About 50% of first marriages for men under age 45 may end in divorce, and between 44 and 52% of women’s first marriages may end in divorce for these age groups.
Rose M. Kreider and Jason M. Fields, “Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 1996″, U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Reports, February 2002, p. 18.
What do these numbers tell us?
My interpretation is that marriage is no longer the rock-solid and unyielding sacrament it was invented to be. Yes – invented. Holy matrimony and monogamy, for that matter, are human creations that made a lot a sense in a brutish and nasty world, where one faced a myriad of enemies and hardships. However, that was a totally different time: in 1900 the average lifespan was 47 years; in 2000 it is 77. In the past, many men lost their wives to childbirth and getting remarried was very common. Fortunately, short life and perilous delivery are no longer the norm. So, are we unreasonable in expecting monogamy to work for all of us, all the way through our long life?
Does monogamy work? Statistics show that Americans, at least, are not very good at it, and the divorce rate wavers around 50% (just compare it with Japan’s 2% divorce rate).
We can ask: “Why are so many people getting divorced?” We can also ask: “Why are people getting married in the first place?” I am not trying to disacknowledge the institution of marriage, but I am afraid many people have unrealistic expectations, or simply get married because it is the norm. Just like so many other things, getting married and having children is what is expected of you, at one point in your life. If one enjoys a ‘single life’ for ‘too long’, or relishes polygamy, people start asking, ‘What’s wrong with you? When are you gonna come to your senses and settle down?’ Well, maybe it is worth considering not everyone is the marrying kind. Marriage and monogamy certainly work for many, but not all people. The sooner we realize this, the better. In our western society, getting married is still a very sensible practice (tax benefits for marriage, joined savings accounts and so on), but it makes no sense whatsoever if it doesn’t involve an exclusive, committed relationship. Yet, some people manage to save their marriage while being engaged in polyamory or swinging. Still, it is very rare, because this peculiar lifestyle cannot be stomached by all. The alternative for those who cannot abide monogamy, but do get married, is cheating and/or divorce. Hence, the 50% divorce rate and we are still asking: “Why are people getting married in the first place?”
Another problem for marriage, monogamy and relationships in general is the unrealistic portrayal of romance in the media. Many people are enthralled with the myth that they are going to meet one special person (or maybe a soul-mate) who is going to share their dreams and ideals, and satisfy them on every level (emotional, intellectual, sexual). It would be wonderful if you meet this truly special someone, but, realistically, isn’t this too much to ask from one person? Is it really plausible to expect your spouse or partner to be your best friend, your fervent supporter, to share your hobbies, interests and goals, but also to be gorgeous and, umm of course, the best sex you’ve ever had?
Wild and passionate love that conquers all is commonplace in Hollywood. The message in most movies is that romance, passion, love and happiness are the key components to a relationship. Commitment, friendship, cooperation and forgiveness sink in the background.
Many, I’m afraid, begin to believe that romance and passion are supposed to rule and define a relationship. However, when you are caught up in a stressful routine, overwhelmed with duties and worries, there is very little room left for romance. All of a sudden, your heart is not racing when you see your significant other. All of a sudden, you don’t wish to cuddle until noon on Saturday. At this point many people grow worried that the love is dying, because the passion and romance are gone. Many people think that it is probably time to move on – the marriage is not working. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of passion and romance, but it is fallacious to expect them to last very long, they are just the ephemeral joys of young love. They might be what brought two people together, but are not what will keep them together. Naturally, over time, your significant other is no longer new, exotic and unfamiliar and you cannot expect your hearts to race every time you see each other. You have adapted. It is not necessarily a herald for dying love or a failing relationship. It is evidence that we are creatures who adapt to their surroundings. The contrary would be unhealthy.
We have become love junkies with serious commitment problems. This is not surprising, considering we are a consumerist society that is used to satisfying its every craving. Leased cars are only good until the next model is available. Presents come with gift receipts. Goods can be returned, or exchanged. You can enjoy a free trial of most games, programs, services, massage chairs, mattresses and most other products. Imperfectly, there is no free trial in marriage. There are no guarantees, or your money back. No option for return, or exchange and nothing is risk free. On the contrary, you have a lot to risk and a lot to compromise. Have we lost grasp of these concepts? The overabundance of products makes us capricious and easily bored, and explains our commitment issues.
Does monogamy work? Does marriage work?
Don’t expect to find a single right answer, just keep an open mind and , possibly, understand that one lifestyle is not for all.