Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Freedom’s Just Another Word for Being Afraid to Give…

We were listening to part 2 of the Freakonomics podcast on marriage, and listening to all the reasons why people choose not to get married. They mostly all boil down to wanting to keep their freedom, or having the option to leave, not wanting to feel “trapped,” etc. Let's face it, in a culture where people can’t stand being locked into a two-year cell phone contract, because something better might come along after six months, that’s almost understandable.

And then there are people like the Gatlings here, who like to keep something and use it almost until it falls apart. We drive our cars to death. When I ran out of disk space on my laptop I bought a new drive for $100 rather than a new machine for $1200…and then I put the old drive in Cheryl’s machine, and her old drive in Sofie’s, so that everyone made out. We don't care that a new model iPad or iPod Touch came out, as long as our old one still does what we need it to do. We don't need the freedom to jump ship and get the new latest and greatest thing as long as the old one is still doing its job.

But my real point, and I do have one, is one that writer Ann Patchett made about finally getting married after 11 years of seeing this one guy and having separate apartments (so that one of them could always leave and they wouldn't feel trapped). There's a certain bonus to being in a committed relationship of some kind, a relationship where you’re reasonably sure that the other person isn’t going to just up and leave because they’re tired, bored, or saw a better model. But rather than talk about what she said, let me just give you her words from the recent NPR piece about her.

…after we got married, Karl loved me more and that was amazing. There was something about getting married that allowed Karl to say, “OK…I’ve been holding out on you. There’s like a secret storeroom of extra love, but because we weren’t married I was always afraid that you were going to leave.” And so that was a wonderful bonus. He was just relaxed because he always really wanted to get married.

I understand this totally. It makes absolutely perfect sense to me. You don’t want to invest your entire heart and soul into something that has a high probability of not lasting. And when you’re dealing with someone who’s always got their eyes on the “Exit” signs, we’re talking about a very risky investment. But once he was finally in that relationship, the relationship where the point was to try to be there for each other, no matter what; and to try to talk things through, rather than stomping off with their toys to their separate homes when things got disagreeable; he was free in a way that the people with their eyes on the “Exit” signs don’t understand. He wasn’t free to leave whenever he wanted; instead, he was free to give more and to love more.

Don’t get me wrong here. I know that not all marriages work out, but most do. Yes, you saw that right. That old statistic about 50% of all marriages ending in divorce is wrong, and I’ve talked about that before. A good 80% of all first marriages go the distance. But in order to do so, it requires a level of selflessness, self-sacrifice, and putting the other person first that the generation that won’t sign a two-year cell phone contract can’t hack.

But once you sign that contract, rather than being free to walk away at any time, you’re free to enjoy that phone in ways that you weren’t able to before.

Just ask Karl.

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