What’s Wrong with Getting Married?

I just spent two full days on a road trip with my oldest daughter. We got along great most of the time. The only time we came close to arguing is when we were talking about people having children without getting married. She’s convinced that I’m critical of women who have children “out of wedlock.” Which is ludicrous because when she had her first child she didn’t marry the father and I have always supported her decision and even thought that she was wise to handle it that way. But that was mainly because she had no interest in being in a relationship with the baby’s father.

Now she’s pregnant with her second child, but this time she’s with the guy that she intends to marry—eventually. They’re (he is) apparently not ready yet, and that worries me. When is he going to be ready? Will he ever be ready? Or will he just be content with being involved with her without making that final commitment?

She said that her dad (my ex) has never said anything about them not being married. But she’s not exactly being fair to me. I’m not critical of them not getting married because I think it’s immoral or bad for society. I did say that I thought celebrities who don’t get married help to perpetrate the idea that marriage is an optional, even obsolete, institution and I don’t think it is. But I realize that you can be married without that sense of commitment and not married and have it. I hate that when celebrities get married—maybe when anyone gets married—people ask themselves, “I wonder how long it’ll last?” Instead of thinking, “Isn’t it wonderful that they want to spend their lives together?” How did we get so cynical about marriage?

It’s funny how gay people are fighting for the right to get married while straight people are eschewing it. I think marriage is important because of what it symbolizes: that you’re committed to one another and plan to make a life together. I know I tend to think that people who don’t get married aren’t willing to make that commitment and that’s not necessarily true. But if they are committed, why don’t they formalize that commitment and announce it to the world?

People blame marriage for causing bad relationships when it’s people who cause bad relationships. When a marriage fails, it’s not because the couple got married. It’s because people change. Or they realize that they don’t have what it takes to stay married to this person, which of course is something they should have realized long before they considered marrying him or her. But I don’t think it’s right to blame marriage per se for making people unhappy with each other. It’s not marriage that’s the problem; it’s that people see it differently than they used to.

Some people are against marriage because they’ve been burned before. My daughter’s boyfriend (intended? significant other?) is one of those people. He married once before and it was a disaster. But that’s obviously because he married the wrong person. Now he’s supposedly with the right person and he’s dragging his feet.

Part of my reaction is on behalf of my daughter. She deserves to be with someone who loves her so much he wants everyone to know that he’s totally committed to her. I tend to see marriage as “proof” that you can’t live without each other.

I guess part of my “problem” is that I’m almost 60 and “I just don’t understand” the younger generation. But I came of age in the era of free love and distrust of anything that smacked of the Establishment. Plus I’m a feminist. It could be that I’ve gotten more conservative in my old age. But I don’t think that’s all of it.

Marriage just seems like a logical step to take when you’re ready to make a life-long commitment to another person. If you’re not ready to do that, then for God’s sake, don’t get married. But even I’m not clueless enough not to realize that getting married doesn’t ensure that you’re going to stay together forever. And that getting married before you’re ready will almost guarantee that you won’t.

The fact that I’ve been married four times could mean that I really, really believe in the institution of marriage. Or it could mean that I just don’t learn from my mistakes. But the thing is, I don’t see a marriage that ends as a failure. I see it as a good try. At least I feel like mine have always been the result of my commitment to that particular person at that moment in time. The fact that my first three marriages didn’t last doesn’t mean that I failed at marriage. If anything, it means that t took me a while that it was okay to not be married.

In between my marriages, I actually enjoyed myself. By the time my third marriage ended, I had come to prefer my own company to that of a man I couldn’t completely count on when the going got tough. If I hadn’t found a man like that, I wouldn’t have married a fourth time.

The only negative I can see about marriage is that if it doesn’t work out between you and your spouse, you have to go through the legal machinery of getting a divorce. But anytime you’ve mingled your life with another’s you’re going to have entanglements that won’t be so easy to get out of. I’d rather risk having to get divorced if things go wrong than to not risk banking my entire life on another person.

Babies Before (Or Instead Of) Marriage: What’s Your Opinion?

Does it matter when Baby comes?

The just-released State of Our Unions report tells us that the percentage of kids born outside of marriage rose from 18% to 40% just since 1980. Not only that, but the number of kids whose parents are “just living together” rose from just under half a million to over 2.5 million during that same period. But that doesn’t mean that marriage is on its way out. The same report states that among high school seniors, 71% of boys and 82% of girls said that “having a good marriage and family life is extremely important” to them. But at the same time, over half also said “having a child without being married is experimenting with a worthwhile lifestyle or not affecting anyone else.” (Except for the child, of course.)

