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The Delusion of a Heavenly Marriage

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There are women I know either professionally, socially or both. They are in their twenties and thirties, married with or without children. Some are from India, like I am, and others are not. They have very little in common except for one thing: they just can’t stop rhapsodizing about their marriages and their husbands. They have stars in their eyes as they recount the many generous, romantic, and thoughtful things their men do for them all the time. They seem to be married to their soul mates and are very naturally beside themselves with joy.

Not everyone has the good fortune to find someone so special with which to share their lives. It brings the kind of happiness that levitates them. They are floating on a cloud high above the ordinary and mundane. You can tell the joy is not manufactured. They really believe they are living in heaven and are married to the most perfect man in the whole world. They are aware of their good fortune and never fail to show their heartfelt appreciation for the man who made their world a thing of such unsurpassed beauty.

I used to be such a woman some years ago. One of my closest friends was also living in heaven just like me with her perfection-incarnate husband. Interestingly, we saw the blemishes and indeed fatal flaws in each other’s marriages, but absolutely none in our own. When we separated within a few months of each other, we wondered what all that celestial happiness was about.

As it turned out, everything we suspected was wrong in the other person’s marriage really was, and there was much more than that as well. Our degree of self-delusion was nothing short of fantastic. Neither of us was willing to accept that our marriage was dead on arrival and that we would be best served by cutting our loses early and bailing out.

Instead we were willing to put up this huge charade of walking on clouds, happy and fulfilled beyond belief, attributing to our husbands qualities they just did not possess. We had turned them into demi-gods who could not do wrong. We continued with this pantomime in the face of overwhelming odds – extreme emotional battery in my case, severe alcohol and drug abuse in hers.

By the time we got a grip on the reality of our marriages, I was calling the local women’s shelter crisis line to help me plan my escape from “paradise” with a three-month-old child. My friend was in the emergency room for the second time in a month with her overdosed husband. His social drinking was a very serious problem and so was his recreational drug use.

We preferred to pretend our troubles were only in our imagination and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with our marriages. Our husbands were deliriously in love with us and sometimes delirium makes people act strangely. After all, this was a grand love and just not the ordinary domestic co-existence most married people have. We had found our soul mates, so the experience had to be significantly different from the run of the mill.

When I go back in time to my teens and early twenties, I don’t recall any of the older married women in my acquaintance acting like marriage had transported them to heaven. They talked about their husbands in a way that felt perfectly grounded. They saw the flaws and imperfections for what they were and accepted it as their lot.

Many marriages were difficult. The ones that were not were pedestrian at best. It was okay either way. There were no other options. Sometimes, a man would show his loving and romantic side, and his wife would mention that to her friends. There would be some good-natured ribbing over it. Others would share anecdotes in similar vein. Life went on. No one was delirious; nobody’s happiness was causing levitation.

Even though most of them had no career or an identity independent of whom they were married to, they did not obsess over marriage and husband. Contrary as it may seem, the independent, educated career women of today cannot seem to get used to the fact they are married, they newness of the idea takes forever to fade.

Our generation seems to have a need to win and win big in the gamble of marriage. It is not good enough to be doing okay to just break even. That is as good as having lost. When you lose, the only honorable way out is to leave, otherwise you deserve every bit of the shit you are getting. If you stay on, it’s because you don’t have the means or the guts to stake it out alone. Only a spectacularly successful and happy marriage is a keeper. The rest are disposable.

There is very little compassion for those who eke it out in a miserable marriage for the greater good. It is no longer acceptable to whine and complain about one’s marriage because very few will commiserate. The only wisdom the crowds have to offer is that if it is not working, get out of it as soon as you can. There are so many other options. Start over.

So a woman who wants to stay on in a marriage that is dangerously wrong for her will invent a paradise in which to house it. She will convince herself this made-up heaven is real, that the man she is married to is perfect deep inside, and that the aberrations are only superficial. He is her diamond in the rough, and she will in time have turned into the Hope. All well be well in time. She will need to talk about her version of truth relentlessly because that gives her the affirmation she seeks so desperately.

