• Title: Balls and Chains
  • Author: Gordon Gano
  • Publication: Details Magazine
  • Date: July 1993 (p. 62)

The Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano makes a decent proposal

First, a disclaimer: Anything that can be construed as advice in this article will be bad advice. Anything that can be taken as a truth will be a bad truth. I hope I can slip in some lies, but I can’t promise that I’ll succeed. And I’ll write about marriage without once mentioning the word “love.”
Men are jerks. I’m using that word in the all-embracing sense: I’m a man; I’m a jerk. O.K., one can argue effectively that women are also jerks – but there’s no argument against the fact that men are even bigger jerks.

In general, men run or limp or crawl away from marriage. They’ve got an articulate or inarticulate (depends on the guy) desire not to limit possibilities. And a desire to avoid having the Heimlich maneuver performed on their lives in the event of disaster. This kind of thinking is, of course, wrong. The grapes in life’s esophagus will come no matter what we do or don’t do. The desire to avoid them is based on a false, infantile hope – a desire not to grow.

José Ortega y Gasset said, “Life consists in giving up the state of availability. Mere availability is the characteristic of youth faced with maturity. The youth, because he is not yet anything determinate and irrevocable, is everything potentially. Herein lies his charm and his insolence. Feeling that he is everything potentially, he supposes that he is everything actually . . . The growing insecurity of his existence proceeds to eliminate possibilities, matures him. …Nothing so saps the profound resources of life as finding life too easy.”

For much of my life, I, too, resisted making choices because of not wanting to eliminate possibilities. But I’ve found, often painfully, that choices have to be made and that not choosing is also a choice (often the worst kind). It’s in choosing that we choose ourselves, make ourselves. In throwing one’s whole self into a choice, into the suffering and the joy of it, I become more of myself (here, a nod to Sartre but no quote; only one existentialist quote per article – an old Latin rule).

If one wants to embrace life and not deny it, to explore those profound resources and implore them to gush forth, one should get married. Because it’s the hardest thing one can do, and life for the officially entwined can never be too easy.

In other words, one gets married in order to struggle – and not so much with one’s partner as with oneself. And just as narrowing the playing field affirms life, likewise does embracing responsibility. Break the word “responsibility” down into its parts and you get “able to respond.” Medically speaking, the inability to respond is death. Thus, running from responsibility is running from Life and toward Death.

Take Jonah, for example. (Since I’m a preacher’s kid, a Bible story naturally comes to mind.) Jonah demonstrated the ability to respond, but his response was “Get me out of here!” He had a good idea of what he should do, but he fled in the opposite direction, booked himself a sea cruise, and ended up having his fellow wayfarers throw him overboard so he could meditate for a while in the belly of a great fish. What this means in our current context, fellas, is if you know you should marry her – or even think you should – avoid fishing trips.

Before I got married I started to realize that people of matrimonial experience were split into two camps. The fist camp says that after marriage nothing changes. You think it will, but it won’t. At first it might be disappointing that nothing changes – that nothing’s better and there’s no magic transformation.

Then there are those who say everything changes: “You don’t think so, but it will. I know what I’m talking about.”

At this early stage, my personal experience confirms the first idea: Nothing changes. Or, rather, nothing changes in a way that can be determined from the usual everything’s-always- changing-because-life-is-change-whether-we-like-it-or-not way.

But the second group is still holding out, saying that becoming aware of the differences is a s-l-o-w p-r-o-c-e-s-s. Well, maybe.

So, once again couching the potato in question in terms of my opinion and mine only, I will state that it’s best to marry when one is depressed. How will one know what one wants – if one wants to marry, if one is ready to commit – if one is buoyed up by a false sense of hope and happiness? To paraphrase a science journal that has since left my grasp: Depression’s great benefit is that the depressed subject tends to withdraw attention from wasted enterprises. What a great time to marry!

Which leads to my next question/answer: When does one know that it’s time to marry? When one has no hope. When one has given up all hope of ever being able to be happy with someone other than that one special someone, and (now watch this closely) when one also realizes that happiness isn’t even possible with that one special man or woman. Then it’s time.

Marriage must be entered into with the proper sense of hopelessness, so that when its own hopelessness arrives it can be welcomed with open arms. Marriage may be a crucifixion of sorts, but after come the resurrection. Marriage is believing that, despite the cross, there is coming an Easter; the tomb will open.

The Bible attempts to explain the mystery of Christ in terms of marriage, and marriage in terms of Christ and the church. But don’t let any preacher tell you that the woman has to obey the man, without quoting the other verses that say the man must be ready to die for the woman. Funny how that’s almost always left out.

For my part, I married my best friend. I was motivated by a lot of fear and hopelessness, and I was, of course, depressed. And because I was depressed – not despite it – I don’t doubt my decision. I’m glad to take part in continuing to create the mystery of matrimony. It intensifies life. It raises the stakes. It is saying yes to life, to change, challenge, suffering, death. And yes, yes, yes to the open tomb.