Thursday, June 27, 2013

Second Marriages

On Modern Society

“Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence;
second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”
Samuel Johnson

Many people have married more than once, including myself; I was married briefly, for two years, while I was still completing university. I was 24; Sheryl was barely 20. Needless to say, we were young; there was no outward reason why we married then, no one was pregnant, it was something that we kind of fell into. The marriage, what it was, lasted two years.

The parting was painful but not acrimonious. But it was a failure, and it opened fresh wounds like all such break-ups of good intentions gone sour. Yet, contrary to expectations, we eventually became friends, a relationship that lasted for almost 20 years, until my ex-wife took her own life in October 2000. She was on her third divorce and was considering a fourth marriage. I received the phone call from her intended one early morning and attended her funeral along with the other former husbands, her extended family and her many friends.

For long, I questioned myself if I could have in any way prevented Sheryl from making such a decision. The answer to such questions is always complicated and personal. I really don’t know how much influence I could have had on a determined 38-year-old woman suffering physical and emotional problems to alter her destiny. My many conversations with her during the last two years prior to her decision reflected an unhappy person. In her case, she was looking to marriage, as many others do raised on pop culture psychology and popular TV and films, as a solution to her loneliness, to her lack of intimacy, to her finding some meaning. In a sense she was seeking what many of us seek: a lifeline to love.

Happiness, to be sure, is a key to success in marriages, as it is for many other areas of life. Second marriages can also fail, notably if individuals make the same mistakes in picking a partner as they did the first time. I am not one of those unfortunates, although there are always issues that can divide us that revolve around family finances, raising children and the degree of personal autonomy one requires. Again, we return to the idea of personal fulfilment and happiness, an often-elusive target to hit.

Too many individuals are seeking in the “other” what they themselves can not find in themselves; sometimes this arrangement works, often not, one partner suffering suffocation when the other finds intimacy and emotional support. There has to be an agreement, an understanding if this is to work.

Humans might be animals, according to evolutionary theories, but when it comes to areas like love and marriage, we display far more complicated and wide-ranging emotions than what our shared genes might explain. This raises all sorts of questions about human emotions and human behaviours. We don’t only want to understand, but also to arrive at some concrete, practical answer on how best to approach love, marriage and relationships.

So, what is it about two people living together—with or without children—that makes it so difficult to succeed in a venture so to speak that often starts out with the best of intentions but often fails half of the time? Are participants in this dance of supposed love and romance going into marriage with much-higher expectations than previous generations? Is marriage today too much about sex and love and, even, friendship than it ought to be?

Such are the many questions that inform the modern mind. These and others that look at brain sciences to determine the locus of love and sex, as if finding that would guarantee success and provide the answers to a happy life, a happy marriage. I suspect that, as it is with life, marriage will follow. Marriage in itself will not make an unhappy, unfulfilled single person any happier in marriage than outside of it. There are individuals who can remain perfectly happy as single individuals; marriage is not for everyone, nor should there be pressure, whether for religious, social or familial reasons, on anyone to get married—whether for the first time or second.

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