The challenge of defining marriage

I’m finding fewer and fewer things to write about in a singles column since I’m not technically “single” any longer.

I mean, I’m not, not single – according to the definition “characteristic of the unmarried state” – but I’m also no longer looking around in the wide world of singles.

I’m not sure what to call this particular state.

It’s beyond “dating.” A “monogamous relationship” sounds too scientific. “Part of a couple,” maybe? Yes, that sure rolls smoothly off the tongue.

Maybe it’s the recent efforts to define marriage that has led me to this attempt to define which stage my relationship is in and the direction it is going.

Actually, perhaps defining marriage isn’t such a bad idea since there seems to be so many versions of it.

Looking around at relationships around me, it’s kind of frightening to think about the future. One couple I know has recently separated (one of the “oh, they’re perfect for each other” couples that has been married only two years). And they’re not the only “perfect” couple whose marriage has deteriorated. It happens all too often.

Looking at my current relationship, I feel it has careened so effortlessly through the past five months and part of me wonders, what could ever go wrong? Then I remember all the struggles that life often slams in your face and I wonder how that would affect us. I see how other couples deal with life’s ups and downs, and some don’t fare very well.

For instance, some couples’ relationships seem to thrive with children while others seem barely able to stand up to the strain.

Consider a couple I’ve recently met. The woman works days and the husband works nights to avoid daycare for their children; the result is they only see each other for a few hours a week. Yet, they seem happy, although tired, because they’re both working toward the same goal and can count on each other.

The life of another couple – a trendy, fun couple always ready for a night out – changed dramatically after a child arrived. The wife switched to mom mode, willingly foregoing nights out to stay at home with the baby. The husband didn’t shift his priorities quite so quickly and the trendy, fun couple no longer got along quite so well.

With more than half of marriages ending in divorce, it’s justified to be concerned about these kinds of things.

What is the definition of “marriage”?

I decided to Google it, since the trusty search engine seems to have all the answers.

One of the definitions was “it’s an institution in which a man loses his bachelor degree and a woman gets her master’s.”

Hmmm… That’s not really what I had in mind, but I did like the definition of “a set of cultural rules for bringing men and women together to create a family unit and for defining their behavior toward one another, their children and society.”

Although that definition isn’t very romantic, and ignores some of the aspects often deemed important today in deciding whom to marry – chemistry, attraction, employment – it has a long-term sound to it.

After all, isn’t the main goal of marriage to build a life with somebody? And build a family unit, if that’s what you both want. If that’s the underlying goal, then it makes sense to choose somebody that wants the same things, not somebody who merely makes a good Saturday night date.

Whether you define yourself as married, single or “part of a couple,” struggles will still exist in your life, there’s no way around it. But things seem to usually work out for the best in the end – and inevitably provide plenty of good writing material.

This article first appeared in the March 12, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

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