Marriage and commitment can become easily obscured and abstracted, depending on how we approach these very intertwined facets of life. Some, in our country, may have even more difficulty understanding how to approach these ideas, especially now that marriage between same sex couples is finally legal in all fifty states of the USA. Many Americans, especially religious folks, think of marriage as a sacred institution which defines the commitment of a lifetime relationship between a man and woman in particular. However, this traditional view is hardly sufficient for most in modern society, whether heterosexual, bisexual, transexual, or homosexual.
Generally speaking, a committed relationship is usually exclusive, but may not necessarily be viewed as a lifelong commitment, even in marriage. Some might commit to a particular relationship until something better comes along. Other relationships might have unequal commitments, where one person is expecting it to last forever and the other is just along for the ride. Still others may stay in a relationship for years, yet hardly have any sort of solid commitment to one another…and that’s just what works for them. Relationships are complex and difficult to maintain, at best. But they can be one of the most rewarding human experiences if both partners have realistic expectations and mutual respect for each other.
That being said, commitment within a heterosexual marriage necessitates one thing for sure: the acceptance of the responsibility of bearing children. I know in my own experience, that was in the forefront of my mind once I really took the time to think about marriage (especially after having one unsuccessful marriage that thankfully didn’t produce any children). But now, having spent nine full years with the love of my life, and after three (going on four) kids later, I’m glad that I fully accepted the responsibility in making that commitment to spend the rest of my life with my true partner and wife. This seems to be part of the marriage commitment that is easily overlooked by young lovers in their infatuation with one another. Many couples think about how many kids they may eventually want to have, or may even decidedly prevent children all together, either permanently, or just for the time being. But at the most basic level, the marriage commitment is the foundation of the family unit. We can modify how it is expressed and who is allowed to be involved in the institution of it, but the basic sexual, social, and spiritual act of marriage is in fact a commitment to taking on the burden and responsibility of procreation.
Even same sex couples considering marriage can base part of their commitment on the prospect of having and taking care of children together. Just as some infertile heterosexuals can provide a loving home for adoptive children, homosexual couples can also make great parents, and may actually be better suited for it, even if they don’t go through the birthing process. It is love, care, and a commitment to taking responsibility for one another that makes a happy home. And either way, raising children together is one way to help define a commitment that some may otherwise be unsure of or apprehensive about. The promise of forever partnering together can be solidified and strengthened by the mutual acceptance of parenthood. For, it is through childrearing that the next generation is educated, inspired, and equipped to further human evolution and societal development.
Then there are those of us who have tried marriage and had that sacred promise broken for one reason or another, and have then given up all hope of marital commitment. This can have a devastating affect on one’s views of marriage for many years to come, and may cause one to never commit to another relationship again. But the damage that divorce can inflict on the psyche is not irreversible either, and some still choose to marry again, as I did myself. Though I was certain I would never marry again after having been divorced, when I met my wife, Koren, that certainty slowly faded away as I contemplated a life with her and came to terms with the responsibility of having children and building community by starting a family.
Sometimes it takes a drastic situation, or some set of strange circumstances to change our hearts, as author Elizabeth Gilbert experienced and then wrote about in her book titled Committed. This memoir is her follow up story to the popular title Eat, Pray, Love, in which she tells the tale of how she was literally forced to marry, in order to stay in a committed relationship. In a strange twist of fate, her lover, Felipe was deported from the US and she then took up the task of traveling with him, researching and writing about the history of marriage, while waiting for his visa to go through so they could be together once again in America. Like many divorcees, both Elizabeth and Felippe had both decided never to marry again, although they had both committed to their relationship. Through her research, Elizabeth finds that not only is the commitment of marriage more appealing to her than she originally thought, but that the history of marriage is quite misunderstood and misrepresented today. In an interview conversation on her book, she has some very insightful thoughts on the subject that can be found on her website, which I will leave you with:
“My fear was that the more I learned about marriage, the more I would hate it, but the opposite happened: The more I learned about marriage, the more I respected it. And when I use the word “respect” here, what I mean is something almost on the Darwinian level. I came to respect that this thing still exists, despite centuries and centuries of change and, yes, evolution. What I learned about marriage is that it will take any shape, adapt to any circumstances, in order to endure. And that is precisely because we seem to want it and need it. Our longing for legally-recognized private intimacy means that we will keep reforming and shaping this thing, generation after generation, in order to somehow make it our own. And I found that idea very touching, very transformative. I, too, am part of the history of marriage -as we all are, and all need to be.”