Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What If Marriage Was Only Expected To Last Until The Last Kid Turned 18?

We got to LA late last night and my mom had saved us the Sunday Times.  This quote caught my attention in an article called "Middle-raged woman."

"I think there are some people for whom long-term marriages really work;  it's a wonderful thing to see.  But biologically speaking, probably one in every four couples can do that with some level of comfort.
There are other cases where a long-term marriage may not be the best choice for two people. . .

I feel like I married the right person.  I made the right choice then, had a 20-year relationship, and I'm so grateful for the time that we had together, the children that we made and how we continue to take care of those children."
Basically the article is a book review interview for Sandra Tsing Loh's The Madwoman in the Volvo:  My Year of Raging Hormones.

She also mentions in the interview that therapists sort of do and don't work.
". . . some midlife advice you need to hear is:  I guess you need to divorce your husband, or have an affair, or date a younger man, or go on a cruise, or move to Africa.  You might actually need to do something extreme to change your life and a therapist really can't give you advice that's not healthy or sensible."
First she says this is what one needs to be told, but then, that it's not healthy or sensible.  Is she saying you only need to be told, but not act on it?  I think not.  She seems to be saying you should do 'something extreme to change your life.'   But is it just that her well conditioned societal norms take over to suggest this isn't healthy or reasonable?  If it's what you need, why isn't it healthy or reasonable?  Maybe she's implying different short term and long term consequences.

That got me thinking.  What if marriage was more like a job?  It could be for a lifetime or at least for one's working career.  Or it might not last and you get another one.  What if marriage was for ten years, or, if there are kids, until the last kid turns 18?

What we actually have now is much worse than that.  We have divorce and lots of folks take advantage of that while their kids are still young.  And I don't disagree with those who think the best child-rearing setting is with the natural parents, but with the caveat that they are reasonably happy together and know how to solve problems without violence (verbal or physical).  Having grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins nearby can certainly help.  But there are lots of different alternatives to this ideal that also work reasonably well if the people taking care of the kids are 'good parents' [maybe defining  that's for another dozen posts] no matter who they are. 

BUT, divorce is, seen as a failure. A broken marriage.  What if it were seen as normal?  What if marriages that were renewed past the due date were also seen as normal?  Kids would know that their parents had a good chance of splitting up eventually, so that when it did happen, it wouldn't been seen as a terrible thing.  And maybe more importantly, the marriage partners would know that things would end and they would have new choices and opportunities.  They would do better financial planning for that day.  Both partners would have a stake at both parenting and having a career - or would work out an agreement so that the working partner's income would be seen as something that would be potentially split.  Pre-nuptial agreements would probably become a lot more common.  Affairs, especially as the marriage came closer to its due date, would become more acceptable, and possibly even feel normal and not a threat.

When asked what marriage advice she gives her daughters, Tsing Low says she hasn't thought about it, but goes on:
In the end, for a family core to rely on the notion of a man and a woman feeling romantically in love with each other for 10, 20 or 30 years - it's the most unstable thing to rely on.  Biologically, romantic feelings wane after four years, then you have to work on it.   
Without a doubt, the excitement of a new relationship doesn't last unless you work on it.  But a different kind of relationship also grows, one that can be stronger.  But as someone who's been married over 40 years, I can attest that you need to work at it.  Be imaginative, be honest, talk.  More than talk.  Communicate.

Would such an environment be perfect?  Perfection may be achievable in endeavors such as moon landings, but it's an impossible standard for social projects.  The real standard for change is whether the proposed program is likely to work better than the existing one and any other options proposed.  The poster below from Daily Infographic offers some standards for the status quo.  But like all internet info, take it with a grain of salt until you double check all their stats.  And remember that divorces (and when there are kids involved, how the parents handle their parental responsibilities post divorce) come in many different shapes and forms and if they identified five main types of divorce, I suspect the worst impacts on kids would be mostly found in the worst two or three types of divorce.

From Daily Infographic

Note: It says that 41% of first marriages end in divorce. That means, of course, that 59% do NOT end in divorce. A few may end in murder of one spouse by the other, but it's still the vast majority last.

