In her song, “Tall Trees in Georgia,” the late Eva Cassidy gives a poignant glimpse into the regrets felt by those who, having chosen independence ahead of love, realize too late the cost of that decision.
The sweetest love I ever had / I left aside
Because I did not want to be / any man’s bride
Now older, alone, and pining to be married, Cassidy advises:
Control your mind my girl / and give your heart to one
For if you love all men / you’ll surely be left with none
In contrast to the almost universal longing for marriage, the late night stand-up comedians offer a variety of disparaging takes on marriage. The better ones make us chuckle, even laugh uproariously, by highlighting the absurd miscues, mistakes, miscalculations and, yes, mule-headedness in our familial relationships, all evidence of the foibles inherent in our human frailty. Another brand of comics provoke pinched laughs from us as they snarl and bark out their crude, cutting, hate-laced, anger-drenched diatribes about married life; they use their bawdy, blistering humor to lacerate us for of our defects, failures and the sins we commit as we struggle with the challenges of life as husband and wife, parent and child. These cynical, pitiless critics — unlike God who remembers that we are made of dust — portray the shortfalls and weaknesses of our efforts to love and denounce the whole enterprise of marriage as a miserable fraud deserving only searing comedic contempt. Seen through their bitter, anger-warped lenses, marital sex gets little but sarcasm and ridicule.
The comedians are not alone in their disparaging comments. Sex in marriage is nearly always belittled in the media and elsewhere as dull, boring, or ludicrously old-fashioned and out-of-date. Typically, marriage is pictured — on the supposedly rare occasions it is actually attempted — as a pale alternative for the alleged excitement of promiscuous “fooling around.” Regular folks with normal, happy marriages (and thus who know better) can only wonder what sort of experience lies behind this deluge of derogatory bile that is the staple of TV sitcoms and comedic monologues. Why expend the energy to ridicule marriage if it is as pointless and unpalatable as it is portrayed? Even more to the point, if marriage were “as advertised,” why would anyone ever want to be married? Certainly, there is enough truth in the distortions that too many young people get the “joke” and turn away from marriage.