I noticed a couple of my Facebook friends got engaged a couple of days ago. Apparently there was this big romantic holiday or something. As someone who’s been married for 3+ years my response to this is “Come on in! The water’s fine!” Seriously, marriage is great. Sure there are ups and downs but that’s true of any relationship. You have a partner in life, someone at your side during the tough times and someone to share the good times with.
Other people’s view of marriage can be different. I’ve always thought Mike Birbiglia’s was funny “I am not going to get married until I was sure that nothing else good could happen in my life.” (He’s married now by the way and seems to like it.) I think a lot of us have this mindset that I need to go out and experience a certain amount of things before I can get married. While I think it’s important to have an idea of the direction of your life, that’s not what most people mean. They mean they want to have sex with a bunch of people.
I’m normally a fan of This American Life, but this week’s episode bothered me a bit. The first story was of this couple who were the cute, stable couple you knew in college (for How I Met Your Mother fans think Lily and Marshall). They’d been dating since they were 17, could talk about anything except marriage. They joked that they’d get married when they had kids. Then the guy in this relationship had a realization, at 30, and asked why they had never talked about marriage. Her response, “well I think we should sleep with a lot of other people first.”
The story goes on to talk about their rumspringa (their term for taking a break from their relationship, inspired by the Amish), in which they take 30 days to sleep with as many people as they can. Only rule “no relationships”. Starting to sound like a bad Hollywood movie right? 30 days becomes 60 and 90, and eventually they break up, no surprise there.
A couple of points in this bothered me. The guy in this relationship talked about dating for the first time since he was 17 and how he only had the emotional tools of a 17 year old. For some reason he couldn’t have sex with someone and not fall in love with them immediately (for the woman this was apparently not the case). This wasn’t exactly a surprise to me, nor was the idea that casual sex is something you should be able to do without a relationship. You mean there’s an emotional connection that comes with sex? Really?! The delayed adolescence being displayed in someone who is 4 years my senior is a little sad.
The guy’s take away from this was that if he ever got married he’d want to do it under the condition that they would reevaluate in seven years. The host of TAL put forth the “shocking” idea that it is the commitment part of marriage that makes it so great, the idea that the other person isn’t just going to leave. Maybe this couple needed this rumspringa to truly address the fact they didn’t want to stay in the relationship, but if that’s so then they really weren’t communicating in the first place.
Let’s get back to Lily and Marshall for a second. At some point toward the end of the first season which started with the two of them being engaged, Lily has some doubts about the direction of her life and wants to pursue an art fellowship across the county. They break up, she goes to San Francisco and Marshall is miserable. She eventually comes back and wants to get back together, but her earlier breakup has hurt the relationship and it takes a third of the following season to heal it. It’s one of the harder parts of the show to watch since these two are otherwise this great fun couple that have always been the most delightful part of the show.
The circumstances (though fictional) are similar. Their relationship started early in college and Lily wanted some time to figure out who she was separate from the relationship. It’s hard and it’s hurtful, and HIMYM does an honest job of portraying the range of emotions. I never get the feeling that the show exalts or condemns this action, it merely portrays what the consequences of those choices would be. And much as I and everyone else wanted them to get back together, it was appropriate that it took time (and now I can’t wait for their baby!)
I feel like the other couple could learn a lot from this story. They didn’t break up because they wanted to pursue a personal passion, they just wanted to have sex. They sacrificed a 13 year relationship on that alone, and they don’t really seem sorry about it. It doesn’t sound like they actually had a relationship, so maybe it was for the best, but I wonder how many other people are out there who think this way.
I hope my kids grow up with the idea that a lifelong commitment to someone is not a shocking idea and that sex, while wonderful, is really only wonderful with the person you want to spend your life with. If you’re not meant to be together because of the direction your lives are taking you, fine, but make the decision to break up for those kinds of reasons, and only commit to someone you mean to spend the rest of your life with.
Happy two days after Valentine’s day Marshmallow and Lily-pad, and you too Buttercup.