Marriage links for the week

On most days, I spend 7 to 10 hours sitting in front of a computer. I’ve been doing that pretty regularly for the past five years or so. Yesterday, however, I played football with some friends. It was a lot of fun, brought back fond memories of the front-yard game of my childhood, but today I can barely move. When I was 19, I probably could have taken it in stride, but right now I can’t point to a single muscle in my body that’s not sore. That has nothing to do with my marriage. I just feel like complaining. Here are some links from the news this past week:

I love reading stories about happy marriages. This one involves a young Italian bride who grew to sincerely love her 59-year-old arranged husband.

Another reason I support President Bush: He initiated a federally funded effort to provide marriage counseling to political refugees who come to the United States. Key quote: “The refugee life has so many problems. If you have a good marriage, it’s something that’s almost too good to believe.”

Blake, of StateDog, has a great story about rescuing his daughter from a scary and pretty awkward situation.

Trouble with inlaws? Stacy has it, but she and her husband don’t let it bother them anymore.

And one more thing:
University of Texas: 46
Texas A&M University: 15

Hook ‘em Horns!

Adultery of the eyes

A short while ago I wrote a post called Adultery in the heart. I tried to make the point that sex is a sacred physical bond between a husband and wife and as such should not exist anywhere else, even in the imagination. Otherwise, we run the risk of diluting our sexual passion by spreading it too thin. My argument revolved around the short excerpt from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
—Matthew 5:27–28:

I summed up my own thoughts on the matter with this:

I have found that when I can keep myself from thinking about other women and focus 100 percent of my thoughts and energy on my wife, our relationship deepens, grows, and offers more rewards than at any other time. That, I think, is why Jesus said what He did about lust.

While reading over blogs4God the other day, I came across a post at a blog called A Blog Apart that addressed the topic of pornography. It references an article by Naomi Wolf, a feminist social critic, that addresses the effect of pervasive pornography on our culture’s sexual health. She says that when men see naked and nearly-naked women all day every day, their sexual energy disperses in many directions, with little left over for a flesh-and-blood woman at the end of the day. Here are some key quotes:

The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.”

The reason to turn off the porn might become, to thoughtful people, not a moral one but, in a way, a physical- and emotional-health one; you might want to rethink your constant access to porn in the same way that, if you want to be an athlete, you rethink your smoking. The evidence is in: Greater supply of the stimulant equals diminished capacity.

In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography.…These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.

Though she seems to be writing from a non-Christian perspective, her conclusion falls in line with Jesus’ warning. Adultery in the heart hurts a marriage just like adultery in the flesh, though in a different way. Jesus didn’t give us His command against lust to keep us from having fun, as so many people seem to think. He gave it to us so that we could have better marriages and lead more fulfilling lives.

Thanksgiving

I know I have some international readers here who may or may not be aware that today is a huge holiday in the United States. It is the day that we set aside for spending with loved ones while sharing and contemplating the things that we’re thankful for. Mrs. Happy and I drew up a short list of things we thank God for (the unabridged list would take days to compile) so that we could share it here. We are thankful for:

  • Life, family, and salvation.
  • her: My husband and best friend.
    him: My wife and best friend.
  • Our wonderful church, where we feel more at home than we have anywhere during our marriage.
  • Our cute little apartment, and our landlady who’s not a psycho, which is rare in New York.
  • Old friends, who helped make us what we are. Current friends, who put up with us unconditionally and help us to grow. Cyber friends, whose encouragement does more than they can know.
  • The joy we find in God and the happiness we find in each other.
  • Health (most of the time—right now we’re both fighting off colds).
  • Our pastor and his family, who have made us a part of their Thanksgiving tradition.
  • God-given gifts and talents, and the opportunities to use them at work, at church, and in the community.
  • Our utter silliness with each other, which has not faded with age or experience.
  • Our future together, whatever it may bring.

 

Anything in the world

For a few years after we met, the Happy Best-Friend and I used to spend quite
a bit of time together. We would sit together in church, meet for lunch on
most weekdays, go bowling between classes at the University of Texas student
union, spend Friday nights with a group of friends, then see movies on Saturdays
with a different group of friends. In between those regular activities, we
would manufacture any excuse to be in each other’s presence. Anything would
do:

  • I’m making spaghetti for dinner and I always make too much so do you want
    to come over and have some?
  • I’m trying to make a birthday card for my mother but I don’t know how to
    draw a squirrel, so could you come over and help me with that?
  • I’m so bored being in my apartment so I’m going to McDonald’s but I always
    feel like a loser sitting in public alone so do you want to come with me?

