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Marriage used to mean something

“I do.”

Two very simple words that fuse two lives.  It used to be that the words spoken before that declaration were “till death do us part.”  For many centuries and for many couples that commitment held true. Most of the time a couple married and lived with their loved one till death took one away.

Marriage for most folks is not a bed of roses. And the bloom fades from the blossom quickly with the exigencies of life sweeping a couple along. Good times often precede or follow bad times. Perhaps most of us think of just driving off and leaving it all behind, but in the end we stick it out.   

One writer, Barbara de Angelis, summarized marriage neatly: “The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It’s a choice you make-not just on your wedding day, but over and over again–and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife.”

But then came the late 20th century, and with it came union without the vows, arrangements that could be terminated by packing a bag and leaving. Down the road perhaps another partner would step forward. And with all this swapping and pseudo-bonding gave children new “mothers” and “fathers” with no emotional ties to the kids.

And then came the early 21st century, and with it came arrangements of two people of like gender getting married. Churches blessed these unions. Evidently that stuff I was taught in Sunday School about a man and a woman becoming one is outdated. If one of the two already had a child, that child suddenly had two daddies or two mommies. One television commercial has two men say to a child “I am your father.” Inevitably, some of these post-sanity couples  have children via a surrogate donor.  It would be interesting to see what future child psychologists will have to say about children raised in this way.

As with many topics in society, television has discovered marriage. But the twists and turns of marriage have moved beyond weekly soap operas.  Currently a series is exploring the intrigue of polygamy. Somehow pockets of such an arrangement can be found, leaving the viewer to wonder where the law is and why such situations are countenanced. If the TV version of that life is accurate, the least charge for some people would be pedophilia.

And another series reduces marriage to the absurd, making a spectacle of it. In these shows marriages are set up for absolute strangers who don’t meet until the ceremony itself.  It’s doubtful that the series will survive long enough to prove that such a crap shoot ever leads to happiness and stability for two strangers. The likelihood of golden anniversaries ensuing are less than nil.

Perhaps a few words to folks considering some flavor of marriage from an experienced bride, Marilyn Monroe: “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

TJ Ray, a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.