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Oprah Winfrey is one of the most famous, richest and powerful women in the world — she recently interviewed Matthew Sandusky, Jerry Sandusky’s adopted son and launched her own tea, Tevana, with Starbucks — and beloved by many. And yet even she isn’t free from having to defend her choices. Oprah is unmarried, although she has had a steady partner for 28 years. But because she has chosen to remain unmarried, some wonder — is she or isn’t she gay? Oprah Winfrey unmarried

Here’s how the media handled a yacht cruise of the Virgin Islands Oprah took her BFF of 38 years, Gayle King, on this past March:

Not seen with Oprah and Gayle was the legendary talk show host’s partner of 28 years, Stedman Graham. The Oscar-nominated diva and her 59-year-old gal pal are practically inseparable, which has led to persistent gay rumours. “I am not lesbian. I am not even kind of lesbian,” The Butler star told Barbara Walters on ABC News in 2010.

And that’s how society treats people who chose to couple outside the one-size-fits-all marital box we’ve been led to believe is the only way to live — get married and live together. If you don’t chose that path, well, you must be gay. Think how tiring it must be say, “I’m not lesbian,” over and over again (as if being a lesbian was a bad thing). And think how tiring it must be to explain why — at age 60 — you still aren’t married!!!!

It’s what Susan Pease Gadoua, my co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, was constantly asked until she — finally!!!! — wed at age 43. What’s wrong with you, everyone wondered. And it’s what the 52-year-old George Clooney has had to face until he — finally!!!! — got engaged a few months ago (never mind that he’s been married before).

But Oprah is smart enough to realize that marriage would change what she and Stedman have, and not necessarily for the better:

(H)e’s a traditional man and this is a very untraditional relationship. I think it’s acceptable as a relationship, but if I had the title ‘wife,’ hmmmm. I think there would be some other expectations of what a wife is and what a wife does. First of all you gotta come home sometimes.

Yep, being a “wife” comes with all sorts of expectations and restrictions, and that’s why couples have a “his” and “hers” marriage. Not to say that there aren’t expectations and restrictions for husbands; after all, we still expect men to be the provider even though there are more two-income families and bread-winning wives. But many women tend to lose their sense of identity in a marriage (aren’t we the ones who are often expected to change our last name?), and it’s clear from Oprah’s statement that “you gotta come home sometimes” she just isn’t willing to give up her freedom or identity that way. (That’s why in The New I Do, we acknowledge the fact that some people desire freedom while still wanting long-term commitment and companionship, and offer a marital model that provides both.)

But rather than see Oprah’s arrangement as “wrong” or “odd,” we should applaud the fact that she understands that being a “wife” would limit her ability to be the best Oprah she can be (and who knows how that would have impacted all that she’s created and given us?). She also values friendship, which often “delivers what love promises but fails to provide.Most of all, she doesn’t look to her partner and lover to provide all her emotional needs; her BFF and all the experts she befriends and supports help her with that. Isn’t that a healthier way to approach a relationship than the soul-mate model, which puts way too many expectations and burdens on another person?

Oprah has become a success on her own terms, which may have been harder to do if she had to add “wife” to all her other titles. Isn’t it time people stop worrying about the fact that she’s unmarried? And isn’t it time all of us consider more deeply how being a “wife” or a “husband” would impact the best “you” you offer the world?

Want to keep up with The New I Do? Pre-order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!

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Maybe it’s my age, but when I hear the phrase “on the radio” it’s kind of hard not to break out into Donna Summer’s “On the Radio” (where we you in 1979?)

So,  Susan and I were on Canadian radio last week (thank you for the love, Canada!) and I thought I’d share the conversations in case you missed them. Have a listen and let me know your thoughts.

First we chatted about The New I Do with Bill Good, host of the popular Bill Good Show on CKNW Newstalk 980 in Vancouver, B.C.:

Then we spoke with Andrew Grose on the Tencer and Grose show on 630 CHED in Edmonton, Canada:

And, because I can’t resist ….

