April 28, 2013

TV for Thought: The Marriage Contract

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We’ve all heard that commonly cited statistic that 50% of marriages in the U.S. end up in divorce. That’s a pretty substantial amount. That also means that there is a pretty substantial amount of marriages still. Granted, we’re not sure how many of those marriages are happy or fully functional but that’s not for me to conjecture one way or another. Also, what does it even mean to have a happy or fully functional marriage?

In Netflix’s hit original series, House of Cards, we get a very unique look at marriage between the leads, Francis and Claire Underwood. Francis is a very powerful and conniving Congressman manipulating his way to the top after being denied as Secretary of State in the new cabinet. Claire is in charge of a philanthropy hoping to delve into the international sphere. She is almost as manipulative as her husband and always gets what she wants done.

What is so intriguing about this power couple is that the marriage dynamic they share is not solely based on the traditional love trope; it is almost contractual. He uses her to further his political agenda and she uses him to increase donations to her organization. Furthermore, they also blatantly use others as well, engaging in extra-marital affairs if necessary.

And yet, despite their arrangement, there is still so much mutual respect and care between the two of them. They would do anything for the other, like the instance when Claire’s charity dinner was caught in the crossfire between her husband and a lobbyist at odds with each other; Francis came in and helped make the night a success. It wasn’t her fault that the dispute spilled over onto her, and he was going to make sure that it wouldn’t ruin the night completely for her.

At this dinner, both of their prospective lovers showed up. While one was chatting it up with his/her respective lover, the other would sweep in with jealousy and dote on him/her. How much of this was just part of their well orchestrated charade of the perfect marriage and how much was pure unadulterated jealousy is still quite hazy. Regardless, neither one will let the other one fall. They rose together and they will continue to do so as long as possible.

Some would argue that this loveless marriage is counterintuitive and sinful. But who are we to judge? Relationships work in a slew of different ways. No one is like the other. Along with love, marriages can also present many opportunities and be more of a stable rock in a person’s life. While we are presented constantly the notion that marriage is love, the reality is that it’s not always that way. Some people may not even believe that it really is necessary. At one point in the series, Claire tells the story of Frank’s proposal. He told her that if she just wanted to be happy, that she should walk away because that’s not what he was going to bring her. He promised that life would be interesting with him and that he would let her do as she please. No kids or early retirement to spend time together. At the end, he put the ring on her finger because he already knew that the answer would be yes without a shadow of a doubt because he knew her.

And that at the end of the day seems to be the most important part: how well you know the person from their weaknesses to their strengths and desires. And maybe at the end of the day, love and being faithful to the person — or whatever else is part of one’s marriage vows — comes from a mutual respect of what kind of person they are. It need not be, necessarily, some hoity toity, sickening love story (although it very well can be). I mean, to each his own, right?

Original Author: Natalia Fallas