Of course, my roommate at the time would say things like “I like spaghetti” or “I
can show you how to draw a squirrel” or “McDonald’s sounds good” and I would
have to shoot him with a rubber band.

One evening the Happy Best-Friend came up with the excuse that she felt like
taking a walk through San
Gabriel Park
. It’s a nice park: scenic, quiet, well-kept, and built around
a river so wherever you are in the park you can hear the beautiful sound of
flowing water. It provides swings, slides, trees, park benches, a hiking trail,
open fields, and lots of opportunity for laughing, talking, and having fun.
That particular evening we made use of the trail and the swings, then settled
down on a bench facing the river. We sat there and talked until well after
dark, until she began nodding off against her will.

I told her we’d both better get home. We had school the next day and I had
missed too many classes already. She slumped where she was sitting and said, “Oh,
I’m so tired.” By that point in our relationship I loved her with all my heart,
even if I didn’t realize it. So I bent over, put my right arm behind her knees
and my left arm behind her back, then picked her up and carried her to the
car.

Mrs. Happy majored in studio art in college, and it happened that she had
a watercolor class the day after we went to the park. That day, she painted
a picture of a man carrying a woman in his arms and titled it Anything because
she came to realize I would do anything for her (click on it to see the full
image).

She came across that picture yesterday while going through some old work.
She found all sorts of things wrong with it: “It’s too faint, and I’m barefoot.
Why am I barefoot? I was wearing shoes. And you never had a shirt that color.
And I made you too tall and my arm is unnaturally long. Ugh.”

I see something else in it, though. I see a picture revealing two people on
the cusp of adulthood looking onto an indistinct world where even a tree, normally
a symbol of firmness and stability, fades
out of sight. I see her stretching her arm out to hold on to a man who will
accompany her into that world, bearing her burdens when she can’t carry them
herself, when she’s not “wearing shoes.” I see that man (or a slightly enhanced
vision of him) slowly coming into focus, not yet solid but much more than a
shadow. I see how the future looked to us in 1995, as envisioned by a Happy
Best-Friend who still signed with her maiden name. I remember how I felt about
that future myself—unsure, overwhelmed, slightly terrified—and now
I look back on it with fondness and thankfulness that we were able to meet
it together.

Biblical love

Here are a couple of things the Bible says about marriage, things I try to remember/practice every day:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
Ephesians 5:25, 29–31

Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
Proverbs 5:18–19

Like a lily among the thorns,
So is my darling among the maidens.
Song of Solomon 2:2

The Bible is in many ways a love story, the story of how and how much God loves mankind. It’s only because He loves me that I’m able to love anyone else.


Poetry update:The where we’re from page now includes a poem from Stacy.

Tired morning

A long day yesterday turned into a late night last night which turned into an oversleeping session this morning which gave way to a “real life trumps blogging” situation (a concept promoted by Dean Peters, aka MeanDean, of Heal Your Church Web Site and blogs4God) this morning. Even so, I would like to point out that I have built a page for the Where I’m From poems that people send me (see this post for more details). The permanent link for the poem page is in the right-hand column under the About heading. Enjoy the poems there, and please consider writing your own and sharing it.

Sidebar stuff

Nearly every blog on the web provides links to other blogs. That’s one of the essential components of a blog. That’s one of the defining characteristics of a blog. Philosophies about how to decide which links to display vary widely. Some bloggers will link to anything that catches their fancy at a particular moment. I don’t do that because it tends to result in 50 to 100 or more links, which doesn’t help readers find anything useful. Other bloggers link to sites that link back in return. If I followed that practice, I’d only have four links in my sidebar (Peachwater, The Bible Archive, The Noble Pundit, and Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS)). Others restrict their links to sites that also deal with the blog’s main topic. I’d have an empty sidebar if I did that. So I, personally, just link to blogs that I regularly read myself and provide links to other sites that I enjoy and/or find useful.

The top three links in my sidebar fall under the heading of Blog Role Models. These are blogs that I want to emulate in some way. I read Donald Sensing’s One Hand Clapping every day. He is a Methodist minister (not Buddhist, despite the title) who served in the Army for a number of years. He writes about current events from a Christian perspective. His usually focuses on military issues, in which he has a fair level of expertise. I look to him as a role model because he writes well, prolifically, and with authority. He also shows humility, always making a point of setting the record straight when he has been wrong about something.

