This Ruthless World

Adventures in absurdity

Some thoughts on marriage, regrets and mediocrity

A few days ago, I was at a business lunch where one of the participants was a freshly divorced man in his forties. So it’s not a surprise that the conversation inevitably, and irretrievably, turned to the subject of marriage and what a soul-crushing burden it is. Not the divorce, mind you — that was a liberation — but marriage. The man had no specific grievances against his wife, whom he described as a normal enough human being and a good mother, nor against his kids, whom he professed to love — he just wished he hadn’t married her or had them. Instead, he disparaged marriage in very general and metaphoric terms, pretty much as Bill Maher once had, when he described a married man as a broken horse “shitting in a bucket”.

This is, of course, a very popular sentiment: that the institution of marriage is a conspiracy to stifle men by turning them into accommodating, servile beasts of burden — i.e. ideal women. To be clear — I think that marriage is becoming an increasingly outdated institution, whose benefits are often questionable. I therefore don’t generally take issue with anyone — male or female — deciding not to marry, or regretting having married. However, the idea that marriage is emasculating is bewildering to me. “How so?” I always ask when I hear that sentiment voiced, and the person voicing it always stumbles over the answer, attempting to placate me with more generalities. “But what specific forms of exclusively male self-realization does marriage prevent?” When pressed, such a person will ultimately admit that he can’t think of anything “right now”, except freedom to engage in substance abuse, ass-grabbing and sexist banter. None of which I particularly care about, except those aren’t accomplishments one is likely to be admired for in one’s middle age. Having to forego one’s painstakingly established career because of family — that elicits sympathy from me. Having to forego binge-drinking and whoring — not so much.

But what I would most like from any married, or formerly married, man who is having such thoughts, is picture the alternative. Imagine what would happen if you never immersed yourself in that lukewarm bath of sweatpants, suburban drives, diaper changes and giant plastic toys. How would your life be different? What would you have done with it? Would you have invented time travel? Colonized Alpha Centauri? Composed a dozen symphonies? Written a great novel? Found a cure for cancer? Learned to sail and spent your life drifting from one scenic Caribbean island to another, bedding beautiful women and getting into adventures and stuff? (That is, instead of getting shipwrecked, finding yourself harassed by various authorities, filling out reams of paperwork, spending months fixing the stupid boat while muttering something about “the goddamned port fees” and dying of humiliation whilst pitching fishing trips to fat cruise passengers. Remember, the gods too enjoy a good laugh.)

Well, perhaps. I will grant that technically, all these are possibilities. But in terms of likelihoods, your alternative life would probably turn out to be one of obligatory bad-boyism and a routine consisting of hard work and hard partying. The key word here is, of course, “routine” (not “partying”). As in, each day blends into the next, months and years float by with more of the same, and it seems like nothing ever happens. And once you’ve imagined it, ask yourself honestly, whether that kind of life would give you a sense of liberty and accomplishment. Not likely, if sameness, dullness and repetition is what’s wrong with marriage.

It is human nature to seek repetition and stability, whether we do it via that well-worn path of marriage and parenthood or the equally well-worn path of “living life on one’s own terms”, whatever the hell that means. We seek these things even though they bring so many of us angst and dissatisfaction. And life, as we humans construct it, isn’t designed to hand one a career of never-ending adventure, daily excitement and effortless, epiphany-style greatness. Quite the contrary: marriage or no marriage, it will inevitably incorporate small and boring, yet necessary, activities on a daily basis.

No relationship choice will, in and of itself, infuse one’s existence with meaning or a sense of fulfillment. Maybe it’s just life that’s dull and lackluster. Maybe you are.

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11 thoughts on “Some thoughts on marriage, regrets and mediocrity

  1. uglicoyote on said:

    Reblogged this on The Road and commented:
    Fantastic piece. Thoughtful and should be read thoughtfully by any married or divorced male. Or anyone else for that matter.

  2. givesgoodemail on said:

    This is usually just a matter of “she stifled me”, or “being married kept me from doing big things” bullshit.

    Just another example of “it’s not my fault!”

  3. I tell those who ask that getting married is either the absolute best, or absolute worst, decision one can make. This is because you are connecting yourself to another person in a way that gives them a great deal of control over so many aspects of your life. If both of you have each others best interests at heart, and you have similar goals and ideals, having that other person makes your life wonderful, and makes it much easier to achieve your goals. NOT having both of those causes misery.

    Personally, I am in a relationship with a person with similar ideals and similar goals, and we do look out for each others best interests. This does not mean life is perfect (we both suffer from PTSD, so there are issues), but it does mean that there is someone there to help steer when we need it, and to help clean up the messes we make of things. And, after almost 15 years, she still has beautiful eyes.

    • givesgoodemail on said:

      Preach, brother, preach.

      Keep in mind, children, that marriage usually makes the good things better, and the bad things worse.

      My spuse has the most beautiful eyes, and the the most creative soul, That I’ve ever met. And she makes a mean baked mac-and-cheese.

