Monday, May 15, 2017

I Can't Write Wedding Vows Without Thinking About Divorce

Two brides saying wedding vows. Image source.
Did I mention I'm getting married this summer? Hooray!

So I've been thinking about the vows. What exactly do they mean? What exactly am I promising here?

Some people include "joke" vows in their wedding ceremony, like "I promise that, when you are listening to the same song for the HUNDREDTH time in ONE DAY, I will not complain." I honestly have no idea what this is even supposed to mean. I mean, it's a joke, okay it's funny because their partner listens to the same song over and over again, isn't that annoying, haha, but what on earth is it doing in a wedding vow? Like, it's clearly not meant to be taken literally- could you imagine how horrifying that would be if this was actually meant literally? That would mean that, for the whole rest of your life, if you ever complain about your partner's odd habit of listening to the same song over and over, YOU'VE JUST BROKEN YOUR WEDDING VOWS. Why would you elevate some tiny minor conflict like that to the level of BREAKING YOUR WEDDING VOWS, as if it's an insult so serious that the whole marriage is in trouble?

I guess what they are actually saying is "I promise I will still love you and live with you, even though you always listen to the same music over and over and it's really annoying." If it's put in this way, yes it's still intended to be humorous, but this actually makes sense as a wedding vow. This is something that can totally be taken completely literally without calling into question the entire concept of a vow.

So I ask myself, what do I actually want to promise to Hendrix? And I'll only make a promise I truly believe I can keep. And so, of course, that means if I'm promising to be married to him for my whole life, I have to think about if I can actually do that. I have to think about the possibility of divorce.

Right? I mean, how could I not? But am I weird for thinking that way? It's certainly not part of the cultural narrative around weddings- apparently, the couple is supposed to be so high on their love for each other that they effortlessly make bold promises of eternal love as if it's no big deal, and divorce never even crosses their mind. But how can that be? I take my wedding vows very seriously, and that means I am going to really consider carefully what I'm promising. Damn, this IS a big deal. (In purity culture, I never realized what a BIG HUGE DEAL marriage is- it's just the obvious next step when you're dating, it's God's plan for everyone's life, it's the hoop you have to jump through to have sex.)

As an ex-evangelical, I'm a little bit wary of promises in general. I read the bible stories about Jephthah's daughter, and Herod and John the Baptist. Church people said the lesson in these stories was "if you make a promise that turns out to be a really bad idea, you're stuck in it, it's a sin to break a promise." (The Slacktivist has a really good post on this.) So I worry about making a promise and then breaking it- then I'm a bad person, even if the promise turns out to be something really really unhealthy and evil.

I talked to Hendrix about this, and we agreed the reason we are getting married is because we want to and it will make both of us happy. (Please note that, for good evangelicals, this is a sinful, selfish reason and is therefore invalid.) The purpose of the marriage is the happiness and health of the two of us. And those things- our health and happiness- are more important than the marriage itself. If, at some point in the future, somehow the marriage ends up making us unhappy or unhealthy, and it looks like it's not going to get better in the long term, then of course divorce is an option. (And of course we would have to consider the health and happiness of everyone who is affected- ie, our children if we have them.) Why would you stay in a situation that's harmful to you just for the sake of "breaking a promise is bad"? (*cough* legalism *cough*)

All right, but if I think it's okay to just disregard a promise I made if later I decide it was a bad idea, then what's the point of making vows anyway?

No, I'm going to think about it carefully and vow something that I truly believe I will keep. I promise to love and support him for the rest of our lives- but I'm not promising to never complain, I'm not promising to always be nice, I'm not promising that we'll never make each other mad. We'll probably fight occasionally and have feelings that aren't the most lovey-dovey, but overall, in a general sense, we will always love each other. Well. Wait, let me clarify. This love and support isn't necessarily absolute and unconditional. If one of us starts being terrible to the other, and refuses to work on their behavior or recognize how bad it is, then the other is totally within their rights to get a divorce. I wouldn't count that as "breaking the vows," because Hendrix and I discussed this and I said I understand the vows to come with some assumptions, some "fine print", things that we're not going to actually say out loud at the wedding, like "if somehow you become a terrible person, I am totally leaving you, I ain't promising ANYTHING if that happens."

(Okay if you're all worried that I'm going to get divorced for some silly little reason: Actually I'm terrified of being single and I would totally stay in a bad relationship way longer than I should. [Thanks, purity culture.] Does that make you feel better? It really shouldn't.)

Also, an important point of clarification: I'm young and naive and don't have a clue what divorce is actually like or why it happens. But I have to think about it because I take my wedding vows very seriously, and I really do intend to keep them for my whole life. But I'm not promising I'll stay in the marriage no matter what. There are assumptions and caveats, which we've communicated about and agreed on together. There are things that are more important than the marriage itself.

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