State of the Unions (part 2)

So, in continuation of the first part I’ll now attempt to narrow things down and focus more on marriage and relationships.

Here are excerpts from the first few paragraphs of an online article called the History of Marriage in Western Civilization

When we look at the marriage customs of our ancestors, we discover several striking facts. For example, for the most of Western history, marriage was not a mere personal matter concerning only husband and wife, but rather the business of their two families which brought them together. Most marriages, therefore, were arranged. Moreover, the wife usually had much fewer rights than her husband and was expected to be subservient to him. To a considerable extent, marriage was also an economic arrangement. There was little room for romantic love, and even simple affection was not considered essential. Procreation and cooperation were the main marital duties.

On the other hand, it may surprise many modern couples to learn that in earlier times divorce was often easily granted. Here again, men usually had the advantage when they could simply dismiss their wives, but in many instances women could also sue for divorce. In ancient Rome couples could even divorce each other by mutual agreement, a possibility that has not yet returned to all European countries. Another notable historical fact is the nearly universal stress on the necessity of marriage and the resulting pressure on single persons to get married. This pressure was partially lifted only under the influence of Christianity which, at least for some time, found a special virtue in celibacy. Christian doctrines have, of course, also had their effects on marriage itself, and some of these will be discussed below.

So take all the boldface sentences and in a nutshell you get two important points.

  1. Civil/legal unions pre-date religious sacraments
  2. Marriages, and their terminations – were mere [civil/legal] practicalities.

Apparently, I got it all wrong. All the while I kept on pushing that there should be a clearer delineation between civil unions and church marriages – when technically, it should’ve been the other way around: civil marriages and church unions. The “true” (for lack of a better term) context of marriage was practical, not romantic.

It also largely explains why there are arranged marriages. I remember how people would balk at the concept of arranged marriages – that how could anyone possibly condone a union that can completely disregard romantic connotations. Well, apparently it’s simply because the original concept of marriage wasn’t to be interpreted as anywhere near romantic. It’s basically a legal agreement of parties and estates based on practicality and economy – much like corporate mergers in the modern world.

The whole re-definition of the context of marriage falls solely on the shoulders of religion. They put more meaning to it – for better or worse. And perhaps thats why we’re having all these semantically related problems – because the whole issue of divorce in context of what the union(s) should stand for, are indeed, based on semantics.

If you get to the various articles/entries that were (and will be) linked to in this post – you get a good idea of how needlessly complex society, religion, and time has made this. Yet having said that, the solution isn’t any easier because of it.

Church Vows

We all know how these things go, so no need to repeat it. Simply put, as one blog entry from someone who had done their due diligence puts it:

A Church wedding on the other hand is also equally legal and is recognized by the law. But more than that, it is also viewed as “a permanent covenant and sacrament where Christ is at center,”. It carries the implication that the marriage is forever and is celebrated according to the teachings of the church, with God in the center of the ceremony.

So you can see from here why in the context of the sacrament, an annulment is acceptable, yet divorce is not. A properly executed marriage cannot be dissolved, nor can anyone get married twice in church.

The first issue is solved by annulment wherein the couple tries to prove the marriage wasn’t “properly executed” at some point – therefore void and never have taken place. This also renders the second concern a non-issue. Since if you’re annulled, you’ve never been married – hence your “next” marriage would still be your first.

Civil Vows

The basic structure of civil vows contain the legal declaration(s), contracting words, and promises.

And as another article says:

If a couple has certain beliefs that are not held by any local churches, the couple may prefer a civil wedding ceremony. Civil weddings normally do not incorporate any religious aspects into the marriage, but couples can choose to do so buy including vows, readings or themes.

IMHO, it’s that last part that complicates things. For example:

I promise to love and respect you. Helping our love grow, always being there to listen, comfort and support you, whatever our lives may bring.

or

I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and affection, wear it with happiness and pride – now and always.