Here’s how most of us who are thinking about leaving our marriage imagine divorce will be like: We’ve had it with our partner (or perhaps he’s decided the same about us and casts us aside, but let’s just say we’re the ones who want out and let’s say we’re the woman because women ask for divorce two-thirds of the time). We think — finally, freedom!

Now we no longer have to feel the brunt of his anger and criticism; we can stop nagging about how he doesn’t pull his weight around the house; we won’t have to fake being in the mood when we’re not, we get to do and eat and watch whatever we want whenever we want to, and we don’t have to bicker anymore over whose turn it is to bathe the kids or whether they can have ice cream for dessert if they didn’t finish everything on their dinner plate.

Not so fast!   Co-parenting

Maybe that was what divorce was like back in the day when moms were almost always awarded full custody and dads could “visit” their kids. But those days are rapidly disappearing.

Most divorced people learn relatively quickly that although they’re no longer married and living together, they still have to deal with their spouse in their continuing role as their kids’ mom or dad. He or she still has a say, and can nix our plans to move away for a new job or a new love. Divorce is no longer the end of a relationship; it’s a “restructuring of a continuing relationship.”

Which has made some of us as miserable divorced as we were in our marriage.

“People in unhappy marriages do not look to divorce as a way to restructure the relationship with their partners. They look to divorce to end that relationships, to set them free to start a new life, perhaps to move to a new location and to form new relationships,” says University of Sydney law professor Patrick Parkinson in Family Law and the Indissolubility of Parenthood.

But, not if you have kids. As Parkinson notes, “The experience of the last forty years has shown that whereas marriage may be freely dissoluble, parenthood is not.”

So, rather than make divorce harder (or marriage harder), why not rethink parenting? Why not restructure the “continuing relationship”?

That’s what Susan Pease Gadoua and I are suggesting in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. And that’s what Rachel Hope has done.

I admit that when I first heard about the single mom of two and how she became a mother, I had a hard time wrapping my head around her choices. The LA real estate developer and author of Family By Choice: Platonic Partnered Parenting, realized when she was 18 that she didn’t want to spend a lot of time looking for a soul mate; she just wanted to have a kid. So she and a good friend, who wanted a child as well, had a son together and co-parented him until adulthood. It worked so well, she had another child many years later with another friend. Now she’s looking to have another.

This is what same-sex couples, who have been fighting for the right to marry, have been doing all along.

In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of websites like Modamily, which connect singles who want to have a child together but that’s it; they are not necessarily lovers or even housemates. They just co-parent.

What works well? Hope’s children had two loving, supportive, stable parents and they were raised in a home with no conflict. And as study after study has confirmed, parental conflict — whether in an intact home or divorced home — is damaging to children.

OK, Hope is unmarried — happily. Can you offer the same love, support and stability to children and be married? Yes — a Parenting Marriage is a model we offer in The New I Do. What does that mean? It means you marry the best person to help you co-parent your children — not your soul mate, not The One, not the person who is going to complete you. You marry someone with the same values and goals about parenting and children, and who is as hand-on dedicated to being the best parent he or she can be. If you want to give your children the love, support and stability they need to thrive, marrying for love is not the way to go. All you have to do is look at the high divorce rate to know that’s true.

Children do not need their parents to love each other. But they absolutely need their parents to not fight with each other. As child psychologist Naeema Jiwani, says, “Compared with conventional parenting where the mother and father have to constantly be ‘in love’ in front of their child, co-parenting doesn’t include the ‘strain’ of marriage.’”

And, as we point out in our book, you can restructure the marriage you are already into a Parenting Marriage. We’ve spoken to couples who have done that, and done it well.

Maybe your head is spinning the way mine was when I first heard about Hope. That’s OK; it’s hard to challenge what has gone unquestioned for centuries (in the Western world, anyway). But please reflect on your own experience of parenting, and those of friends and family, and ask yourself would a co-parenting arrangement have been a healthier, happier way to go.

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parking structure arrowsHere’s the odd thing about being a blogger; you reveal a lot about your self but you don’t know much about the people who read you (although you can a learn a lot sometimes by how a person responds to a post in his or her comment). So, after three years give or take of writing this blog, it’s time for me to get to know you — my readers — a little better.

