Why do we marry, asks Elizabeth Gilbert in her recently released memoir, Committed. She explores marriage as a means of protection and survival or as an expression of class and rank in certain cultures. She discusses romantic love and the absence of it in certain marriages. And she documents her own path to re-marriage, a journey fueled by a complication in her husband’s status as a foreign visitor to the United States. She comes to terms with rituals and the need for formality, the permanence of a publicly made and witnessed promise. She rises to the final conclusion that I could have told her simply and from the start: we marry because it feels good to be loved and we want that love recognized. Yes, we can reap the benefits one receives as a married couple in society. And of course, if one has children, the bonds of marriage become the walls of the house in which those children are raised. But the best answer to this question of why do we choose a life partner has to be what I learned from Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve. Adam says, finally and after much frustration with the creature called Eve, that life is better outside the garden of paradise with her, than inside the beautiful garden without her.
I heard Twain’s above line at a theater production, a series of vignettes about love. Selected readings from Diaries bonded together each scene with comedic and finally the dramatic reality that love can end when life does. Sitting in the darkened theater, my husband’s profile lit with the jewel-toned lights cast from the stage, I was caught in a moment of tearfulness. Our marriage, still new and flecked with moments of hardship, is the relationship I choose because life with him is far better than living without him.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s own sentiments on love are quoted below as a direct reflection of why I married again despite the challenges of merging two families and any of the general troubles that might plague a marriage:
I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out.
Interestingly enough, Mrs. Browning married her love despite her controlling father’s objections. Wikipedia mentions that she lived happily ever after, if there is such a thing, especially considering her troubled health. She penned those beautiful words approximately 200 years ago when marriage meant assuming certain domestic roles from which women have found limiting both then and now. I find her choice thrilling and hopeful.