To me, as far as being honor-bound by promises go, once you utter any sentence that implies something eternal, then you’ve just disqualified yourself from a divorce. Because at this point, you’ve now just incorporated a sacramental context to your civil proceeding – which implies being together for the rest of your natural lives.

“But how can you NOT make that kind of promise? Isn’t it insulting to not be able to make that promise?”

Glad you asked. Observe the promises listed below – all of which are perfectly acceptable despite the differences in embellishment.

I give you this ring as a token of my love and friendship.

or this:

I give you this ring as a token of our love and marriage, as a symbol of all that we share and in recognition of our life together.

Hell, even this:

I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage, and as a symbol of our love. I promise to care for you, to respect and cherish you, throughout our lives together.

…is not necessarily implying something eternal. It simply states this is what the other will live up to his/her end for as long as they’re together. Notice it doesn’t hold anymore if they’re separated (i.e. their lives are no longer “together”).

Like I said, it’s all about semantics.

My Stance

This is why I said in my past post that divorce would be fine for as long as it clearly applies solely to civil weddings – and I’d take it up a notch to say that they should keep a record of the vows done on such legal ceremonies to see what kind of vows, if any, were used.

But if I had my way, I’d sooner prefer that both church and state, re-discuss the implications of the two types of union, and come up with an even clearer delineation between them. I believe that when in a legal context, people should have the right to separate by simple amicable agreement of separation. In short, all it should take to get a proper legal separation, divorce or otherwise, is to simply want one.

But it should not be the same for the sacrament. Religion, and anyone who chooses to “wed” under the preconceptions of such, should accept whatever the context entails.

And this is why I feel there should be a need to clearly delineate the two. As a friend correctly observed, the problem is that civil marriages are masquerading as sacramental ones. It’s not uncommon that for most people, the only differentiator is the cost of admission.

So we have couples who, for all intents and purposes, are after the sacramental type of union – but cannot afford one. And so they do the next best thing – when in fact, they should recognise that the two types of unions ultimately [should] serve different purposes.

Honestly, the fact that people have the option to incorporate religious vows into an otherwise civil wedding is what’s causing these issues when it comes to separation. There should be a clear delineation and there shouldn’t be any allowance to mix one into the other.

Isn’t it already understood that when talking about divorce, we’re talking solely about the civil aspect of things?

It would be nice if it was, but I don’t recall it being made crystal clear about the jurisdictions of the two types of unions. One article states:

Please remember that a divorce alone would not affect, or hinder in any way, your participation in the Catholic Church.  A divorced Catholic is free to receive the sacraments.  However, if you are divorced and remarried without an Decree of Invalidity (and your former spouse is still living) a problem does arise.  Similarly, if your spouse was previously married and has not received an Decree of Invalidity from a Tribunal, there is a problem.  In such circumstances, you may not partake of the sacraments, including the reception of Holy Communion.

Culture and Context

The question now is, which “context” does our society prefer to apply to the concept of “marriage?” The more practical – or the more meaningful? It’s not a simple thing to answer. Because if you claim to value the “meaningful” connotation more than the practical, then the vows stand: that marriages should endure for better or worse, and that for the most part, especially if explicitly stated in the vows, they’re lifelong commitments.

But if they choose to value the practical path, then there should be a clear separation from the sacramental and the legal. It should be made crystal clear that civil weddings, while still a declaration of love, still ultimately function as practical legal/social contracts; subject to termination just like any other legal contract. Whereas church weddings are only to be taken by those who would literally want to be bound eternally.

The semantics would be simple, they’ll have two choices. Either you chose the meaningful church wedding – but will also take the risk of getting into something you will never have a chance to get out of. Or you choose the practical civil wedding; have the benefit of choosing to terminate the contract at any point (provided it’s a mutual agreement), but at the expense of the union being perceived as “less meaningful.”

