Marriage. What does it mean? Who gets married and when?
In DM we have none of the issues of cultural differences or religious differences that can often impact marriages and decisions to marry. What we have are two older adults who have never been married falling in love and trying to decide whether to marry. Marriage is a bond between two people and should be a lifetime commitment; some sites link the term marriage to permanence. For many men and women marriage is a difficult decision and marriage rates reflect that. This show not only illustrates the problems confronting this particular couple, but also couples in general. Finding the right man or woman is the first step and the longer one waits, the harder that gets. Apparently Martin had once thought he wanted to marry Edith, but that possibility encountered likely opposition from Aunt Joan and then Edith chose her career over marriage and moved on. Once burned, twice shy as they say, which is to say that Martin is certainly not about to jump into marriage too fast next time. He’s also not much of a lady’s man and wants someone with a combination of attractiveness, intelligence, and sensitivity. We know he wants all of these traits because no one of these is sufficient to get his attention. Mrs. Wilson is pretty but narcissistic, Mrs. Tishell is intelligent but not attractive, and Edith is certainly not sensitive (or attractive, if you ask me). Louisa has not had many good prospects from the looks of things, and she’s smart to be selective, but after a while it may be harder for a woman to know when she’s met the right man. Louisa appears to want a man who’s accomplished, not too religious, and a little unique. As with many couples these days, their own parents have not been good role models for successful marriage. Neither marriage was happy and Martin and Louisa have born the brunt of that. As a result, they are both probably looking for someone who will be faithful and reliable.
The first reason that prompts Martin to ask Louisa to marry him is that he has spent close to two years yearning to be with her, and dealing with intermittent intrusions in his efforts to get together with her, until he finally can’t stand it any longer. The show deliberately puts Martin in situations where he foils his own chances, e.g. he tells Louisa she has bad breath after their first kiss, insults Danny to Louisa because of jealousy, compliments Louisa and tells her he loves her only later to accuse her of being infatuated with him, and ultimately ruins a date and passionate kiss by telling Louisa she’s being too emotional. That comment finally causes her to tell him she doesn’t want to see him anymore, which deeply troubles him to the point that he can’t sleep and can’t concentrate at work. Somehow we keep rooting for Martin and Louisa to get together despite the obvious miscues, or maybe because of them. It’s not until Louisa’s friend Holly hurts her back and then falls on a glass bottle that Louisa and Martin join together in an effort to rescue Holly, and they are given an opportunity to lower their guard. Even though this is an awkward time, Martin asks Louisa to marry him and tells her he can’t bear to be without her, and we finally have a romantic moment. On the other hand, the proposal of marriage occurs at a point when both Martin and Louisa are frazzled. Louisa accepts and they spend the night together without regrets, however, the proposal and acceptance seem very impulsive. In addition, the time they have between the decision to marry and the availability of the church is so short (maybe 3-4 weeks) that there really isn’t a lot of time for them to fully contemplate the implications. Could that be enough time? I’m sure it’s worked for some people, but making a lifetime commitment to someone is probably more likely to work out well if both parties have had enough time to think it through. We do see a few sweet moments while they plan the wedding,e.g. dinners with both loving exchanges and occasional slips (like breathing strips for snoring), a kiss on Louisa’s balcony.
There are no hard and fast rules about how long to date before marrying, but there seems to be some consensus that 1-4 years works best. The first time they plan the wedding, they call it off claiming that both of them are unsure they would make the other happy. On the day of the wedding they have been bombarded with all sorts of reasons to have reservations: the usual vicar is a drunk and falls and breaks something; the other clergyman Martin approaches hates weddings and forces Martin to check a pig’s anus before he’ll agree to do the ceremony;the dry cleaner gives Martin the wrong clothes; Louisa’s maid of honor hurts her eye and gives birth to her out-of-wedlock baby; several friends of Louisa give her reasons to hesitate; and ultimately both Martin and Louisa have a brief chance to catch their breath and come to the same conclusion that they should wait. The die seems cast throughout the episode. Beyond the absurdity of all of the obstacles here in the way of a successful wedding, we should probably give some thought to the notion of how best to prepare to be married. Maybe even if a couple is in love there should be a sort of cooling off period so that they can be under less pressure.
The next time comes when Louisa returns to Portwenn 6 months pregnant and Martin, being the moral man he is, reflexively asks her if she wants to get married. Louisa immediately says no as she has no intention of trapping Martin in a marriage even though she wants him to demonstrate an interest in her. It is only after the baby is born and they live together for a few months that they finally decide the time is right. Once again an emergency medical procedure brings them together: Tommy’s methanol poisoning and then the birth of the baby. And once again their relationship makes another step forward as a result. (Is this any way for a couple to keep reconciling?) Of course, their relationship goes through one more crisis when JH is abducted by Mrs. Tishell before another reconciliation during which Martin seems to understand that Louisa needs some affection and expression of love from him. In my opinion, women universally feel insecure and like to have some affirmation of love periodically. Men probably want that as well but aren’t quite as needy perhaps.