[UPDATE 4:36pm ADT:  Here are two This American Life shows that give long and thoughtful attention to this topic:
Monogamy and look at Act 1: Best Laid Plans in the Valentine show.]


  1. If religious and other social authoritarians really want to find the source of all ills in the modern world, it might be to find we live longer now, on average. Marriage longevity becomes statistically more difficult, right?

    The industrial revolution and its consequent production methods in food, the plumbing of cities, the discovery of pathogens and their treatments, all led to a world quite different from that many of our ancestors inherited in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    Marriage is in need of re-working and many are very busy, indeed, applying themselves to that work. I have no worry that an inventive, needful, if not mindful, humanity will provoke answers to the generation and nurturance of family and lifetime relationships, intimate or not.

    It just may not be what the above-mentioned authoritarians think marriage must be. In the meantime and in the midst of this struggle for the future, I have an old-fashioned, lifetime gay marriage and it's fine, thank-you.

  2. The inane bleatings of an unstable chowderhead gets some press coverage and suddenly people all over the nation are responding as if there was some credibility to the inane bleating.

    It seems, our national pastime, of late.

    This self appointed so-called cultural commentator is literally 'calling it in' and people respond because they've lost the ability to filter what the media feeds them.

    Please, addressing the crazed bleatings of chowderheads as if there were some credibility is detrimental to having a sane dialogue of any sort.

    Not everything printed, aired or blogged about deserves to be repeated.

    Look, if I said divorce rates rose along with rates of margarine consumption, some people would think there is a defining link.

    If I wrote a book saying I gave up margarine and my marriage improved on some pleasure measure, people all over the country would buy my book, and likely give up margarine too.

    Would it be relevant to anything at all?

    If a discussion of marriage, or divorce, is desired, start with scholarly data, data filtered through reason and tested by scientific scrutiny, don't introduce the inane happenstance of performance 'artists' juxtaposed against some unsourced pop culture info graphic.

    1. Blogger said my comment was too long, so I'm making this Part 1.

      "The inane bleatings of an unstable chowderhead gets some press coverage and suddenly people all over the nation are responding as if there was some credibility to the inane bleating.”

      This sort of disparaging comment about others in the voice of the all-knowing dispenser of truth skates over my boundary of acceptable civility for comments here. I tend to be tolerant of violators, most particularly you, if they seem to try to keep civil and add usefully to the conversation. But I see no effort on your part to refrain from insulting others and the benefits you have to offer are beginning to fall far short of the costs.

      “This self appointed so-called cultural commentator is literally 'calling it in' and people respond because they've lost the ability to filter what the media feeds them.”

      I’m not sure if you are referring to Tsing Loh, the LA Times writer, or me. The first seven words certainly would apply well to you. Anyone who offers an opinion on the state of society could be labeled a cultural commentator and I would guess that a blogger like myself is ‘appointed’ by the folks who chose to come to the blog more than once. There are plenty of other places online to visit.

      “Please, addressing the crazed bleatings of chowderheads as if there were some credibility is detrimental to having a sane dialogue of any sort.”

      More name calling and personal attack. No substance. How is that comment not "detrimental to having a sane dialogue of any sort"? I see Tsing Loh’s writings as her expression of her own experiences. They can be useful in a number of ways: 1) they can comfort others who feel they are the only ones going through such an experience, 2) they can inform others who encounter or even live with such behavior and can’t understand it, 3) they add thick description to enrich scientists’ understanding.

      But for people who already know everything, they are dismissed as ‘crazed bleatings.’ I suspect that your strong feelings stem from your own personal experience with marriage and/or divorce. Your comment would have more substance if you helped us understand where they come from by telling us.

      “If a discussion of marriage, or divorce, is desired, start with scholarly data, data filtered through reason and tested by scientific scrutiny, don't introduce the inane happenstance of performance 'artists' juxtaposed against some unsourced pop culture info graphic.”

      This is the only part of your comment that seems to raise a discussable point - where should we get our ideas - anywhere or just from scholarly data? You state your preference for scholarly data, but don’t back it up.