Martin Roth doesn’t write quite as regularly—two or three times a week—but his posts are invariably insightful, educational, and well-written. Mr. Roth is also a Christian. He lives in Australia and came to Christianity through Buddhism, a background that gives him an interesting perspective.

Heal Your Church Web Site, aka HYCWS, probably doesn’t offer anything of use to most people who visit The Happy Husband. I list it because it made me realize the possibilities of a Web-based ministry and inspired me to begin this site. Every post there offers absolutely practical information about running a Web site, particularly a church Web site, and I hope that this site will someday accomplish its purpose half as well as HYCWS does.

I found HYCWS while looking for resources to help me improve my own church’s site. I found Martin Roth through a link at HYCWS. I found One Hand Clapping through a link at Martin Roth. That’s why bloggers link to each other, so we can all share in the good stuff and form a sort of community.

I have recently begun reading a few other sites that I’m now adding to the sidebar. Stacy—a wife, mother, and devoted Christian—keeps a journal that chronicles her “walk through marriage, parenthood, servanthood and the family of God.” Her site is called K.I.S.S.—Keep It Simple, Stupid. I found it through my referral logs. I don’t know how she found this site, but I’m glad she did because I enjoy reading hers as well.

StateDog is a more traditional-format blog, serving as a place for blogger Blake to write about whatever comes into his head. I don’t usually care much for sites like this as they usually seem to be directed at close friends and family members. But Blake often has something worth sharing with the world, sometimes even about marriage and family issues.

I mentioned Fragments From Floyd in a post earlier this week. I’ve begun reading Fred’s posts every day (Fred lives in Floyd County, Virginia, hence the name) simply for the stunning amount of creativity and joy for living that he expresses. And he has a cool dog.


11/23/03 Update: It has been brought to my attention that there are now two other blogs that link to The Happy Husband: :: blogging: mccord style :: and Martin Roth(!). Also check out this post’s comments and see some of the biggest
ego-boosters
most encouraging things I’ve ever heard.

The trouble with critics, Part 3

Today I conclude my response to Laura Kipnis’s article, The Trouble With Marriage. See Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t read them yet.

And then there’s the American mantra of the failing relationship: ‘Good marriages take work!’ When exactly did the rhetoric of the factory become the default language of coupledom? Is there really anyone to whom this is an attractive proposition, who, after spending all day on the job, wants to come home and work some more? Here’s an interesting question: what’s the gain to a society in promoting more work to an overworked population as a supposed solution to the travails of marital discontent?

At this point I begin to wonder what sort of lifestyle Ms. Kipnis would promote over marriage. Is there any ongoing situation in life that does not require work? Any meaningful relationship that functions with no effort from the people involved? Is the single life one of blissful relaxation? Does a hippie commune’s existence automatically guarantee the mutual respect and cooperation of every one of its members? No. Life requires effort, sometimes difficult effort. To complain of this, or to expect anything else, betrays a misguided and egotistically entitled attitude.

Sometimes, marriages break. Sometimes, they require fixing. Every day, they require cultivation. You can call that “work” if you like and compare it to a factory shift, but take if from an ex factory worker: it’s not the same. The work you put in at a factory (10- and 12-hour shifts in my experience) earns you a paycheck at the end of the week. The work you put into a marriage earns you a devoted partner and a lifetime of joy and contentment. Yes, it’s work. But it’s worth it.

What if luring people into conditions of emotional stagnation and deadened desires were actually functional for society? Consider the norms of modern marriage: here is a social institution devoted to maximising submission and minimising freedom, habituating a populace to endless compliance with an infinite number of petty rules and interdictions, in exchange for love and companionship.

Perhaps a citizenry schooled in renouncing desire – and whatever quantities of imagination and independence it comes partnered with – would be, in many respects, socially advantageous. Note that the conditions of marital stasis are remarkably convergent with those of a cowed workforce and a docile electorate. And wouldn’t the most elegant forms of social control be those that come packaged in the guise of individual needs and satisfactions, so wedded to the individual psyche that any contrary impulse registers as the anxiety of unlovability? Who needs a policeman on every corner when we’re all so willing to police ourselves and those we love, and call it upholding our vows?