Speaking of “meaningful”

Here’s another problem I see with regards to all this marriage stuff; the fact that it’s so hyped up that people seem to feel their lives are incomplete without it – or that a legitimately loving relationship isn’t truly one unless you “finalise” it with marriage.

While I’m not saying that one should disregard the significance of the sacrament, but I find it very disturbing how a lot of relationships can be destroyed just by how marriage fits into the equation. Even the delay of marriage can become an issue worth breaking up for.

The favourite counter-argument women like to use is this:

Well, if you truly love a person, wouldn’t you want to spend the rest of your life with them? So why not get married?

Again, an unfortunate, but perfectly understandable argument. So let me try to explain why it’s not necessarily fair to use that as a basis of measuring the capacity to love. But to explain this, I’d have to deviate a bit and put some proper perspective to better drive my point home.

Let’s assume wikipedia’s statistics are somewhat accurate. Especially this part:

between 40% and 60% of new marriages will eventually end in divorce. The probability within… the first five years is 20%, and the probability of its ending within the first 10 years is 33%… Perhaps 25% of children ages 16 and under live with a step-parent.

As of 2009, first marriages which ended in divorce lasted a median of 8 years for both men and women. The median time to separation from first marriages was about 7 years.

So that means it’s not at all ridiculous to assume that HALF of marriages from here on out – and if you are able to look at any graphic projection of these statistics, there’s no reason to doubt that this in fact is, and will be the case (or unfortunately, may be even worse) as the years go by.

That is not a good statistic to have for something that was conceived to be a permanent thing. But I don’t even want to get into that – the reason I raised the issue is in context of a claim I had made earlier this week in Facebook – which I will paraphrase.

The problem isn’t being aware of the implications of marriages, or of the work it takes to make a marriage last. All these things have already been ingrained in us by the articles we read, the sermons we hear, the experiences we have from our married friends/relatives, and to a lesser degree – with our significant others. Unfortunately this knowledge and awareness is still ultimately useless in preparing one in facing such trials.

The real problem is the inescapable fact that one can never really determine if they’re the sort of person who can actually handle such “trials” until they’re already in it. And once they are, it’s 50/50: either they luck out and discover that they can handle it, or that they can’t. And that’s usually the time where the proverbial shit hits the fan for 50% of these people.

Obviously, everybody who gets married believes they can make it work. Everybody who gets married believes they’ve found the one. Everybody who gets married believes that can and will love that person next to them for the rest of their natural lives.

So what’s my point? My point is that 50% of these people who were pretty damn sure they could, in reality, couldn’t – how do you explain that!?

The reality is that you can never be sure – or at least you can never be sure unless you’ve confirmed it down the road. Anybody who has gotten married without living together before the marriage is essentially just as sure as the 50% that ended in separation… only difference is that they lucked out; they confirmed over time that they truly have found their “one.”

So going back, the reason this “fact” is important to mention is because there are some of us (myself included) who are sticklers for what is actually true, and what is speculation. So much so that it has worked to our disadvantage.

To give an example: I have never made a promise to any of the women I have ever been with that I would never cheat on them. I couldn’t promise it not because I intend to cheat, but simply because to me, it was like promising someone you’d never get sick. Nobody want’s to get sick, but can you really control that?

And before you start with your “of course you can control it! It’s a conscious decision!” – well, then tell that to the 50% who made a similar “conscious decision” of not leaving their partner until death!

Irony

In my previous relationship, for all the things that you can assume I “never could promise” – the stuff I did promise, I actually held up to my end of the bargain. Did it help me “keep” the woman I loved? Nope. Moreso, some of the major promises that I had made (and fully intended to keep) that really mattered, were predicated precisely on the things she eventually reneged on. So how’s that for irony!

One question did stick with me though: she asked if we were married, would things be different? I assume she was wondering if being married would have made us fight harder to keep the relationship (marriage?) going – or perhaps avoid the issue altogether. We weren’t broken up [yet] when she asked me this.