In data collected by The National Campaign, 47% of 18 to 24-year-olds say they expect to marry and have a baby with their current partner, but not necessarily in that order. Certainly, the example set by celebrities is that it’s almost the norm to have one or more children–or at least getting pregnant–before marrying (if they even marry at all).  Are young people today following the lead of those who are in the public eye, or are the celebrities merely mirroring the changing norms of society? Or is it a little of both?

It might sound like I’m disapproving. And I am, a little. I can understand an unplanned pregnancy precipitating a wedding. I can even accept a woman having a baby when she doesn’t have an ongoing relationship with the father. But if you’re going to get married anyway, why have your baby before the wedding? Wouldn’t you rather be husband and wife before you’re father and mother?

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Is “A Marriage Agreement” Still Needed?

The 50-50 Split?

In 1970 Alix Kates Shulman wrote an essay titled “A Marriage Agreement” and instantly became one of the voices of the burgeoning Women’s Liberation Movement. She was ten years into her second marriage when she came up with a set of rules that she and her husband agreed upon to make their relationship more equitable.  At the time the idea of sharing housekeeping and child rearing on a 50-50 basis “was so outrageous that the piece appeared in many magazines including New York, Ms., Redbook and Life, which gave it a six-page spread, and was attacked by Norman Mailer, S.I. Hayakawa, and Russell Baker, among others.” (p.163, Alix Kates Shulman, Women on Divorce .)

In the essay, Shulman wrote that “Before we made our agreement I had never been able to find the time to [write]. Over the past two years I’ve written three children’s books, a biography and a novel and edited a collection of writings. Without our agreement I would never have been able to do this.”

Ironically (or inevitably?), Shulman’s marriage ended after 25 years. Was it the 50-50 split that did it? There are those who would have us believe that Shulman’s feminist principles are what doomed her marriage. After all, before the feminist movement, women were happy unselfishly giving up their lives to take care of home and family. Weren’t they?

These days it is a given that women have the right to pursue their interests–as long as it doesn’t interfere with their responsibilities at home. This is what conservatives and traditionalists (read: “anti-feminists”) would have us believe. And yet most women, even if they don’t identify as feminists, know that they’re not being treated fairly. Why shouldn’t their husbands and boyfriends shoulder as much of the chores as they do? Why should women be the only ones who are blamed if the house isn’t a home and the children aren’t well-adjusted?

Even among couples who attempt to share the responsibilities of marriage equally, the housekeeping and child rearing rests more on the woman’s shoulders than it does on the man’s, even though both are out earning a living. Many young women have expressed their anger with Second Wave feminists’ assurances that a woman can have it all.  They’d be glad, they profess, to be back in the home full-time, if only to relieve the pressure of having to work and take care of the home and children anyway. Lisa Belkin called this the “Opt-Out Revolution” in a 2003 New York Times article of the same name. Apparently, young women who were groomed for careers are opting out to stay home with their children.

It’s not clear how much of a phenomenon this is. But what is clear is that something has got to give. These young mothers will find their opportunities limited when and if they return to the workforce. Their Social Security benefits will be less than their husbands’ because they didn’t work as much over their life spans. And that’s not even taking into account the talents that go unused when women eschew careers for home-making.

[Let me say here that there is nothing wrong with being a homemaker–unless the homemaker in question wants more out of life. If her partner really loves her, he (or she) should make it possible for her to explore all her options. No woman should have to take on more than her share of the household and familial duties.]

Shulman writes today:

“[“A Marriage Contract’s”] limited success is hardly surprising, given the economic, social, and psychological arrangements that continue to impede equality, in marriage and out…Probably not until the polity is more child- and woman-friendly, not until men and women are equally valued – economically and otherwise – not until free or low-cost quality childcare is universally available, will the ideal of equality in marriage be other than radical.” (Shulman’s complete remarks here.)

Does Feminism Cause Divorce?

I’ve never had a problem with marriage. In fact, I marry too easily.  If I’m in a serious and exclusive relationship and the guy wants to marry me, I concur. And so I find myself married once again.

