Monday, June 29, 2015

I'd Do Anything For Love

"She didn't!" 

We sat, immobilized, stammering in hushed tones. You know that girl, So-and-So? Well, we all know that she and Such-and-Such were dating, but they were young, no one thought it would last, and then they want to get married, but her parents said no, while his were okay with it . . . 

The next step being, that the couple married, while her parents and siblings did not attend. 

I come from a long line of the non-confrontational and family-oriented, so when I hear such tales I can't get my head around it. The pain! The heartbreak! What do you think the problem was? For weeks we try to formulate hypotheticals, why, for all intents and purposes, a child would hurt her parents in such a way. 

I am all too aware that halachically, one does not need parental approval to marry. One can very well marry against their parents' wishes. But looking down the road, how many times was that defiance worth it? 

I read the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Undset, the first book published in 1920, the last in 1922. Kristin, the main character, is a Norwegian girl of a good and noble family born in the 14th century.
If you plan on reading the books, there be spoilers ahead, since it is necessary to make my point. 

When Kristin is of age (meaning just entering her teens) her loving and caring father betroths her to steady, reliable Simon Darre, who is neither handsome nor dashing, but a good man. Kristin is not excited by him, and finds herself resigned, as opposed to happy, to marry him. 

Sent to a nunnery for a visit, she meets in town Erlend Nikulaussøn, who is both handsome and dashing. Love at first sight, yadda yadda. They manage to meet on the sly more than once, and eventually Kristin's honor is out the window.
Simon finds out, but makes her promise not to tell her father, since it will kill him (that just shows what a decent guy he is). But Kristen still stubbornly stays by Erlend's side, even when she discovers all sorts of unsavory things about him. Simon, not wanting an unwilling wife, breaks the betrothal, but Kristin's father needs a lot of coaxing before he is willing to ally his daughter to someone of Erlend's bad reputation. 

Eventually they wed, at the point where Kristin's nerves are frayed as she attempts to hide the signs of pregnancy. Her father knows that Erlend is a good-for-nothing, at it pains and saddens him to marry his daughter to such a one. 

Happily ever after? Well, no. Erlend is the thoughtless antithesis of Simon. Kristin struggles to establish her position amongst Erlend's sullen household, while he cheerfully rides off when he needs some entertainment. When her child is born, she swiftly passes on her adoration to him, leaving Erlend resentful. He always manages to pick the wrong side in a political skirmish. He grows no wiser with age. 

Kristin is forever haunted by the shame she brought on her parents, and always regrets that love affair with Erlend. When Kristin suspects that Erlend's illegitimate daughter (born before they met) by a married woman is sneaking around with a married man of the household, she tries to warn her: 
"My Margret, bitterly have I repented—never could I joy fully in any gladness, though my father forgave me with all his heart for all that I had sinned against him—you know that I sinned against my parents for your father's sake. But the longer I live and the more I come to understand, the heavier it grows for me to remember that I repaid their goodness towards me by bringing them sorrow. My Margret, your father has been good to you all the days of your life—" 
Margret does not heed her, and makes the same mistakes as her father and Kristen.

Kristin and Erlend's courtship may have been the stuff of romance, but their marriage is no better than anyone else's. It could be said that it is even more bitter, since it all went downhill from the original ecstasy. Whereas, if she had been content with Simon, she could have discovered affection in time as well as enjoying a more honorable position and comfortable household.
She had chosen him herself. She had chosen him in a frenzy of love, and she had chosen anew each day of those hard years at home at Jorundgård—chosen his wild reckless passion before her father's love that would not suffer the wind to blow ungently upon her. She had thrown away the lot her father had shaped for her, when he would have given her to the arms of a man who would surely have led her by the safest ways, and would have stooped down, to boot, to take away each little stone that she might have dashed her foot against. She had chosen to follow the other, who she knew was straying in perilous paths. . . 
So there was but one way for her—not to murmur or cry out, whatever should befall her at this man's side . . . Unworthy is it to murmur at the lot one has chosen for oneself. 
While the two never doubt their love, their marriage is another story. From the beginning, it was never happy, and Kristin takes a "I have made my bed, now I must lie in it" dutiful view as opposed to that of pleasant cohabitation. Kristin, in the end, was raised to be considerate and generous; Erlend has no such sensibilities, as opposed to Simon Darre, her ex-fiance. Kristin is all too aware of Simon's goodness; her younger sister recognized his sterling qualities and married him, so she and he are then in-laws.

