When the “Marriage Isn’t for You” blog post by Seth Adam Smith started appearing on friends’ Facebook feeds the last week or so, I didn’t really read it, just took a quick look. It just seemed so simplistic and obvious that I thought it was kind of silly people were making a big deal out of it. Yes, marriage is about selflessness. It doesn’t work too well when two people are selfish. OK.
I suppose I’m still a little flabbergasted by how big it’s gotten. I mean, 24 million views (as of two days ago)? That’s ridiculous.
I think what the success of this post tells us is that people in our society have lots of differing views of marriage, in addition to just wanting to clarify a couple of things in this simple post. One point is this: the post was written by a man, and as one woman wrote on Bustle, that’s kind of why it’s gotten so much attention. Women generally have been expected to be the ones to sacrifice, to give all of themselves, for their spouses and families. Men have been asked to provide. So for a man to say he needs to remember to be self-sacrificing is news (as goes the old journalism trope: it’s not news if a dog bites a man; it is news if a man bites a dog).
Another big point people are wanting to make is to clarify that we can’t do well in marriage if we ONLY focus on our spouse; we still have to do what’s important for our own well-beings. I don’t think that Smith meant to say that we shouldn’t be whole, mostly mentally sound people on our own or that we shouldn’t continue to make ourselves the best we can be as individuals; he just was making the point that in our society today, too many of us probably worry too much about ourselves without taking sufficient care to be selfless. This brings up a point I’ve thought about frequently after reading it in a book years ago: when someone is given advice, it’s tailored specifically for them and what they lack and could be totally wrong for someone else.
As an example, my parents never needed to lecture me about being more responsible. I was so overly responsible and focused on planning for the future that they had to encourage me to relax and have some fun in the moment. When I went to prom, they stood at the door and admonished, “Do NOT come home before midnight!” Now this would have been the opposite of what they would have done for my sister, who was more of a have-fun-in-the-moment kind of gal. She was better (and still is, I think) at carpe diem-ing. She’s been a good example to me in that way.
So what I am saying is that this young man needed to hear the advice his dad told him to stop with the anxiety about whether his upcoming marriage would be right for him and to consider more how he could give to his future wife. That’s what he needed to hear and it made such an impact on him that he felt the need to share it on his blog. And there are rightly going to be plenty of people who read his blog who are like him and will need that reminder; others will not need it for themselves because they are already very self-sacrificing. Those readers need a different, almost opposite, reminder that they should take time to make themselves more well-rounded, more complete, etc. And those people (or those who know and love them, it seems), who may very well be primarily female, are those who responded so strongly that Smith shouldn’t forget that point of view.
At the same time, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to read from other bloggers that marriage isn’t about family and children. One guy writing for SFGate.com said this: “Many people enter marriages without a desire to procreate and this just doesn’t hold water for the ever-growing numbers of childless by choice couples.” I can only say that I essentially consider this to be just plain sad. I am still of the belief that marriage really is about creating families, about having children and rearing them to be great people and contributing members of society. (I won’t even get into the problems that this attitude is having on society, just one of which is that countries with low birthrates are now facing serious issues with there being too many elderly and not enough young people.) Yes, I do believe that a very few people really are not cut out to be parents, it seems, but far more who choose never to have children thinking that they fall into this category very likely would be the ones shocked to find themselves enjoying, appreciating, and learning from the experience of parenthood. Through parenting, we contribute to society and we grow as people through both the challenges and the joys we experience. I am one of those who really does consider those who choose deliberately never to have children to be a bit too selfish.
So marriage is for all of us. It’s for husbands and wives, it’s for children, it’s for society. Each of us can stand to do a little better to be selfless and help others; some of us can do a little better in developing ourselves as individuals.