Guest Post By Ruby Slippers
I recently read an article on PsychCentral.com entitled The Myth That Getting Married Makes You Healthier: Why The Investment In It?.
The piece explores some of the myths surrounding marriage, e.g. that married people live longer, are healthier and generally happier than single people. However, rather than question how these myths have arisen and come to be accepted as ‘fact’ with very little scientific evidence to support them, the focus of the article is to question why we seem to be so heavily invested in these myths in the first place, and suggests that the main reason is that we all find some comfort in the idea that marriage makes us healthier and happier.
Married people like to hear this about themselves, and single people like to hear that life will all somehow magically fall into place once they find ‘The One’ and settle down to a life of wedded bliss. It gives us all something to hope for and aspire to, doesn’t it?
These myths may be comforting and appealing to married and single people alike, but there’s a dark side to this notion. Like the belief that our lives will be magically transformed once we lose that extra weight, or get that dream job, there’s something rather dangerous about hanging our happiness on a point in the unknown future that is dependent on external circumstances rather than from an intrinsic sense of wholeness and completeness and an acceptance of ourselves as we are now.
We may recognise we need to make changes in our lives, but in saying ‘I know I’ll be happy when I find The One’, we are also saying ‘I cannot be truly happy until I find The One’.
The thought that we may never find The One, or – shock, horror – the notion that The One may not even exist, is too horrifying to even contemplate.
This is a dangerous notion not only for single people but for married people too. What if you do find The One – and a few years down the line it all ends in tears (and divorce)?
This idea that true happiness lies within matrimonial bliss can only exacerbate the sense of failure a lot of couples experience when their marriage goes through a bad patch, infidelity is revealed or the relationship eventually breaks down. This is an inherent problem with such an ego-based belief, ie, a belief that is not based on factual, demonstrable evidence.
When your identity is so intrinsically connected with a particular idea or situation, such as your status as somebody’s significant other, their ‘one and only’, anything that happens to shake that belief can feel like a violent uprooting, a ‘tearing apart’ of the self and requires a major overhaul of your entire belief system in order to heal and put yourself back together. I know this, because I’ve been there myself.
I would also suggest that the myth of finding health and happiness as a result of finding The One is a particularly insidious form of relationship duress, and one that is especially aimed at women. I’m not saying that men are entirely immune to it, but when was the last time you heard a man fretting about being ‘left on the shelf’, or saw a movie or TV ad that subtly reminded him that time was running out for him and no-one would want him if he didn’t get walking down that aisle fast?
Can you imagine Jay-Z singing ‘If You Liked It, Shoulda Put a Ring On It?’ No? Because a man’s sense of self-worth is not dependent on how ‘marriage-worthy’ he is.
Yes, we live in the enlightened 21st century, where we no longer refer to single, unmarried, childless women as old maids and spinsters – at least not using those terms. But the fact remains that a woman who remains single and childless into her 40s, 50s and beyond (whether or not by choice) is subject to a range of views, opinions and assumptions that a single childless man of the same age simply is not.
Such a man may be seen as a rogue, an eternal bachelor, or immature at worst. A woman is viewed with suspicion, sympathy or downright hostility. There must be something deeply wrong with her, not to have paired up with a significant other by now. She must be so – oh god – unlovable.
What concerns me is that I have clients and friends – all attractive, smart, sexy, emotionally intelligent, generous, caring and loving women – who still believe that somehow they have failed at womanhood at a deep, fundamental level, simply because they have yet to find The One. Or because they found someone who they thought was The One until it all went ‘wrong’. Or they settled for someone who wasn’t The One, but who wanted to marry them and live happily ever after together, which of course is the ultimate signifier of true love – so why don’t they feel satisfied or happy? What is wrong with them?
What these women have in common is that they have been fed a myth that happiness lies in finding The One and living Happily Ever After, but on talking and exploring and working deeper to get to the heart of what they really want, it seems that they simply want what we all do – to be loved. That’s all. The desire to be loved – to be accepted, to be seen and known and understood and accepted for who we are – is a basic human need. One that has nothing to do with marriage or ‘the one and only’ or ‘happy ever after’.
The problem is that for too long we have been fed a lie that marriage and relationships based on the notion of sexual exclusivity and ‘forever’ are somehow superior to other forms of relationship.
Real love doesn’t require rules and laws and contracts. It simply is. Just ask someone for whom marriage is still not a legal option.
This is not to say that true love cannot exist within marriage. But marriage is only one form of relationship. And the sooner we stop idolising marriage and other relationships based on sexual exclusivity, stop equating true love with marriage, and thinking that being married is the superior, the ultimate – the only – way to love and be loved, the sooner we’ll be free and available to enjoy the real thing – in whatever glorious, ephemeral and shining form it appears to us.
Ruby Slippers is a professional coach and trainee therapist specialising in healing and transformation through creativity, sexuality and the body.
Read more at her blog.