The Case For Early Marriage

Here’s an interesting article from Christianity Today about “The Case For Early Marriage.”

Instead of the head-in-the-sand mentality of so many Christians about premarital intercourse, the author, Mark Regnerus, writes that “over 90 percent of American adults experience sexual intercourse before marrying. The percentage of evangelicals who do so is not much lower. In a nationally representative study of young adults, just under 80 percent of unmarried, church- going, conservative Protestants who are currently dating someone are having sex of some sort. I’m certainly not suggesting that they cannot abstain. I’m suggesting that in the domain of sex, most of them don’t and won’t.”

Regnerus makes the argument that because the first-time marital age has been pushed back and young people are having to wait longer and longer for sexual fulfillment (within marriage), maybe what Christians ought to be pushing is earlier marriages. With the divorce rate as high as it is, that sounds like a recipe for disaster, because the common wisdom is that the younger a couple is when they marry the more likely they are to divorce. But is that really true?

Perhaps the real problem is that we prolong a state of suspended adolescence far into a person’s twenties. We send out the message that you’re not old enough to do anything but go to school until you’re at least twenty-two and that you shouldn’t even think about marriage, let alone having children, until you’re in your mid-to-late twenties. When you consider that most people are sexually mature by the age of sixteen or even younger (that is, they are capable of reproduction), that seems like an awfully long time to expect them to wait to have, not only sex, but mature adult experiences like marriage, establishing a household, finding employment and having children.

I often say that I was too young when I married the first time. But was it my age (20) or the lack of maturity that led to my marital problems and subsequent divorce? I also started having children rather young (22), by today’s standards, and although I often felt overwhelmed by raising children, I don’t know that I would have felt any more prepared if I’d been 28 (which is when I had my last child). And I have to admit that it’s nice to have my children grown and gone by the time I was 45 (not that they’re ever really gone, but out of the house at least). And I’m thrilled that I will have so many years with my grandchildren.

There is no one way that is right for everyone and we all have different paths in life. But perhaps it’s worth considering if we are doing a young people a disservice by keeping them in a state of dependence for as long as we do. It might be that the real problem is that we’re not teaching them how to grow up and shoulder the responsibilities of adulthood. Instead they play at being adults by entering into adult-like situations without a real sense of being responsible for them.

I’m not saying I think that anyone who wants to have sex should get married first, or married at all. What I am questioning is the mentality that says that you can put off the serious things in life as long as you want to.  Not everyone is ready for the same things at the same time, but we could do a better job of making young adults ready for marriage at any age.

Held to the Same Standards

Martina NavratilovaReuters/Mihai Barbu

In the past week, Martina Navratilova has been sued by a former lover, Toni Layton, for millions of dollars in damages and spousal support. Navratilova’s defense hinges on whether or not she can convince the court that her and Layton’s relationship isn’t bound by the same standards as heterosexual marriage.

Layton and Navratilova were never legally married (they did “marry” in an unofficial ceremony in New Hampshire, but then moved to Florida which does not recognize same-sex unions) but they did live together for eight years and shared assets and property. If this had been a legal marriage, there is no question that Layton would be awarded some of those assets and quite possibly spousal support as well.

One reason why I think gay marriage will eventually become legal is so that gay relationships can be held to the same standards as heterosexual ones. Divorces can be as messy as lawsuits but they don’t usually involve the collection of damages.  As it stands now, both parties are vulnerable and neither is protected. As long as the law has different standards for same-sex relationships, these cases will inevitably be settled haphazardly. The legal system doesn’t take kindly to such inconsistencies.

The same sort of dynamic is present in custody suits between same-sex parents. (See my post, “[intlink id=”custody-fights-between-lesbian-partners” type=”post”]Custody Fights Between Lesbian Parents[/intlink].”) Just by being required to handle such cases, the courts are falling back on the marriage model to help them decide their outcomes. And the more often this happens the more likely it is that legal precedent will pave the way for gay marriage, if only to keep things tidy.

Louis Bayard of Salon.com writes that ” Martina Navratilova can no longer cast herself as an apostle for gay rights while using a homophobic legal code to deny her ex-partners alimony [Yes, this has happened before–see article link at top of post]. This is more than bad behavior, it is bad precedent.”  Layton herself is quoted as saying, “‘If I was a man, married or not, I’d be entitled to half of everything that she earned during those years together. But because I’m a woman, it seems, rather conveniently, she believes I’m entitled to next to nothing.”

