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Marriage isn’t for you (but it’s not for your partner, either).

Lately, lots of things on the Internet have been making me react like this:

mindyhowdareyou

I wrote about my issues with the Internet and sharing articles here, but I wanted specifically to respond to Seth Adam Smith’s “Marriage Isn’t for You” and Wayne Smith’s response to it. Basically, Seth wants us to know that marriage isn’t a selfish act; it is about caring for your significant other above yourself. Wayne asks a bunch of (tonally complex) questions like “What if you’re not a heterosexual couple?” and “What if you can’t marry your best friend?” and “What if you don’t have kids?” Importantly, he also mentions that this type of selflessness has kept women in abusive relationships for years.

I’m wondering why it’s become so easy to push back on articles like this essentially on the premise that the article wasn’t explicitly about my life situation, so it must be excluding me, and that is utterly reprehensible. To assume the writer actually did forget you and has a particularly sinister goal in writing posts like these is, I think, reductive and petty. Sure, plenty of things get written that do purposefully exclude, but this doesn’t feel like one of them. It reads like a blog post, y’all. Its tone is earnest; the writer has discovered something that truly changed his views on relationships and, to him, it’s urgent and worthy of sharing.

Seth’s points don’t seem to be about a wildly specific type of relationship. He explains the concept of selflessness through the lens of his own personal marriage relationship because, obviously, that’s the one he knows and lives. But I don’t think it’s meant to exclude anyone, and it’s not meant to be some sort of conspiracy.

Also, I may be overstepping, but I’m pretty sure “marriage isn’t for you” doesn’t mean “stay in a marriage if it harms you.” (Did Wayne really think Seth would be all, “Yep, selflessness at all costs, guys…”?) It isn’t foregrounded by “this article applies only if you are a heterosexual white male.” Sure, its perspectives arise out of particular experiences (which cannot include every experience possible), but I suppose I just don’t immediately assume the worst of an author’s intentions. Simply put, it’s easier to critique what isn’t explicitly included in Seth’s article and harder to take issue with its central claims.

Here’s what I think “marriage isn’t for you” means: it means that you might be inherently looking out only for yourself in a relationship (any relationship), and that’s worth considering deeply. It means that expectations are so easily disappointed when we think too selfishly. It means that you should care for your person and expect that from them. It means you should mess up together, and it means you should help each other get better at loving one another.

Because the truth is, no one gets to be the “idealized couple atop of the wedding cake,” including Seth and his wife, because as much as we can point to couples who appear to have it all together (or may live within “easier” societal circumstances), people are just broken. We all bring a mess of history and predisposition to the table. That’s exactly what makes marriage so lovely. It’s the story of two imperfect people attempting to grow in love for one another. The crazy thing is that that is actually possible.

So I would suggest that marriage isn’t about you, but it’s not about the other person either. For me, it absolutely, and most importantly, serves to reflect and communicate the Gospel. And it’s about something bigger happening when two people vow to be with one another exclusively—it might be the closest, most intensely revealing relationship we ever have. Importantly, too, it’s about a bigger story of what love is and how we manage the miracle of loving one another. No matter what you call it—selflessness, sacrifice, and the like—marriage is most beautiful when two people agree mutually to love and care for each other. Circumstances may come up that hinder this and even lead to the ending of a marriage, and that, of course, is a different story. But marriage, at its best, unfolds out of love (an inherently selfless act!) for another. What would it be without that?

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