A Young Woman’s View on 21st Century Marriage
By Emily Kaiser
Marriage, in my opinion, and I think in many others as well, is not what it used to be. My generation is constantly bombarded with divorce. More of my friends’ parents are divorced than together, and that includes my own. When I think about my future, there are a lot of unanswered questions, just like with any other 24-year-old. However, I have decided to take a different spin on my future and look at it from a different point of view, a view that may not contain a husband, kids and white-picket fence.
I am at the point in my life where my friends are starting to get settled into their lives. One of my best fiends just got married while her twin sister just got engaged. Another one of my friends just left Dayton to head to Missouri to move in with her boyfriend, whom she hopes to eventually be her husband. While this may be what my friends want, and I believe it is, I don’t have those feelings of settling in. In fact, I don’t know if I ever want to settle in with a husband.
I know this is shocking for some readers: A 24-year-old woman, about a year from graduating college, who doesn’t think she wants to get married. Well, it may be the truth, but let me explain why.
To me, marriage and love are two completely separate things. You can easily have a marriage without love (it happens all the time) and you can have love without marriage. I feel that society and the “norms” of life have us all thinking we have to get married. Clearly, that hasn’t been working too hot lately.
Perhaps you are thinking that I am a cynical single woman, maybe just fresh out of a break up, and this is my way of getting back. This is not true. I am in a relationship. I adore the guy I am with. He is by best friend (although all us gals know a guy can’t replace your girlfriends). We laugh and make fun of each other and lean on each other. There is one difference though. I am not in a rush to move in, tie the knot or any of that sort of thing. I take it day by day, and I have to tell you, it’s much more fun that way. There’s no agenda, no time line, no pressure.
I knew I was not the only one who felt this way. I then remembered my friend’s (the one who just got married) Aunt Susan. Susan had been an inspiring person in my life, ever since I met her in eighth grade. She was an artist and had this way of connecting to people I had never experienced. What I respected most about her was her free spirit and the fact that she lived her life by her own means, doing whatever made her happy.
When I finally got the chance to sit down with Susan, ironically enough, we were in Siesta Key for my friend’s, her niece’s, wedding. I had told her about my article and she was happy to contribute.
I picked her brain while we were sitting on the beach on a sunny Friday afternoon. At that moment, life could not have been better. I felt peaceful and at ease, a feeling many people tend to get while around Susan.
Susan has been with her boyfriend, Garvin, for 12 years now and she is “blissfully happy.” She doesn’t want to get married again. I say again because she has been down that road twice. Her first marriage lasted for 12 years and her second for three months. She explained to me that she first got married because she wanted to be rescued, and the second time because she was running from someone else.
“In the past, being married felt like I was losing my freedom and identify. I lost myself,” she said.
She then explained to me that what she has with Garvin is a complete self living with another complete self. She disagrees with the saying “they complete me,” stating that you need to be complete on your own.
“If marriage meant happiness for everyone, most people would be happy. Clearly that isn’t true,” she said. “They fall in love with a projection.”
This statement hit me hard. I couldn’t agree with her more. Society projects the idea that marriage equals happiness. Perhaps for some people it does, but in reality, for many, it is not the case.
Although Susan and Garvin are not married, their love is no less than something to be proud of.
“We’re probably more committed than most married people I know. He’s my anchoring energy,” Susan said.
She then explained to me why she is so happy with her relationship, and it isn’t simply not getting married. Susan suggests to “make the decision to be happy rather than right.” For some, maybe marriage is what will truly lead to happiness.
When I returned from the wedding in Florida, my publisher got me in touch with an acquaintance of his who shared very similar views as I did. I couldn’t have been happier to have another woman’s voice for my article.
Sitting down with her, I realized she was a very strong, independent woman. She graduated from UD after going to Catholic school all her life. About four years later, she found out she was pregnant, with not only one child, but twins. She made the choice to raise her children on her own with the help of her parents. She realized the father, who she had been dating for some time, was not who she wanted to be with. She had always had her doubts about marriage anyway.
“Personally, I have never really felt like marriage is a natural state of being. I feel like it’s something that society has kind of forced on us as a natural state of being,” she said.
She has never been married, but agrees with me in the fact the love does not equal marriage, just as marriage does not equal love. She considers herself “a hopeless romantic.”
Her views about marriage do not come out of anger or revenge. She has no anger towards her children’s father. She made that decision to leave him on her own, and she is currently in a happy relationship of three years.
“He knows my feelings about the whole institution of marriage, and notice it’s called an institution,” she said.
She has felt the pressure from the people around her to get married, however. One of her bosses told her it would be better for business if she were married, that it would make her look more stable. What she found odd about that was the fact her boss had been married and divorced multiple times.
“There are several people who were always trying to nudge me in that direction,” she said, “but it seemed like people who were married were always complaining about it.”
Two children, great career and happy relationship – sounds like a fulfilling life, marriage or no marriage.
I decided I should speak to someone who knows a lot about marriage and being married. After all, this is what the article is about.
I contacted Lavern Nissley, Executive Director of the Marriage Resource Center of Miami Valley. Not only does he help couples with marriage, he has been married to his wife, Rhonda, for 34 years. I headed to Springfield on a Wednesday afternoon to pick at his brain. The thing I liked most about Lavern was the fact that he never judged me. We obviously had very different views about the subject of marriage, but our conversation was pleasant and informative. Lavern is very aware of the problems that come along with marriage. He has devoted his career to helping others with the obstacles that come along with making, what should be, a life-long commitment. He stressed the importance of being ready and preparing yourself for a healthy marriage.
“One of the things we know about brain science, about how our brains work and what’s going on when we’re falling in love, is there is a higher level of dopamine and oxytocin within the first three to six months of sort of falling in love,” said Lavern.
He suggests waiting until both people have known each other at least a year before getting married. I told him how I felt that some people simply aren’t meant to get married, but that does not mean they do not want love. “I think there are people who kind of start out that way. They just feel that they don’t want to make a full commitment to another person,” said Lavern. “That’s okay. I totally understand that. The caution that I have for them is to make sure you understand not getting too deeply involved with or connected with some one if that’s where you are.”
I then asked him if he thinks those people would live a less fulfilling life. “There has been some really interesting research done on the value of marriage and that marriage can make a difference on health, wealth and parenting,” Lavern said. I told him my views on society and how I think many people feel pressure from society to get married. His response surprised me a little.
“There’s a lot of social pressure to be connected with someone, to have children,” he said. He then continued to explain. He said that those individuals who actually think about what they are meant to do, what their purpose is in life, instead of doing the “normal” thing, are very wise. There was one thing we shared. We both think people don’t want to spend their lives alone. His answer to that just happens to be marriage. “I love being married because even though Rhonda and I are very different, there is a synergy in what we bring together and we are very fulfilled in what we do,” he said.
As I drove home from Springfield, I couldn’t say Lavern changed my mind, but he definitely opened my eyes to the fact that marriage does work for some people, and not only can it work, it can be happy.
Will I ever wear a white gown, carry a bouquet of flowers and walk down the long aisle as my friends and family all gather? You may be surprised that I don’t know. I will never say, “I’m never getting married.” No one knows what each of us will do with our future. I am simply making the decision to look at my life from a different point of view than many. I am asking questions that many don’t, and finding answers that many don’t know exist. I have no timeline that decides my happiness, or any one person that decides my happiness. There is one thing that I will always remember though – Susan’s words. “Make the decision to be happy rather than right.” I’m just not sure what that is yet.
Reach DCP co-editor Emily Kaiser at Editor@DaytonCityPaper.com.