Why? Don’t worry; it’s not because I’m going to use it for marketing or advertising. No, I just want to see who my writing speaks to and what your interests might be. And, here’s the best part — you can tell me anonymously.

So, no post today (although I’ll get to one later this week); just a desire to get to know you.

I’ve also, finally, added a page for The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, which you can —yay! — pre-order (pub date is Sept. 28, 2014). Please check the page for our launch event and other readings and signings, and please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and stop by our website for more information about the book, full calendar and our blog.

 

Do you owe your spouse sex? If you stop having sex with your spouse, is he or she justified in having an affair? And isn’t the denial of sex just as much as a betrayal as infidelity?

These were some questions raised in a few interesting blog posts, some as responses to reader comments, on Psychology Today. While there’s all sorts of discussions about marital sex or lack of sex, philosophy professor Mark D. White says, we rarely, if ever talk, about the ethics of a spouse refusing to have sex with the other for years. Is denying sex a betrayal?

Because we see sex as something that must be consented to, we are loathe to say a husband or wife “owes” the other sex, yet I imagine few people don’t want and expect a healthy sex life when they say “I do.” In the work Susan Pease Gadoua and I did for The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, we asked soon-to-be-married couples to check off all the reasons why they’re getting married. Often they list the same reasons, but one time the guy checked off “to have sex” as one of the reasons he wanted to get married.

When he read his reasons out loud and “sex” rolled off his lips, the look on his fiancee’s face was priceless.

“You want to marry for sex?” she asked, somewhat horrified.

He immediately got sheepish as he defended himself: “Well, they asked us to check off all the reasons, so, um, yeah …”

So, yes, people marry with an expectation of sex, but few people talk about how they will handle things if one or the other loses interest in sex especially since that happens more frequently than not.

Does an absence of sex in a relationship justify adultery, the good philosopher asks. No, he decides:

Whatever insufficient sex means to any particular person—even if that can be considered a betrayal of his or her partner’s obligation—the fact remains that adultery just makes it worse. (“Two wrongs” and all.) In addition, adultery brings a third person into what is a problem between two, which may only aggravate whatever problem led to the breakdown in sex in the relationship in the first place.

I am certainly not promoting affairs as a way to deal with sexlessness in a marriage, but I do wonder about the many other ways spouses betray each other beyond just affairs or denying the other sex. Spouses can treat each other horribly, and yet we only get in a tizzy when one or the other cheats. Why is sexual fidelity considered the No. 1 marker of a good relationship?

As Mating in Captivity author Esther Perel so beautifully puts it:

I have a lot of people who come to my office who think that they are the virtuous people because they haven’t cheated. They have just been neglectful, indifferent, contemptuous, asexual, demeaning, insulting, but they haven’t cheated. But betrayal comes in many forms. Betrayal is a breach, the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence. While it is always involved in an affair, in most cases it isn’t the motive of the affair. An affair may be about completely different things but it implies betrayal.

Being “neglectful, indifferent, contemptuous, asexual, demeaning, insulting” is not loving behavior and is often as — and sometimes more — damaging as physical abuse (and there are some who argue that infidelity is abuse). And yet, there is no great societal outcry over ending those sorts of behaviors, just societal shaming and blaming of often-long-suffering spouses who cheat.

What do you think?
Want to keep up with The New I Do? Pre-order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!

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I have to admit that when this Google “divorce” alert came into my email inbox, I kinda smiled: “Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin ‘consciously re-coupling’ as they cool divorce plans.”

I don’t know why I smiled; I’m actually a bit horrified that I did. I know divorce isn’t always horrible, especially if you can consciously uncouple (whether you have kids or not); I don’t believe that marriages must last forever to be happy, healthy and successful; and I certainly don’t know Gwyneth or Chris and the circumstances of their partnership and desire to end it.    Family court and divorce

Yet, I smiled. A part of it has to do with the silly romantic notion (and cultural approval) of the idea that love can and must last forever. I believe it sometimes can and I also believe it sometimes does, but I also don’t think it’s terrible if it doesn’t and the couple splits with kindness and compassion toward each other and themselves — which is what I have learned about conscious uncoupling only recently, thanks to Gwen and Chris, even though I had divorced many years prior with similar thoughts and actions. And I am also cognizant that they are parents to two young children, Apple, 9, and Moses, 7 — most of us have feelings about divorce when the couple’s children are so young.

And that’s a theme I keep coming back to; few people, if any, care if a couple that’s divorcing is childfree. That’s unfair to the couple — divorce can be just as painful whether there are kids involved or not, and some people divorce because of the desire to have children or not (think Elizabeth Gilbert and Eat, Pray, Love).

Still, most seem to be much more concerned with divorce that’s occurring among couples with young — under minor age — children. But most of those couples don’t entertain the idea of divorce lightly — like Gwen and Chris, they spend a lot of time trying to make things work before they see divorce as the only option, even if they don’t go to marital counseling (which doesn’t always work). So that’s why allegedly unbiased articles that end up in mainstream press (and as a longtime journalist in mainstream press I understand the challenges, failings and realities of mainstream press) and opinion pieces discouraging divorce and discouraging, shaming and judging those who divorce disturb me.

The latest is in the Boston Globe from Jennifer Graham, who also writes for and supports the Coalition for Divorce Reform, whose goal through the Parental Divorce Reduction Act is to make divorce harder for parents of minor kids. I debated CDR co-founder Beverly Willet in the New York Times awhile back because I strongly believe divorce is a private decision between a couple and government should keep out of that decision.

Graham, upset by the idea of celebrating divorce and the trend of divorce parties, writes:

Yet even the most vehement argument put forth by liberty lovers is enfeebled when a liberty does harm to innocent others, as divorce clearly does. Rare is the child whose reaction to his parents’ divorce is “Woo-hoo, let’s party!”

No, Ms. Graham, divorce does not “clearly” harm innocents, not every couple that divorces has kids, some kids are incredibly harmed because of their married parents’ conflict and dysfunction, and not every couple that divorces has a party. I didn’t; so there!

Her suggestion is that couples spend a day in divorce court to get their “aha” moment about what’s to come:

If people were privy to real divorce hearings — the downward, embarrassed faces at dissolution, the furious chill of repeated child-support hearings — they might rethink the severity of their own troubles.

It’s an interesting idea but I find it intriguing for a vastly different reason than she does; seeing the workings of family court may make a couple rethink the way they divorce. Instead of having a high-conflict divorce, they may choose mediation or collaborative law instead of hiring pricy attorneys who often fuel the anger and going to family court, which is a disaster.

Maybe, just maybe, it would get them to consciously uncouple, and how wonderful would that be for their children?

If you have kids, you and your former spouse will forever be tied together. That is a fact. We can’t keep ignoring the reality that divorce doesn’t end a relationship but just transforms it if kids are involved. Parenthood creates “enduring connections, ties that outlast the severance of the adult relationship,” writes University of Sydney law professor Patrick Parkinson in Family Law and the Indissolubility of Parenthood, and those ties have all sorts of ramifications for couples, kids and governments. “Facing up to the indissolubility of parenthood is one of the great challenges of our time.”

Graham writes that “for many, divorce doesn’t end problems, but creates new ones.” That can indeed be true. But that isn’t a reason to stay in a bad marriage and, guess what, Ms. Graham and Ms. Willet — couples need to decide that for themselves.

Want to keep up with The New I Do? Pre-order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!

 

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He or she has stuck by you during your most trying times, makes chicken soup when you are sick, takes you to lots of fun events, listens and offers advice when you’re confused, gives you a shoulder to cry on when you were sad, understands you like no one else does.

Who is that person? Most likely it’s not your spouse, but your BFF. So, why aren’t we marrying our best friend?  marry your friend

Some people do — or at least say they do, although many, including me, question if that’s a good idea.

But others see the idea of marrying a best friend quite differently, as in actually marrying your best friend, not a romantic partner, regardless of his or her sex — a concept dubbed mate-rimony.

A study of singletons in the United Kingdom indicates that friends matter more than spouses:

  • 4 out of 5 singles say friendships last longer than romantic relationships
  • 45% of singles turn to their friends before family for emotional support
  • More than one in four single people would go to their friends first if they needed money urgently, and men (31%) are more likely to do so than women (23%)

I certainly have friends whom I’ve known longer than my romantic relationships — how about you? And don’t almost all of us, especially women, share our romantic and familial woes with our friends, often before we address it with our romantic partner?

Those conducting the research predicted we’ll see more friends “tie the knot” via mate-rimony contracts to get the financial benefits of marriage. That study was two years ago, and we have yet to see anything like that be recognized (and granted, it was for an insurance company so I take it with a grain of salt). Still, I have heard of people who are not romantic partners wed just to have children with the benefits of marriage, such as a gay man and a lesbian, so who knows how popular it is? In any event, it isn’t the first time the idea of sharing benefits with friends has come up.

Many singletons make marriage pacts with their good friend — a loose “If we don’t find ‘The One’ by the time we’re 40, let’s just get married” deal. Admittedly, it would be a marriage of comfort, companionship and convenience without much — if any — passion. Well, hate to break it to you but passion rarely lasts in a long-term marriage anyway; most marriages end up being more about comfort and companionship (or resentment and contempt). Is it wrong to marry that way from the get-go — and maybe have an open marriage so you get all the comfort benefits of a long-term partnership while having all the passion of new  sexual partners? In our research for The New I Do, many couples admitted they tied the knot more for companionship and financial security than passion.

The New York Times asked a similar question in a Room for Debate — why do lawmakers make such a big deal out of marriage as more of us struggle to define family. As law professor Kevin Noble Maillard states:

Legally speaking, the only way in America to recognize family is through marriage, blood or adoption. This is a problem. Not everyone can get married, and not everyone wants to…. There is no legal room for best friends forever and all the legal benefits that marriage confers. … The laws reflect our society’s awkward and narrow ways of thinking about family. If friends want to recognize each other as a committed unit, nothing is going to stop them from living together, making joint purchases, even raising children.

Laura A. Rosenbury, a professor at the Washington University in Saint Louis School of Law, makes a compelling case for legally recognizing friendship:

Family law’s focus on marriage to the exclusion of other forms of friendship can encourage people to prioritize one comprehensive domestic relationship over other relationships. Indeed, if individuals want the state to recognize their relationships with other adults, they generally must enter into a marriage or, increasingly, a relationship that mirrors marriage. That encouragement can in turn perpetuate gendered patterns of care because extensive amounts of care are expected of such relationships, and women are still more likely than men to be the primary providers of that care. Friendship, in contrast, does not consistently demand the same amount of care, in part because friendships are not presumed to be exclusive or comprehensive and in part because friendships are presumed to embrace norms of equality and autonomy over norms of domestic dependency.

In other words, why does the state care if you love and have sex with the person you live with as long as you care for each other and other people who matter to both of you — especially your children, but also parents, siblings, relatives? “Let’s take the current marital package of benefits, obligations and default rules, and let individuals choose whether to assign it to one person or to diversify,” Rosenbury says.

I admit it makes a lot of sense — what matters more is the caregiving, not the passion and sex (which come and go and often make us a bit crazy), and the kindness, appreciation and generosity friends share that is often absent in long-term marriages. Andrew Sullivan says it best when he questions why society emphasizes romantic love over friendship:

Friendship uniquely requires mutual self-knowledge and will. It takes two competent, willing people to be friends. You cannot impose a friendship on someone, although you can impose a crush, a lawsuit, or an obsession. If friendship is not reciprocated, it simply ceases to exist or, rather, it never existed in the first place. … friendship delivers what love promises but fails to provide. The contrast between the two are, in fact, many, and largely damning to love’s reputation. Where love is swift, for example, friendship is slow. Love comes quickly, as the song has it, but friendship ripens with time. … we don’t “fall in friendship.” … For friendship is based on knowledge, and love can be based on mere hope… You can love someone more than you know him, and he can be perfectly loved without being perfectly known. But the more you know a friend, the more a friend he is.

Still, the vast majority of us want sex, passion and romantic love. Maybe we just shouldn’t be raising children with those people!

Want to keep up with The New I Do? Pre-order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!

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I have been hesitant to jump on the #YesAllWomen bandwagon, the hashtag and social media movement that arose in the wake of the horrific killings in Isla Vista last week. Yes, the 22-year-old killer was full of hatred for women, but he was also mentally ill and privileged and so it’s way too complicated to call his murderous actions pure misogyny.  #YesAllWomen

Of course, #YesAllWomen created a backlash, which Slate’s Phil Plait addresses beautifully in an article on how #NotAllMen derails the discussion of what women go through.

And, yes, we women do go through things.

This is not to diminish what men go through, the abuse and violence they experience at the hands of women and other men (let’s not forget that men were also victims of Elliot Rodger’s rampage, and that he raged against men he envied or perceived as getting in his way. And how often have we heard about men who were abused as boys by priests and coaches?).

It’s also not to diminish the astonishing numbers of men, typically incarcerated, who are raped in this country every year, as Jill Filipovic writes in the Guardian: “however you cut the statistics, it is clear that men in the United States are sexually assaulted in enormous numbers – they’re just men we don’t care so much about, or that society has decided deserves it.”

It’s also not to diminish the number of false accusations aimed at men, especially during divorce proceedings.

Men often walk around somewhat guilty until proven innocent, and automatically assuming the worst of men is a type of discrimination and it’s wrong.

That said, I have endured a fair share of unhappy and uncomfortable moments at the hands of men:

  • When I was in my teens and early 20s I was called over by men in cars under the pretense of asking me a question but, as I got closer to the driver’s side, discovered he was naked from the waist down and masturbating. This occurred at least a half-dozen times.
  • I was thrown from my bike and left battered and bruised after a car full of young men came close enough for one to reach out and pinch my butt.
  • Almost daily, a man would grind his groin into my backside as I stood on the subway to and from Manhattan in my 20s.
  • A man I worked for as an independent contractor when I was a teenager pulled me into a dressing room of his store one time and forced my hands onto his dick.
  • When a married neighbor learned that I was recently divorced, he offered a hug of condolence — and then decided he’d also squeeze my butt.
  • A boyfriend once grabbed my throat and pushed me up against the wall in anger.
  • A different boyfriend threatened to push me down a hill (I was in a wheelchair for the summer after an injury) in anger.

Those were the more egregious incidences; there were, of course, the usual catcalls, rude remarks (“Hey baby, sit on my face”), etc., etc., endured on the sidewalks of cities from New York to San Francisco.

Most of those incidences occurred when I was in my 20s or younger and I — foolishly — accepted them as something that just happens (and I have no idea why my younger self didn’t bother to question, why must it happen?)  To my knowledge, my sons, at 20 and 23, have (thankfully) not had to face any uncomfortable sexual situations although, yes, both have been cruelly teased and experienced violence not only by boys but also by girls.

I, too, have been physically attacked by women, twice. I also had a female boss who gossiped about me to the point that I became physically ill before finally quitting. Emotional abuse can be as devastating as physical abuse.

As a mother of two kind and respectful young men, I am loathe to think that some woman somewhere will feel uneasy in their presence simply because they are men. At the same time, I am quite aware that the fear of something bad happening is a reality for women (although for the most part women are more likely to victimized by individuals they know than by a stranger).  Cumulatively, the #YesAllWomen stories reveal a sadly fearful society, one in which half of the population just doesn’t feel safe (and much more more if you include people of color and LGBT people).

The groping, catcalls and other uncomfortable situations I faced in no way come close to the real and horrific violence women endure — from kidnapping to stoning to rape to human trafficking. Yet, neither I nor anyone else was enraged by those situations; they were just something to be accepted if you’re a woman. The question is, why?

Want to keep up with The New I Do? Pre-order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!

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Adultery. What shall we do with it? Most just wish it would go away, and others — like myself — wonder what the high percentages of infidelity say about the institution of marriage.

So I was intrigued by two interesting articles that appeared in the Philosopher’s Mail. Part one talks about the pleasures of adulterytemptation

The adulterer is meant to feel ashamed; the betrayed party is encouraged to be furious — with every right to an apology. And yet, from another perspective, shouldn’t the latter sometimes be the one to apologise to the former? Adultery may be the lightning conductor of modern indignation, but are there not other, subtler ways of betraying a person than by sleeping with someone outside the couple; by omitting to listen, by forgetting to evolve and enchant, or more generally and blamelessly, by simply being one’s own limited self? Rather than forcing their ‘betrayers’ to say they were so sorry, the ‘betrayed’ might begin by apologising themselves, apologise for forcing their partners to lie by setting the bar of truthfulness so forbiddingly high — out of no higher creed than a jealous insecurity masquerading as a moral standard.

I am intrigued by the idea that there are many other ways to betray a loved one (a concept we address in The New I Do) — denying sex, indifference, emotional neglect, contempt, lack of respect, years of refusal of intimacy, as Mating in Captivity author Ester Perel points out. True, we can’t get an STD or pregnant from those sorts of betrayal, but don’t they destroy love, too?

Part two addresses the “stupidity and folly” of the same infidelity previously praised:

What is ultimately ‘wrong’ with adultery is its sheer dangerous optimism. While it may look at first sight like a cynical activity to engage in, adultery in fact betrays an absurdly hopeful conviction that one can somehow magically rearrange the difficulties and shortcomings of marriage through a lie. This is to misunderstand the facts of life. It is impossible to sleep with someone outside of marriage and not violently destroy the things one still cares about inside it — and yet, in case we get carried away with the charms of fidelity, it is equally impossible to remain utterly faithful in a marriage and yet not miss out on some of life’s greatest and most significant pleasures that lie outside the couple.

In other words, it is the “marriage problem” — we want so much out of the institution that all it can do is fail us. It’s not designed to give us what we want without huge sacrifices; should we be more honest about those sacrifices? Beautifully, the article acknowledges that sexual fidelity is a sacrifice that should be recognized and honored:

Too many people start off in relationships by putting the moral emphasis in the wrong place, smugly mocking the urge to stray as if it were something disgusting and unthinkable. But in truth, it is the ability to stay that is both wondrous and worthy of honour; it is not the norm. Fidelity is a heroic achievement. That a couple should be willing to watch their lives go by from within the cosy cage of marriage, without acting on extra-mural sexual impulses, is a miracle of civilisation and kindness for which daily gratitude is in order. … Spouses who remain faithful to each other should recognise the scale of the sacrifice they are making. There is nothing biologically ‘normal’ or cost-free about sexual renunciation.

Finally, it’s suggested that we address the “marriage problem” and infidelity — and unrealistic expectations — by changing our vows:

The only cure for infidelity is pessimism. We need new sadder vows to exchange with partners in order to stand a sincere chance of mutual fidelity over a lifetime. Certainly something far more cautionary and downbeat than the usual platitudes would be in order — for example:  ‘I promise to be disappointed by you and you alone. I promise to make you the sole repository of my regrets, rather than to distribute them widely through multiple affairs and a life of sexual Don Juanism. I have surveyed the different options for unhappiness, and it is you I have chosen to commit myself to.’

I’m not sure that pessimistic vows will prevent infidelity or make for a happier marriage, but I do think we need to be very aware of what we’re vowing to — which, of course, is the whole purpose of The New I Do. What about you?
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Do Millennial men want to marry?

A Time article, “Debunking the Myth of the Slippery Bachelor,” declared men want to marry as much as women do, according to a study of 5,200 people 21- to 65-plus years old. The standout were men ages 25 to 49 — they were less inclined to get hitched than the women.

Why?  Men fear marriage

A few years ago I interviewed Daryl Motte and Seth Conger, two longtime friends who ran the irreverent dating advice blog, We’re Just Not There Yet, that produced a book by the same name. They told me are just not there yet when it comes to marriage, and a big part of that is the fear of the D-word: Divorce.

It’s a valid fear. Daryl and Seth’s generations — Daryl’s a Gen-Xer, Seth’s a Millennial — are already divorcing at surprising rates. Of those who married in 2009, 43.9 percent were men in their age group, 25 to 34, according to the Census Bureau’s “Marital Events of Americas: 2009,” while of those divorcing, 23.7 percent — more than half — were ages 25 to 34. For men ages 15 to 24, 19.5 percent married and 3.8 percent divorced.

“Only six in 10 (Millennials) grew up with both parents,” says Paul Taylor, executive vice president of Pew Research. “So broken homes (note: can we stop saying that!?!), never-formed homes, re-formed homes — it’s part of their life experience, and … they are repeating that pattern, perhaps even more so.”

In AskMen’s discussion of Popenoe’s 2006 study, “The State of Our Unions,” it’s clear that along with the fear of losing freedom and space, dealing with emotional baggage and compromise, feeling pushed into something they may not be ready for, and the idea of having one sexual partner forever, the D-word weighs heavily on men:

When we’ve been divorced and run through the wringer of the court system, many of us are reluctant (read: “terrified”) to risk a second commitment. Nowadays, we aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to sign a contract legally allowing a woman to clean us out financially. Successful achievers — those of us who have built companies and high-powered careers from the ground up — are especially afraid of being forced to hand over all the fruits of our hard labor and may make the decision never to get involved in a serious relationship again.

Even those haven’t been through a divorce have come to expect it. In a study of newlywed women, half said they expected infidelity would be part of their marriage and 72 percent said they’d probably experience divorce. With so many couples starting their new life together with those sorts of expectations — even as they vow “until death do we part” — it’s no wonder they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Nor is it surprising that men might be hesitant.

Hesitant but not anti.

Earlier this year, the Guardian asked its Millennial readers if marriage was dead; 66 percent said no, they want to wed at some point, 22 percent said perhaps they’ll tie the knot and just 12 percent said no way. Thomas, a 27-year-old from the Netherlands was clear on why he won’t:

To me, marriage feels like a relic from the past. Marriage seems like a contract from ancient times to prevent everybody from getting kids everywhere. Nowadays we have contraception. I feel that getting a child together is much more of a proof of love and commitment than a contract and a white dress are. A contract which is broken by about one third of my generation’s parents, by the way.

While he’s right that having a child ups the ante — while not quite guaranteeing a commitment, it does bind a couple, married or not, for life.

Mark Pfeffer, a Chicago psychotherapist who runs an “unwed anxiety” group for thirty-somethings at his Panic, Anxiety and Recovery Center, says it isn’t divorce per se that scares men, it’s the financial ramifications of breaking up — having to face a “50 percent chance of misery.” If someone hasn’t married by thirty-something — and the age for a first marriage now is 28 for men and 26 for women — then he or she has most likely been to enough weddings and experienced a good share of divorces to see what Pfeffer calls “the carnage” of a marital breakup. That’s enough to rattle a young person’s idea of wedded bliss.

And they’re also at “that stage of life where they are building their income, their economic independence. The worst thing would be if they were to lose it all,” says David Popenoe, who headed the National Marriage Project at Rutgers before it moved to the University of Virginia under Bradford Wilcox’s leadership.

For Daryl, that is a very real possibility: “I don’t see marriage as an option until the (divorce) laws are equal. They’re heavily weighed against men.”

Recently, Hanna Rosin declared that family court is much kinder to men than ever before in a Salon article:

“the great revolution in family court over the past 40 years or so has been the movement away from the presumption that mothers should be the main, or even sole, caretakers for their children. … on the whole, courts are fair to men, particularly men who can afford a decent lawyer.”

Her statements angered men’s rights groups and others (some who point out the irony of her statement “afford a decent lawyer,” because many men can’t — what about their rights?)

With that background, it’s easy to understand why some men might be hesitant to tie the knot in the kind of one-size-fits-all traditional marriage model we’ve been practicing, which is yet another reason why the marital models in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels will help brides- and grroms-to-be — and, in this case, especially the grooms — get the marriage they want without vague vows of “until death do us part.” We don’t need promises anymore; we need conversations and contracts that hold people accountable so marriage isn’t something to fear for men or women.

Shouldn’t marriage be about what you gain, not lose?

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