It was a very good question. Unfortunately I didn’t have an answer… all I could remember thinking was marriage shouldn’t be the thing that keeps people together – LOVE should. And that’s when I realized it was over; it was obvious that the love was gone from her end – that she should even contemplate such a question.

That may have been one of the rare times I was idealistic about something, but that’s how I always was with relationships. I always believed that if you truly loved someone, no matter how serious the issue may be, it should never be serious enough to make one question the relationship itself. Granted that women tend to be more volatile in this department, that even the little things can be major issues worth breaking up for. Unfortunately, I have this character flaw in which I believe it takes two to tango; and that I only fight for something if the other is willing to fight for it as well. And to her credit, she did try to fight for “us” with other issues, and we did end in amicable terms so as they say in the 3 Idiots: all is well.

That’s where I also realized what was wrong with the modern perception of marriage: that marriage’s “purpose” today seems to serve more as a “guarantee” than anything else. I mean I can understand the insecurities and concerns of people who do wish for marriage, but the fact that its presence or absence is enough to change something that should have been so fundamental and unquestioned to people who were in love – I honestly find that disturbing.

Anyways, I was disappointed/devastated for sure, but today, the I find solace in the consolation that if we were to imagine our 7 years together (7 year itch, it’s true, I tell ya! hehehe) as a simulation of being “married.” I definitely would’ve been the person who found out he could stick it out with someone for better or worse. 1 Take note, even if I was the person who would be first to admit that I couldn’t “promise” it Sadly not all things turn out the way one hopes; and she didn’t feel the same way.

So going back to the topic at hand, one can be idealistic all they want with their arguments regarding sureness, but I try to stick to facts – and the fact is – if the 50% FAILED marriages (and my personal experience) are any indication – is that no one will ever be truly sure of what they’re (in)capable of (both positive and negative) until they’ve started doing it. And in the context of marriage, it’s living together under one roof for a time.

How long till you know? I honestly don’t know, but again, if wikipedia stats are any indicator, then I’d say, on average, 7 years. I swear, that goddamned 7-year itch is fucking true. If you can make it past 7 years of living together 2 Because I imagine living together would be more brutal than just being BF/GF then it’s most likely that you have truly found your “one.”

Solution to the Issues Surrounding Marriage?

Of course I’d assume this is all meant in the Philippine context. It would really depend on what “issue” you’d like to address. Function (Is it necessary to clearly delineate sacramental and civil unions)? Separation (Should divorce really be necessary)? Cultural bias (Is sacramental marriage really necessary to validate a loving relationship)?

Obviously, I don’t have answers – only opinions.

Function

Like I said earlier, I think there should be a clear delineation of the functions of a civil union and sacramental wedding. It would certainly solve the whole issue of where the state and church could start meddling with one another.

We cannot deny any person (obviously referring to gays mostly here) all the legal benefits of acknowledging their love, their capacity to start a family, etc.

Cultural Bias

It’s imperative that people have to learn how to appreciate both types of unions with equal respect and value.

Of course this is troublesome on the sacramental side because on the one hand, it truly is a beautiful thing to be able to proclaim in absolutes one’s love for another. But on the other, I truly hate how it has plagued those who didn’t actually mean it. And yes, I consider them as “victims” because like I said, no one really knows!

Another problem is that people hear “legal union” – and they automatically feel it’s an inferior thing to the sacrament; that even if you already have practically everything you need that can let you live with the person you love for as long as you wished, start a family, get legal benefits, etc. That people still fuss about the whole “forever” part that the sacrament [speciously] offers.

Separation

Assuming the first is accomplished, then I would maintain that there should not be divorce on the sacramental side – but that not only should it be allowed on the civil side, but it should be as easy as both parties coming to an agreement. No need to prove anything on the civil side – if they don’t feel like being together, then that’s fine, they just clarify any permanent legal obligations (i.e. child support) if applicable and that would be it. No fuss, no muss.