Navratilova–and the rest of the gay community–needs to wake up: if they continue to press for equal rights (and I am totally behind their doing so) then they better prepare themselves for the equal responsibilities as well.

Public Divorces

Kudos to Veronica Lario, wife of Italy’s Premier Silvio Berlusconi, for filing for divorce from the scoundrel. I don’t personally know the man–and couldn’t converse with him if I did–but I’ve read enough about him in the news (as reported by Salon’s Broadsheet blog) to form an opinion. “Scoundrel” was the mildest term I could think of.

Berlusconi is fond of extramarital flirting and his wife and mother of his children is tired of it. (It’s not clear how far the flirting goes.) They have taken their disagreements public, shooting off salvos to each other in the press. There is obviously no love lost between them and no respect either. My question is: why didn’t she file for divorce sooner?

Another divorce in the works is that of Sean Penn and his wife, Robin Wright Penn. She was sitting with him at the Academy Awards, but when he won for Best Actor (for playing Harvey Milk in “Milk”), he made a glaring omission in his acceptance speech: he didn’t thank her or acknowledge her in any way. What a slap in the face. Anyway, a little over two months later he files for divorce.

Continue reading “Public Divorces”

25 Things I’ve Learned About Marriage (and Divorce)

  1. Don’t feel like you have to get married.
  2. Don’t get married when you’re 20–or younger. There’s a reason why the onset of adulthood is considered to be 21.
  3. Like your spouse as much as–or more than– you love him.
  4. Be trained for some kind of well-paying career so that you have that to fall back on in case of divorce or the death of your spouse.
  5. Become comfortable with your own sexuality. Seek mutual satisfaction. You’ll become resentful if it doesn’t go both ways. Then you won’t want to make love and your sex life will suffer.
  6. Realize that sex can grease the wheels but it doesn’t run the engine.
  7. Don’t let your spouse control your marriage, your finances, your social life, your sexuality, how you practice your religion, what you say, what you wear and how you raise your children (if you’re in a blended family). And don’t try to control the same things for your spouse.
  8. Don’t let resentments build up. Don’t be afraid to air them out.
  9. Share all financial information and financial decision-making.
  10. Each spouse needs some kind of life insurance when there are significant liabilities (like a house or children). This is even if you’re a stay-at-home-mom, because your husband will need help raising the kids.
  11. Have some interests in common, but make sure you have your own as well.
  12. Take time for yourself and grant him the same.
  13. Don’t push each other into roles. Look for new ways to make your marriage work.
  14. Listen to the counsel of others but don’t let them talk you into feeling things that you don’t feel.
  15. Allow each other to have feelings and thoughts of his or her own. Don’t force the issue if there are things they want to keep to themselves. It probably has nothing to do with you.
  16. When and if things do start going bad, talk about it. Make it clear how unhappy you are.
  17. Don’t jump at the idea of divorce, but don’t be afraid of it either. You can get through it.
  18. Seek counseling but make sure you’re open to reconciliation or it’s pointless.
  19. Compromise as much as possible in the divorce. Bad feelings can last forever, especially if there are children.
  20. Once you’re divorced, try to stay out of court if possible.
  21. Fight for your children if necessary. Get child support but don’t expect the court system to solve all your problems. You need to be able to support your children without it.
  22. Expect your spouse to resent having to pay child support.
  23. Don’t deny visitation. Your children need to have a relationship with their other parent no matter what.
  24. Try to maintain ties with his side of the family if there are children. They need their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, too.
  25. Get on with your life, but don’t regret the past. It will always be a part of you.

More About Me

Even though I was raised by a strong woman, I still absorbed the messages of a pre-Women’s Liberation society. I married at the age of 20, dropped out of college, had four children by the time I was 28 and was totally a stay-at-home mom. The seed of feminism was planted while I was in college, but it wasn’t until my divorce at the age of 29 that I began to really see what it meant to be a woman in this society. I’ve been a feminist ever since.