I guess this argument hinges on definitions. What is freedom? If it means doing whatever you want whenever you want in any way you want, then marriage does not offer freedom. In fact, no private or public institution, no personal relationship, no government, and no religion in the world offers freedom by that definition. It occurs to me that I may be setting up my own straw man here, that perhaps this is not actually Lipnis’s definition of freedom. But I don’t know how else to interpret her statement that marriage is an “institution devoted to maximising submission and minimizing freedom.” Living with, or even near, another person requires compromise. It requires investments of time and effort. Our government recognizes this, so it has given us reams of “petty rules” to maintain peace in society. Every married couple recognizes this, and decides where to leave the toothpaste, how to load the dishwasher, etc. That’s not just marriage—that’s life.

Marriage succeeds when a wife lives in submission to her husband and a husband devotes every ounce of his energy to his wife’s well-being. My wife and I strive for that ideal. We are each other’s slaves, so to speak, and we are benevolent masters who want the absolute best for each other no matter what the cost. That means I don’t live for myself. That means I sacrifice my desires, up to and including my own life if necessary. That, to me, is the definition of love, and the essence of freedom. Without marriage, I would not be free to love my wife and experience the true joy of real intimacy.

In this respect, perhaps rising divorce rates are not such bad news after all. The Office for National Statistics blames couples’ high expectations for the upswing in divorce. But are high expectations really such a bad thing? What if we all worked less and expected more – not only from our marriages or in private life, but in all senses – from our jobs, our politicians, our governments? What if wanting happiness and satisfaction – and changing the things that needed changing to attain it – wasn’t regarded as ‘selfish’ or ‘unrealistic’ (and do we expect so much from our mates these days because we get so little back everywhere else?). What if the real political questions were what should we be able to expect from society and its institutions? And, if other social contracts and vows beside marriage were also up for re-examination, what other ossified social institutions might be next on the hit list?

I’m not sure what to say about this, because I’m not exactly sure what Lipnis is trying to say or how the body of the essay has anything to do with this conclusion(?). A few thoughts:

  • High expectations do not cause disillusionment. Wrong expectations do. As I said before, older generations must educate younger generations more effectively in the ways of life, love, and relationships.
  • Work Less, Expect More. It sounds like a great campaign slogan. But it will not work in a society that needs participation from its members.
  • Wanting happiness and satisfaction is currently regarded as selfish and unrealistic? This is another straw man. Our country was founded on our fundamental right to pursue happiness. The problems occur when we fail to find happiness where we imagined it would be. Most of the things that we pursue don’t actually bring about happiness—they just keep us busy.
  • What if the real political questions were how can citizens improve society and raise the quality of life for everyone around them? JFK was on to something when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you…”
  • Not every social institution is necessary or beneficial forever. If an institution or a law or a tradition becomes ossified, by all means let’s examine it and see if it needs dismantling. I don’t think the institution of marriage is ready for a museum, though, and in my opinion its existence is essential to the survival of society.

Kipnis’s objections to marriage seem to stem from her view that marriage doesn’t make people happy. She is correct in her premise, but wrong in her conclusion. Marriage doesn’t, and can’t, make anyone happy. Neither a husband nor a wife has the ability to bring about a condition of happiness in a spouse. Happier is the best we can hope for. A person experiences true happiness or, as I prefer to call it, joy when he or she understands the purpose of life and then works to fulfill it. The full implication of that is a topic for another post, and perhaps another blog. I will say, though, that I have explored/read/discussed/experimented all sorts of things in an effort to find that purpose. Here’s what I’ve come up with, in a nutshell: Love God and keep His commandments, love your neighbor, and don’t waste life by living it for yourself.

Laura Kipnis is the author of Against Love: A Polemic (Pantheon) and a professor at Northwestern University, Chicago.

Curt Hendley is a happily married man (5 yrs., 6 mos. as of this post) who has written several technical manuals for Dell OpenManage server management software that no one will ever read.

The trouble with critics, Part 2

Today I continue my examination of Laura Kipnis’s anti-marriage article. See yesterday’s post for the first part. I meant to provide a disclaimer yesterday: Laura Kipnis holds a couple of advanced academic degrees (her Northwestern University bio lists them as a BFA, an MFA, and an independent study program at the Whitney Museum) whereas I hold a bachelor’s degree in journalism, which took me seven years to obtain. She approaches her topic from an analytical, academic (though I might also add slanted) perspective whereas I address it based on life experience and anecdotal observation. That could account for many of our differences of opinion.

