I confess: I rolled my eyes.
Monogamy can be a challenge, I’ll grant you, but the alternative causes such pain and dysfunction, so much emotional scarring for the adults involved, to say nothing of the children, it seems irrational to me to suggest that marrying for life is contrary to our nature. It takes so many years for a human child to grow to adulthood; how can we be built for anything other than the long term?***
This opinion reflects a skewed vision of what freedom is. We have this idea that “freedom” means doing whatever we want to do. Any restriction on what we’re allowed–and let’s face it, marriage is intrinsically a limit on outside amorous encounters–is viewed as an imposition upon freedom.
Well, that makes a certain amount of sense. But what it lacks is a larger perspective. One of my favorite Thomas Merton quotes is this one:
“It should be accepted as a most elementary human and moral truth that no man can live a fully sane and decent life unless he is able to say “no” on occasion to his natural bodily appetites. No man who simply eats and drinks whenever he feels like eating and drinking, who smokes whenever he feels the urge to light a cigarette, who gratifies his curiosity and sensuality whenever they are stimulated, can consider himself a free person. He has renounced his spiritual freedom and become the servant of bodily impulse. Therefore his mind and will are not fully his own. They are under the power of his appetites.” (From New Seeds of Contemplation)
I realized yesterday how very freeing marriage has been to me. It hasn’t happened overnight, and I’m sure it will face challenges down the line, but the fact is, before I was married, every male I encountered was a potential “mate,” even those who, well, weren’t. I was like Billy Crystal’s Harry, incapable of having friends of the opposite sex. I tried, but there was always this awkwardness involved, this “what-if?” dynamic.
Marriage has freed me. I no longer have to view every XY chromosome that crosses my path as a potential romantic interest. I can now set all that baggage aside and develop relationships with men that are no threat at all to my peace of mind. This is a liberating gift, one that has deeply enriched my life, and it would not been possible if I viewed marriage as anything other than 100% permanent.
In other words, the limit of monogamy has given me freedom.
***Note: It probably bears clarifying that what I’m taking to task here is the notion that monogamy isn’t the ideal–not the fact that for many people the ideal falls apart. I don’t mean to pass judgment on anyone whose marriage failed–only on the idea that we shouldn’t try in the first place.***