• Wed, Apr 20 2011

Why Would You Marry Someone You Didn’t Love?

There’s an article in Marie Claire [print] called “Marrying Mr. Wrong” which is subtitled “I Cried All The Way Down The Aisle”. One former bride says that she  wasn’t ‘in love’ when she got married and felt her wedding “was like knowing you have a work meeting but you don’t want to go.”  To which I’m left wondering: why? Why would you ever get married to someone you didn’t love?

Look, I’m not questioning that people fall in love with people who are terrible. That happens all the time. And that happens for all kind of reasons. Chemistry is hard to define, and we can’t entirely control our emotions, and that all makes sense. But when those people marry those terrible people, I don’t doubt that they are viewing their wedding as something approximately a billion times more joyful than a work meeting.

At other times, you might think you’re in love with someone just because there’s societal pressure to do so. If, say, John Hamm asked me out, I guarantee you I’d say “yes.” And if he liked me I would do everything possible to keep the relationship going. Because it’s John Hamm. And he’s the coolest, and therefore I’d be the coolest through association. I might genuinely believe I was in love with him – because wow, what a fairy tale! – and not objectively consider whether I have anything in common with John Hamm (not much, though I guess we both really like Mad Men, so that could keep us going for a while). If he proposed, I might say yes, and it might be a dumb decision that I made in the heat of an exiciting whirlwind romance, but at the time, I’m pretty sure I’d believe I was in love.

The point isn’t “getting married to the wrong person is stupid” – it’s not, it’s understandable. The point is that getting married to someone you’re not in love with and really excited to marry is kind of a terrible thing, when you think about it.

Because you’re going to have to keep living with them. All the time. They will be in your house until you die. And you had better believe there’s no one you want with you on your deathbed more, because, whoops, once you’re married, if you find someone else, it’s either going to be not an option (for various reasons) or just really, really complicated to leave your spouse.

And these people don’t even seem to have particularly good bad reasons for getting married! I’ve always believed that if you marry for money you’ll earn every penny, but that’s at least understandable. Ditto, say, needing a green card. But these people seem to get married just because it’s the thing to do after a certain point. Which maybe it was, but only if you were a 16th century princess who needed to secure alliances and you know, even then, just look at Queen Elizabeth.

In this day and age, you don’t need to get married to achieve your life goals. You’re desperate for a kid? You can be a single parent and find a way to make it work. You want a big house in the suburbs with a white picket fence? You’ll get a better job. There are other options besides trapping yoursel in a loveless marriage.

Because marrying someone you’re not thrilled to be marrying seems like the worst thing ever. Marrying someone you don’t love, to me, just seems like the most profound act of hopelessness. It’s as though you’ve just acknowledged that you don’t think love is going to happen for you. Which is… crazy. That’s not fairy tale stuff. Love happens to everyone. All the time. Every day.

But, that said, maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe some marriages of convenience and companionship work out really well for some people. I’ve just never heard of that being the case. Do you know someone who married for not-love? How’s that working out for them?

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  • pseudonominal

    Pretty terrible, actually.

    I thought it would come back. Turns out it didn’t.

  • M

    I don’t get it. I understand that sometimes people marry the wrong person on accident, but marrying the wrong person on purpose when you KNOW they’re the wrong person seems.. Yeah.

    A semi-related story: my friend’s parents were engaged for years and their parents were getting impatient. On time on a family vacation her mom came into their room and said ‘We’re going somewhere’. So they went with her, and she took them to a chapel and said ‘We’re sick of waiting. Everything’s set up, you’re getting married NOW.’ And, because it was all in front of them, they did. Soon after they realized they made a terrible mistake and were talking divorce, when oop! Pregnant. Now, about 27 years later [based on my friend's age], they are still married. And still not happy about it.

  • MNiM

    Sunk costs fallacy? But that’s just a guess. I haven’t seen the article.

    (By cost, I don’t necessarily mean financial, though that’s possible too, like, if she’d shelled out for an expensive wedding before figuring out he was “Mr. Wrong”. )

  • Hannah Beth

    That would be horrible. The thought of it kind of makes me want to cry. I hate that people settle for marrying and not sleeping in the same bed and staying together until death. I don’t think you should get married thinking, “Well, divorce is an option,” but once you are married, and realize you’re not in love, don’t deprive yourself of real love.

  • Eileen

    Eh. Sometimes I really think the idea of being madly in love and getting married is overrated or, worse, has contributed to the failure of so many modern marriages (although I certainly respect everything the no-fault divorce has done for modern women, especially). If I can marry someone I respect, trust, share general life goals/values with, and find attractive, that’s absolutely good enough – better, I think, than getting caught up in romantic love and not realizing that this person and I don’t fit comfortably into each other’s lives on a day-to-day basis.

    Of course, I’ve also never been married.

  • emilu

    I almost married the wrong man. I loved him, I just also knew he wasn’t the one. When he asked me to marry him, we were still in the thrill of the new relationship. We moved across the country together after only 5 months of dating and lived together for five years. I was there when his sister got married, I was the aunt to her children and I was sure that the nagging feeling in the back of my mind would go away or was just my inability to commit to anything. We had traditions on holidays, mutual friends, pets together, joint finances, and a family business we took over. We were mostly happy and when we weren’t we worked together to make it better. He was a good man and my best friend. I thought I had unrealistic ideas about how love was going to feel. I was scared I would let everyone down if I left and I couldn’t even define a real reason for leaving. But I can tell you that when I put on my wedding dress to show my best friends and burst into tears, I knew I couldn’t do it. It is hard to leave something that is comfortable and good. If he had cheated or hit me or even been unkind, it would have been easy to leave. In the end, I had to face that this lovely life we had just wasn’t what I wanted and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

    • JP

      Wow, emilu, your post really grabbed my attention. I’m finding myself in a similar situation. The difference for me is that I actually went through with it (now married almost 2 years and unhappy). I always felt the ‘nagging feeling’ in the back of my head too, but chose to ignore it. Part of me also thought I just had a fear of commitment. I was afraid maybe the “fairy tale” just didn’t exist and that I needed to settle for this person who is a good man, similar values, and who would always take care of me, even though I wasn’t particularly attracted to him or “in love” nonetheless. Anyway – the end of your post was a huge cliffhanger for me. Do you still feel you made the right choice? Did you find “the one”? Are you happy now?

  • MarriedFriend

    I married a man I love – but was not and am not ‘in love’ with.

    He is a wonderful man and I look forward to spending my life with a great friend.

    This kind of marriage is not for everyone – but it is a stable, pleasant relationship and it really works for us.

  • notSoCrazyInLove

    I married a guy that I didn’t love. It felt ‘right’, he was ‘in love’ so I just went along with it. We fight all the time, sex is terrible, and we never get along. But divorce is not an option, so I am hoping and trying to find some ways that I could “learn” to love him… :/

  • Jamie

    I married a man that I love more than any other person I’ve ever met. We dated for five years before he proposed, but after about two years, we both knew each other was the one. Look for real love, because it isn’t a fairy tale–please don’t ever throw away years of your life on someone who isn’t making you happy.

  • Sjeffrey69

    I married someone I didn’t find attractive or love, I just felt like I had to and the real love of my life I had lost a number of years before, I hated it and her and did everything I could to be away from her until I eventually left, we are now divorced and I met the girl of my dreams and I am now properly in love

  • Mydeepestregret

    Don’t marry someone you don’t love and someone who is not in love with you either! You will regret it for the rest of your life!