Commentary on “Marriage Isn’t For *You*”


[A] true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?”, while Love asks, “What can I give?”

Some time ago, my wife showed me what it means to love selflessly. For many months, my heart had been hardening with a mixture of fear and resentment. Then, after the pressure had built up to where neither of us could stand it, emotions erupted. I was callous. I was selfish.

But instead of matching my selfishness, Kim did something beyond wonderful—she showed an outpouring of love. Laying aside all of the pain and anguish I had caused her, she lovingly took me in her arms and soothed my soul.

I realized that I had forgotten my dad’s advice. While Kim’s side of the marriage had been to love me, my side of the marriage had become all about me. This awful realization brought me to tears, and I promised my wife that I would try to be better.

To all who are reading this article—married, almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette—I want you to know that marriage isn’t for you. No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love.

(Written by Seth Adam Smith; excerpted from his blog post “Marriage Isn’t For You” — you can read his entire blog post here:

The above is an excerpt from a nicely-written blog post that has gone viral and that essentially hits all the right platitudes.  Clearly the author of the piece chose well when he picked his spouse: because plenty of partners fight fire with fire, harden their own hearts in response to their partner’s self-centeredness, meet selfishness with selfishness, and respond in kind, et cetera.

And I agree with the gist of what the author concludes and conveys in his post.

But again I am surprised that it is such a revelation to so many or that it is something that so many need to hear.

Do they not know that this has been said before? (And in greater depth and detail?)

They must not know.  They mustn’t be familiar with ideas such as: Love isn’t a feeling; love is a verb; love isn’t about your own gratification; et cetera.

Again I am struck by the thought that perhaps people ought not be allowed to marry (a church wedding) unless they have been introduced to books like “The Road Less Traveled” (M. Scott Peck), “The Art of Loving” (Eric Fromm), “The Four Loves” (C. S. Lewis—also the sections he has on marriage and love in his book “Mere Christianity”), and a few of Rilke’s letters on love, the section on Love and Relationships in Marianne Williamson’s book “A Return to Love,” and what writers and thinkers like Rumi, St. Paul, St. John, Merton, Krishnamurti, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Thich Nhat Hahn, Thoreau, Gibran (“The Prophet”), Roberta Gilbert, Jacob Needleman, David Schnarch (“Passionate Marriage”), and Gary Chapman (“The Five Love Languages”), and Stephen Covey, et cetera, have had to say about love and relationships.

The information is out there.  Distilled down to a few pithy phrases and platitudes these authors and thinkers have all concluded in their own way that: Love isn’t a feeling; love is a verb; love is as love does and not as love says (love isn’t what we say, it’s what we repeatedly show and do); love is about giving; love is patient, love is kind, love isn’t petty and resentful; love is in it for the long haul, love is about overcoming or outgrowing what’s weakest and worst in ourselves, love is about growing up and maturing psychologically and spiritually and acting in ways that promote that type of growth in oneself and one’s partner, et cetera.

And all of these ideas/concepts/ideals are already out there, readily available to all who can read or listen to a book on CD or MP3, and who can make the choice to make the time to sit still long enough to read and reflect on what these books have to share.

Yet hardly anyone really reads from the above mentioned list of books and thinkers, and so this sort of knowledge or information about what love actually is or might be, and what we as human being are capable of growing up into behaving like, is basically lost.

All of us are basically born as proverbial “blank slates” (tabulas rasa) that are genetically prewired to be self-centered, look out for number one, preserve our own existence.  And what cultural influences get to us first—to our blank slates—as well as what cultural influences get there most frequently, and so end up scribbling and scrawling and etching deeply their messages all over us / our slates are the sorts of dubious ideas about love and relationships that we get from pop music, TV, movies—i.e., the ideal of romantic love; finding “the one,” finding right person (instead of growing up and becoming the right type of person) and living “happily ever after”; questionable ideas like love is a feeling, a strong overwhelming all-consuming intoxicating emotion, a mix of lust and butterflies in the stomach and walking on air and feeling omnipotent; love is what we say; that when we love the other person but no longer are in love with the other person it’s then justifiable to jump ship or start looking around for someone new and have an affair; that life and love are supposed to be easy and effortless and not difficult and full of work and laden with suffering, et cetera.

This is the sort of stuff that our culture constantly bombards us with and that we continually and blindly subject ourselves to (or allow ourselves to be subjected to).

And it has its very predictable effect.

Aside from putting money in the pocket of those who purvey these myths (or who sing catchy songs that spread these myths and that become the soundtracks to the lives of hormonal and naïve teenagers); it takes advantage of our naïve desire to effortlessly made happy and pampered, as well as some of our deepest and earliest hopes and desires—childish (or infantile/adolescent) hopes and desires—the desire to be the center of someone’s attention, the desire to be taken care of, to merge with someone, to be constantly understood and validated, to feel powerful and desired, to have our needs and wants anticipated and met perfectly.

And one or two hours a week of church and a little spotty positive role modeling here or there isn’t going to make much of a dent in all of this other programming (or cultural influence) that’s being etched again and again into our blank slates.

Not “I like your mind” or “I really like who you are as a person and what you stand for and aspire to,” but rather “I like your beard.”  “I like your beard” is cutesy and sells.

And so so many people enter into marriage believing it’s about them and their own gratification, it’s about getting, or about giving so as to get their goodies, and about being happy and titillated and made to feel a certain way by the other person and expecting the other person to keep making you feel a certain way, et cetera.

But really marriage is about growing up, becoming a better person, helping out, being part of a team, forming a partnership, giving back, investing oneself tangibly in something greater than oneself, doing the little things—the unromantic things, the boring things, the routine things, the maintenance things—and day after day working and creating and building and nurturing something with someone else that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

But as a culture this is a message that we hardly ever get or have impressed upon us. Instead we get bombarded with messages about how great puppy love and infatuation feel, how your love is a drug, how people met the right person and just “knew” and lived happily after and everything turned out perfectly and they never had to struggle and they had great sex all the time—make-up sex without ever having had a fight, reuniting sex without ever having left each other for more than a few hours.

How can two people whose minds are full of such questionable (if not errant) ideas about love and how relationships are supposed to work and what a long-term union is supposed to be like ever hope to find happiness with each other or create something lasting and mutually satisfying and enlivening?  The odds are prohibitively against it.

But take two people who have read some decent books about love and relationships, really thought about what love is and what a relationship or marriage is supposed to be like, two people who have done some inner work to address their own selfishness and pettiness and meanness, two people who have some functioning perspective, who are self-aware and honest and can objective about themselves, who truly aspire to grow emotionally and spiritually and psychologically and become better people, and they have a real fighting chance of creating a marriage or long-term relationship that will be mutually enlivening and satisfying.

About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in "Marriage Isn't For You", Kierkegaard, Krishnamurti, Love is a Choice, Love Is a Verb, Love is Not a Feeling, Marianne Williamson, Mature Love, Personal Growth, Perspective, Real Love, Schnarch, Seth Adam Smith, Spiritual Growth, The Examined Life, The Road Less Traveled, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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