'Til Death (or Unhappiness?) Do Us Part
Adele is the poster child for the culture’s redefinition of marriage as promoted in the New York Times. If you’re a fan, you know that she divorced Simon Konecki, who was the father of her son, Angelo.
But you might not know why she left.
“It just wasn’t right for me anymore. I didn’t want to end up like a lot of other people I knew. I wasn’t miserable miserable, but I would have been miserable had I not put myself first. But, yeah, nothing bad happened or anything like that.”
Discussing her new album in Vogue, Adele said: “I wanted to explain to him [Angelo] through this record, when he’s in his twenties or thirties, who I am and why I voluntarily chose to dismantle his entire life in the pursuit of my own happiness.”
Unfortunately, she’s still struggling to find the happiness she’s been chasing.
“If I can reach the reason why I left, which was the pursuit of my own happiness, even though it made Angelo really unhappy — if I can find that happiness and he sees me in that happiness, then maybe I’ll be able to forgive myself for it.”
So is Adele right? Is the purpose of life the pursuit of personal happiness? Should marriage vows add a line: “Until death do us part… or I am unhappy”?
If finding the right person were the key to a happy marriage, we would be living in a glorious age of wedded bliss because people have never had more opportunities to find Mr. or Mrs. Right. Dating apps have given everyone the chance to be a contestant on The Bachelorette. The algorithm promises an endless supply of images chosen just for you. What could possibly go wrong?
We’ve got lots of thoughts on the NYT’s article on marriage that we just mentioned. Check out our recent episode to hear more!
A World Without Dating Apps
In Modern Romance, comedian and Parks and Recreation actor Aziz Ansari wrote about relationships in American society today. Aziz is not a Christian, and his conclusions don’t usually line up with biblical teachings on marriage and sexuality. And yet because of his experience with one foot in the East and one foot in the West, he can see through Western myths that many of us don’t notice.
“My parents had an arranged marriage,” Aziz says. “This always fascinated me. I am perpetually indecisive about even the most mundane things, and I couldn’t imagine navigating such a huge life decision so quickly.”
The fact that his parents’ marriage was “arranged” does not mean his mother was chosen for his father. No, what happened was this: Aziz’s dad told his parents it was time to get married. So, as Aziz explains:
[My] family arranged meetings with three neighboring families. The first girl, he said, was ‘a little too tall,’ and the second girl was ‘a little too short.’ Then he met my mom. He quickly deduced that she was the appropriate height (finally!), and they talked for about thirty minutes. They decided it would work. A week later, they were married. And they still are, thirty-five years later. Happily so—and probably more so than most people I know who had non-arranged marriages. That’s how my dad decided on the person with whom he was going to spend the rest of his life.
Aziz is fascinated by this cultural practice, and although he thinks it funny that his dad made such a monumental decision based on height (almost like Goldilocks finding the right bowl of porridge), he can’t overlook the fact that his parents have had a good and enduring marriage.
If Adele Had Met Alain
This brings us back to an article in the NYT that stands in stark contrast to the ones we discussed on the pod. “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” was written by Alain de Botton, a British philosopher and atheist, and appeared on the opinion page in 2016. It turns out he had some good advice that Adele should have considered:
- You will never marry the “right” person.That’s mainly because, as the article says, “Nobody’s perfect.” Everyone is crazy. Not everyone is crazy in the same way, but everyone has significant issues. If everything (the Bible, pastors, marriage counselors, your own observations after watching other people’s marriages, and now even the Opinion page of the New York Times!) tells you that you won’t marry the right person, stop looking for him or her. Stop trying to find the right person and put your focus on becoming the right person.
- Dating is very different than marriage.Where do we start with this? For starters, during the dating phase of a relationship we “rarely delve into our complexities,” but instead project an image of who we wish we were — an image that is usually far more attractive than our real self. For more on the differences between dating and marriage, here’s de Botton:
Finally, we marry to make a nice feeling permanent. We imagine that marriage will help us to bottle the joy we felt when the thought of proposing first came to us: Perhaps we were in Venice, on the lagoon, in a motorboat, with the evening sun throwing glitter across the sea, chatting about aspects of our souls no one ever seemed to have grasped before, with the prospect of dinner in a risotto place a little later. We married to make such sensations permanent but failed to see that there was no solid connection between these feelings and the institution of marriage.
Indeed, marriage tends to move us onto another, very different and more administrative plane, which perhaps unfolds in a suburban house, with a long commute and maddening children who kill the passion from which they emerged. The only ingredient in common is the partner. And that might have been the wrong ingredient to bottle.
- People who really, really want to get married often make bad decisions. Do I love this other person, or do I love the idea of getting married? Am I ready to bind myself to this other person in a lifelong marriage or am I just tired of being the last of my friends to be single? Does this person have the character and values that I am looking for in a spouse or is marriage simply convenient right now?
Here’s de Botton: “No one can be in an optimal frame of mind to choose a partner when remaining single feels unbearable.” It’s when you’re content with who God made you and where God has you that you’re in the best frame of mind to think about a relationship.
- Don’t worry that you didn’t marry the “right” person.This is gold, pure gold from de Botton:
The good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person…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.
Catch that? Contrary to the hype, contrary to Hollywood, contrary to cultural expectations, there is NO right person for you to marry because no person can meet all our needs and satisfy all our desires! Sure, pastors say things like that, but remember that this is the New York Times!
- “Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.” Marriage is a great place to grow in humility, patience, compromise, and sacrifice. When we expect to start our marriage with compatibility, we deny our spouse’s faults and set ourselves up for disappointment. What if de Botton is right and genuine compatibility comes on the other side of maturity and growth?
- The “normal” marriage has a lot of ups and downs.Instead of bailing or complaining or withdrawing, what if we stayed with it and kept working and learning and growing? Here’s more from de Botton:
Romanticism has been unhelpful to us; it is a harsh philosophy. It has made a lot of what we go through in marriage seem exceptional and appalling. We end up lonely and convinced that our union, with its imperfections, is not “normal.” We should learn to accommodate ourselves to “wrongness,” striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners.
The normal marriage has plenty of conflict, selfishness, and trying times. Hopefully that’s not all it has, but given that in general we tend to remember the bad times more than the good times, it might feel like married life is harder than it truly is.
When God brings two sinners together in a marriage, he plans to use each spouse to help the other grow. It’s when your spouse is being annoying or unreasonable or generally difficult that you can learn patience, to love your enemy, empathy, forgiveness, and so much more. And remember, you’re not so easy to live with, either. Your spouse is putting up with a lot and giving you lots of grace too.
But there is one thing Alain de Botton gets wrong… kinda. He claims it is a lie “that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.” When he wrote that, de Botton was thinking of a spouse, and in that sense, he is right.
But, perhaps unknowingly, he puts his finger on an incredible truth: we all long to know such a perfect being. And such a being exists! The good news for us is that there is one “who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.” That perfect being is God himself made known in Jesus Christ.
And that relationship is what every human being is searching for. When we expect our spouse to be that perfect being, we ask for the impossible. But when we see that Jesus is the one who will meet our needs and satisfy our hearts, then we are free to love our spouses with the love we received from him.
Posted by Keith Simon