Let us contemplate the everyday living conditions of this rather large percentage of the population, this self-reportedly unhappily married majority: all those households submersed in low-level misery and soul-deadening tedium, early graves in all respects but the most forensic. Regard those couples – we all know them, perhaps we are them – the bickering; the reek of unsatisfied desires and unmet needs; a populace downing anti-depressants, along with whatever other forms of creative self-medication are most easily at hand, from triple martinis to serial adultery.

No doubt these conditions do exist in many homes. Unhappy people often self-medicate with whatever is at hand, be it pharmaceuticals, alcohol, pornography, or multiple sexual partners. But these are all symptoms of individual and specific problems needing attention, not an institution needing annihilation.

Yes, we all know that domesticity has its advantages: companionship, shared housing costs, childrearing convenience, reassuring predictability, occasional sex, and many other benefits too varied to list. But there are numerous disadvantages as well – though it is considered unseemly to enumerate them – most of which are so structured into the expectations of contemporary coupledom that they have come to seem utterly natural and inevitable. But are they?

This touches on an important topic. If I could give advice to every young couple contemplating marriage, I would tell them this: “Before you marry, you need a good reason to do so that does not include the phrase ‘because we’re in love.’ If you base your marriage on ‘being in love,’ then your marriage will fail because that feeling does not last. If you base your marriage on something of actual substance, then that feeling can grow into something more wonderful than you can imagine. But ‘in love,’ if that is all you have, falls apart at the first serious conflict.”

That’s just sort of a sidebar. Kipnis gets to her real point in the next paragraph.

Consider, for instance, the endless regulations and interdictions that provide the texture of domestic coupledom. Is there any area of married life that is not crisscrossed by rules and strictures about everything from how you load the dishwasher, to what you can say at dinner parties, to what you do on your day off, to how you drive – along with what you eat, drink, wear, make jokes about, spend your discretionary income on?

Is there anything, any endeavor in this entire world, that does not include rules and strictures to somehow govern our behavior? Any activity, any situation, any and every bit of our lives that involves contact with other people carries with it rules of etiquette, if not law, regarding acceptable conduct. True, as long as I live with my wife I have to take her feelings into account with nearly every decision I make. If I get the urge to drink a gallon of vodka and sing Dont’ Worry Be Happy at the top of my lungs for four hours, I resist. That may be “unnatural,” but anything else would be uncivilized. If we do away with marriage because it does not allow us to act in any way we please, then we must also do away with society in general.

What is it about marriage that turns nice-enough people into petty dictators and household tyrants, for whom criticising another person’s habits or foibles becomes a conversational staple, the default setting of domestic communication? Or whose favourite marital recreational activity is mate behaviour modification? Anyone can play – and everyone does. What is it about modern coupledom that makes policing another person’s behaviour a synonym for intimacy? (Or is it something about the conditions of modern life itself: is domesticity a venue for control because most of us have so little of it elsewhere?)

Replace the word marriage with academia in that paragraph and you have a better question. The truth is that selfish people, married or not, are by definition self-centered and behave in ways that benefit themselves and hurt others. Kipnis’ argument here is begging the question. Marriage doesn’t make people selfish and controlling. Selfish and controlling people make marriage miserable.

Then there’s the fundamental premise of monogamous marriage: that mutual desire can and will last throughout a lifetime. And if it doesn’t? Well apparently you’re just supposed to give up on sex, since waning desire for your mate is never an adequate defence for ‘looking elsewhere’. At the same time, let’s not forget how many booming businesses and new technologies have arisen to prop up sagging marital desire. Consider all the investment opportunities afforded: Viagra, couples pornography, therapy. If upholding monogamy in the absence of desire weren’t a social dictate, how many enterprises would immediately fail? (Could dead marriages be good for the economy?)

I believe this is what professional debaters call knocking down a straw man, assigning an indefensible argument to an opponent in order to argue decisively against it and score an easy victory. “…mutual desire can and will last throughout a lifetime”? Is that really “the fundamental premise of monogamous marriage”? I have never in my life heard anyone make that ridiculous claim. In fact, I would bet that every happily married couple will tell you that desire ebbs and flows, that sometimes you like your spouse and sometimes you don’t, that sometimes you pursue sex with real gusto and sometimes you just don’t feel like it. But love and commitment infuse real joy into a passionate relationship and keep a couple content when desires cool.

Kipnis also seems to be implying here that the main purpose of sex is physical gratification—a common but fundamental misunderstanding. Sex in its purest and most satisfying form is a physical union between two people who share their entire lives with each other. Active love and unshakeable, exclusive commitment in a marriage inspire desire.

I will finish this tomorrow.