On Marrying the Wrong Person

I recently read this NYT opinion piece written by Alain de Botton. He writes about how marrying the “wrong person” is inevitable, and goes on to say:

“We mustn’t abandon him or her, only the founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.

We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them. There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness.”

He says the first 70% of what Christians in general and Keller’s Meaning of Marriage in particular have been saying about marriage forever, but somehow reading it from a secular source still gives the idea some extra validity, like it’s not just my tribe who sees this. (de Botton is a self-described ‘committed atheist’)

Of course, the author stops short of what Christians declare, that there is a human who can satisfy our every yearning, who can put an end to emptiness and incompleteness. In fact, we celebrate his becoming a human around this time two thousand years ago.

Nevertheless, the actual practice of transferring my Romanticism-influenced hopes from my partner to Christ is full of challenges. When I feel really frustrated, or think about the frustrations of other friends in long term relationships and marriages, I lament that no one can seem to find a suitable partner.

But of course no one can find a suitable partner. We are all, as de Botton notices, different forms of crazy. Different forms of broken, different forms of that decidedly untrendy word, sinful.

And as we flawed creatures join, of course our flaws will not magically vanish. But as Christians we are called to cover for one another’s flaws as God did for us, each absorbing the pain and frustration caused by the other’s imperfection.

I gotta tell you, that sucks. I can say I’m very slowly getting better at it, and still not at the same place that my husband is. There is no part of me that isn’t miserable when being ‘charitable’ or ‘showing grace.’

As I’ve come home for the holidays and come to appreciate how my parents and my in-laws tirelessly and cheerfully cook, clean, pay, and otherwise take care of all of us ‘kids,’ and have done so for years, I can’t help but realize how reluctant I really am to give without expecting anything in return.

The thought of nearly two decades essentially devoid of reciprocity–otherwise known as parenthood–terrifies me, especially because marriage has already shown me that my reservoir is not so big as I used to think. There’s no way to control how inherently well-behaved my children are, but at least this process of being “married to the wrong person” can help me learn to depend on God to love all the same.


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