Marriage isn’t always the answer

November 14, 2018

True happiness comes from within

Bruno Wang Productions is delighted to co-produce the remake of the musical comedy Company, which has received multiple five-star reviews.

Director Marianne Elliott (War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) has deftly updated Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical for a modern audience.

Switching the lead role from a single male bachelor called Bobby to a female (Bobbie), ‘he’ becomes ‘she’. The gender swap makes the show, originally seen as a commentary on the sexual revolution, relevant and modern to today.

A popular saying of the 70s, “You’ve come a long way, baby”, which originated in cigarette advertisements, was meant to acknowledge the giant strides of the women’s movement. Yet it’s ironic that many issues confronting men in the 1970s no longer seem important today, while the same problems are still relevant to many women.

Women nowadays appear to enjoy unprecedented freedom in the choices they can make in work, education, marriage, parenthood and the number of sexual partners they have. However, regardless of how liberated modern women are, most still don’t feel complete unless they are married.

It’s interesting to observe a traditional wedding. The bride wears white, symbolic of her virtue and virginity. She is walked down the aisle by her father then passed on to her groom like property. The minister concludes the ceremony by saying to the groom “You may now kiss the bride”, rather than inviting the newlyweds to kiss each other.

The ceremony reflects the values and subconscious conditioning of marriage as an institution dominated by men. But women in their thirties or above have experienced the new freedoms available to their sex, while being raised by parents who may have had more traditional views on the subject. The contrasts and conflicts this can lead to causes Bobbie in Company to do some soul searching.

Completing ourselves

So, why is Bobbie so torn between settling down and staying single?

Part of the reason is social pressure. Society saw coupledom as the answer to everything in 1970 and there is still an element of that around today. The famous 1940s’ song “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” is a good example of the common belief and judgment that society has long passed on being single.

The gay movement fought for many years for the right to equality and marriage. But having the right doesn’t automatically mean you have to exercise it, so it was refreshing to see one of the gay couple in Company get cold feet just before his wedding.

Bobbie, too, takes a look at the lives of her married friends and just isn’t sure marriage is the answer for her.

This focus on coupledom makes me think of the late feminist thinker Susan Sontag. “I want to be able to be alone, to find it nourishing – not just waiting,” she once wrote.

Married or single, we all want to love and be loved. American poet and activist Audre Lorde said it so beautifully: “You have to learn to love yourself before you can love me or accept my loving.”

Marriage or relationships don’t necessarily bring the happiness we crave. That’s because we make the mistake of thinking that our happiness comes solely from others.

It comes from within.

The moment we realise this, we are no longer dependent on others for a sense of self-worth. The craving falls away.

Joy lies within

The key to unlocking joy is to direct your love inwards. Love yourself with all the kindness and unconditionality a parent extends to their child. Then watch your true self flourish.

Self-love is the foundation for a rich relationship. It opens your heart. It lets love in and it frees you up to love wholly in return. Marriage can never restrain you because love has no bounds.

As the Stoic philosopher Hecato wrote: “If you wish to be loved, love.” It is a question of balance.

Love yourself and you’ll attract others who will love you back. They will not bring you down with jealousies or one-upmanship. They will buoy you up with their company and their love. And you will do the same to them.

Love sets you free. It is also a great equaliser.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation