Blue Valentine. A rather brilliant looking commentary on la vie moderne. It’s rather fascinating to see the changes in perception of what each gender’s role is. Often it seems that those older than I by ten or so years have a hodgepodge view of the whole matter: uncomfortably uncertain what they ought to expect. Those in mine own age group seem to expect their future spouse to do the lions share of the work, whichever sex they are.
What is really quite amusing to me is that we all seem to be setting ourselves up for the exact same failures that this movie depicts. Our expectations are our downfall; our expectations almost always selfish. I do not think that marriage has a place for “roles”. Fifty years ago, roles might have been a rational expectation, possibly. Then one might have approached bringing home the bacon with a sort of chivalry. Keeping a home might have been a romantic thing.
But now? Now we don’t approach roles as a sign and possible source of love, if indeed they ever were so. Now roles are a tit-for-tat. Roles are the business side of a relationship. And this it seems is very practical of us. Yes, we say, marriage is a love affair, but the dishes won’t wash themselves.
And I find it amusing that we think like this. I have often thought the most devastating thing to happen to marriage was the rise of the concept of a soul-mate. Someone you were destined for. Someone on whom to pin hopes and dreams. This I thought inevitably lead to disappointment and disappointment to disillusion and then dissolution.
But I was never quite sure, because well: I had a soul mate didn’t I? And of course, the idea is not new, it didn’t suddenly arise with the advent of the hour thirty minute Hollywood romance. The idea came about the moment Adam saw Eve. Solomon’s Song of Songs is a marvelous example of the feeling.
But still it seems clear that disillusionment often lead to divorces. And our divorce rate is so astronomical. So why the disillusionment? I don’t any longer think it could be because of the concept of a soul-mate. I mean while we all believe it, we also know deep down that we will be let down. Nobody is perfect, except we say maybe ourselves.
So what causes it? While there are no doubt a myriad of causes, I’ve no doubt that roles are one of those causes. Roles now are the introduction of business into what should be-if we really want to dive into the theology of marriage-a relationship that reflects the trinity. Roles become fetters. Roles become sources of resentment. The wife’s not raising the kids part so resentment builds. The husband is not bringing in enough money, and the rancor rises nearer the boiling point.
I know a couple that got divorced, actually, for precisely those reasons. The husband got laid off and took a huge hit in salary, the wife expects more of him. The husband is frustrated because his wife did not seem devoted to their children. The funny thing is they are both still in love. They know it when they are away, but when they are together they cannot stand each other because they both expect the other to fit into this preassigned, this predetermined role. Adding to the bitter irony is the fact that the dad, who has full custody, is one of the best dad’s I know and the wife, while she can’t make as much as her ex-husband was, is doing pretty well for herself now. But this sort of arrangement didn’t happen in the marriage because roles, expectations, got in the way.
And marriage we should be careful to note demands no expectations. Marriage is rather suicidal in a way, certainly it is very reckless. When you marry you say, or ought to be saying, “I have no idea what the future will bring. You may be a filthy, hideous, nagging old hag. We may be poor. We may be sick. But today, we love each other and today we chain ourselves together. For better. For worse.” Marriage is really giving a colossal middle finger to the whole world. To it’s insistence on worrying and material things. To all the fears, the possibilities, the doubts the future brings. And of course like anything truly suicidal or really reckless it is also the most life affirming thing possible because marriage affirms right now. It affirms the present, which is all we ever have of course, and raises it above the unchangeable past and the unknowable future.
But then, the honeymoon period ends and we have these sorts of roles laid out. You do this, I’ll do that. But at some point that fails: at some point, I cannot do that. Then what, sometimes it is understood and forgiven. Increasingly, it is cause for divorce.
But rarely, and wonderfully, it is cause for change, for romance. Rarely, you pick up the load I have collapsed under. The role, the expectation, is denied. The marriage is affirmed.
Love is not quite, as in The Princess’ Bride, “as you wish”. But it is similar. It is “anything for you.” Or as scripture put it, “What greater love has man than this, to lay down his life for his friend?” Roles get in the way of exactly that. Roles say, “This for you…if I’m feeling romantic maybe a little more”.
Which is not to say change is necessary for marriage, it is quite possible that both could go on quite happily doing exactly the same things as in the beginning. There is nothing wrong with sameness. Hopefully the first time you kiss them goodnight and the time you kiss them on their deathbed, though each kiss be the same, each should be positively riveting. But there needs to be a willingness to do anything. An understanding that marriage has no place for roles or expectations. Marriage is the opposite of that.