Dear Anthony D’Ambrosio,
I usually don’t say “I’m sorry” when I hear someone tell me he or she’s newly divorced — often, it’s a happier, healthier outcome — but in your case, I’m truly sorry. You seem a tad nostalgic.
The way you put it, marriage is “a pretty simple concept — fall in love and share your life together. Our great grandparents did it, our grandparents followed suit, and for many of us, our parents did it as well.”
Not so fast. In your grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ time, divorce was fault-based and really hard to get, marriage was a duty and women had few options to support themselves. So, they really had no other choice but to stay together. And while it’s nice that you compliment your family on their long marriages, at your age, 29, your parents are no doubt baby boomers, and the divorce rate for people in their 50s, 60s and older — the so-called gray divorces — is growing, fast. Before you go romanticizing marriages “back then,” let’s not forget that their expectations from marriage were a lot different than ours are now; your great-grandparents and grandparents didn’t marry a soul mate or look for The One. Your grandmother married a good provider and your grandfather married a good homemaker. That’s about it.
“Our generation isn’t equipped to handle marriages” you say, based on — what? You don’t cite any studies or research to back up your statements, just your observations, but let’s examine a few of your reasons anyway.
You lament the demise of sex. After the crazy can’t-keep-my-hands-off-of-you way most couples begin a relationship wears of — and it does, pretty regularly, in about the second year — couples are faced with a dilemma, now what? Thus the constant advice for couples to spice up things, learn new positions, buy new toys, etc. While all of that is fine, the bigger issue no one talks about is monogamy — did you and your former wife willingly choose it, or did you endure it? Monogamy is a choice and, let’s face it — with infidelity rates between 20 percent and 70 percent, it’s clear many of us don’t do monogamy well. Every couple needs to have have conversations about it, as well as have matched expectations about sexual needs and desires.
Same with money. You are right — many millennials are having a hard time chasing the American dream. But since money is one of the issues couples fight about the most, talking about it can’t be ignored. Marriage tax laws encourage specialization, with breadwinning and caregiving roles, even though most couples nowadays want an equal partnership. No one’s going to get that unless they create a marital plan together that addresses finances — how much do we save, what are our long-term goals, who contributes what, etc. Why does that matter? Because, as you now know as a divorced man, the state already has such a plan for divorcing couples — a default prenup, if you will. Why not create your own?
You are astute in observing that marriage doesn’t work for many people, as you are among the “many people today that have failed at marriage.”
And, that’s the problem right there — it’s actually the institution of marriage that has failed you. The traditional marriage model we have was set up at a time when marriage was about protecting wealth and property and forging alliances. Its roots are in coverture, making women their husband’s property. Thankfully, no one marries like that any more — we marry for love (which has made the whole institution unstable) and companionship.
We need new marital models that support us in what we want from marriage now, when marriage is one option of many. And we need different ways to measure a marriage’s success than just longevity. You yourself mention the couples that “stay in their relationships, miserably, and live completely phony lives.” Are those marriages a success just because they’re still intact? But, if they divorce, they have a “failed marriage;” it’s a shame-based institution.
Here’s what research indicates: When couples have matched expectations, they have happier, more fulfilling marriages.
“I am a believer in true love and building a beautiful life with someone,” you say. l believe you, and I truly hope you find that special someone one day. But Anthony, you don’t you want to just build “a beautiful life” — you want to build a specific kind of life, one that sets up you and your new wife for success by your definition of success, no one else’s.
You’re not going to find that in traditional marriage, but you’re free to individualize your own marriage — one that’s text- and social-media proof. Oh, and I’ll bet you’ll have all the sex you want, too.
A version of this story appeared on Vicki Larson’s personal blog, OMG Chronicles. Interested in creating a specific kind of marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
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