Marriage ain’t what it used to be. We all know that. It ain’t a means of rescuing women and men who are helpless and incomplete without each other. It ain’t an economic necessity, as it once was in our patriarchal / pastoral history. It ain’t a required foundation to build a family. It ain’t a government requirement or religious rite without which acceptance, worth and credence are withheld. In our modern / post-modern world, marriage ain’t a lot of things.
So what is the purpose of marriage now?
I am getting married in three weeks. As engagement frenzy speeds ahead (in concert with the unending demands of entrepreneurship and my book tour), as I write my vows and work with my fiancée to lock-in the details of the big day, and especially as a Purpose Guide(TM) who thinks about the purpose of everything, I keep coming back to this question. “What is the purpose of this institution?”
Like all who approach this commitment, I find myself with the common fears of “Am I ready?”, “Is now the time?”, “Is she the really the one?”, “Do I really want to give up the possibility of sleeping with other women?”, “Do I really want this oft-ridiculed institution, that hasn’t seemed to work out well for many?” Of course, none of these questions have answers that can satisfy my ego’s demand for certainty or my animal desires.
My experience is that to really be with this commitment and know it’s purpose, two things are required: Faith and Mystery.
An act of faith is required. To move forth into this commitment, I have to ground myself in faith — that I do not need the answers to these questions. To have a life that is a match for my soul, that is as big as my soul, I must venture forth with imperfect information. I must trust that what got us to this precipice was one thing, and what will carry us into the future is another yet to be revealed.
Soul is expansive, lusty and promiscuous. Soul is a game of moving into a categorically uncertain future (anyone who tells you otherwise is not paying attention, is deeply mislead, at best, or lying, at worst) with faith, with the faith that our souls will guide us, and develop us as we make and honor new commitments. This requires a different orientation to the unknown. This requires a seductive embrace of mystery.
As anyone who has taken a statistics class can tell you, absolute certainty is a fool’s game, and that ain’t the game of soul. It ain’t the game I’m playing with my life, in my marriage or for the world. And this starts to hint at the purpose of marriage. Marriage is a choice to play a new game with soul, to dissolve, expand and morph into a larger expression of life. As Poet, David Whyte writes in The Three Marriages:
“In effect, both partners must suffer a kind of logical self-impairment to make the commitment. A marriage is creatively destructive of both partners’ cherished notions of themselves… the actual marriage: a radically new conversation that is built on the razed foundations of their former identities….
“… a mutual invitation to which both partners must respond wholeheartedly. It includes as much of the future in its gravitational pull as it does any present particularities. It is something that lives over the horizon as much as it exists in the here and now. It is full of keen daily pleasures and shattering disappointments. From all of these early, optimistic appearances and depressing disappearances we realize we have had a first glimpse of secret imagined possibilities, until now unspoken.”
Marriage is a Choice
I choose this void of certainty and the potentialities of a larger expression. I choose Steph, not just because she is loving, sexy, intelligent, beautiful, dynamic, ambitious and emotionally fluent. I choose her because I have never met anyone as growth-oriented, who can be with the unknown, and as well-equipped to roll the dice of life. I choose her because the unending act of getting to know her in this creative destruction of identity pleases my soul.
As such, I believe the purpose of marriage, when held intimately, is a choice for adventure, to periodically molt away smaller self and attachments in service of the larger identity and attachments that await. My invitation to all considering marriage or in a marriage: Choose a soulful approach grounded in faith and mystery. Do your own inner work and court mystery, such that you can slough off what is no longer needed and invite the unknown that this commitment offers.