Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Is Institutional Marriage the Opposite of Unconditional Love?

This song by Alanis Morissette is an incredible description of unconditional love. The lyrics are typed out at the end of this post. How does/doesn't this kind of love fit into our views about "normal, healthy marriages?" I'm struggling to think of any marriage I know about in which both partners could say/mean this to one another. There are so many reasons for that. Practical reasons, even. Here's some:

If I love like this
  •  My spouse might feel they can just go off with someone else
  • I would have to be in charge of my own "personal nest" in such a way that the other person walking away wouldn't threaten my well-being or that of my children.
  • I would have to open myself up to the risk of being hurt/left/rejected

O.k. but wait a second ... even in traditional marriage, either spouses can technically still walk out. Even in traditional marriage I can't know for sure that I will be provided for and won't need to have the ability to do that myself if my spouse should get sick, lose his job, or even die. Even in traditional marriage, I am vulnerable to the risk of being hurt/left/rejected.

So what's the thing that makes the love in the song lyrics so incompatible with traditional marriage?

I'd like to say that it's GUILT.

In a traditional marriage, the only thing standing between me and my fear of being utterly alone is the knowledge that my spouse would feel GUILT if he or she broke the vows they made to always love one another. And a lot of other people we know would be pissed off, too.

But here's the deal ... I can tell you with experience behind me and every cell in my body agreeing: knowing your partner is with you because they said they would/don't want to break their vow/don't want to feel guilt is the same damn thing as rejection. In some ways it's worse. At least if I'm rejected I am being freed to find someone who DOES want to love me and I them. But in a guilt-based marriage, I know I am not enough, am not performing well enough, aren't pretty or handsome enough, or whatever. AND on top of it, I'm stuck, too, in this guilt marriage, so I can't even hope that I will be loved by someone else the way I signed up to be loved when I said my vows!

I can also tell you with experience behind me and every cell in my body agreeing: I would rather live with the knowledge that this person I love so much might choose to not want a relationship with me anymore at some point in the future, in a non-guilt-based relationship, because I get to KNOW that they are here today because they want to be in a way I would never be assured of in a traditional marriage.

That is a knowledge with trust behind it that no traditional marriage can give me. In traditional marriage I trade in the sureness of knowing the other wants to be with me. I trade it in for security. The sad part it, it's not even REAL security. It's security based on assuming that the other person is motivated by guilt/vows said at the altar.

One of the ways I "test" things like this is to apply the principle to another kind of situation and see if it holds true there. So let's take our love for our children.

I have written about this before here ("Runaway Bunnies, Breasts & Hell") but let's ask ourselves if the love in this song is the way we love our kids? For me, the answer is a resounding, unequivocal YES.

What about friendships? When I consider the idea of trying to make someone promise to be my friend and motivate them with guilt to fulfill their promise, I see that this notion is obviously preposterous.

Why are marriages any different? Supposedly this is the person you love most in the world. And yet this is the person you want to nail down and box up in an institution that promises the illusion of security.

Institutional, traditional marriage puts the other person in a room and then hands them a key. On the key it says the following:
"Use this key to exit this room but do so knowing that you are going to cause hurt and damage. You are going to be labeled all sorts of bad things and you will be be judged to be a bad person by most people you know."

Do you EVER get to know if you are truly loved with a spontaneous, authentic love in that situation? Hell, no. In fact, as soon as you hand that key to your partner, you are saying goodbye to any possibility of ever knowing for sure you are loved, wanted, adored and desired.

This is the same reason why I don't believe in hell. Authentic, real, unconditional love can not be motivated by fear; fear kills love.

I'd go so far as to say that institutional marriage is the opposite of love. That is not to say that people can't reconstruct their marriages from the inside, out. I believe that's possible. We are mid-reconstruction over here! It's scary. But it's also thrilling. It's making me take responsibility for some things that I wouldn't have when I had the attitude that "he's stuck with me, so I don't need to worry about that." But as I take responsibility for those things, making my own personal nest one that doesn't require him to do any certain thing for me to survive, there is this beautiful result: I get to know that, for sure, he's not with me because I would fall flat on my face with no job, no experience and no confidence that I can take care of myself. I can't put a price tag on that.

I'm not saying we've got this thing figured out. We have no idea what we're doing. We are just taking one step at a time, learning from our failures and following our hearts.

This song would have scared the stuffing out of me twelve years ago as I contemplated my wedding, only a month away this time of year! But it doesn't anymore. It feels exciting and inspiring to see and experience life this way.

Here's the lyrics:
I'll give you countless amounts of outright acceptance if you want it

I will give you encouragement to choose the path that you want if you need it

You can speak of anger and doubts your fears and freak outs and I'll hold it

You can share your so-called shame filled accounts of times in your life and I won't judge it

(and there are no strings attached to it)

You owe me nothing for giving the love that I give
You owe me nothing for caring the way that I have

I give you thanks for receiving it's my privilege

And you owe me nothing in return

You can ask for space for yourself and only yourself and I'll grant it
You can ask for freedom as well or time to travel and you'll have it
You can ask to live by yourself or love someone else and I'll support it

You can ask for anything you want anything at all and I'll understand it

(and there are no strings attached to it)

You owe me nothing for giving the love that I give

You owe me nothing for caring the way that I have

I give you thanks for receiving it's my privilege

And you owe me nothing in return

I bet you're wondering when the next payback shoe will eventually drop

I bet you're wondering when my conditional police will force you to cuff up

I bet you wonder how far you have now danced you way back into debt

This is the only kind of love as I understand it that there really is

You can express your deepest of truths even if it means I'll lose you and I'll hear it

You can fall into the abyss on your way to your bliss I'll empathize with

You can say that you have to skip town to chase your passion and I'll hear it

You can even hit rock bottom have a mid-life crisis and I'll hold it

(and there are no strings attached)

You owe me nothing for giving the love that I give

You owe me nothing for caring the way that I have

I give you thanks for receiving it's my privilege

And you owe me nothing in return

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Wonderful. I was deeply impressed by the lyrics of that song when I first heard it about 1-1/2 years ago. The way you've dragged this thing out into the light, it seems so obviously wrong.... so why do we do this to ourselves and those we supposedly love?
Thank you. :-)

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