The underground institution of marriage

I was hanging with Chris Norton and Blake Tyson today at PASIC before Blake and I went out in front of 800 percussionists and played Wuorinen (me) and El-Dabh (Blake) and we got talking about our marriages. Blake and Lianna have been married for 15 years. Chris and his wife have been married for 27 years. And Jessica and I for 13 years. For all of us those have all been good years, faithful and committed.

I pointed out that a successful marriage is essentially a counterculture activity nowadays, not so different from the avant garde music that I champion. Hardly anyone does it, and if you’re going to do it you need to really ignore the constant barrage of media and social messaging that encourages you otherwise. Being in a successful marriage in the U.S. in 2010 is like being a hippie was in the early 60s. You are defying the social norms that dominate the culture and seeking an alternate reality. Just as I’ve devoted my life to music that expands the frontiers of human potential, so have I devoted my life to my marriage and my family. To hell with modern culture that tells me otherwise! Indeed, the more the masses tell me to get divorced and “free” myself from the “shackles” of marriage, the more I want to stay married.

The statistics for marriage are pretty bad in the U.S. Over 50% end in divorce. Of the other 50% of the couples, over half of them are cheating on each other. In other words, only about 25% of marriages actually work.

Given those statistics it’s not uncommon to hear people in long-term relationships discount marriage as an anachronism, rightfully pointing out the hypocrisy that happens when people stay married but are unhappy or publically proclaim to stay together only to fall apart soon after. And yet the institution of marriage persists. Why?

Because when it works, like it does for Jessica and me, it is incredibly powerful. As we’ve matured beyond the initial (and relatively easy) stages of a relationship, every aspect of our union has become more profound and sophisticated. From conversation to managing the household to love making, we’ve grown together and strengthened and informed one another in ways that make us each stronger individuals, but also a unique duo. And we’re providing a stable environment for our two children that gives them the base from which to grow into creative, thoughtful, productive adults.

A lot of things have to come together to make a marriage work. Most importantly the people have to be compatible. This can take a lot of different forms, but it’s essential. And secondly, the two people have to want to be married. Jessica and I both want a successful marriage. We’ve hit rough spots and hard times, but we’ve always come through because we really want to make it work. This sounds simple–almost trite–but it surprises me how many people get married without actually wanting a marriage lifestyle.

Of course, people change and grow and sometimes marriages work well for a while and then fall apart. There’s nothing you can do about that and I’m not so foolish as to think that would never happen to us. I can’t imagine letting Jessica go. After all, she’s smart, beautiful, competent, and a hell of a mother. But who knows, she might get tired of me at some point. Not many women would put up with a tall, dorky looking guy who plays weird music for little money, trains like a demon for endurance sports, and collects exotic pets. I’m lucky indeed!

I’ve had several friends who have already been divorced once or twice. I don’t judge them, not one little bit. In all cases it was the best thing for everyone. But if I can avoid that I will. At this point I’m committed to the marriage as much because I love Jessica and my kids as because I love giving a big giant middle finger to The Man and his failed marriages, his lousy pop music, his TV culture, and his senseless wars and stupid laws.

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