Most Christians don’t look to Chris Rock for marriage advice, and that’s probably a good thing. The comedian is known, after all, for his sexually-explicit, profanity-laced humor, which is geared to shock more than to enlighten. Even so, I think, at least on one point, he has something we should hear.
In the January 2013 issue of Vanity Fair, Rock is interviewed by fellow comedian (and the magazine’s guest editor of the issue) Judd Apatow about how his comedy has changed over the years. Apatow asked Rock whether having a wife and kids alters his comedy, since Rock is no longer a young single man anymore, but a guy with family responsibilities moving toward middle age.
Rock said his family transformed his comedic instincts, “but only in the best way” since his life as husband and father gives him “weight and authority” and makes him “closer to the audience because the audience is married and has kids.” But, most interestingly, Rock declares that now that he is married he knows more about women than do single men.
“Single guys have girlfriends,” Rock said. “Girlfriends are always auditioning, always on their best behavior. Wives are like Supreme Court justices; they do whatever…they want.”
On the one hand, this is a standard comedic trope, reaching back to Henny Youngman’s “Take my wife, please” or Rodney Dangerfield’s “Don’t get no respect” or “The Honeymooners” episodes. But, behind that, there’s something true, and even beautiful.
Rock identifies that there’s something fundamentally different between a “relationship” and a marriage, and that difference is, among other things, permanence. Why does the wife, unlike the girlfriend, in Rock’s joke “do whatever she wants”? It’s because she has the security of knowing her relationship isn’t tenuous. She’s here to stay.
Comedian/essayist Ben Stein, in one of his advice books, recommends that one see his or her marriage as a campaign for a dream job, with the spouse as the one vote needed to elect. That’s good advice, I suppose, but I like Rock’s image better, if we’re going to find political metaphors.
The Supreme Court, after all, can do some things that puzzle or even outrage people. Think of all the fury summed up in words of Supreme Court cases behind culture wars in America, from the founding until now. And yet the Supreme Court abides. Even when the Court outrages the populace, we don’t legislate it out of existence, because we can’t. To do so would be to walk away from the Constitution, from the Republic itself.
Marriage is indeed like that. A president goes through exhaustive research to “vet” a potential Supreme Court justice, and the stakes are high when the U.S. Senate takes up its role in confirming the justice. The stakes are high because the appointment is for life. Speak now, or forever hold your peace.
Bracket for a moment our convictions about sexuality. Even on its own terms, cohabitation doesn’t “prepare” couples for marriage. Without the security of permanence and fidelity a “relationship” is wholly different from a marriage. As a matter of fact, “dating” isn’t a preparation for marriage either, beyond the level of discovering whether this couple have a reason not to marry.
Moreover, the Supreme Court metaphor makes sense of one of the clearest truths of marital wisdom. A marriage in which either husband or wife hold the nuclear codes of divorce, just in case, is a marriage in which the couple cannot psychologically give themselves to one another as “one flesh.”
That’s what is most sad about the divorce culture in Western civilization. In previous days, what drove a man or woman crazy about the other person would be taken into account before the marriage, to be sure. Can I live with his messiness? Can I wake up every morning to her voice?
But once married, the thought for most people was “what are you going to do?” You lived with all the peeves and annoyances, and eventually learned to ignore them because, well, what are you going to do? You’re married for life, and so you can live happily or unhappily, but you’ll do it together. That doesn’t lead to misery but to contentment and the cultivation of love.
There are, of course, times when a marriage traumatically is ripped asunder, by unrepentant immorality or abandonment or abuse, just as there are times when a Supreme Court must be impeached. But that’s a constitutional crisis, not the normal state of affairs.
For a man to really know a woman, and for a woman to really know a man, they must be given to each other, with nothing held back. That requires the security and permanence of “till death do us part.”
Christians have spent a lot of time talking about how communication can lead to permanence. And that’s true. When a couple speaks freely and honestly, and cleaves to one another, a marriage is stabilized. But we need also to speak about how permanence leads to communication. When a couple has nothing to fear from one another, including the fear of leaving, they open up with their secrets, their doubts, their frustrations, their lives. They are, emotionally, naked and not afraid. They’re not campaigning for anything, but are confirmed to each other for life. Chris Rock is right, about that.