It's that time of year. As surely as lemmings march to the sea, men and women march down the aisle toward blissful matrimony. Even with the dramatic increase in couples cohabitating and even raising children without the formality of marriage, marriage as a way of legally and publicly acknowledging these commitments is alive and well.
I'm really not as jaded about marriage as my "lemmings" analogy suggests. I firmly believe that two people united together in a marriage of mutual love and support is one of the most precious gifts any of us can experience. There are good reasons to get married. Unfortunately, many of us get married for a variety of other reasons. For instance:
• Infatuation or romance: Call this the "Love Boat Syndrome." This is marriage based on the assumption that a sudden, overwhelming, often sexual attraction for a person is grounds for a lifetime of commitment. Sadly, many such marriages have the life span of a typical "Love Boat" episode. When the embers cool, our erstwhile romantics discover there is little real foundation to support a relationship of any lasting satisfaction. They usually are destined to a quick divorce, or a protracted and futile attempt to rekindle the flames.
• Expectation: Thankfully, being single has less of a social stigma than it once did. But we still look a bit askew at the man or woman who intentionally chooses singlehood. We are supposed to get married. Our parents, family, friends and society as a whole lay on us a bunch of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) messages about the expectation that we all should get married.
• Convenience: A certain number of things -- cooking, cleaning, household repairs, a job, etc. -- go into living. It is just plain easier to divide these tasks between two people. It is also convenient to have somebody around to go out with or stay home with. Some of us get married, ultimately, because it is easier than trying to live singly.
• Dependency: We all depend on others; it's part of being human. Some of us, however, become so afraid of being alone and on our own that we see being taken care of in marriage as the only way to survive physically or emotionally. Marriage rescues us from loneliness, from competition, from the expectation we achieve.
In the same vein, others of us depend on marriage to provide meaning to our lives. To feel good about ourselves, we seek a spouse and children who will need us to take care of them. We depend on them to convince us that we are important and worthwhile. Chances are, we will smother them in the process.
• Friendship: Sometimes a man and woman marry out of a deep sense of caring for each other as individuals, yet without the romance we might expect. Such a "best friends" marriage is rare, but often quite fulfilling. Frequently, an element of romance is added as the years go by.
• Love: There are enough definitions of love around to confuse almost anybody, but let me try to explain what "marrying for love" means to me. I like to think of it as a combination of romantic infatuation and friendship.
Friendship provides the firm and ever-expanding foundation for marital intimacy to grow (as we've discussed before, intimacy includes the physical, emotional, intellectual, social, recreational and spiritual). Friendship carries us over the long haul and through the rough times. When all else fails, we know our spouse is still our best friend.
Infatuation or romance adds the spark, the excitement, to such a marriage. It brings joy to our lips, tears to our eyes, tenderness to our touch. It may come and go, wax and wane. Yet, in a marriage based on love, romance is just as evident after 10 years as it is after 10 months.
In my book, such a "romantic friendship" is the best of all possible reasons to get married. When we encounter a couple whose marriage is alive and growing, chances are it is centered around this sort of love.
If you are considering marriage, it might be a good idea to ask yourself, and your potential spouse, which of these reasons would be behind your decision. If your marriage plans are made, I suggest you discuss this with the clergy person you have asked to perform the ceremony (many pastors insist on premarital counseling to discuss just such issues).
Some couples may want to look even more deeply into the questions I've raised. If you have not yet made wedding plans, or if the pastor you have chosen does not have the time or training, you may want to use a professional marital therapist to do some in-depth premarital counseling around your concerns.
There are good reasons to get married. And there are some not so good ones as well. Before you begin your procession down the aisle, take a good look at the "tune" you are marching to.
• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaritan Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."