I remember thinking when I was lying on my bedroom floor, bleeding internally so badly that I’d lost the ability even to crawl, that if I hadn’t been married I would have bled to death. I was home after a laparoscopic appendectomy, had awakened at 3 a.m. with projectile vomiting, and had found myself unable to move (due to rapid blood loss). Luckily, my wife could do so normally and called an ambulance. I was transported to the hospital and ultimately saved by a second operation later that afternoon.
Apart from the rare instances in which the presence of a spouse is literally life-saving, however, I don’t believe a married life is necessarily any happier than a life lived alone (as much as I love my wife and have felt my life to be enormously enriched by her presence in it).
Certainly, divorce statistics would support the idea that a significant number of marriages make people unhappier. We may be driven to couple ourselves, but we all struggle to do it well (living with someone else is simply hard for reasons that are anything but simple). Single people may envy their coupled friends, but depending on how skilled you are at conducting a relationship, it may easily cause you more misery than being single and wanting to be coupled ever did.
This isn’t just because conducting a healthy relationship requires skill. It’s also because how happy or unhappy we find ourselves is to a large degree independent not just of our marital status but of all external circumstances. How happy we are actually depends on our inner life state and the confidence with which we face our problems. Not that our inner life state is itself entirely independent of external influences. But it has a size and a strength all its own. When it’s strong, even if things like a marriage aren’t going well, we can still see our way to happiness. When it’s weak, even a healthy, happy marriage can’t save us from misery.
Marriage is, however, an excellent proving ground for challenging ourselves and strengthening our inner life state through the acquisition of wisdom. No other relationships have required me to challenge my weaknesses and negativity more than romantic ones. Viewing marriage as an experience that has lessons to impart rather than as the foundation of my happiness itself, has forced me to develop myself in ways that have freed me to enjoy it even more.
This is all to say that the view that a married life is intrinsically superior to a single life is incorrect. They’re simply different with equal potential to make us happy or miserable. Some people may seem constitutionally better suited for marriage and others for a life lived singly, but nothing prevents either type of person from enjoying either state. Marriage, like anything else, has both its good and bad points, and is therefore—of course—what we make it. For the record, I love being married—but one thing marriage is certainly not is an absolute requirement for a happy life.
Next Week: The Right To Die