Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Trend In Mendacity

     [Lately I’ve spent quite a lot of time musing over trends in relations between men and women. As I’d like to put the day to fiction, have a reprint. The following piece first appeared at Eternity Road on September 18, 2007. Beware, the embedded links might have decayed to uselessness. -- FWP]

     Your Curmudgeon is widely known in the Blogosphere for his Cro-Magnon perspective on human relationships; it's part of his charm. While he was aware that his is a minority viewpoint at this time, he didn't realize how far attitudes toward sex, love, and marriage have decayed until he saw this article, courtesy of the esteemed Dr. Helen Smith:

     You'd never buy a car without test-driving it first right? So why settle into a lifelong marriage before trying one on for size?

     "I'm just really not ready to be committed like this." That's what Andi said to Tucker, her husband of 11 months, after she came home from a crazy day at work two years ago with an overwhelming urge to quit her marriage. Today. Right now. "This just isn't for me."...

     "I was married for like, two seconds." That's what Andi says to me today, her enormous kohl-rimmed blue eyes crinkling as she recounts her drive-through union. "It was literally an entry-level marriage." We're sitting in a cafe in a funky Boston neighborhood known for its liberal attitudes and alternative lifestyles — this is where gay couples raise their children — and yet women are actually swiveling in their seats, doing indiscreet 180s to get a look at the impeccably coiffed, blonde-haired woman saying such things....

     Her own parents split up when she was 3, and she didn't want to condemn another generation to that hell. Andi and Tucker got divorced almost a year to the day after they had vowed to be together forever.

     "Oh, my God, it was so easy," she says, exhaling loudly. "I realized, I can get out of this, and he can get out of this, and we can get on with our lives.... It's true. I wouldn't have married him if I didn't think I could get out of it."

     For some, a starter husband is like a starter home — a semi-commitment where you're willing to do some of the surface work, like painting the walls, but not the heavy lifting, like gutting the whole foundation; he's just not a long-term investment. Others compare a starter husband to a first job, where you learn some skills and polish your resume before going after the position you really want....

     "Simply put, my 20s were freaking me out," says 29-year-old Elisa Albert, a wavy-haired brunette and adjunct assistant professor of creative writing at Columbia University. "I felt unqualified to be barreling into adulthood alone — I felt at loose ends in regards to my career, my ability to support myself, even my post-college social identity. I was lonely and scared. At the same time, I'm watching Sex and the City and going, OK, so should I spend the next 20 years getting my heart broken and pretending that it's all in good fun? Or should I marry this dude I'm dating, have a gorgeous party, and make my parents really, really happy?"

     It's easy to write these women off as callous or self-absorbed. And yet on some level, they just might be pioneers: Why stay put in an empty shell of a marriage — an arrangement on paper only — instead of calling it what it is?...

     "I think women our age are like, We're either going to fix this, or we're going to end it, and that's for the better," says Kay Moffett, coauthor of Not Your Mother's Divorce. She married her own starter husband in a funky, flamingo-filled Florida wedding at 27, then divorced him four years later after realizing she could never make the real commitment of having children with him. But don't call her divorce a failure; in this enlightened world, it was simply a relationship that ran its course. "I think maybe we're moving more toward a serial-marriage society — maybe you have three marriages in your life and several different careers. That's where I'm heading," she says.

     After reading that -- and you may rest assured that the excerpts above are faithful to the rest of the thing -- your Curmudgeon wanted to barricade the doors and never leave the house again. It's the sort of cheerful abrogation of decency that makes him yearn for Queen Victoria, top hats and whalebone stays. Or failing that, for a fortified mountaintop with broadband Internet service.

     "Starter husbands." "Starter wives." What can this mean? If you add water to a starter spouse, does he become a real one? Or are these cutesy phrases circumlocutions for starker realities: disposable husbands and wives?

     Easy, "no fault" divorce has radically changed the face of marriage in these United States. Divorce is now "either party at any time," without a need for cause or mutual consent. Perhaps there's no going back to the old legal regime, given that the covenant-marriage movement has attracted so little interest and a steadily expanding set of court cases has conferred virtually all the rights of a spouse upon a live-in lover. But there was still a chance that the good sense of ordinary men and women, cautious about their feelings, fortunes, and futures, reluctant to gamble their happiness on a dubious match or a questionable partner, might adequately curb what the law has decided to permit.

     What we see here is the normalization of infidelity. Not adultery, which is the usual referent for that term, but something a bit worse: young persons faithlessly contracting marriages, taking the vows while consciously unwilling to live by them. They're lying to their spouses, to the officiating clergyman or judge, and sometimes to themselves.

     Could there be a departure from sincerity more callous than undertaking a marriage while saying to oneself, "I don't have to follow through on this" or "this is just a tryout" -- ? Is it even possible that such a practice might not degrade the institution of marriage to a nullity?

     Conservatives have fretted over what same-sex marriage would do to the esteem of the institution. They were right to fear, but if the women described above are at all representative of the younger generation, same-sex marriage might just be a cherry on top of a slag heap.

     Marriage isn't an adventure or a form of recreation. It's about children, long-term planning, and striking roots into the soil of one's chosen locale. A community of any sort is always made up of families, never of individuals. The reason is the unique biological stability of the family, its ability to endure and prosper over time. A healthy community cannot accommodate the mobility and variability of unmated individuals, though it may tolerate an aliquot of singles as long as they don't disturb the public order. There are more single adults than ever before, and they have more latitude than any singles have ever had in the history of Western civilization. So far, we've withstood the perturbations to which they've subjected our communities...but can we withstand the removal of all presumptions of permanence from the institution of marriage?

     Be afraid. Be very afraid.

2 comments:

Bill Sheffield said...

Like the frog unaware of his impending doom in the slow heating pot, I had not pondered the extreme changes of the institution of marriage over the last fifty plus years. Pop culture and of course liberal politicians have been great enablers to this demise, but perhaps the biggest factor causing the attitude you described is the disregard of centuries old mores based on Biblical teachings. In my 70 years on this earth, I have noticed one word that is no longer fashionable .... sin.

Linda Fox said...

And, yet, the thinking is not new. Even in 1974, when I married, there was a day when my husband and I looked at each other, realized that we COULD leave, and made a commitment to stay.

We celebrated 44 years on January 12 this year.

It's been a long, slow slide to this point:
- First, divorce moving from an event that made you an outcast from society to - eh, just one of those things. The media was a major player in this acceptance, starting from the celebrity mags, and, eventually, to mainstream acceptance.
- Contraception acceptance - from use by the armed forces as a way of preventing VD from weakening troops, to use in marriages, to eventual acceptance, even glorification of, abortion.
- TV has been a major contributor, in the talk shows, "reality" shows, and insertion of propaganda into every sitcom. Ever pushing the envelope towards acceptance of deviant lifestyles.
- Have you ever thought about why there are so many awards shows? They can't be a profit-maker for the stations, so what is their use? How about using young women to walk around barely dressed, pushing acceptance of near-nudity in public places?

There used to be a difference between what was shown on TV and on cable subscription shows. As of today, I really can't see the distinction.

Funnily, one of the fastest growing group of channels is the Hallmark brand, which is known for offering shows with relative modesty in dress, speech, and actions. They just added Hallmark Drama. Their ratings are enviable.