[That’s not entirely true. I had to convince my first husband to marry me. But we were only 20 and now I can understand his reluctance. I should have been reluctant, too. But instead, I was pressuring him. I had just become a feminist the year before, but I didn’t then and still don’t think that being a feminist means you can’t be married.]

I’ve always married—or agreed to marry—rather precipitously. My first husband and I started dating in November and married the following July (much to my parents’ consternation—we didn’t inform them that we were getting married until two months before the wedding date). My second marriage occurred six months after my first divorce. I was single for four years after that, but only because my third husband wasn’t free to marry until then because of a protracted divorce. And my fourth, present and last husband and I had to wait three years for his fiance visa to come through.

Now that I reconsider, I have to admit that the man’s desire to marry might just have had a lot to do with my own openness to it. I never once said, “I’m not ready. Let’s wait a while.” The times when the marriages didn’t happen right away were because of outside forces, not my own reluctance. I’ve just never been cautious about getting married. And I have three divorces to show for it.

Continue reading “Does Feminism Cause Divorce?”

I Could Have Used Feminism…(Part Two)

Feminist Buttons 1968 - 1972

I could have used feminism…

  • when my first marriage ended in divorce and I was faced with raising four daughters alone.
  • when I moved back in with my parents instead of getting my own place.
  • when my ex got the child support reduced and I didn’t fight it.
  • when I thought that remarrying would solve all my problems.
  • when I decided against going back to school after my remarriage because I thought I didn’t need it.
  • when I took another shit job instead of trying to make it as a writer, which is what I really wanted to do.
  • when my new husband became abusive and I still didn’t get out of the marriage for another three years.
  • when I became a single mother again (even though this time we had our own home).
  • when the father of my kids stopped paying child support.
  • when I was sexually and psychologically harassed at work.
  • when I got pathologically dependent on a new boyfriend.
  • when I thought again that getting married would solve all my problems.
  • when I stayed in my toxic job even though the abuse continued (for a total of 16 years).
  • as my children matured and I needed to give them a role model.
  • when my parents died and I became the matriarch of the family.

The Breakdown of the Family

There are a lot of people who blame feminism for the breakdown of the family. They see feminists as essentially selfish people, who don’t care who they hurt in their quests to get what they want. They divorce their husbands, leave their children in the care of strangers and let ambition take over their lives. What critics of feminism won’t admit is that it is not just feminists who are doing these things. Any woman can be guilty of putting themselves before their families, as can any man.

familyRather, feminism is a corrective measure for what’s wrong with our society.

When a relationship is unhealthy or abusive, feminism gives a woman the courage to leave. When an employer is cheating female employees out of pay or benefits, feminism inspires them to speak up for themselves. When a woman has to support herself and her children, feminism looks out for her interests in the courts and the workplace. When young girls and women are trying to find themselves, feminism gives them models and mentors.

Emotional, physical and financial security do not contribute to the breakdown of the family.

What does?

The economy. It’s the rare family that can exist on one income. Most women go to work outside of the home at some point in their marriages. (And that’s not even counting the ones who have to work because of divorce or the death of their spouses.) Children get more expensive, college needs to be paid for, retirement plans need to be funded, health care costs rise.

Materialism. More families might be able to get by with less if they didn’t want so damn much. The rate at which technology is changing means that there is always some new improved products that consumers feel they just have to have. Many people overspend on houses, cars and vacations. Cable, cell phones and Internet access are seen as necessities.

The workplace. When the world became industrialized, women left their homes to work in sweatshops and mills. When WWII came along they went to work in the factories. Now the service industry is growing exponentially and women obviously have to work outside of the home when they have those kinds of jobs. Not only that, but the workplace usually makes it more difficult for a woman to fulfill her wifely and motherly duties because of inflexibility.

Divorce. I include divorce in this list, but the truth is, divorce doesn’t break down the family, it just creates different family formations. A single parent with children is a family. An adult child living with parents is a family. The only form of family that gets hit hard by divorce is the nuclear family. And it’s never been as prominent as people would like to believe. Parents used to have to send their children to relatives or children’s homes when they couldn’t afford to keep them. Now they at least try to maintain some kind of family unit. It just doesn’t look like some people want it to look.

The reason that feminism is blamed for the breakdown of the family is because women are blamed for the breakdown of the family. What about the man who abandons or doesn’t support his family? Is that feminism’s fault, too? Let’s put the blame where it really belongs and start looking to feminism for solutions.