‘It’ll be better before you’re married’

Most if not all Irish people will be familiar with this expression. Little Johnny has fallen and scraped his knee or cut his arm while playing. Mammy to the rescue, cleaning the wound and kissing it better with this adorable expression on her lips: ‘It’ll be better before you’re married’. It has been a staple saying of parents (read: the children-afflicted) for generations. Its beauty lies in the fact that its semantic value is on a par with ‘If you fall and break both your legs, don’t come running to me’. And what child hasn’t heard that one while trying to scale a tree, wall or fellow human being?

Back to marriage. The more cerebral child will be thinking, ‘It’ll only be better before I’m married? That’s years away! How serious is this wound, mother?’ Little Johnny is very precocious, you see. This vague future date is, you will soon come to understand, when all your dreams will come true, and not just the immediate wish for haemostasis.

And why must it be better before you’re married? Why is there such pressure on toddlers and preteens to settle down? We should be telling them that it’ll be better before bedtime or before the next time the ice cream man comes around; sometime in the near future. There should be something tangible for their minds to wrap around, to take them away from the blood and the pain.

But it’s a blatant lie in any case. It will not be better before you’re married. The scrape will heal of course and disappear in a few days. And yet it – life, existence – will, objectively, only get more difficult. Life is never easier for us than when all we have to worry about are cuts and bruises, contracting cooties, and where our next sugar fix is coming from. It is never better than when we can scream as loud as we want in public (try this aged 35), for no reason at all, and have people smile and laugh and not get overly annoyed at us.

Let me be clear in that I am not at all taking issue with this expression, I’m simply using it to illustrate the point that life is never as straightforward as everyone would have you believe. And I do mean everyone. School, college, job, marriage, kids; right? No, I’m sorry, but balls to that – there is too much variety and freedom in our world today for everyone to follow this rigid structure. There is in fact almost infinite freedom of choice which is, as it turns out, mind-freezingly terrifying. Nowhere is the crippling inertia and stuttering indecision that accompanies endless freedom better epitomised than in Jonathan Franzen’s magnificent novel… Freedom.

When just about anything is possible, how do we choose what to do with our lives?

Most of us simply go for what’s probable; the rigid structure referred to above is a safety net, a comfortable alternative to searching out what it really is that drives and excites us. We are taught – forced, almost – to want objects and the money that will procure them. We are taught to want marriage for the security and ‘status’ it brings. And so we pursue careers in such banal things as Accounting, IT and Insurance, the mental hazards of which I’ve already discussed here.

To highlight a perennial example, everyone and their mother keeps telling me about how important it is to have a smartphone. And that’s not to mention every second or third piece of advertising I’m assailed with. Important to whom, exactly? To Apple and their profit margins? No thanks, my ten pound (in both price and weight) prehistoric brick of a phone will do just fine. It can make and receive calls AND send these things called ‘text messages’. Magic!

What I’m trying to say is: enough of what they want us to want, what the fuck do we want?