After my first divorce, I remarried too soon because I was afraid I couldn’t raise my children alone. That marriage also ended in divorce. By that time I was working for the Postal Service, which made it possible for me to become a single mother, even though I still had to spend an insane amount of money on child care. When I was 38, I married again, but never quit working.

I continued to see first hand how women are treated in the workplace (even in a relatively egalitarian workplace like the Post Office–thanks to the union). But I ran into insurmountable issues having to do with being a blended family (as I had in my second marriage) and after ten years that marriage also ended in divorce.

I have four daughters who are all strong women in their own right. That’s what feminism means to me: being a strong woman with a highly-developed sense of your own self-worth. (Can you be strong without that?) They may not all identify themselves as feminists, but they are in practice as well as attitude.

I am now retired from the Post Office and writing full-time. I was fortunate enough to finally find the right man for me–also a feminist whether or not he identifies himself as such–and have been married to him for seven years (and known him for twelve). I spend most of my time writing posts for my blogs journaling, writing essays and reading (see my account on Good Reads), studying German and spending time with my grandson (which has been a totally new experience for me!).

A few other things about me:

I love learning about other religions. I am a Christian but am now on an Islamic “kick.” (I work with several Muslims.)

I have two cats, Buttons and Princess Mimi, and am still getting over the loss of Tipper (our dog) and Fanny (our eight-and-a-half year-old seven-inch gold fish!).

I moved into the inner city after my last divorce and live in a diverse neighborhood in a cute little 94-year-old house.

I went back to college at the age of 51 and finally earned my bachelor’s (in history).

I struggle constantly with clinical depression, anxiety and ADD.

And I am a Democrat who started out being for Hillary but finally came around and got behind Obama. I admit I cried on Election Night.

I’m excited about what this year is going to bring for me personally and what Obama is going to mean for us as a nation.

If you want to know more about me, read my blogs!

Custody Fights Between Lesbian Partners

I live in Ohio and I’m proud to say that although Ohio is basically anti-gay in its laws and legal precedents, the Ohio Supreme Court recently upheld a custody agreement between two lesbian mothers.

Now the court is considering another case between lesbian partners. Both cases involve long-term relationships in which children were born and raised and in which equal parenting agreements had been written and agreed to by both parents. Then the couple breaks up and the birth mother suddenly decides that her child(ren) would be hurt by another mother hanging around, even though that is what the boy(s) were used to and had come to depend on.

A recent issue (December 15, 2008) of Newsweek Magazine ran a story about a similar case–not in Ohio–with a twist: the birth mother has become a “born-again” Christian and no longer identifies herself as a lesbian. So she adds religious convictions to her argument. (For a view of the other side, read this Christian-oriented article and interview with the biological mother.)

These are just a few of the cases that are popping up all over the country. At stake are the children’s rights to have continued contact with both persons they have always identified as their parents. It is interesting that even in states that have anti-gay marriage amendments, many courts are upholding any previous parenting agreements made by the two parties. Even though you could argue that the non-biological mother’s case is weak because she never legally adopted the child(ren).

In a society where familial bonds are weaker than ever, it is always sad whenever sole custody along with the ability to restrict visitation is granted to one party. This is as true in heterosexual relationships as in homosexual ones. Over the past couple of decades, heterosexual couples are being forced into joint custody agreements, which many mothers have fought, believing that it is in the best interests of the children to only have one “home” and one primary parent (namely, the mother). This is as unfair to fathers as it is to the lesbian non-biological mothers in the lesbian relationships.

I should say here that I was one of the mothers who had sole custody and who would have been terribly upset if the judge had granted my ex joint custody. But I would have gotten over it, just as I got over the times when he had them for holidays and vacations. I think our children would have adjusted as well. (I still think that it’s better for one parent to have primary custody so that the child can always go to the same school. But when the father lives in the same school district, this argument loses its validity.)

It is not just the rights of the children that we are talking about, after all. We are also talking about the rights of both parents to continue to play a role in their children’s lives. I believe that a child’s life is richer when he or she has access to both parents. There were times when I resented the time my children spent with their father, but I knew that they would be better off if they had a close relationship with him as well as with me. As they’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see that I was right. He fills in the blanks I can’t fill.

When visitation is restricted or even forbidden it as if the court is saying that the child only needs a certain amount of love in her or his life. In my experience, children need all the love they can get. As do we all.