  4. anonymous on said:

    “if sameness, dullness and repetition is what’s wrong with marriage.”

    You’re assuming that all sameness, dullness, and repetition is created equal. However, if you have to do the same thing every single day for the rest of your life, it’s much better to do something that’s at least mildly enjoyable. “Boozing and whoring” might get boring after a while, but boring’s the worst they’ll get. On the other hand, years spent with a nagging wife aren’t merely boring, they’re outright miserable.

    Why should a bachelor care if he hasn’t “accomplished” anything? He will at least die “not miserable” (perhaps even content–‘happy’ might be pushing it) after decades of the same booze and whore routine a thousand times over. Get married, on the other hand, and you probably won’t achieve anything either, with the added drawback that when you die you’ll wish death came a lot earlier than it did. Relationships can’t infuse life with meaning–but they can certainly take it away.

    • Why is it always “anonymous” that totally misses the point? Look, I don’t care what people do with their lives, as long as they are honest with themselves. A man who moans about a “nagging wife” ruining his life would, in his alternative life, moan about what bitches women are, and how beautiful girls who go to nightclubs are all shallow for only wanting to date handsome jerks. If your hypothetical man has never done anything of value or note in his life, has never changed anyone else’s life for the better, and is a kind of person who won’t be missed or mourned by anyone when he dies, I’d say the fault probably lies with him. Why should anyone else owe someone like that to make his life meaningful or even enjoyable? But look at it this way: one of the undeniable benefits of marriage to a man like that is having the opportunity to blame every unhappiness and every failure on his “nagging wife”. Believe me, if you got acid in your veins, that’s as sweet a deal as you’re ever gonna get.

  5. anonymous on said:

    “A man who moans about a “nagging wife” ruining his life would, in his alternative life, moan about what bitches women are, and how beautiful girls who go to nightclubs are all shallow for only wanting to date handsome jerks. ”

    Really? I’ve known a few divorced men who’ve dumped their (as they described it)”nagging wives” and went on to…speak lovingly of all the new girls they’ve bedded and all the new women they’re meeting who are fantastic and better than their wife. Perhaps you could such those folks aren’t being “honest” with themselves, but judging by how content they are, I doubt you can accuse them of “moaning” a whole lot.

    “If your hypothetical man has never done anything of value or note in his life, has never changed anyone else’s life for the better, and is a kind of person who won’t be missed or mourned by anyone when he dies, I’d say the fault probably lies with him.”

    I don’t recall saying my “hypothetical man” never did anything valuable. No, I suppose we can’t all be Leo Tolstoys and explorers of Alpha Centauri, but I’ve known doctors, engineers, teachers, writers, philanthropists, and a few other “accomplished” (by your definition, at least I assume) men who are either unhappy in their marriage, happier now that the yoke of marriage is off them, or happy to be single. I’ll miss those folks when they kick the bucket, and I won’t be the only one.

    “Believe me, if you got acid in your veins, that’s as sweet a deal as you’re ever gonna get.”

    Nah, thinking about it, sounds like a downright terrible deal to me. Somebody with “acid in their veins” has enough trouble already. Being able to blame a woman for your self-inflicted problems isn’t anywhere near worth the actual problems she might very well inflict on you on top of those.

    • “Too lazy to sign in, yeah, sure”: You are still missing the point. Here is a good rule of thumb: if the post is not about you, then it’s not about you. I personally don’t care whether anyone gets married or not, and whether or not he stays married. Advocating for others to go one way or the other, however (because you’ve known people, actual doctors, no less!) — now that suggests a need for validation. Also, please understand that “uneducated, sheltered, bon-bon-eating lay-about who’s only seen a doctor on daytime TV” describes merely a tiny percentage of women; so don’t assume you are the only one who’s known people.

      • I think that anonymous is being very honest when he (I assume “he” anyway) expresses the opinion that boozing and whoring are better than marriage. For him, that is undoubtedly true. Unfortunately, men like him are rarely honest with either themselves or their prospective partners when they enter serious relationships, and thus you end up with a miserable marriage. On the one hand, you have a man who clearly wants nothing to do with the idea of being, at least in part, responsible to another human being. On the other hand, you have a woman who probably thinks that being responsible to another human being is what marriage is all about, and tries constantly to get her spouse to behave that way, thus being tagged as a “nag.”

        The problem with anonymous’ position, as I see it, is that men like him enter into marriage perfectly aware of what their partners will expect of them, utterly crush those expectations, but then complain that the miserable marriage is the woman’s fault because she nags. Well, what is causing the nagging? Is it your own behavior?

        Here’s the thing, I agree with anonymous that those types of marriages sound like miserable little slices of hell. I just think that they are equally hellish for the women, and I think that if someone, either man or woman, is not ready and willing to be a real partner in a marriage, then they really, really shouldn’t get married to begin with. Just say no 🙂

  6. I am a woman who felt dragged out & “emasculated” by my (male) spouse!

  7. Pingback: Marriage regrets | Turkonkoloji

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