Monday 18 November 2019

Martina Devlin: Marriage -- seems we can't get enough of it

Picture: @stephenbyrne86
Picture: @stephenbyrne86

'BIRDS do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it" -- and the human beast is no exception. We fall in love. And when our hearts become involved, we tend to want to go public with it.

It might be easier and cheaper to place an advertisement on the side of a bus, or send out a group email, or post a tweet to announce we've entered the love zone. A PS could be added to the annual Christmas card, and we could leave it at that.

But such options, while efficient and convenient, don't quite strike the celebratory note that works for most of us -- by and large, people like to take that whoopee feeling to the next stage.

Cue the condition of marriage. Institutions topple, certainties wobble, standards are re-evaluated -- but marriage still rings our bells.

Wars begin and end, and we keep right on getting married. Centuries open and close, and we keep right on getting married. Family life has changed beyond recognition, and we keep right on getting married.

Styles may fade and tastes change, but marriage remains in fashion. A nuclear bomb couldn't blow a hole in it. In fact, warfare increases its attractions.

After we fall in love, sooner or later most of us end up exchanging vows and making a public commitment. Not necessarily in the presence of a clergyman, but generally in some semi-formal setting with an official to take care of the paperwork.

And here's a distinguishing feature about marriage -- something that defies logic. Many of us still want to tie the knot, even if we tried it before and it didn't work out.

No matter if that failure involved a disastrous split rather than a civilised parting, culminating in a courtroom encounter just short of loaded pistols at 20 paces. 'Never again' has the strangest habit of morphing into naming the day again.

Once bitten, twice shy applies to petting strange dogs and buying shares -- not to remarriage. Time passes, people meet someone else who makes their pulse beat faster, and before we know it we're browsing honeymoon destinations and debating whether to invite the last batch of in-laws or restrict the guest list to the current crop.

Yesterday's Census 2011 figures from the CSO show that while divorce is on the rise in Ireland, so is remarriage. Some 88,000 divorced people are living in the State, but just under 43,000 have taken the plunge once more.

Which goes to prove that experience is no barrier to remarriage. How could it be? After all, the decision to marry is interwoven not just with love but with optimism -- and hope is integral to the human condition.

That forward-looking attitude characterises every marriage a person embarks on. No matter how many they have under their belt. There are no cynics wearing buttonholes at church or register office or town hall.

No matter how many strikes appear on their balance sheet, all are hopeful about the future. This time, things will be different.

Besides, sometimes it takes a few tries and fails to get something right. As Samuel Beckett said (he took the plunge with a Frenchwoman, but she wasn't his only love): "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Beckett also noted, via a character in 'Endgame', that nothing was as funny as unhappiness. And for some people, the single life is not a happy state.

Of course, it's possible to love someone deeply and never formalise the arrangement. Indeed, concluding that the state has nothing to do with the emotional attachment between a man and a woman is a valid position to take.

But sooner or later, for most of us, the bridal path is followed -- or at least the road to the register office. Even if it's a route that's been trodden already.

I can think of nothing more positive and life-affirming than dusting yourself down after an experience that didn't produce the anticipated happy-ever-after, and refusing to give up on the institution of matrimony.

Arguably, it calls for courage to take a deep breath, knowing things could go wrong again, and yet say to someone else, as Cole Porter urged: "Let's do it."

In fact, that's not just symbolic of optimism and trust, because that's what it was first time out of the traps -- it amounts to double optimism and double trust.

I expect a neuro-something-unpronounceable could make a case for all of it boiling down to chemicals and invisible electrical impulses. But I see it, quite simply, as a leap of faith: trusting in human nature again despite the mistakes of the past. This means interfacing with hearts, not just for the love valve, but for the bravery one: having the courage to give it another shot. Which, judging by the CSO figures, we're as busy as the birds and bees doing.

If the financial markets had the same certainty about Ireland as the confidence which shines out from the faces of newlyweds, even the second-time-arounders, we'd be triple-A rated.

Irish Independent

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