      For me, thought stimulants come from everywhere, not simply scholarly data. I didn't decide, yesterday, "I think I want to write about divorce and marriage" Rather, this particular article got me thinking. The blog is a place I can record such random thoughts before they are lost to other distractions. I may or may not follow up later.

      “Pop culture info graphics’ can take obscure data and make it available and interesting to people who would not normally see it. The main question is whether the data are good or not. If you wanted to contribute “to having a sane dialogue” you could have checked some of the data on the chart and confirmed it was good or alerted us that it wasn’t. There was a link to the source if you had read more carefully, by the way.

      See Part 2 below.

    2. Part 2

      JB, I really don’t know why you come to this blog since the only comments you tend to make are disparagingly negative that tend to chill discussion rather than enlighten it. I’ve tried to be tolerant because I see an intelligence and awareness that has something to add to the discussion. But that tolerance only lasts so long.

      I’m not asking you to agree with me or others, just that you are respectful when you disagree. You may challenge people’s ideas and explain why they’re problematic, but don’t disparage them personally or simply attack with putdowns and without backup.

      I know that you can write more civil comments, because when I’ve challenged you, you have. So, from now on, I’m going to challenge you to be more civil by simply deleting your comments if you aren’t.

      Does that make me a self-appointed arbiter of civility? Absolutely - on my own blog anyway.

  3. Seriously? You're not sure if my reference was to Loh or to you? I can read that four times and can't find a way to even infer that it might be a reference to you.

    Aside from that, let's not kid ourselves, Loh has no bona fides to be holding forth on anything but her own imagination. She's a performance artist, reporting and artificially enhancing her own musings about her own failures and foibles, that means it's crafted, yes, but not academically. She's not to be credited with reporting actual societal trends, she's dropping anecdotes, not reporting on peer reviewed affirmable data. It's noise in the machine. It's exactly as relevant as the hormonal jottings of teenage diarists everywhere, (and yes, if you cherry pick through any body of random thoughts there might be some shred of redeeming value able to be construed in some or other slight manner, ..that doesn't lend it any actual credibility.)

    In the very recent past you suggested that a barely sensate racist lunatic, aka Cliven Bundy, just might should be considered for hero status.

    Whether you intended or not, that attempt to lend credibility where no credibility was earned is damaging in the same way that intentional myth making is damaging to the dissemination of knowledge.

    I responded making reference to your responsibility as a media participant. Journalistic ethics aren't just for the other guy.

    I responded by saying lending any credibility to those who have no credibility is directly at odds with exploring what might be known.

    There was no response, I'm left wondering if you noticed a little late that Bundy was not worthy of your defense. Not sure, there was no response either way.

    Here you've juxtaposed Loh's contrived anecdotal personal musings against disparate info graphics assembled for no other reason but to be pleasing to the viewer. (I did check the source, and yes, I did check the source before responding) The data presented in the info graphic should not be taken as any kind of a definitive view, it's designed for eye-pleasing filler to fluff up the kind of reporting that USA Today churns out. It's page filler. Random assemblages of disparate raw data being what it is, it's much more likely to be giving people misinformation rather than actually informing them on actual knowledge which might be gleaned from the raw data.

    From your response I can see that I got my points across relatively well, my purpose was to discredit or unpack what was presented and it appears to have been successful.

    In response to the existence of disparaging comments, sometimes disparagement is appropriate. It's sometimes the only right and proper response.

    Is it uncivil of me to refer to a public performance artist as a chowderhead, to call Bundy a racist buffoon? Call me uncivil. I stand before you unrepentant. Maybe unrepentant isn't the correct word, because to be repentant one has to acknowledge wrongdoings.

    And in cases concerning the lending of credibility where none actually exists, discrediting the very notion is definitely not inappropriate.

    Exploring what can be known can be and is extremely valuable, choosing to cease exploring what can be known won't help anyone.

  4. I tire of your personal attacks as well, not your contrariness. Your defence above betrays your proposition, what you feel is your right to word-bomb the conversation.

    Very simply, your ugly remarks don't get along well with others. Defend them if you will; I've lost interest in your equally dangerous dismissiveness.

    Other readers, please?


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