In the smiling faces of her listeners — their expressions of incredulity and disbelief at such a perfect union — lies her salvation, but there is only so much distance a myth can travel even when propelled by public adulation for a charmed life. One day the force of gravity overcomes the power of levitation and that is a terrible moment of truth. When I see a woman who cannot stop talking about how gloriously happy she is with her husband and how her marriage is made in heaven, I feel just the slightest twinge of anxiety. Maybe I overreact.

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  • Interesting discussion. I recently asked a similar question about what drives the desire to get married in which I liked it to having a social disease. Meaning, we are infected with the idea that a perfect life includes getting married.

    Maybe we expect too much from marriage these days?

    Middle age marriage doesn’t have to suck…Re-invent it.

  • I think the real “social disease” is the lack of subjectivity that exists in culture these days. According to many articles I’ve read on the topic, the use of “we” (inclusive or all-encompassing language) as exemplified in the post above mine denotes that there is an objective standard.

    Take for instance the hypothesis that attempts to objectify marriage: “we are infected with the idea that a perfect life includes getting married.”

    Two problems with this idea. First, it implies that WE (all of us human beings, male and/or female) are suffering from a “social disease.” Second, it implies an objective standard on the notion of perfection. As far as I can tell, the idea of the “perfect life” is up to the individual living the life. If a marriage, two kids, two dogs, a cat, and a white picket fence exemplifies the idea of perfection for a young man or woman, who’s to say he or she is wrong? Only the most egocentric and inhumane among us would suggest that, yet here we are…

    The real social disease crops out of the idea that personal experiences pass to universal truths. For instance, if I’ve had nothing but bad dating experiences, dating itself becomes bad. Period. End of story. I’ll even get studies that back my point up. I’ll even suggest that dating is a weird unnecessary ritual of society and that we don’t need to date to be “perfect.” There’s that word again. See how quickly my personal experiences frame it as something completely universal and objective? I’ll even start saying “we” a lot.

    We (don’t worry, this one’s undeniable), as human beings, are getting closer and closer together thanks to technology and cultural changes. Because of this, in my view, the desire for sameness becomes even more apparent amongst many people. With this desire for sameness comes a desire for some form of universality. When something comes up that some of us don’t apply to our own lives, we objectify it and force it out as an outdated mythology. The same “social disease” ideology has been leveled repeatedly throughout history at things that *some* have forced out of their lives in view of the *majority*. Religion is a social disease, for instance. Now, the notion that marriage is a “social disease” is being floated as well (and not just here by the poster above).

    I posit that the notion behind prescribing something a social disease infers that somebody out there knows what the IDEAL “perfect” life is. I would absolutely love to hear from that person so that he or she could prescribe perfection upon us all, turn us all into automatons with “same” values, traits, beliefs, wishes, desires, and so on, and so that we could do away with the concept of individual choice, happiness, and desire once and for all. That would make things so much easier, wouldn’t it? And furthermore, we wouldn’t have to keep cooking up these weak attempts at scientific and anthropological guessing games.

    In short, if one’s perfect life involves marriage, they don’t have a “social disease” any more than the notion that somebody who’s perfect life involves sitting on top of a mountain of money has one. Both are based on deep-seeded historical and biological traditions. It would be easily argued that we all have some form of social disease, but then you’d have to say that all memes are diseases and that, I think, would be a hell of a stretch.

  • Proudmary

    Excellent, thought provoking article. A 48 year old friend of mine who constantly bragged on her perfect marriage and wonderful husband recently underwent a serious reality check. Her perfect husband abruptly asked for a divorce. She said she felt “blind-sided,” by his request.

    Your article made me realize that the problems were there all along – my friend just couldn’t face the fact that her marriage (the 3rd one) was just as challenging as everyone else’s. She was just too competitive to admit it. She had to feel she and her marriage was better than everyone else.