Marriage can get a bad rap in today's world, but a loving marriage can bring real fulfillment.
Many people today think that, in order to be happy, it’s better to be alone. Recently, I’ve read several articles arguing that the best way to be happy is to remain single. The underlying argument is usually that, if you’re alone, you can devote time and resources to taking care of yourself. You can find fulfillment by doing what you want.
The view seems to be that family life is a hindrance that prevents people from being happy — especially women. The assumption is that women end up neglecting fundamental aspects of self-realization in a family context.
The areas of neglect noted in one such article are “inattention to one’s body and physical well-being; nutrition; weight and body image; pleasure; work time, leisure, rest and emotional well-being.”
Certainly, for our personal relationships to be positive, “a healthy self-esteem” is necessary, which is built on the aspects mentioned in the article. But “it is based, above all, on the awareness of loving and being loved, of knowing oneself to be loved.” To this, I add a nuance: to be—and to know oneself to be—well loved.
Love versus selfishness
We all have this need to love and to know we are loved. I don’t see how the recommendation to isolate oneself and to put barriers up against all committed relationships could improve anyone’s emotional well-being (whether women or men).
Refusing to commit to a relationship seems more like an egoistic defense for avoiding the generosity that adapting to life with another person requires. I believe that this train of thought arises from a perceived need to defend oneself from relationships, which are considered from the outset to be necessarily a form of domination or a power struggle, and not a matter of self-giving.
Let me explain. It’s possible that in a romantic relationship, one of the parties truthfully may say that his or her dedication to their spouse prevents them from being happy. But in such a case, we should analyze how the relationship is being lived. If one of the two is taking advantage of the other, abusing the other’s generosity in a way that burdens one person with obligations instead of sharing them, it would make sense to say that it’s better to be alone.
Being happy in self-giving
It’s a different matter if the relationship is truly one of love. Love always seeks the good of the other. But it doesn’t seem like that’s what’s happening in the type of relationship we are talking about.
Moreover, there’s an added problem here. In our society in general, selfless service to others is not well regarded. It’s seen as an obstacle to self-fulfillment.
We doubt that anyone could be happy while giving loving service to other people. This is because we measure personal success in terms of professional and economic recognition. We fail to see (or understand) the satisfaction of those who choose a simple, seemingly dull life, dedicated to making the people around them happy.
In small acts of service, there is love. Serving others is a sign of a mature love that seeks the good of the loved ones.
No “degrading” tasks
When we talk about serving others, a large part of that service is made up of household chores. And here I agree with my friend Lucía Martínez Alcalde that “there are two mentalities that we should banish from the outset: the 50-50 mentality and the idea that there are ‘degrading’ tasks.”
If we still consider acts of service as “degrading” or “menial,” we may try to avoid them and leave them to others, and this situation may lead us to conclude that being single is best. If this is what’s happening, it’s certainly appropriate to make changes in a relationship.
For a relationship to be truly loving, we may need to change the way we look at things. We should review how we consider acts of service. Would it be advisable to make some changes in our attitude?
Are our obligations only derived from our marital or parental relationship? Could we see them differently, as tokens of love? What if our motivation was loving the people for whom we are preparing a meal, ironing a shirt, or running countless errands?
Have we considered acts of service as degrading? Have we left them to other people because we consider ourselves “above” these things? Perhaps our spouses have assumed them freely, but have we accommodated ourselves to their generosity, without taking care of them as they need in return (rest, gratitude, co-responsibility)?
If the basis of our relationship is love, we will both be attentive to the good of the other. We will learn to be grateful for all those small acts of generosity and affection. We’ll feel the satisfaction of taking care of the people we love.
Being alone will certainly make us happier than being in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship. But a truly caring relationship, in which the spouses actively love and support each other, is a totally different story.
This kind of mutually loving marriage brings satisfaction and fulfillment, mutual support and stability. While some people are called to the single lifestyle, “the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’” (Genesis 2:18).