At a time when marriage vows explicitely stated “as long as you both shall live,” I remember being at a wedding where the vows ended with “for now.”
We all looked at each other, shock registering on our faces and thinking to ourselves that this marriage was over even before it started.
Looking back at that time, this couple stayed together longer than most of the couples who promised “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”
And that was at a time when marriages stayed together forever, when people didn’t live as long as they do today, when people had one job from the time they got their first job until the day they died or retired with a gold watch, and they lived together long enough to see their grandchildren born and married.
Today, forever seems to be until one gets tired of marriage, of the disappointments, of hard times. Forever now seems to be until one of the partners decides that a monogamous marriage is unrealistic.
Our expectations seem to have changed. So many things that used to be “forever” like marriage, now seem to have a “use-by” date.
I heard a woman say that she thinks our expectations have changed because there are so many more opportunities for men and women to cheat. Whereas men used to corner the market on cheating because he had so many more social interactions than his wife, now that women have full careers and they socialize more in their business interactions, their numbers have risen in the cheating department.
But is that really true? Men and women have always had opportunities to cheat. Why else would we have gotten so accustomed to hearing men tell a woman they were planning to bed, “My wife doesn’t understand me?”
Nowadays, we hear these same wives who supposedly don’t understand their husbands telling a man she wants to have an affair with, “My husband is always working. He’s never home and when he is home, he never pays attention to me or the children.”
Infidelity has always been part of our society but never in such great numbers. Are we to assume that people today don’t love their spouses as deeply as they used to or that they get bored with the whole idea of marriage more quickly than they used to?
Are we to assume that if people today didn’t live so long, that they would stay with their marriage partner “till death do us part” like most couples did in generations long past?
Have we become jaded by all the distractions in our lives and expect more from our partners than they know how to give or even want to give?
We seem to have much more of a need to be entertained than we ever did in bygone years. Has this ennui infiltrated our relationships so much that we expect our marriage partners to keep entertaining us and, if they fail to do so, does this grant permission to have an affair once boredom sets in?
Men often talk about their libido being the cause of their infidelity and women talk about no longer feeling desirable as being the cause of theirs. Both want to be loved but now they’re looking for it in different places.
When did “forever” change to “for right now?” When did it stop being “for as long as you both shall live?” When did we start to accept that “forever” has a limited shelf life and that the meaning of the word “forever” has changed forever?
I remember a time when products used to last forever. Nowadays, they last a day after their warranty expires; it’s called Planned Obsolescence. I wonder if marriages start out with the expectation that it will last forever only to discover that they were designed with Planned Obsolescence in mind to last only until the warranty expired.
A man once told me he thought that all marriages should have a yearly renewal clause in their license. He thought that couples should be given the option of whether they wanted to renew their marriage vows every year. I can’t imagine anyone going into a marriage, with stars in their eyes, thinking that they were going to love and be loved forever, signing a contract like that.
But, now all these years later, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched. If people are getting married and divorced, or married and into affairs so quickly, that man’s idea of a yearly marriage renewal option seems to be happening even without it being part of the marriage license.
Society changes its rules of behavior more slowly than what we see around us. There may yet come a time when marriage vows will include “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for the next twelve months.”
But no matter how I look at it, it seems to be an established fact that “forever” doesn’t last as long as it used to.