Haruki Murakami and Hayao Kawai Discuss Marriage: A Meditation on Suffering and Well-Digging
Detachment has become a trend today. Perhaps it’s because detachment is seen as being synonymous to individuality. In Western society, being independent is highly regarded. The more you set yourself apart from the crowd, the more points you earn. And yet, people still mourn over the loss of relationships. We’re in a hook-up culture where we pretend like we don’t want to get attached when things get muddled by not labeling something. How detached are we really?
People will only want to talk about how the lack of reciprocation kills them after a night of getting wasted. Why does the truth only come out then? Why all the repression? But then the next weekend, they’ll hit the club or a bar all over again. They’ll meet a stranger, sleep with that person, and get up the next morning, realizing they still either haven’t gotten over their ex. That they haven’t found what they’re looking for. So, they try. Again. And again. Oh, but not too close, because they still want to believe that they’re above emotions.
How okay are we really when we don’t want to admit that maybe —just maybe we want something more than a moment? Let’s talk about marriage. Everybody sees it as a destination in life, but no one actually wants to understand it as the beginning of yet another tempestuous journey. The cookie cutter definition of marriage is that it’s a social institution that happens between two partners behind closed doors. But in Western culture, marriage is considered a concept instilled within us at a very young age that promises the happily-ever-after.
Haruki Murakami, a well known contemporary Japanese writer met up with famous Jungian psychoanalyst Hayao Kawai and discussed what marriage means to them. They take an out-of-the-box philosophical approach to it and erase the notion of happiness. Replacing it in a rather deadpan manner with the concept of well-digging —a meditation on suffering.
Kawai states that well-digging is very hard to endure and that there’s no real reason for people to do so. People who get married, get divorced, and then get married again just to get another divorce haven’t dug a well deep enough, believing that they can find something better in the next person. But it doesn’t work that way. Murakami, who was married to his wife up to 25 years since the day he met Hayao Kawai, states that marriage is an ongoing process in which two people constantly expose their failures to each other.
But because he believes that the only person who can make up your failures is yourself, he sees marriage as merely a cold surveillance between two people. Kawai states that in the old days, couples only shared the common goal of cooperating. But nowadays, it seems as though people want to do more than just cooperate —they want to actually understand their partners, which involves the well-digging aspect. It’s a lot more painful in that sense.
Well-digging means constantly choosing to take and accept the other person’s failures. It eliminates romance, because romantic relationships actually don’t endure. It means having the difficult conversations and enduring the nights in which you’re not so sure if the next morning, your partner might walk out on you at any second. It’s having the guts to believe that the two of you will still work things out. It means caring about the other person even if you can’t always understand them, because the reality is that you probably won’t. And that’s okay. Don’t punish yourself for those times you’re unable to. But, also don’t create more unnecessary distance because of it.
Well-digging isn’t just involved in marriage. It’s involved in any form of strong connection or commitment. When I find myself in stubborn pursuit of something or someone, I never have any real logical explanation why I want to go through with it; I just know that when it matters that much to me, it’s the only right thing left to do.
Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is his only book that involves a married couple. The husband goes on a search for his missing wife, but before he can get to her, he interacts with other multiple characters before finding her. It’s only when he is able to commit to these characters that he can finally commit to his wife. When I first read it at the age of 20, I felt exhausted because the story is very long and there were parts that I couldn’t fully understand.
In retrospect, I think most of that stemmed from a deep impatience inside of me that wanted all of the answers, but not wanting to go through the actual work to reach them. In that sense, I don’t think I was ready to understand what commitment meant. I took the novel off of my shelf just now and am weighing it in my hands this very second. It feels rewarding, heavy. I hope to read it again one day. And maybe when I do, I’ll smile, realizing that wanting to understand it and not giving up is the true essence of well-digging. But, you must always be prepared to give without necessarily gaining anything in return. Hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.
Murakami, H., & Kawai, H. (2016). Haruki Murakami Goes to Meet Hayao Kawai. Tokyo: Daimon.
Edited by Viveca Shearin