29th January 2012 - 8 mins read
My dearest, loveliest readers. Welcome back.
Today’s post is a topic that has been on my mind for as long as I can remember. Once I realized that love and marriage weren’t as pretty as Disney had painted it to be, I started seeing marital problems around me like sand in the Middle Eastern desert. The more exposed I became, the more complicated, the deeper and the weirder the problems got. The strangest thing about it though was that all these problems stemmed out of people I had always considered “normal” in my eyes and I would have never expected such behavior to come from.
The more I saw, the more curious I grew to understand why these things happened. And then I started noticing that the way our parents told us about their marriage tales seemed like a story from the 1850s. Somehow, the ease and quality of marriages in our parents’ generation didn’t seem to translate with us. It somehow felt as if getting married, having a good (or decent) marriage and making it last was far easier with our parents than it is for us. In fact, it almost seems as if this has become an impossible thing with us. That those who do end up getting married and having a good marriage are the exception, not the rule.
But the question is why? Why do we seem to have drifted so far apart from what our parents had growing up? Why was marriage an easier deal for them than it is for us? The difference between us and them getting married is not a huge difference in terms of time - at most, it is twenty to thirty or even forty years. While this is a growing trend around the world, I find it particularly interesting in our culture because our society promotes the idea of early marriage. It is ironic in that sense when you have a society that preaches early marriages, yet you find that the majority of those who are single are saying they have no interest in getting married or have given up on the idea, and those who are married are either divorced, separated or regretting it. While this is of course not a rule or a generalization, as there are many older couples that are unhappy and many younger ones that are extremely happy, I am basing this discussion on my own analytical observations and personal opinions, not on any kind of scientific research.
So what’s going on with us? Have we killed the idea of marriage? Is it a long distant lost hope in a faraway land that we can no longer attain in all its glory? Perhaps. I have a guess on why we got here, and somewhat of a proposed solution to how we can reverse this condemning trend. Marriage to me is a component of three factors. 1. Chemistry/Love - whatever you want to call it. It’s the attraction to the person that makes you want to spend a lifetime with them. 2. Character and compatibility. This is the element that shows how much in common you have with the person, how well your characteristics click or don’t and whether you can withstand the test of time through patience, compromise and understanding. 3. Finances. Not their presence or lack, but more on how you decide to use them as a couple and who plays what part in providing them. And I believe our generation is at risk of lacking all three components.
Most of the people in our generation grew up in an environment which I believe is the key reason we are suffering these marital problems nowadays. For the most part, we grew up in a very spoiled environment. Very little of us had to work very hard to get the things we wanted. Now I’m not saying we were all born with keys to a Ferrari and shares in oil companies, but think about it. So many things were just handed to us, especially technology, and they required little to no effort on our part. We got used to our parents’ saying “yes” whenever we wanted something that we never learned the values of hard work, which is crucial in a marriage. Our spoiled living circumstances and our easy access to everything taught us lack of patience as we got used to getting whatever we wanted, whenever we pleased. Now think about this in the context of the three components. 1. Being spoiled made us picky beyond reason about the partner we wanted to spend the rest of our life with. 2. In hard times, our impatient nature makes it easier for us to walk away when things don’t go well. 3. Financially, we either don’t want to work and make money (this is true for a lot of women) or we are keen on spending frivolous amounts of money on ourselves, as opposed to what is good for the marriage. It is this same cause that has us expecting a false reality of transitioning from the lifestyle our parents have blessed us with into a home with the same standards. The concept of building a life with your spouse is not only unacceptable to many, but something they consider intolerable.
The second cause of where we are today is cultural confusion. We were raised according to our social traditions and values, but our high exposure to technology and westernization has left us with some of our own values. I don’t particularly think that our generation is more educated per se, but we are definitely far more exposed. The movies, songs and T.V. series that we grew up watching have influenced our mentalities in a way that cannot be denied. I don’t need to go into details of this confusion, but our generation is definitely at a crossroads of a cultural clash. We are holding on to so many of our cultural values but at the same time have adapted many “Western” values, so to speak. For example, you will find there are some people who hold on dearly to the concept of an arranged marriage, while others strongly disapprove. The consequence of this is that we have a harder time finding a suitable partner with common values and have experienced a massive shift in the dynamic of what makes up the typical gender roles in a marriage, according to our culture. Many women want to have a strong presence in the workplace and develop a solid strength for themselves, which directly clashes with the common Arab male and his values. Similarly, many men do not want to be burdened with the entire financial responsibility of the household, considering the increasing cost of everything. These are just minor examples of the effects of cultural clashes and character development in our generation that directly affect some of the most vital aspects of a marriage. And these clashes become even more problematic for people like me who have grown up in a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural environment where our potential partners literally come from all walks of life.
