If there’s one thing people these days tend to agree on about marriage, it’s that it is best done for love. Many people would go even further and say that marriage is only right for love.
I’ve argued against this kind of view somewhat in my last podcast. But I can imagine how someone could get some of the wrong ideas without a little further explanation. Love is important to marriage, even if being in love isn’t by itself a good enough reason to get marriage. The importance of love in marriage, in my opinion, can be better seen simply by switching a preposition. Instead of marrying for love, I suggest marrying to love.
What do I mean? Love is big, and love is complex, and love is deep. And the truth is that most of the loves which people have before they get married simply doesn’t go quite that deep. This isn’t necessarily because the couple is insincere or uncaring. It’s just because love—in its fullest sense—is eschatological. In normal language, love is more of where you’re going than where you start. While it’s not wrong to call the beginning of the journey “love,” it really only deserves the name because love is where the road leads.
I think back to when I was engaged. Did I love Ashley? Of course I would have said “Yes,” and I don’t think I was wrong. But I would also say that I love her now, and what I mean by “love” and “Ashley” now, after four years, is very different from what I meant then. I have changed and she has changed, both with respect to who we are and how we see each other. Today I understand who Ashley was then better than I did then, and yet she is also different now, and I see some of that. On the other hand, I am ever more aware of how much there still is for me to learn about just who this “Ashley” is. And if the girl I knew was different in some ways, whether good, bad, or indifferent, from the girl who was there, what did it mean to say that I loved her?
And of course there are so many other issues involved. I said I loved her, and love certainly includes self-sacrifice, but I had no idea what self-sacrifice would really turn out to mean. I wasn’t as prepared or as eager as I might have thought for some of the challenges that accompany moving from two lives to one. I had strong feelings, too, but these were at least somewhat supported by the buffer of distance which exists pre-marriage that protects people from having to deal with all of each others worst features. How does that love compare to the love I have now which has been forged through the fires of marital union?
Marriages changes everything. There are aspects and depths to a relationship which simply cannot exist before that becoming of one flesh (not just sex, but the union of whole embodied lives). What is respectively means to love someone before and during marriage is hardly possible to compare. And so I think that, in general, the whole idea of marrying because you’re in love rests on a rather silly belief, namely that the kind of love which a couple shares before marriage is a solid enough foundation to support the gigantic project of knitting two lives into one. A relationship grounded on being in love won’t necessarily get very far unless it is backed up by a commitment and a vision for something higher.
But love, the real and mature deal which emerges out of years of shared life and commitment, might just be a powerful enough goal. Maybe it’s shaky to marry for love, but it might just be worth it to marry to love.