Last week’s This American Life episode, “Choosing Wrong,” should remind everyone why Ira Glass’s show remains the best thing in spoken word media. I especially enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s piece on Wilt Chamberlain: It explores why the basketball legend, a legendarily bad free throw shooter, refused to shoot underhanded free throws—except for one mid-career season during which his free throw percentage improved from 40 to 60 percent.
But the topic of this blog post relates to Ira Glass’s conversation with British author Alain de Botton about marriage. De Botton gives advice to couples who are getting married during this wedding season:
Be incredibly forgiving for the weird behavior that’s going to start coming out. You will be very unhappy in lots of ways. Your partner will fail to understand you. If you’re understood in maybe—I don’t know—60 percent of your soul by your partner, that’s fantastic. Don’t expect it’s going to be 100 percent. Of course you will be lonely. You will often be in despair. You will sometimes think it’s the worst decision in your life. That’s fine. That is not a sign your marriage has gone wrong. It’s a sign that it’s normal, it’s on track.
And many of the hopes that took you into the marriage will have to die in order for the marriage to continue—that some of the heaviness and expectations will have to die.
When Glass interjects that this sounds “so dark,” de Botton says,
It’s very dark. But in love darkness is a real friend of relationships. Because so many problems of love come from unwarranted optimism.
I think that there are aspects of a good marriage that should encompass a kind of melancholy, as we realize that we’re trying to do such a complex thing with someone: We are trying to find our best friend, our ideal sexual partner, our co-household manager, perhaps our co-parent. And we’re expecting that all this will miraculously go well together. Of course it can’t. We’re not going to be able to get it all right. There will be many areas of misunderstanding and failure. And a certain amount of sober melancholy is a real asset when heading forth into the land of love.
I agree. I’ve explored many of these ideas in sermons, book studies, and blog posts over the years. What resonates with me today are these words: “Many of the hopes that took you into the marriage will have to die in order for the marriage to continue… A certain amount of sober melancholy is a real asset when heading forth into the land of love.”
This is true, but it’s true of life in general: The hopes that we take with us into any worthwhile endeavor need to die. A certain amount of sober melancholy is a real asset when heading forth into any land.
Have you noticed that the dreams you had for your life haven’t come true? Have you spent any time grieving that fact? Why not? They were good dreams. It’s sad that they’re dead.
Nevertheless, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24 KJV). The death of our own dreams can always mean new life for us, when we summon the courage to choose it. God’s dreams for our lives are always better than our own.
At least that’s been true in my experience. What about yours?