The above two causes have created a third cause: Selfishness and a focus on individualism as opposed to partnership and community advancement. More and more people every day say things like: “Why should I be the one to compromise? Why should they not compromise?” Even further, a recognition of certain values, like female independence, has made a lot of women feel like they no longer “need a man” to provide for them in anyway. They have somehow unlocked a key to self-sufficiency and have began feeling like they rightfully deserve someone of their academic, professional or even sometimes financier caliber, which is obviously very difficult to find. It is out of this focus on one’s own needs and priorities that has made it increasingly difficult to hold on to the very values of sharing, compromise and a partnership that constitute a marriage.
The consequences of all the above is something I like to call a generation of “dala3” (being spoiled) and “tafahah” (being shallow). We have been reduced to a generation of make up, shopping, video games and hanging out with our friends. Not only do we expect to carry on this lifestyle in our marriage, but often find ourselves placing a heavy importance on these factors when searching for our partner. “Does he speak English? What university did she go to? How much money does he make? Is she hot?” are common questions you will hear from friends when someone announces a potential partner in their lives. And while these values make for a great high school relationship and a lot of fun times, they don’t stand a chance in the test of marital time.
There are many, many reasons for the decline of marriages in our generations and I could go on forever. But I believe all these reasons stem down to one of the three causes I mentioned: 1. Our spoiled upbringing and ease of access to technology amongst other luxuries. 2. Cultural clashes. 3. A focus on individualism as opposed to partnership. Some of the things that people quote as causes of marital problems I believe are more consequences then they are root problems. For example, take cheating. Cheating, simply put, is a weakness. It is falling for temptation and the easy way out. Because of cause number one, being spoiled, getting used to what we want and and easy access to everything we want, people cheat when they are in a bad situation in their marriage. Yes, I understand that something like this is not exclusive to our generation and that temptation is as old as time, but I find that in our generation, cheating is far more common than in previous generations. Other temptations of course would include hanging out with the boys or shopping with the girls, substance abuse or meaningless relationships, while deserting the home and family. Add to that the fact that our materialistic generation lacks ethics and morals of the good old days, and a surplus of money in the wrong hands, and you’ve got a disaster at hand.
So, what can be done to fix this? While this is a long, deep conversation, I have an idea of some solutions. Firstly, learn to understand yourself very well. Know your character very well - what upsets you, what makes you happy. What you want out of life and what you can compromise. Be honest and clear with yourself. Dig beyond the surface of the clothes you like to wear, the food you like to eat and the music you enjoy listening to. Second, take some time to educate yourself on what constitutes a good, solid marriage. Forget everything you learned about love and marriages in movies and songs. Educate yourself. Understand. I don’t care if you search in religious references or you go around asking your parents and grandparents. For all I care, you can run a Google search and read some sociological works. Marriage is intended to last you a lifetime so don’t treat it lightly by rushing into it and basing it off of a fairytale that touched your heart. Do not fantasize marriage and do not be a cynic. Understand that as is the case with everything else, it has its ups and downs. It’s not something you throw away in a divorce the second you don’t like what you see or you don’t get your way. Finally, add the first two elements together and look for a match in your potential partner. I’m not saying go out and date every human being, nor am I saying that you should get engaged for five years before you get married. What I am saying is search deeply for these crucial characteristics, which you can see clearly in just a matter of a few weeks. Look for someone who is respectful, patient, compromising and brave. Don’t look for someone who tells you your eyes sparkle under the moonlight or that you’ve got sexy abs. Look for a woman with beauty beyond her appearance. Look for a man who has more value to his character than the zeros in his bank account.
As mentioned earlier, this is only an opinion piece and I am learning myself along the way. I have never been married but I have seen a lot go on around me and have taken note. I am not an expert and I do not have all the answers, but I am trying to make sense of it as much as I can. Also just to be clear, I am not judging anyone who is married or divorced or single. I have no right to. If I have learned one thing in my observations, it’s that matters of love and marriages are complicated and difficult, so I’m very understanding of mistakes that occur. And of course I am fully aware that a lot of this is easier said than done, but one should at least try to understand in hope of applying it one day. That’s my two cents on it and whether you take it or leave it is entirely your choice, but I hope that you will at least consider it.
Kisses and hugs,