Kristin and Erlend separate from time to time, usually when she gets the best of him in any argument and his ego can't handle it. They were at odds for months, until his premature death, which was, of course, brought murderously about by his own unending mindlessness. 

I observe couples who look the same as any other, harried, absorbed in day-to-day duties, ever-after a distant memory. I know of a few who married against their parents' wishes, or caused such war before one side finally succumbed, and they are not happier than anyone else. Do they always look at their spouse and think, "S/He was worth it"? They actually seem pretty annoyed right now. 

There's a reason why Romeo and Juliet die at the end of the play. If they lived, they would have concluded that this undying love is all too mortal. 

"Yeesh, for this I scaled your balcony?" 

"I didn't ask you to!" 

"Whatever, I'm going for a drink with Benvolio." 

"I should have married Paris!"
There is no ever-after. If there is a marriage out there that thrives without effort . . . I believe that is the stuff of unicorns.

But marriage is a tough enough adjustment that casting off near and dear ones (at least wait a bit!) is not a good idea.

As the Meatloaf song goes, "I would do anything for love/But I won't do that."       


Sporadic Intelligence said...

You make a point...sometimes though parents are just idiots and object to the shidduch for reasons other than the prospective spouses bad character...

And even if the child is an obstinate fool, and is marrying the "wrong" person, the parents should still be supportive and show up to the wedding, they should be the adult.

Anonymous said...

I have a good friend who got married without family approval. The wedding was the final straw in him cutting off his family completely. He now has absolutely nothing to do with any of them. The saddest thing was that he was divorced less than a year later...

Anonymous said...

Depends. My brother's friend married without his mother's approval (her sole reason being that the girl came from "no money"); a few years into the marriage, his mother apologized and admitted she was wrong.

I also have a friend whose family did not like/approve of the guy she married. (They didn't refuse to attend the wedding or anything, just made it clear they didn't like him.) Well, she's been married quite some time with a few kids, and turns out, her family was right. He's not a nice guy and he doesn't treat her respectfully. She's not going to get divorced; it's not an abusive marriage, but it is a difficult one. OTOH, I have another friend whose parents did not approve of her getting engaged (nothing against the guy, they felt she was too young, they didn't approve of the way they met, etc), but didn't stand in her way. I think it was a tough couple of first years and the girl and her family members definitely are not as close as they used to be, but they have made peace with the whole situation and everybody gets along more or less.

So I guess my point is, there are no hard and fast rules for situations like these. Sometimes people (prospective couple OR the unhappy family members are not able to be objective enough/see things from the other person's POV).

Princess Lea said...

SI: Parents can be idiots, no doubt about it. And, ideally, they should be able to overcome their reluctance if the wedding is going to take place anyway (Kristen's parents did!)

Prof: Ouch. Oy, that's terrible.

Anon: I rarely go by hard or fast rules. I have seen this happen more than once, playing out in a myriad of different ways. Parents eventually give in; parents not giving in. Children seeming to be more "right," parents seeming to be more "right."

I cannot speak for the marriages that fought for their right to exist; I am not on the inside. But from what I see, the same issues crop up as they do in any other parent-sanctioned union. The same effort, sometimes more, is needed to maintain it. But they have the added stress of frayed familial bonds. They don't have parental support and wisdom to help them navigate it.

What I am saying is this: If in a situation like this, think of the long-term ramifications. Grand love fades, and transitioning to an elevated state of marriage requires maturity and practicality.

Keep in mind Juliet was 14 when she and Romeo made a catastrophic mess of their lives. Would she have made the same choices if she was a few years older?