Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Howdy, Pardner!: An argument for marriage

I always look forward to reading the Modern Love columns in the Sunday New York Times. This week's, in which the editor of the column distills some of his wisdom gleaned from reviewing hundreds of submissions over the years, was particularly insightful.

He addressed a qualm about marriage that both the Mr. and myself have expressed - to each other - since we got engaged: is it possible, or even reasonable, to stay faithful to one person for dozens upon dozens of years? That we're both older than your 'average' newlywed takes a few years off that count, but we're still looking a loooooooong way into the future. How to sustain a relationship until we're in rocking chairs?

The insightful Daniel Jones suggests it's all about confiding such concerns, and offers this reassurance:

Some people think we live too long to commit to one person for life. Monogamy may have made sense a few centuries ago, they argue, when we tended to die in our 40s (after raising a dozen children). But being with the same person well into our 70s and 80s? That simply can’t be natural.

This is a question, by the way, asked almost exclusively by people in their 40s (or younger). People in their 70s and 80s do not ask this question. They are, by and large, very happy to have shared a lifetime with the same person.

O.K., but that’s three decades before the appreciation kicks in. What if you want to feel appreciated now? And what if the person who makes you feel appreciated isn’t your spouse?

Here’s a heartening trend — husbands and wives choosing to talk honestly with each other about their needs, desires and temptations, even (or especially) when they threaten the marriage. In the stories crossing my desk, sneaking is increasingly being replaced by confiding. And the sky isn’t falling and clothes aren’t being thrown from windows. The conversations are hard, rage may have to be expressed, but many couples find a way through.

After reading hundreds of columns, Mr. Jones is no stranger to the 'what to call your spouse' question, as it relates to all sorts of couples. His answer, which could resolve both the Trouble with Wife, and the Introduction Conundrum, is for all of us - regardless of gender or orientation - to refer to our partners as just that: partners. With a spot-on allusion to Dr. Seuss, he writes:
Why not tear a page from the wranglers’ handbook and require all married folk to call each other partner? Think of the benefits. Not only would life start to sound like a permanent square dance, we’d also lose the language that distinguishes gay marriage from straight. And perhaps like Dr. Seuss’s famous Star-Belly Sneetches, who finally learn that no one kind of Sneetch is the best on the beach, we’ll see that marriage is marriage, meant for devotion that thrives, and not just for unions of straight husbands and wives.
Though I referred to Mr. Barefoot as my 'partner' before we got married - as did/do most of my friends with their respective sweethearts - I've made a conscious effort to recognize our new status in my references to him. But, now I wonder, why? There's the social recognition of a public commitment -- relevant in the personal arena, less so in the professional one. It's not really the business of my professional colleagues and students what my marital status is. And I wear a ring, so people will most likely assume I'm married. In any case, I like the gender and orientation neutrality of 'partner,' the solidarity with same-sex couples, and the whiff of Wild West cowboys and ranches, so... meet my partner, Mr. Barefoot.

1 comment:

Ms. Bunny said...

I refer to Mr. Beagle as my partner all of the time even though he doesn't like it. I really relate to the appeal of gender/orientation neutrality of the word. I find that I use it mostly at grad school or work with people who don't need to know the specifics of my personal life.