  ugly hats   

Fast forward to now; I've got a wonderful husband who comes with a wonderful (and even bigger) family. Lots of families are created by marriage! I was fortunate to have married a man with two amazing, living parents and endless aunts, uncles and cousins. My MIL is one of 6 and my FIL is one of 4, so the MacDougal/Lape family is full of love and life. I was welcomed into the fold almost instantly, even before Ethan and I got married. I gained a brother and a sister in the deal too. My immediate family unit is so small that we can blend the family easily at holidays. When my family comes over for Thanksgiving, it's only two more place settings. I could not have asked for a better family to marry into, and it is so nice to experience the ups and downs of a large family. I am surrounded by good people, and that makes me so happy!

Isaac, Ethan, blushing bride, Brecken
I get to be part of two families; I probably have around 120+ people I can call family, when you count my real family, my adopted family, my by-marriage family, and friends who are like family. That's a LOT of people. And having so much family around has taught me many things. Here are some of the biggest:
-All families are unique. Furthermore, just as I thought my family was odd, alienating and not like any other, if I ask anyone else from these other families, they would probably say the same thing.
-A small family is just as fun as a big family
-Families are not without drama. Similarly, sometimes it's the family member you least expect that you end up having the best relationship with
- There can be a silver lining in almost any crisis, even death. I am 100% sure I would not be the woman I am today if my mom were still here. Don't mistake me, I miss her every day and I wish she had not died,but that experience shaped me in ways I am forever grateful for.
-Pets are family too (shout out to Wendy, Lucille, Ophelia, Mittens, Charlie, Teddy, and Lola!)

Don't forget to call you mom/dad/FARM/DARM, sister/brother/cousin/friend.