In DM, Martin and Louisa are traditionalists concerning marriage in that they get married in a church, Louisa adopts Martin’s last name, and neither has ever been married previously. They are modern insofar as their baby is born before they get married (in the United Kingdom 47.3% of births were to unmarried women in 2011), Louisa breastfeeds but plans to keep working (she expresses milk so she can give the baby breastmilk when she’s away), and they share the responsibilities of caring for JH pretty equally and hire a childminder for when they are at work. Martin is somewhat retro in that he wants Louisa to quit her job and stay home with JH, but her strong objection to that makes him adjust quickly and he is remarkably willing to share the responsibilities of taking care of JH. There’s no doubt that their first months of marriage are more difficult because of the demands of having a baby and all of the stresses that accompany that. For Martin and Louisa, JH both brings them together and causes some strife as they deal with getting him to sleep, feeding him, determining which of them should sacrifice time from their job, and finding a childminder they both like. All very typical married couple problems.
We don’t see too much of the household duties causing difficulties. They seem to share the grocery shopping and cooking to a certain degree, they both do some cleaning up in the kitchen, and they both change diapers. We don’t see any bathing of the baby, washing clothes, folding clothes, house cleaning, or other mundane chores except for buying nappies and some pharmaceuticals. They are also lucky that they can walk most places because they only have one car, something that could be a source of discord. They don’t seem to have much closet space (or space of any kind), but that hasn’t been a problem so far either. In short, many of the typical marital disagreements are not a part of this show.
But the biggest source of marital difficulty is what causes their greatest turmoil: lack of communication. We’re all aware that women like to talk more than men and that’s been proven by research. (I think you could ask most women and they would say that their husbands universally have trouble talking about things that bother them. It seems like the Y chromosome contains the gene for being taciturn.) However, communication comes in both verbal and non-verbal forms. With Martin, Louisa gets neither much of the time. And as his hemaphobia and insomnia become more problematic, he gets more withdrawn. She’s already told him how important it is to her that he tells her something nice now and then, but Martin has so much trouble expressing those feelings. How wonderful it would have been for him to tell Louisa how he considers her and James his family (as he tells his mother), or how much he, too, misses her once she goes back to work. How much would it have meant to her for him to tell her that his hemaphobia had returned and it was really upsetting to him. He could still say, as he does to Ruth, that he expects it to go away again. But Louisa would have felt that he had confided in her. And wouldn’t it be nice if her kiss on the cheek when they’re in bed would have been reciprocated? These are the little things that mean so much for every marriage.
Martin has never told Louisa much about his childhood, nor has he told her what his mother said to him the last time she visited. What Louisa knows about Martin’s childhood comes mostly from what she’s discerned from the side comments he’s made throughout the years about being punished by being paddled or locked in a confined space. She’s also seen the pictures of a morose little boy and heard about his being sent away to school at a young age. Without much information, she is hard-pressed to grasp his constant battle to overcome his hesitation to open up to her. Martin really doesn’t know much about Louisa’s childhood either, although he knows her mother is something of a loose cannon and Louisa and she have had trouble relating before. As with many marriages, both of them find it hard to remember they both bring a lot of baggage into the union. Their ability to communicate with each other would be greatly enhanced by setting aside some time each day to be together. In season 6, E1 we saw them interact congenially, if at odds at times. This episode is a good microcosm for what marriage can be like and how it can all be resolved lovingly in the end. Sometimes Martin takes charge, sometimes Louisa does, but in the end they walk arm in arm meeting adversity as a team. Unfortunately Martin is not likely to suggest time together, and Louisa tries to pierce his armor to no avail. Therefore, it’s not too surprising when they have a blowup in E7.
The first year of marriage is certainly one of major adjustments for any couple. For an older couple with a baby it’s even more fraught. Marriage consists of constant adjustments and compromises, and it’s those who accept that and roll with it who have enduring relationships. Martin has shown some pretty impressive willingness to try to accommodate Louisa’s wishes when it comes to the care of JH and even her position as headmistress, and Louisa has made an effort to be sympathetic, express concern, and try to draw out Martin. Martin wants to learn to be a better husband and Louisa seems to be open to making another effort to keep their marriage together. Plus, we have another medical complication that brings them together. It can’t get much worse than Martin having to operate to save Louisa’s life! Marriage requires work and theirs requires possibly more work than most. Their travails have been condensed into a short span of time which makes it all seem so disconcerting, but their vows to each other were made with seriousness and will most likely help them persist.
Originally posted 2013-11-04 14:58:47.