Sunday, February 9, 2014

No laughing matter

    Funny quote of the day: A man in love is incomplete until he has married. Then he's finished. —Zsa Zsa Gabor

Last week someone posted this in one of the social network mailing list thingies that I'm a part of. You hear "jokes" like this every day. Who hasn't heard the one that says marriage is a three-ring circus -- "engagement ring, wedding ring and suffering"?

I'm sorry, but I really don't think such "jokes" are funny. I think they're rather sad.

We live in a society where divorce rates are rising and even when couples do not divorce, that doesn't mean they're happy or fulfilled in the marriage or that they're thankful to still be together with their partner after all these years. In fact, a truly happy, healthy marriage is pretty hard to find. When you look at it that way, the prospects for a fulfilling and wholesome marriage are rather bleak. And then we accentuate the bleakness by making "jokes" about marriage, perpetuating the idea of marriage being a ball and chain, or reinforcing stereotypes of the domineering, nagging wife and hen-pecked husband.

Now, I don't think anybody should go into marriage all rosy-eyed and expecting "happily ever after". People should be prepared for the amount of effort it takes to meld two lives into one, two very different personalities and characters coming from different backgrounds, with different expectations and all kinds of weird habits. That's one thing. But there's no call to make marriage sound like a jail cell, the death knell of joy, or a harbinger of doom. Come on!

"Jokes" like those I quoted above undermine the whole institution of marriage, the covenant of marriage. Yes, if you're a Christian, you know that the marriage vows are a covenant, a solemn promise made to your spouse and to God. What does it mean when we promise to "love, honour and cherish" and yet joke that after the engagement ring and the wedding ring comes suffering? And then we laugh at the so-called joke, not realising that when we laugh, we are tacitly acknowledging the implication that spouses are often unreasonable and difficult to get along with. Do you realise how this actually shows dishonour to a spouse?

Also -- it's never funny to garner a laugh at someone else's expense, and in fact when we laugh at "jokes" like these we're laughing at the people who struggle to make their marriages work, people for whom everyday life is a challenge because for whatever reason, their marriage is in upheaval, or at least facing major difficulties. It's not funny to them, and it shouldn't be funny to us. It's not funny to reduce very complex problems into a simplistic, stereotypical script and run that off as a two-line "joke".

When I was growing up, Mom had a saying: "If you can't think of anything good to say, don't say anything." Based on that principle... if we have to be negative and cynical about marriage, we'd be better off saying nothing. And, if you must quote someone, just so you know, there are better people to quote than Zsa Zsa Gabor:

  • Love is not a weakness. It is strong. Only the sacrament of marriage can contain it.
    Boris Pasternak
  • A great marriage is not when the 'perfect couple' come together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.
    Dave Meurer
  • A happy marriage is a long conversation that seems all too short.
    Andre Maurois
  • A marriage is like a long trip in a tiny rowboat: If one passenger starts to rock the boat, the other has to steady it; otherwise they will go to the bottom together.
    David Reuben
  • A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.
    Mignon McLaughlin
  • To choose a woman for a wife is not to say to Miss So-and-so: You are the ideal of my dreams... To choose a woman for a wife is to say to Miss So-and-so: I want to live with you just as you are... It is you I choose to share my life with me, and that is the only evidence there can be that I love you.
    Denis de Rougemont
  • A good marriage is the union of two good forgivers.
    Ruth Bell Graham
  • Real giving is when we give to our spouses what's important to them, whether we understand it, like it, agree with it, or not.
    Michele Weiner-Davis
  • Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love, and they blossom when we love the ones we marry.
    Tom Mullen
  • The married are those who have taken the terrible risk of intimacy and, having taken it, know life without intimacy to be impossible.
    Carolyn Heilbrun

My favourite quote, though, comes from Winston Churchill: "My most brilliant achievement was my ability to persuade my wife to marry me."
* Reposted from a now-defunct blog. Originally published Dec 9, 2008


siehjin said...

in principle i agree with your post. just wanted to point out that the "engagement ring, wedding ring, suffering" joke is one that contains a lot of truth in it though.

as you acknowledged, every marriage, no matter how happy and blissful, will have some amount of suffering in it. a joke like this can help singles to be prepared for that and give marrieds an opportunity to laugh at their own struggles.

as Norman Wright writes in "after you say i do" - "Marriage is a call to suffering."

Sunflower said...

I think in the context of the joke, it's needlessly negative and cynical. It's one more "joke" that paints marriage in a black light, as something that should be avoided or destroys all your freedom and happiness. I just don't like the implications of it.