Laughing at Marriage

Marriage is more than four bare legs in a bed.  ~Hoshang N. Akhtar

I’m thinking about marriage today, grateful for the husband I have and the life we are building together, and reflecting on how I’ve changed and am changing as a wife. All in all it’s for the better! But like rocks being polished in a tumbler, married life feels gritty sometimes. I worry about aspects of myself that I’m losing or things I know Matt has sacrificed for us, and I freak out that it’s too much to ask.

me in New York

Who wouldn’t want to marry this girl!?

My friend Brett wrote a great little rant on how our culture treats marriage (Marriage Sucks). He searched the internets for an inspirational quote to include in a love letter for his wife and got mostly one-liners about marriage that are thinly veiled put-downs. He says,

Marriage does not have the greatest track record at the moment. It is in desperate need of people who will champion it, who will speak life into it and cheer it on from the sides [as other married couples and as single or dating people] – we need all the help we can get.

Agh this is so true! Obviously something is not right when we know that many marriages won’t last the lifetimes they were promised for, but what can we do about it? Does laughing at the idiosyncrasies marriage often reveals make things worse? Does it make a difference if the person making the joke is married or not? Happy or not? I agree with Brett that we should not just stand by while marriage gets trampled with criticism and cynicism and bitterness, and I think married people should be maybe a little more open and honest that marriage is hard, worthwhile work. It’s hard to know how to do that well and keep healthy boundaries though, and maybe that is part of the appeal for me in good humour. While I have been known to laugh at jokes against marriage, that’s because the best humour reveals what is hard and pokes fun at what is frustrating. When it is well done, humour gives us permission to relax and laugh and sigh and say “me too;” when it is poorly done we might laugh, but the underlying hurt and insecurity remain. For different people, what is a good joke might look different depending on their mood, their outlook, their own insecurities.

One point Brett made that I agree with wholeheartedly and unconditionally is that marriage ceremonies are no place for put-down humour. Do many people enter marriage extremely naive? I think so, but there is vulnerability in that naivety, and putting it down (“marriage is like a phone call in the middle of the night – you get a ring and then you wake up”) cheapens something that is actually very precious: the willingness to do something hard before you know for sure how hard it will be. My mommy-brain now wants to compare everything to labour and this is no exception: labour is hard but worthwhile work, it is a deeply personal experience, and how you deal with it varies wildly. There is no one right way to labour, just as there is no one right way to build a marriage. However, it is pretty universally accepted that telling a pregnant woman how hard labour will be is a jerk move. Also, the onset of labour is probably the worst time to make such a pronouncement. Could you imagine? “Oh man, you’re in labour? That’s gonna suck. Well, I’m happy for you and everything, but have you heard this Carol Burnett line? Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head! Ah.. ha… well, good luck with that.” Cracking derogatory jokes at a wedding is lame, period, even if you get a laugh.

I love going to weddings so much as a married person – I love seeing the details that each couple choose to make their day personal and special, and I love remembering my own wedding, and I love the sweet, simple hope of two people in love promising their lives to each other. I also appreciate weddings more because I know that marriage can be fiercely hard and that no wedding ceremony will change that. It doesn’t matter if your budget is $300 or $30 000; it doesn’t matter if you stumble over your vows or get mascara on your gown; it doesn’t matter if you choose the perfect readings and the perfect playlist. Maybe that’s why they say it’s good luck to have rain on your wedding day – because it forces you to realize from the start that you don’t have control and that you have to make the best of imperfect situations.

(Side note: in that sense, this couple would have the best-ever start to being married!)

Okay, back on topic. I want to be a great cheerleader for marriage, through my words, actions and example. Sometimes humour is a great tool, but even the best tools still have specific uses, and they can be harmful when used out of context (nail guns, anybody?). Marriage humour can be hilarious because it reminds us that no matter who you are and who you’re married to, it only looks easy from the outside. When the going gets tough, it is so important to have people we can be honest with, who will sit with us in living rooms or coffee shops or read our emails from across the globe and believe in us, pray for us, encourage us. And maybe who sift through the internets to find wise gentle words that sum up our hope:

Chains do not hold a marriage together.  It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.  ~Simone Signoret

Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate.  ~Barnett R. Brickner

A long marriage is two people trying to dance a duet and two solos at the same time.  ~Anne Taylor Fleming

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brett fish anderson 21-10-2013, 16:02

hm, that brett fellow sounds like a bit of a ranter… great post by the way – i think you have captured an excellent balance between humour [which i think is excellent and so necessary in marriage but i think there is a distinction between humour about and humour at and it is the “at” i am more rantable towards] and that best man moment was one of the funniest things ever – wow how bad must he feel but on the other hand story for life…

so yes all for humour but in it’s right place and i do think married people speaking life into and over each other is a lot more healthier than speaking sarcasm and jest even if meant well [again each couple can probably find their balance in that] and so as long as the predominant words being spoken are life that creates space for some humour for sure…

which is so important for marriages to thrive and even survive…

great post! well done!

love ranter brett

alyssa 21-10-2013, 18:59

haha thank you 🙂

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