Sunday, April 05, 2015

Marriage Is Scary

I don't want to gossip about people's difficult personal situations, but I periodically become aware of people whose marriages falter very, very quickly.

First was a widower I knew who got remarried and, by the wedding night, his new bride was telling him she'd made a mistake. By the end of the weekend, she was making plans to get an annulment.

Second was a widow I knew who got remarried and, within a month, was divorced.

This week I learned of a woman who got married for the first time a little later in life and now, a week or so later, is uncertain whether her marriage is going to end.

What the hell, people?! I always figured that remarriages and later-in-life marriages were going to be more rational and sane. I imagined it was a lot like the Frank Sinatra song "The Second Time Around." But it turns out I was wrong.

My wife has a friend who has not been married yet, but has been engaged to a guy who, it turns out, is already engaged to another woman. And I believe this has happened more than once to her.

I've written before that, now that I'm older, I'm scared to death of marriage. So much could go wrong. You are connecting your life to that of someone who you think you know, but how well do you really know? When you're young and foolish, you're more likely to ignore important questions and say, "She looks phenomenal in yoga pants; this is true love." But I expected older people to be wiser.

Four possible explanations I can see:

  1. Older people are more desperate, thus more willing to ignore warning signs. So I say, "She's clearly insane, but I don't want to die alone. I can tough it out." But I'm probably not going to "see the light," as it were, in just a week, am I? The people I know like this took several years to fully understand that, no, you can't just tough out crazy. (My wife still hasn't figured it out yet, and our 14th anniversary is in three weeks.)
  2. Older people have more deal-breaker baggage. The longer a crazy person lives, the more craziness he has under his belt. A crazy guy at 18 maybe did some weird stuff to animals, but by 40, he's probably a felon. But why didn't you fully vet him? Are we back to Reason #1? If we are, it should take more than a week for things to fall apart.
  3. Later-in-life singles think normal stuff is deal-breaker stuff. I had a mission companion who theorized that sister missionaries had a harder time getting along with their companions because they were older and more set in their ways. The longer you let someone be in complete control of his life, the harder it's going to be for him to compromise with a new spouse. So we get married and then I say, "You only buy HALF-gallons of milk?! This marriage is OVER!" But again, most people stick out terrible commitments due to fear of looking foolish. Think of it as the sunk-cost fallacy's contribution to marriage stability. I'd be interested in finding out how long the average divorcee takes between knowing the marriage is doomed and filing divorce papers. So while it should take longer than a week to find out that the marriage is doomed, it should take even longer to act on that knowledge.
  4. Older people are more adept at hiding their crazy deal-breaker baggage. This is the only explanation that is satisfying to me. One partner is clearly insane and has become really, really good at keeping that hidden. The reason he's 45 and still single is because it's taken him several fiancees to figure out how to hide it completely. But I guess even this isn't that satisfactory of an answer because, knowing himself to be insane, why did he think he could let his freak flag fly on Day 1 of married life? He knows divorce is a thing, right? You'd figure he'd ease his way into it.

So I guess I'm still stymied. But I know I am completely terrified of having to get remarried. If my wife dies, I am never getting remarried. There's just way, way too much that can go wrong.

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