It’s not really something I expected to be talking about but the topic keeps coming up: what is marriage going to look like in 10, 20, 50 years? I tend to think about things both as they happen and afterwards, mulling on how events transpired, what I could have done differently to change or improve the outcome and how I could have reacted or framed things in a better, more positive or even just more lighthearted manner. I’m the opposite of a “live in the moment” sort of person, I guess, where I believe our past is a book to study so we can learn how to be better not just today but tomorrow too.
The geek in me wants to call this successive behavioral refinement, but I’ll try to switch back to the main topic…
It’s no surprise that having survived the painful journey of divorce and the equally painful, albeit rather different post-divorce journey of single parenting, with its ups and, for sure, downs, I have also spent a lot of time looking at how things have played out in the last 6-7 years with me, with my ex and with my children. Add to that the dozens of men and women I’ve talked with at length about their own relationships, problems they face and, often, their own experiences with deciding to divorce, divorcing and the post-divorce recovery period.
It really kinda is a jungle out there, a very difficult moment in our cultural history to get and stay happily married.
I’ve come to believe that the institution of marriage is on its way to eventual extinction. There’s no way to be gentle about it. As more women are empowered to find their own happiness, part of that mojo has produced a culture where more than 50% of divorces are initiated by the wife, and where over half of all marriages end up in divorce. Look at second or third marriages and the chances of success are even smaller. And us guys aren’t blameless either: we want it all, now, and expect our wives to grow younger and more vivacious over time, not the opposite.
This has a profound impact on us adults, of course, but even more so on our children. Mixed families are becoming the norm – if they haven’t already become the norm – and half-brothers, step-sisters, same-mom-different-dads and vice-versa are the trend of the future, whether we like it or not. Go to a typical high school class and survey the children: My 17yo daughter estimated that over 75% of the kids in her 10th grade class last year were in non-traditional situations, whether it was because the Dad had vanished, the Dad was raising the child single-handedly, because they lived in a split two-household world and swapped back and forth (like mine), or because one of the spouses lived elsewhere.
Truth be told, I find this really depressing.
When my 17yo says “I don’t think I’m ever going to get married”, I find that a sad statement. We’re social beings and there’s nothing more joyous and satisfying than being in a close relationship with someone who fulfills your needs and fills your heart. And that’s never going to change.
The problem is making it “last a lifetime” rather than the more common approach which now seems to no longer be “until death do us part” but “until an argument or major hassle do us part”. Heck, my ex and I wrote our own vows when we got married and she insisted on us removing that particular phrase. I would have been fine with an exchange of traditional vows. Retrospectively I can only now say “Hmmm…”
Imagine a new definition of marriage being “ten years and we’ll try to have a child or two” and it starts to fit demographic trends far better than the death do us part, thick or thin, sickness or health, we’re now stuck with each other forever honey, sort of fantasy that I think we still all hope to find. Problem is, that lifetime partnership where you stay together even as you grow sometimes closer together, sometimes further apart, might just be a thing of the past for our children. Or their children.
And then what are families going to look like, and what’s the experience of being a child and having siblings going to be?