To address the unavoidable problem that cultural bias can create. One solution I can think of is to only allow sacramental weddings to those who have been married legally for a number of years. If the statistic shows that people make or break in 7 years, then let’s make it 8-10 on the safe side.

It should be easy enough for anyone to be legally wed, and just as easily, separate – but to be sacramentally wed, you have to be legally wed for 10 years. Furthermore, if this is to become the landscape of marriage, then we should abolish separation of any sort in the sacramental side of things. So that means no annulment as well. Because let’s be honest; most if not all issues are really things that manifest once people live long enough under one roof. Wife beating, cheating, etc. you name it – all that’s bound to surface before 8-10 years. And if they actually were able to dupe you long enough to get married in Church – then you deserve to be duped – so it still won’t be an excuse to separate then.

That way, couples who are in the rocks are forced to work it out whether they like it or not. If such a rule is strictly enforced, that would hopefully discourage anyone from getting married unless they think they’re really ready. And by really ready, I don’t mean just being serious at that time, but it would also mean one SHOULD be willing to risk relinquishing their rights to happiness should the marriage turn sour. Yeah, they should include that brutal truth in the actual sermon 😉

In effect, it would certainly be the case that a church wedding will be like an “upgrade.” You require the “base social contract” which is the legal (assuming it’s void of any religious implications) – then “upgrade” the vows with your church wedding.

There would be less issues – and hopefully people would be more mindful of getting married (if at all)

What Would You Choose?

Honestly speaking, I’m fine with stopping at a civil wedding. I mean seriously, if women take offence in my not really finding a church wedding appealing, I should similarly feel offended that one would only acknowledge my love depending if I marry them in church or not.

I do believe in having an official acknowledgement of the union though legalities can be a bitch if you’re not married – so sure civil wedding is fine.

The problem is that our society puts so much stock the sacrament of matrimony almost to a fault. But that’s how it is. So if I don’t want to end up being alone, I will have to consider a Church Wedding regardless of my opinion on the matter.

If I’m lucky enough, hopefully the woman I end up being with “gets it” the way I do. And and that how we manifest our love for one another in our to day actions would matter more than any piece of paper or metal would ever represent. And who knows perhaps that would make me want to make things permanent. Because forcing the issue tends to turn me off more than it does encourage. But that’s just me. How about you?

Notes   [ + ]

1. Take note, even if I was the person who would be first to admit that I couldn’t “promise” it
2. Because I imagine living together would be more brutal than just being BF/GF

3 Replies to “State of the Unions (part 2)”

  1. Maybe you should start writing articles like 1000 Reasons to forget your ex- girlfriend /boyfriend, just kidding. But seriously, I think you’re still in love with her. Now if you want to confirm or deny that doesn’t really matter as simple as that. This was an interesting article when I read it. Exactly a year ago, when I realized that: “Marriage is not just an emotional and physical union it also a financial union “.I believe the purpose of a marriage vow in the wedding is under normal circumstances; both parties should try their best to mend any problems they encounter. That’s the whole point of marrying someone – you wish to share (you) life with them. Life isn’t all good obviously, so if you still decide to marry someone then you should be fully aware that there will be challenges. That’s what the marriage vow usually addresses, but there are always exceptions to the rule. A common scenario should put things in perspective: What if your wife turned out to be a husband beater? Would you think that marriage vow should be honored? If you do, then eventually, you’d still part – because you had died from the abuse. Sometimes there are relationships that just don’t fit no matter how hard you try. Regardless of love intentions, there are instances that the relationships simply cannot thrive. In those cases, that marriage vow shouldn’t hinder your happiness.

  2. Cossete,

    I believe I’ve already addressed all of your concerns in the very same article you read. I apologize if it wasn’t cohesive enough to prevent you from giving the otherwise redundant scenarios you posited. So I’ll try to answer your concerns point by point.

