Until Death…?

Until Death…?

A Story by Kelley T

A personal analysis of both the cultural and individual expectations surrounding marriage.


     I had an interesting conversation with my mother today.

     She's been going through the motions of getting a divorce. I did, have, and will continue to support her decision entirely. I actually spent the past decade, give or take a few days or weeks, trying to coerce her into filing, downright insisting that she, my sibling and I would all be far better off without her husband, my absentee father. In retrospect, she's willing to admit that I was right, but I must give her credit for attempting to make things work with her husband, whether or not it was in fact to our detriment not only as a family unit, but individuals as well. I digress.

     During a lull in our conversation this afternoon, she held up her left hand, which was bare. She had removed her wedding band and engagement ring, a social gesture which she intended to save until after the proceedings were finalized; it was to be a ceremonial rite of passage.


     She replied flat-out that she needs to move on. Her husband is apparently intent on dragging this out; to whatever end, no one can really say, but he's refused to settle and it seems as though he'll continue to twiddle his thumbs while everyone else twists in the wind.

     I was at work, behind the counter of a coffee shop, when she informed me of this. I could think of nothing else to do, apart from climbing up and leaning over the counter, enveloping her in a crushing hug.

     How can her husband, soon to be ex-, do this to her? His wife. The mother of his children. The one to whom he pledged himself.

     Thinking back to another exchange I had with this steadfast, delightfully stubborn matriarch of mine, the person currently cowering behind the attorney opposite hers is not the man she married. In my personal, blatantly bias opinion, he's not a man at all, but again, I digress.

     As trite a truism as it is, "the only constant in life is change" is still that - a truism.

     My mother insists a couple can grow and change together, though it's almost a guaranteed breaking point of a marriage when one partner evolves (or, in some cases, devolves) independently from their significant other. I can understand her point of view, but find it hard to appreciate.

     Despite what obstacles may come down the pike, it's highly unlikely that both parties in any duo, married or not, are going to perceive and react identically to any given situation.

     Psychologically-speaking, there are a few different schools of thought to which one can subscribe when it comes to emotions; I prefer the notion of W. G. Parrott that there are six primary emotions, which can be divided into two basic groups: love, joy, and surprise / anger, sadness, and fear. The former and latter groups are polar opposites; there are very few instances in life in which things are black and white, and I just so happen to believe that this is one of those instances.

     On a daily basis we make conscious decisions. Depending on your genetic disposition, your social and familial background, your use and/or abuse of any particular substances, and countless other variables, your decision may lean toward one end of this emotional spectrum or the other. I, for one, don't believe that there's much of an in between.

     Granted, one can feel ambivalent, though I think that on a basal level there is always going to be some amount of discrimination, whether or not we consciously recognize it. What's more, this theory simplifies things all the further for the sake of argument, if nothing else.

     A primary example to this divergence of paths would be my parents individual reactions to their divorce proceedings.

     My mother has attempted to find the silver lining and is looking forward to moving on, to letting go. Her soon-to-be (but-not-soon-enough) ex-husband, however, has taken a decidedly negative stance in response to this situation; it's something that he apparently doesn't want, for one reason or another, and is attempting to make everyone else as miserable as he. Two individuals could never be on further ends of the spectrum than these two right now.

     Taking this into consideration, the inevitable transitions through which we all go, - continuously: every day, every hour, every second - it makes me wary of the very institution of matrimony. Who is to say that the person to whom I may one day choose to devote myself will be the same individual two, ten, twenty years down the road?

     No one.

     No one in their right mind would ever dare to insinuate such a silly thing, mainly because it's essentially a whimsical impossibility. Unless one slips into a coma and ceases to ingest and process new information, new experiences, then they'll eventually morph and with any luck transform into a greater, more competent, confident and collected version of their former self. With any luck; it's not a guarantee, more so a wish made while one engages in the crossing of fingers and knocking of wood.

     It's the beauty of being human - we are capable of endless transformations, without requiring a chrysalis, cocoon or any other sort of artificial womb. It's inevitable and indisputable that we all slowly change over time, but the most important part of any transformation is, of course, the end result. The outcome is decided by the path onto which we chose to go, the one of positivity and growth for the individual and those around them or the one of malevolence and ire that will most likely only come to be an invisible oppressive and all-consuming force.

     To make an attempt at tying my points together, a part of me has begun to think of the human construct of marriage as a force that works against human nature. Thankfully, another, much more dominant, fraction of my inner-self loudly insists that it is our primitive, emotion-based mind that works against this and many other man-made institutions. We can work around and forge ahead through emotion-based obstacles, either on our own or with the help of a therapist and, if deemed necessary, prescribed medications; it's when these options aren't utilized once a potentially dire situation arises that there are issues.

     Moreover, the fact that we are capable of out-thinking ourselves at times gives us options, especially in situations such as this.

     I, for one, don't believe myself to be the type of person capable of entering a situation wherein I devote myself to another and promise myself to them. I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that to another person, man or woman, or even a child for that matter.

     As a human being, I believe in being accountable to one's self, if nothing else, and at times that's more than enough. So long as I can catch my reflection and make eye-contact with myself without recoiling in regret or revulsion at my deeds and the person I've become then, by my standards, all is well.

     Some may feel a need or longing to validate themselves through another person or feel pressured into living out their days in a particular fashion. At the risk of sounding boorish, I pity these individuals.

     No one can make you more of a person, any more of a human being, than your very self. If you're displeased with yourself or your position in life, it's up to you to adjust the set and do what's within your power to make life more bearable. No one else has any mystically enlightened answers and, even if they did, most everything important in life is subjective, so their cheat sheets would be useless means to an end you most likely won't reach, unless you attain it yourself.

     Life is trying and miserable; it's other people that help make it tolerable, if not enjoyable, but they're not the end-all, be-all to life's endless questions to be pondered and infinite amount of toiling to be done.

     My point in all of this is, perhaps, that while we ought to appreciate, treasure and admire those who we hold dear now, and with any luck will be able to continue cherishing and holding dear for many more years to come, we can't bet our bottom dollar on anyone but ourselves. Any attempt to do so is not only setting ourselves up for disappointment, but cheating the other person by fixing up expectations to which they can never amount, which can only lead to deep-seated resentment, whether or not it's outrightly recognized.

     Love is beautiful, love is wonderful, love is multifaceted, but, most importantly, love is not defined by or built solely upon the paper on which a marriage license is written, the vows that are rehearsed and recited or the wedding band on a spouse's hand. The license can be voided, the vows long-forgotten and the bands removed.

     "Until death?" A person can die many times, emotionally and psychologically, before being laid to rest, six feet under. The point of life is to live it, to enjoy it, with those who are most important to you, regardless of the titles or ceremonies involved.

     It's far too easy to get caught up in the pomp and circumstance and expectations of one's culture; it's also far too easy to get caught up in a loveless marriage. Live while you can, love while you can and don't be blinded by the veil of repackaged fairy tales.

© 2010 Kelley T

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Added on January 15, 2010
Last Updated on January 15, 2010
Tags: marriage, death, culture, vows


Kelley T
Kelley T

Pittsburgh, PA

If there's one thing in which I believe, it's following your dreams. And, that said, I try my damnedest to not be a hypocrite. : ) more..

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