Wow. I thought the worst news, these days, was in the politics and government sections.
Who knew that the most horrible perspectives were found in the subjects of marriage and ethics? Of course, it makes sense. The wrong approach to ethics is what makes all the irrational policies of our government and other cultural trends possible.
Case in point: an article I recently read called, ‘Marriage Isn’t For You.’
It’s written by a man who asked his father for advice when he felt reluctant to marry his fianc. The reason? He wasn’t sure he loved her.
My dad giving his response to my concerns was such a moment for me. With a knowing smile he said, ‘Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.’
It was in that very moment that I knew that Kim was the right person to marry. I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day. I wanted to be a part of her family, and my family wanted her to be a part of ours. And thinking back on all the times I had seen her play with my nieces, I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to build our own family.
Oh, my. How many things can you find wrong with this passage?!
First of all, the premise that having children is an obligation or given; it’s not even defended by the father. It’s taken for granted. By what moral standard are we all obliged to reproduce? And how does a child benefit when it’s done as an unthinking duty, rather than a personally desired challenge?
Second, the idea that it’s ‘selfish’ and therefore bad to care about your own happiness. If self doesn’t matter to the relationship, then what exactly is the motive? Charity? Feeling sorry for someone? Is that why Seth’s wife Kim wants him to love her: for reasons of charity, i.e. no personal gain? Or would she properly feel insulted and disgusted if that were his motive?
Third, why exactly is Seth pleased by seeing Kim happy? Couldn’t he just randomly pick the name of a single woman out of a phone directory, or match.com, and achieve his social duty just as well? Of course not, he’d reply, because Kim is the one he loves. Kim is special.
He loves her for reasons, not by accident. Seth loves Kim (if he does) because of qualities about her that he finds personally, selfishly pleasing. A random stranger, or a prearranged marriage, would not do it for him. He wants to please her because he loves her. This desire to please—and to put a smile on the face of a loved one—is one of the most personally, self-interested motives there is. It’s your own chosen loved one that you want to cherish and please; not just anyone.
Despite the glaring errors in his dad’s motivational advice, Seth went on to marry Kim and—surprise, surprise—trouble eventually developed.
Did Seth blame the marital trouble on mistaken thinking? On the dishonest, absurd and toxic idea that love has nothing whatsoever to do with the self?
No. Just the opposite. He writes,
Some time ago, my wife showed me what it means to love selflessly. For many months, my heart had been hardening with a mixture of fear and resentment. Then, after the pressure had built up to where neither of us could stand it, emotions erupted. I was callous. I was selfish.
But instead of matching my selfishness, Kim did something beyond wonderful—she showed an outpouring of love. Laying aside all of the pain and aguish I had caused her, she lovingly took me in her arms and soothed my soul.
I realized that I had forgotten my dad’s advice. While Kim’s side of the marriage had been to love me, my side of the marriage had become all about me. This awful realization brought me to tears, and I promised my wife that I would try to be better.
Wow. There’s a recipe for more of the same. Instead of questioning his dad’s clich, fatally flawed advice and premises, he concludes’he hasn’t been selfless enough!
It’s like getting a diagnosis of (treatable) lung cancer, and concluding: ‘Gee, I had better take up smoking.’
Seth says he treated his wife badly, by ‘hardening’ his heart. [When translated, I suspect this means he cheated on her; but it’s only a guess.]
Instead of holding him accountable for his actions, or asking him about his contradiction—between loving her on the one hand, and treating her poorly, on the other—she simply feeds into the false idea that love is selfless and excuses the wrongdoing for which he claims to be ashamed.
Earth to Seth and Seth’s dad: Love is supposed to be about the satisfaction of two people. Each pleases the other simply by being who he or she is. If nobody is to be satisfied, and if self-fulfillment is wrong, there can be no giving.
Sure, there are compromises on comparatively unimportant matters, but one makes those compromises for selfish reasons. ‘You’re special to me, you’re beautiful to me—so these concessions don’t bother me with you, while they would with anyone else.’ That’s not selflessness. It’s one of the most personally pleasurable things in the world. If it isn’t, then you don’t really love.
If you look at it as self-sacrifice, you’ll come to resent your spouse and ‘harden’ your heart for sure. What happened to Seth happens to millions of married people every day. Bit by bit, hour by hour, marriages and romantic love dissolve in exactly this way. Instead of naming the cure of this malady–selflessness, self-sacrifice–we persist in prescribing more of the same.
Poor Seth. He’s like the great majority of people, trying to live up to an impossible ideal that isn’t an ideal at all.
The most twisted part of all this? In order to show your ‘love’—i.e., your selflessness—your partner must be lousy and treat you poorly. Otherwise, there’s no opportunity to sacrifice. In Seth and Kim’s relationship, Kim gets to be a saint only if Seth acts in a way for which he’ll later be ashamed. Likewise, Seth doesn’t get to be moral unless Kim treats him shabbily, and then he can selflessly forgive her. Sick!
Such a dysfunctional martyr-fest is not self-interest by any remotely rational standard. It’s illogical, contradictory depravity. Yet it’s the hallowed, cherished, undisputed moral standard of our world.
“Marriage is selfless.” We keep repackaging the same tired, toxic, erroneous ideas over and over…expecting different results.
Is it any wonder so much of the world, despite the many human achievements around us, remains such a dysfunctional mess?
[Source of article: www.sethadamsmith.com 11/2/13]
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