    The example you gave is life threatening and definitely would merit an exception. But you know what, there already is a process accommodates such exceptions; annulment (if I’m not mistaken, I believe we also have civil annulment, but don’t quote me on that). Sure, they are tedious to go through because you have to prove it – but someone getting beaten and having physical damage should be easier to prove than wanting to get out of a relationship simply because you fell out of love – which we cannot deny happens, much more often than the actual “exceptions” you speak of.

    So to be clear, if you’re saying [some] relationships “won’t simply fit no matter how hard you try” also should apply to falling out of love – then I would have to disagree. If it doesn’t fit, then you shouldn’t have gotten married – simple as that. Marriage is a contract as well – and contracts are there to ensure that simply changing your mind about something doesn’t endanger the agreement.

    The reason why I’m for a mandatory civil union (that spans a certain number of years, and that’s easily dissolvable) as a pre-requisite to a sacramental one is already an ideal compromise that could avoid the issues you speak of altogether. The goal is to have a legitimate way to live together, and allowing a couple all the legal benefits of being a family.

    I sincerely believe that it’s near impossible for the exceptions you mentioned to not manifest themselves during that time. If you’re a wife/husband-beater by nature, you simply cannot keep something like that at bay once you’re under the same roof for an extended period. Same goes if you’re a cheater, etc.

    However, I guess “cheating” can be hidden for a long time (and even that is debatable – since women have very good intuition) but from your description of how relationships should be worked on (and given something like cheating is not a life-threatening situation), then as unfortunate as it is, I would have to say that even such a dynamic should be worked out. So yes, to be perfectly honest, I believe that only life-threatening scenarios should be an exception. Anyone may disagree with me on this, but this is how I feel.

    My proposition that once you’re sacramentally wed, then there’s no exception was more of a jest – but more importantly, it was made to drive the point home that you shouldn’t take the sacrament lightly. The fact that you are thinking of exceptions, to me, suggests you’re not seeing it as seriously as you ought to – which is fine, but doesn’t change the point I’m trying to make: that if you’re going to make a vow that has the words “forever” or “eternity” – then you better be damn sure you can keep it. if you think you can’t, then no worries – but don’t make that promise in the first place!

    My suggestion of the “easily dissolvable” civil union already should address your concern when it comes to “getting into something by mistake” (which is why I mentioned my issues with the wording of vows in the civil union, and how it tries to masquerade as the sacrament) – so I don’t see how my perspective is unreasonable in any way.

    If you want something permanent, then treat it as such (permanent). If not, then don’t get into it. The fact that there are people who want such permanence only if its convenient to their happiness (and want out when it’s not) vis a vis what the sacrament actually stands for, is a bit hypocritical IMHO. I’d rather we not have double standards here 🙂

  3. Hello nargalzius,

    I was about to eat breakfast when I read your comment and while I agree with some of your viewpoint to a certain extent, the information flow is just too huge that I can feel my brain cells keep dying and growing all the time. It is always more interesting to see the opinion in a guy’s point of view…hehe~ when I said regardless of love intentions, there are instances that the relationships simply cannot thrive. In those cases, that marriage vow shouldn’t hinder your happiness. That’s exactly how my parents separated, not because my father was a bad person, but because it just wouldn’t work out- and forcing some issues won’t do you any good. Simply put, that my sisters and I are raised with this awareness – that marriages, among other things, cannot be assumed to last forever without exceptions.

    When I asked my elder sister if she enjoy married life? It is what she expected? According to her she enjoy it, it is more than she expected to be. When she was single she only thought about herself. Now, she thinks about her growing family.

    That is, I believe, if you end up with the right person. But what about those immature children who decide to get married just because they’re of legal age, then realize that it was a big mistake. Or for those who absolutely loved one another and decided to go against all odds, only to find out that the whole world was going against them. Getting married per se doesn’t guarantee happiness. I believe marriage can either make or break you as a person. Luckily my sister meets the right person at the right time. I think that the best gift anyone can get in life!

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