Tag Archives: marriage

Calling all you clingy, dependent types

5 Dec

The institution of marriage has been making headlines lately and being a newlywed, I noticed. National Public Radio reported a sociologist’s findings that marriage was now a matter of economics. It cited stats gleaned from the 2010 Census that 45 percent of 25-34 year olds are married. In 2000, it was 55 percent; in the 1960’s, 80 percent.

TIME reported on the state of modern marriage and found that while it may be on the decline overall, rates have remained fairly steady among educated people. The article goes on to explain the socioeconomic factors that might keep wedding bliss in the gaze of the erudite-on-paper. They cite more exposure to conflict-resolution skills and degree holders’ access to  jobs with flexible schedules, the argument being that a sick kid throws more of a wrench into the lives of shift workers than those who can go in late or leave early without threat of losing of an income. The more wrenches thrown into a marriage, the more stress, and the more stress, the more difficult it becomes to stay positive, etc. And according to Psychology Today, positive illusions are among the strongest predictors in relationship happiness.

Then there was this reader comment at the end of the TIME article:

“[M]arriage is for the clingy dependent [types] who need marriage as a reassurance that their life has meaning.”

Bitter, party of one, right?

Except maybe it’s true.

And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

I had to fight my initial reaction because I wouldn’t describe myself as clingy or dependent. Sure I’ve been both of those things before. Who hasn’t?

Okay, so you haven’t. Congratulations on being an emotional island.

But I don’t feel like those are boxes I have to check on a personality inventory. I’ve never been financially dependent on anyone other than my parents and that ended once I left college. For six years, I lived alone in a house I (still) own, and ever since I could remember, I’ve been comfortable being by myself–solitude brings clarity and  peace that I cherish.

Many months before meeting my husband, I ended a way too long term relationship after realizing we were living separate lives under the guise of being together. I was doing my thing and he was doing his. Sometimes we hung out.

This does not a relationship make.

It wasn’t a bad relationship, just the wrong one. While we have some great memories, it turned out we were happier doing our own things; we just removed the pressure to involve each other. And I think we’d both agree we’re much more fulfilled as a result.

You learn a thing or ten from living so independently while pretending to be in a partnership. The whole time you’re proclaiming to love your independence, what you secretly want is a partner, an extra set of (unresentful) hands in the world. And that means depending on another human being. Regularly.

We’re talking about more than finances too. TIME cites a Pew Research Study in which love wins out over money (and babies):

“Far more married adults say that love (93%), making a lifelong commitment (87%) and companionship (81%) are very important reasons to get married than say the same about having children (59%) or financial stability (31%). Unmarried adults order these items the same way.”

I teach English and journalism to ninth and tenth graders. My husband researches honeybees and termites. Clearly neither of us married for money. We married for the companionship, the security, and oh yeah, love.

And because of our love (and mutual respect), we do on occasion cling to one another for support and more importantly, perspective. You see, being truly independent means you live inside your own head too much, which makes you kind of selfish. I hate to admit that but it’s true. And I’ve been a cardinal offender.

Independent woman, that’s me!

Introspective woman, that’s way too much of me.

Introspection is considered to be a characteristic indicative of intelligence. Hamlet is heralded as one of Shakespeare’s smartest characters on account of all his introspecting. Of course when I first learned this I took it to mean that I was mad intelligent: Look at me self-analyzing! If only everyone else could be this self-aware. Then I remembered how much of a whiner Hamlet actually is:

“O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” (2.2.550)

Just because he knows he’s a coward doesn’t erase the “poor me” tone. Sure, he’s got a lot on his plate. That whole “my uncle killed my father and is now sleeping with my mother” thing would propel most to the fetal position, but all those soliloquies, while full of beautifully crafted language, aren’t getting rid of killer King Claudius any faster. And Hamlet knows it:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question” (3.1.56).

Cue play within play, more introspection, and the death of all characters. This turned out to be a depressing example.

My point is that while it’s great to know thyself, it’s important to turn all that insight into action. My husband won’t let me give into insecurity for too long, he won’t let me fixate on financial matters like not having sold my house, and he’s always there to remind me of my assets. He’s also there to make sure I’m doing something positive to change my outlook. This alternative perspective keeps me from sulking and  propels me to change the things that are blocking my happiness.

Let’s face it: we all get insecure, we all feel lost at times, and we all think tomorrow is going to be as bad as today. My husband says to me something that I used to think was too simplified: “Tomorrow will be different.” But it usually is.

So do I find more meaning in life being married? Yes. Did I feel that my life was meaningless before I got married? Absolutely not. I don’t shape my identity around my husband nor does he mine, but we both chose to enter a partnership that strengthens us. Many people can bring out the worst in you, but my husband brings out the best in me: why wouldn’t I sign up for a lifetime of that?