“Love is a battlefield.” – Pat Benatar
“Love is an open door.” – Princess Ana
For as long as people have been trying to make/trick other people into falling in love with them, they have being doing it by talking about love. It’s part of the mistaken idea that once we find the perfect metaphor, we’ll understand all of the intricacies and splendors of the aforementioned many splendors of love. So we spend time trying to conceive of the inconceivable. It’s why we have so many strange artistic interpretations of heaven (harps? halos?) and why my co-workers spend so much time talking about fantasy football: because things like love, heaven and fantasy football are all strange and unknowable concepts.
Like metaphors and similes about love, people have been churning out comparisons about marriage for probably forever. Maybe you’ve heard how “marriage is like a car – it needs constant maintenance to ensure a smooth ride,” or how “marriage is like a sword: impressive and red-hot at first, but becoming strong and tempered with time and polish.”
- Marriage is like this clock: always there, always working even when you don’t pay attention to it, but it occasionally needs to have its batteries recharged.
- Marriage is like this bookshelf: crammed full of things that have given our life a lot of joy and meaning, but still needs to be emptied of things that are just taking up space.
- Marriage is like this couch I’m on right now: well-used and stained, but because it is made from the right material (microfiber!) it can resist almost anything that you can throw at it as it becomes more comfortable with time.
Here it goes: “Marriage is like a bank account. You’ve got to invest in it if you want anything to be there.” Sounds good right? So here’s why I dislike it: If you consider your marriage to be a repository of love or good deeds that you put into it, it sounds an awful lot like you are keeping a close watch on how much you are investing and that you consider anything that comes out of it to be your fair reward. You put in the money, you get to take it out later. And the worst part is that, if it’s like how many of our bank accounts actually operate, we are very aware that it only contains a finite amount of money, that we get back very little more than what we put into it, and that it wouldn’t surprise us if it was all gone someday. That sounds like a very bleak image of marriage: a place for you to store up your fair share of good deeds, but one that you can draw upon until it is all gone.
So instead of that, here’s one last comparison about marriage, one that I like a lot more: Your marriage is more like a horse. A living, breathing, growing, changing creature that you are lucky enough to be a co-owner and caretaker of. Your responsibility to that animal is to not only provide the bare minimum to sustain its life, but to do your best to care for it and prepare it for the tasks it will confront in its life. Every good deed you do in your marriage has the potential to strengthen and help your marriage: In your marriage, when you put effort into understanding her point of view, when you go above and beyond to let him know that you appreciate him, it strengthens and feeds your marriage. And for a horse to be healthy and strong, it needs exercise. Strenuous exercise sometimes.
And finally, why is marriage is more like a horse than a bank account? Without question there will come a day when, if you are keeping a running tally of who “owes” the other one something, you will come up empty. But if your horse/marriage is something that you’ve invested love and time in, when it’s a thing that you love and loves you back, it will be strong enough to pull you out of the deepest hole or the thickest mud and help get you back on the path together.
Ultimately, any comparison or advice you hear is only helpful if it rings true to you and if it can help you in your life. I think both finding the ways in which marriage comparisons work AND finding ways in which they don’t work can help to highlight what is true and what is not about the (somewhat) unknowable concept of marriage.
If there are any metaphors or marriage comparisons that YOU have heard, either ones that you liked or ones that you thought were pretty terrible, share them in the comments! Because it’s either that or I will sit here and keep looking at things in this room and telling you why marriage is like this rocking chair: a great find on Craigslist, but it had a lot of dog hair on it at first.