We know that we’ve got some slightly… unworkable attitudes to marriage– the divorce rate says it all, and that the problem lies around many of our excessive expectations. To try to counter these, there could be no better place to start than with our marriage vows: moments when we first declare before an audience the ideals that we would like to live by over a lifetime. In the interest of a saner, more realistic and more practical attitude to marriage, here are some suggestions for new kinds of marriage vows. We should good-naturedly admit that the person we’re marrying is very far from perfect, and articulate all the ways in which they will prove irritating, difficult, sometimes irrational, and often unable to sympathize or understand us. However, it’s vital that we should interpret these flaws as unavoidable; no one else would be better, and we are as bad. We are simply a very flawed species. We must conclusively kill the idea that things would be ideal if any other creature on the planet. The only route to a tolerable marriage is to accept that there can only ever be a “good enough” marriage. Love starts with the experience of being understood in a deeply supportive and uncommon way. They understand the lonely parts of you; you don’t have to explain why you find a particular joke so funny, you hate the same people, they too want to try out a particular sexual scenario. This won’t continue. We shouldn’t blame our lovers for our dereliction of duty in failing to interpret and grasp our internal workings. They simply couldn’t understand who we were and what we needed, which is wholly normal. No one properly understands, and can therefore fully sympathize with anyone else. Maturity is founded on an active sense of one’s folly. One’s out of control for long periods, one’s failed to master one’s past, one’s permanently anxious, one is, to put it mildly, an idiot. If we aren’t regularly and very deeply embarrassed about who we are, it can only be because we have a dangerous capacity for selective memory. We start out knowing only about being loved– the way we were as a child. We want a recreation in adulthood of what it felt like to be ministered to and indulged. In a secret part of our minds, we picture someone who will understand our needs, bring us what we want, be immensely patient and sympathetic to us, and make it all better. This is, naturally, a disaster. For a marriage to work, we need to move firmly out of the child and into the parental position. We need to become someone who will be willing to subordinate their own demands and concerns to the needs of another. The romantic person instinctively sees marriage in terms of emotions, but what a couple actually get up to over a lifetime has much more in common with the workings of a small business. They must draw up work rosters– clean, chauffeur, cook, fix, reconcile, and budget. None of these activities have any glamour whatsoever within the current arrangement of society. And yet, these tasks are what is truly romantic in a sense of conducive and sustaining of love and should be interpreted as the bedrock of successful marriage. The romantic view expects that love and sex will be aligned, but in truth, they won’t stay so beyond a few months, or a best, one or two years. This isn’t anyone’s fault. Because marriage has other key concerns like companionship, administration, another generation, sex will suffer. We’re ready to get married when we accept large degree of sexual resignation and the task of sublimation. The romantic view of marriage stresses that the “right person” means someone who shares our tastes, interests, and attitudes to life, but over an extended period of time, differences inevitably emerge. It’s the capacity to tolerate difference that is the true marker of the “right person.” Compatibility is an achievement of love; it shouldn’t be its precondition. These vows are, of course, pretty dark. This doesn’t mean that they are against marriage– far from it. They simply believe that the best way to make a marriage work is to be properly alive to the enormous challenges that a union presents, and to be ready with some realistic philosophies that are ultimately far more romantic than the more traditional, familiar, and fateful optimism.