Friday, September 2, 2011

Beginnings of an essay

Marriage, Family, and Friendship: my working title for the revival and completion of an essay, "Love & Marriage," that I started in 2001. (It also draws on another, "Buddha's Ladder," begun a few years later. Both were set aside.) This brief summary lays out my theses.
    My first thesis is that marriage is the continuation of childhood and so is as wrapped up in perpetuating family as it is in the desire for love that gave rise to it. My second thesis is that marriage passes through what the Zen Buddhists call gates or barriers, one of which is the transition from personal love to familial love. Marriage is ultimately about family. As an institution, it is intended to bridge between generations. My third thesis is that the acceptance of marriage's dynastic purpose is aided rather than subverted by the freedom afforded to its parties, but the aid this freedom brings has its moment of ripeness and needs considerable maturity to understand it and act on it sensibly. My fourth thesis is that marriage needs to develop a new tradition that reflects the previous three theses. Such a tradition would acknowledge the potentially long-lived nature of modern marriage. It would also acknowledge the periods of vulnerability in a marriage (the presence of young children, for example, or an illness), when the commitment of the partners to each other is a necessity. My fifth thesis is that friendship is also a core human relationship, on a par with marriage and family, and potentially their complement.
    My polemical goals are several. I want to lift the unendurable weight that tradition has placed on marriage by demanding that it fulfill every human need. There may be such marriages, truly self-complete, but they seem unlikely. I want to protect friendship and raise its stature, most of all between friends. I want to acknowledge the potential and even the likelihood of friendship overlapping the territory of marriage, but distinguish their claims and end their disputes. 
    To do so brings me to the sixth thesis: each one is her or his own person, not the property of any other. Marriage vows cannot negate this. Marriage should be thought of as a commitment to treat as family the issue and estate of the partners, however acquired.
    Friendships are voluntary and self-renewing. How they relate to the familial contexts of the friends, if there are such contexts, cannot be prescribed or proscribed in advance. My polemical goal with friendships is to grant them a standing and a human importance. To pursue a friendship needs to be sanctioned by the traditions of marriage, family, and friendship. It follows that there needs to be a new tradition of friendship, too, especially among the married, but also among the would-be married, who too often rigidly and foolishly draw a distinction. Hence my seventh thesis: friendship is at the center of all successful human relationships. It is the heart of our humanity. If we're lucky, we succeed in putting our marriage on the sounder foundations of family and in making a real friend of our marriage partner. That friendship at the heart of a marriage is then more likely to accept and respect other friendships. (My eighth thesis is that friendship is mutually accepting or it is not a true friendship.) 

Note: I use the word thesis here to suggest that this essay is drawing on my lived experience of the human condition and its conundrums. These are not laws or rules; life is not algorhythmic, but it has discernible patterns. There's no map, just a way in and a way out, neither very well marked.

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