Thursday, September 21, 2006

Massive Attack and My Marriage

Hubster and I were browsing iTunes the other day, and quite by accident, we found the song that's the theme of House. Teardrop by Massive Attack. He has this habit of rapping over it as we watch. It's annoying or hilarious depending on the day and the quality of his rhymes. Every time he does it I have to choose to love him for being a total dork. It seems like such a stupid fixation, but life is most often a series of picky little things, and thank God for that because otherwise, we'd all die young of adrenaline overload.

I've been thinking about that a lot because Rachel posted here about she and Hans negotiating the early stages of wedded co-habitation without murdering each other. I wrote a comment because there's nothing I love more than telling people they'll be okay, really, they're doing great. I'm sure she knows that, but I can recall thinking more than once that prison might be preferable to the clothes all ending up outside the dresser because "I've worn them once." I wanted to make sure she got some kind of atta-girl before she went for the kitchen knives. The clothes, by the way, still form their mountain range upon the dresser, but I've learned to work around it, and when I can't, he's learned to work around me. Hubster and I are paragons of compromise. Mostly.

I can remember thinking that I'd have liked a chance to try this crap for a while before getting married, moving, commencing with the sex, and all the other stuff that changed in a day. I knew why I did it all at once - I thought God had called me to those choices. Still, it didn't help to hear the remembered voices of so many Christians touting cohabitation divorce stats at me and claiming that it was totally practical and right and wasn't God smart to command what was better. And you know what? Maybe God knew that, and that is exactly why we shouldn't cohabitate. But maybe, just maybe, it doesn't have to make sense for it to be his command. Maybe, from our perspective, there doesn't have to be a reason.

That got me thinking about how much in contemporary American Christianity, we battle with Enlightenment expectations hijacking our faith. Everything has to have an application and a practical execution and a logical set-up. It's a bit hard to understand the mystery of faith like "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." in that light. The Nazirites like Samson took special vows and maybe they did it for a reason (like the no wine thing) but maybe it was just a call they felt and it wasn't particularly logical, but it was still holy and right before God (like the long hair thing). Why do Christians have to explain every little detail?

I've seen the stats on cohabitation before - the ones that say if you cohabitate without being married you're more likely to split up or divorce once you get married - and I've heard explanations from either side about why that is. Conservative Christians proclaim (when they're not calling those people "loose" and disparaging their ability to handle ANYTHING because MY HEAVENS THEY'RE SHACKING UP AAAAHHHH!) that it's because without till-death committment any union is doomed from the start. The non-conservatives say it's because people who cohabitate are more likely to think dissolving the union is preferable to a lifetime of misery and are willing to call something a mistake. (Mair, feel free to comment on this if you've got anything - I maybe misrembering SOCI 101.)

Whatever the reason for those stats, it was tempting to think the early months of marriage would have been easier had we shared a dishwasher and a bedtime routine and household chores for a while before we took the plunge down the aisle. But we didn't. And thanks to each other and a healthy dose of God-given patience, we've learned how to do avoid the fights and the shiny, pointy objects.

It's funny to think how far we've come partially because we're now facing the other side of the coin - we know how to live together, but it's making us less authentic in our union - we're cohabitating sometimes without being truly intimate in our thoughts and actions. We can deal with chores, but we can't deal with each other's hearts lately. It's always something. Fortunately, God's full of surprises and, whether it's practical or rational or not, he's called us to love each other over those difficulties. So I love him even when he's hopelessly flubbed the House rap. And I bet he loves me even when I tackle him to make him stop. Thank God.

*To my unmarried cohabitating friends: I don't mean this to sound like anything but an articulation of my own experience and feelings. You probably knew that, but I wanted to make sure I said that.


GMack said...

Yeah, sometimes I just want to kill my wife but then who'd laugh at all my stupid jokes? I understand what you're saying though.

Graceful Peaceful German Fischer said...

I was just totally thinking about this the other day! Because, if anything, Brendan is a slob of a completely different nature than I can claim to be. He wants a "tiki" room when we get a space - I'd rather not. There's so much I'd like to get used to before total God-sanctioned intimacy. But maybe, through your admittance, I can realize it's not going to be peaches and cream, and counter my selfishenessessessessss before they happen. Or keep them in check. And keep the tiki in a basement.

lvs said...

Hear hear, I say! Good thoughts, Erica, and I appreciate the disclaimer at the end, seeing as I am one who could be so affectionately called "living in sin." That said, it WAS something of a conscious decision, based on the experiences of many people I know, love, and trust. And to be honest, with my stress level the way it is now, I'm not sure I could handle the moving and the adjustment on top of the wedding. Coming home after our brief honeymoon will be just that: coming home. :-)

Don Quixote said...

Great thoughts, Erica! On the subject of whether or not God's commands should "make sense," I would say that this is not just an Enlightenment idea. Science flourished after the Middle Ages because of the Christian view that God is a rational God and thus His creation should make sense. Stanley L. Jaki makes this point very powerfully in his philosophical books and papers. The thought that God's laws to His people should make sense is a natural extension of that idea, which was around long before the Enlightenment. We don’t have to understand the rationality behind the law to follow it, but I think it helps!

I think the statistics on cohabitation are fairly easy to understand. As you point out, this cohabitation thing is REALLY hard. It is so hard, in fact, that many people can’t deal with it and simply stop. Other people are willing to work hard to make it work. For some people, the relationship itself is motivation enough to do the hard work. Those people stay together with or without marriage. Others need more motivation. For some of THOSE people, the marriage covenant (or the fear/hatred of divorce) provides the extra motivation. Of course, for many, that’s still not enough.

Mair said...

Funny that you should post this. I'm ta-ing sociology of the family right now, and we've been talking about cohabitation for a week now. Here's my take on it (my sociological take, which is not always the same as my personal take, though in this case, it is.)

Marriage is an institution. Sociologically speaking, an institution is a normative pattern of behavior that guides people through social action. That means it fills in the gaps we as humans lack (in the animal kingdom called "instincts"). Institutions provide soft boundaries around social interactions. The other important thing to note is that an institution is more than the sum of its parts. It transcends the lives of any two individuals.

When applied to marriage, we can see the institution functioning to uphold social convention and provide behavioral guidelines in a situation that, as you've admitted, is rather anomic. Yeah - we move in with our husbands and immediately yell "WHAT THE HELL HAVE I DONE!?!?" And we are lost and confused. BUT - we have the soft boundaries of the institution we know as marriage, which gives us a template for what it means to be someone's husband or wife. One part of that template involves the public commitment we've made in front of our social communities. That public commitment works to enforce the boundaries and to support our behavior as married persons. Whether or not we're good at it, we know what's expected of us when we step into the bounds of marriage.

Cohabitation is not an institution. It cannot guide our behavior in the way that marriage can because it itself (talk about reificaion!) is in a constant state of anomie. There are no pre-established guidelines. No coherant system of social support. (Statistical fact: parents are far less likely to help a cohabiting couple financially, simply because the relationship (without engagement) lacks any determinite definition.)

So, that's my sociological take on the matter. I won't add to the statistical overload when it comes to the consequences of cohabitation. But, the bottom line is, we need institutions to guide our behavior.