29 June 2010

Somewhere in the in-between

I've been reading several books lately, at the same time. I know that probably sounds ridiculous, so let me explain a little more.

One I'm reading, called A Postcard from the Volcano, is historical fiction. It's a serious book, with heavy and thought-provoking themes. It's about Germany and all its historical and political angst between WWI and WWII. It could be required reading for a college history course. I love it. But, I can't read it in bed, because when I am reading in bed, I usually make it for about 15 minutes before I doze off. Reading something like this requires more brain power and it also requires me to not be asleep. So I'm moving through it more slowly, saving it for when I have time during the day (not often) so I can really concentrate and follow it.

These other two books I'm reading inspired the title for my post.

I'm re-reading Eclipse, because the movie is coming out this week, and I'm going to go see it with one of my Twi-Mom friends, and call me whatever you will, I love that dang Twilight series. It's overly angst-y (I like that word today) and dramatic and all high-school-girl-swoony-romantic, but I can't help myself. I love it. Yes, I know I'm a good 20, maybe 25 years older than the target audience. I get that I probably look silly waiting in line for tickets to Eclipse. Whatever. Even my single-digit-age boy children laugh at me for my not-so-secret obsession. Again, whatever. I'm Team Edward, all the way.

And I'm also reading a book called Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert. She is the author of Eat, Pray, Love, and Committed is the follow-up of sorts to that story. In a nutshell, the author, having been through a gut-wrenching divorce and having sworn off the institution of marriage, finds herself in a relationship with a man who is a citizen of another country. He has also been through a horrible, gut-wrenching divorce and they are perfectly matched in their desire to A) be with one another and B) not be joined in holy matrimony. They lead this multi-continental life together, staying in many places for a time, but never too long, until one day their jig is up and his American visa is revoked. So, they either have to live somewhere besides America or get married, making him a citizen. For this couple with their horror of marriage, it's quite a quandary.

Now, to be fair, I'm still in the early part of the book, and so I don't know yet how it turns out. Right now, I'm reading through the author's historical research on the institution of marriage, and what it actually means in other cultures. And it ain't all that romantic. Or holy. In fact, it sounds like a rather cynical view of marriage, where it's all about survival (safety in numbers) or power (arranged marriages to keep rich landowners rich). And there are lots of Biblical references to Jesus and His apostles instructing men not to get involved with women at all, to remain celibate and follow Him, and ONLY get married as a last resort if one simply could not follow the higher path.

So, on the one hand, there is a book written for teenage girls, idealizing and romanticizing the notion of being together for all eternity and how loving the right boy (and giving up your whole identity and free will to him) will complete you as a person. In this book in the series, Edward and Bella decide to seal their fates together and get married. Bella does have some reservations about getting married at 18, but the overall theme is still the same, that loving (marrying) the right boy makes everything ok.

And on the other hand is a book that starts out with the quote, "Plant an expectation, and reap a disappointment." With joined gold wedding bands as the cover art and a title like Committed. Cynical, I tell you!

A contradiction of sorts, yes?

I didn't choose to read these two together purposely, but I find it an amusing coincidence. In my admittedly limited experience of relationships and marriage, I have found the truth of the matter to be somewhere in the in-between of the two extremes illustrated in my summer reading. Sometimes I expect a whole lot of my spouse and my marriage...I expect him to just know when I'm having a bad day, and I expect him to somehow make it better. I expect fulfillment and happiness from being a wife and a mother (among other things). And it just flat pisses me off when things don't work out that way. Making me feel somewhat, dare I say it, cynical.

My husband is a good guy and a great dad, whom I would choose over and over again. But is he perfect? Can he magically make my bad day all better? Can he read my mind and soothe every anxiety and fear I harbor? No. To me, the more relevant question is, should he be expected to? I also have to answer that with no.

What do these books tell us about our society, our expectations, our relationships? Are they reflective of real truths, or are they just one woman's ideas?

And what are the odds that I'd pick up these two at the same time?!


Marianne Thomas said...

I read Committed and liked it. Stick with it; her anthropological/sociologial/cultural look at marriage is fascinating.

Some Suburban Mom said...

I do like it so far. Just finished Eclipse last night and back to Committed. I just thought it was hilarious when it dawned on me, these two books I happened to be reading at the same time. Being somewhat of a historian, I am fascinated in an academic sort of way, with her research and her findings. As a product of American society that drills young girls with the idea that finding "the one" will make everything right, it's a bit of a letdown, even though I know full well that marriage in and of itself does not make life complete. I'm just having some entertaining internal conversation with these books :)