Confessions of a Married Businessman
What's Left without the Love?
Does marriage become just a thankless chore once the love has gone out of it? Is marriage a burden that's just too much to bear in life? Or is marriage a sacred path to life fulfillment? What does a guy who's made a big name for himself in the world of business see as the essential truth behind marriage?
What's Left without the Love?By Rebecca Lin
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 490 )
Midway through the conversation the man suddenly fidgets, stands up, opens the window and lights up a smoke.
"When I was younger I too hoped I could meet the girl of my dreams, and we would be together for life," he says, exhaling with a sigh, the smoke carried away with the frigid winter breeze and dissipating into the night.
Marriage has been a painful experience he's been unable to discuss. Outsiders see in him a successful businessman, and although the hair is getting a little thin on top, he still cuts a lean and fit figure. He's casually dressed, looking relaxed in a gray sweater and black slacks, exuding a distinctly yuppie aura.
But at nearly 60 years old, he's all too aware that in taking the plunge into his third marriage, he was looking for a mooring in a safe harbor.
Recounting his past, he says as a twenty-something he married his girlfriend of seven years, but that lasted just four short years before the two decided to part ways. His second marriage was something of a shotgun affair, entered into in a moment of muddle-headedness when his girlfriend announced she was pregnant.
But that was a romance of overly intense passion, with the two often coming to blows and resulting in him from time to time resorting to glossing over the sorry spectacle of battered and bruised faces with the clichéd "I tripped and fell" excuse.
At the age of 44, he took the plunge once again in what would prove to be the longest lasting of his marriages.
"These past couple of years I've learned to look upon marriage as a pilgrimage of sorts and to accept the reality of it," as he began to come to the realization that "even if you get involved in another one, you're liable to run into the same problems." He's clearly showing some conflicted emotions as he relates this last statement.
So how do middle-aged men actually view marriage? Why do they choose to get married, and when do they decide it's time to get out? What follows are the heartfelt confessions regarding marriage from a businessman whom others view as a success in life:
We are perhaps enticed by Western notions of romanticism and think that "I love you, you love me" is all that's needed to set up the perfect family. But now I'm totally convinced that "the reason you got together in the first place can ultimately be the same reason you split up."
It's like with my first marriage. We had been seeing each other for seven years when we decided to take the next step. But after getting married, we gradually came to the realization that, hey, you don't really seem to love me so much after all, and I don't love you like I did at first. So after getting married, sharing a life together became something of a challenge.
As a result, even though nothing really precipitated it, I ended up choosing to get a divorce.
Just before our divorce, we sat down and had a really good talk. But we were both very naive, and our expectations about love were too high. We thought the love we felt for each other just didn't rise to the standards we expected. Since there were no kids to consider, we both had a way out, full of confidence about the future and just like that, we signed on the dotted line, ending an 11-year relationship that had gone from first encounter, to familiarity, to marriage, to divorce.
I also began to realize that, at the end of the day, "you love me and I love you" is unstable and may be gone in a flash. If you can't stand up to the ordeal, you will split up as a result.
My second marriage came not long afterward. This time, it was an accident, and we got married without thinking too clearly. At the time I had absolutely no inclination to get married when my girlfriend suddenly told me she was pregnant. At the time, I thought, well, since she's pregnant I ought to step up and do the right thing.
People of my generation were from an early age taught notions of loyalty and responsibility. As a young man I also wanted to find that perfect "girl of my dreams," that one woman with whom I could share my life and grow old together. So a woman who'd been with me for so long, of course I wanted to do right by her (referring to his first wife). Then with a woman who had become pregnant with my child, how could I not take responsibility?
Not Everyone Can Handle Responsibility
But the "aftermath" of taking responsibility is not always something everyone can handle. Looking back now, I realize that if you are not capable, or if someone simply does not want you to take responsibility, even if you do pony up and take responsibility, it will not end well. And that is even more pointless.
It's like in the course of running my business, I often run into executives beating their chests and declaring: "I'll take total responsibility for this." But to what degree will they take responsibility? If the company loses a pile of money as a consequence, are they prepared to dip into their own pockets to pay it back? Real responsibility actually means taking care of the consequences.
If taking responsibility means ensuring the other party doesn't go cold and hungry and has a stable life, that's a responsibility I'm willing to shoulder. But if what the other party wants is "I love you, you love me" then when there's no love left, what responsibility do I have to bear?
What I mean is, romantic love is actually not real and tangible; if you want me to take responsibility for something so amorphous, the result will naturally be that it is a responsibility that cannot be met.
Once again, I went through a difficult divorce and the ordeal of that process cost me nearly half of my life.
I really became scared of marriage, and I came to clearly see that, as a man, you can get what you need without the necessity of getting married. My bachelor days were happy ones. I was free without anyone telling me what to do, and I kept it that way for many years.
About 10 years ago I read an article stating that love is an inherently ongoing variable process and, as such, cannot be guaranteed under the law, nor should it be guaranteed under the law.
Love is actually something of a higher spiritual aspect, and we should not seek out something of a lower aspect such as marriage to guarantee or validate it. These two things are diametrically opposed.
Marriage is a concept left over from the traditional social structure. If what we're seeking is such a lofty realm of love, why do we insist on formalizing it by signing a contract, performing rituals and registering with the authorities?
But if the love has disappeared, what remains of a marriage?
Success Needs to Be Shared
You ask me, if I don't believe in marriage, why would I enter into another one? Actually, after a while, the days of having girlfriends all over the place seemed to become mundane. I'd met a nice girl during this time with whom I'd begun to keep steady company.
After a time, she wanted something more from me too. After we went back and forth about this a few times, I began to think: Maybe I should put myself in her shoes; otherwise, I'll end up hurting her feelings, and then I'll be unhappy too.
Second, for us men out there slaving away, whatever success you have, however large or small, if you've got no one to share it with, it's like "dressing to the nines to take a walk in the dark."
And the person you most want to share that with is a woman or kid for whom you feel affection; otherwise, however great a success you may achieve, what does it really mean?
When a man reaches a certain age he begins to yearn for a home in which he can lead a stable life. What he needs is not the "function" of a home, but "the feeling of being together with others." She believed we should get married, and I had my own needs, so I ultimately I agreed to do it.
That I've been able to hold my third marriage together until now is mostly through the efforts of my wife. The gap between what she wanted and what I was able to give was not so great.
I guess what she wanted out of marriage was a husband she could count on, to have a few kids and lead a stable, normal life. As far as "you love me, I love you," it doesn't seem so important.
Shared Spiritual Cultivation
Due to a number of serendipitous influences, over the past couple of years I've learned to view marriage as a form of spiritual cultivation, and I'm now more able to accept my current situation as it is.
What I mean by spiritual cultivation is learning to not view your own concerns as all that important, being willing to change, and cooperating with others. I finally came to understand that marriage inherently involves spiritual growth, and that a husband and a wife are practicing spiritual cultivation together.
It's been more than ten years to date, and we have kids. Even if we ended it now, I might still run into the same old problems the next time around.
When there's no way out, accept things as they are! But I first have to say, I don't really have any clue how things will ultimately resolve themselves.
Looking back on the first two of my three marriages, I remain good friends with both of my ex-wives to this day. We all get along great. I still get together sometimes with my exes and their husbands for dinner and to catch up on what's new.
Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy