When I interviewed Eve Pell, who chronicles late-in-life marriages, including her own, in Love, Again: The Wisdom of Unexpected Romance, I, as usual, researched her life so I didn’t have to ask her questions I already could get answers to. In my research, I discovered her socialite mother cheated on her father, ran off with a lover, married him and had a custody battle that was sordidly played out in New York newspapers.
So Eve ended up living with the man who effectively destroyed her known family life, a situation I would consider to be one of the worst-case divorces. Except, it wasn’t; Eve loved her stepfather much more than her dad.
But that often isn’t the case. A friend never quite forgave her mother for having an affair and then forcing her to live with her and her lover, whom she also married. And she believes it screwed her up for a long time when it came to her own romantic relationships.
I can imagine she’s not the only one.
It’s hard to know how many kids have been in the middle of a parent’s infidelity because we just don’t know how many people are cheating; estimates are from around 25 percent to as high as 70 percent. And, it’s hard to know how many cheating spouses take their kids with them if they go on to live with or marry their lover. I’m guessing it would be mostly women who would do that; women seek divorce much more than men do, fewer women don’t have custody (2.4 million out of 8.6 million single moms, but that’s approaching the number of single dads, 2.6 million) and they seem to face less public scrutiny or at least less outrage than cheating men do. There are about 1 million kids who experience parental divorce each year, and I’m pretty certain infidelity played a part in a big percentage of those splits; it’s among the top factors for divorce.
And, we aren’t even sure how to define infidelity — Watching porn? Masturbation? Sexting? We are ill-equipped to define infidelity (outside of intercourse) and therapists are, too; that’s why every couple must decide between themselves what’s OK and what’s not.
So it’s no surprise that many, like my friend, go on to have problems with trust and honesty.
“I’m not saying that everyone does it, but 55 percent of adult children that came from families where one parent was unfaithful ended up being cheaters themselves,” says clinical psychologist Ana Nogales, author of Parents Who Cheat: How Children and Adults are Affected When Their Parents Are Unfaithful.
But there are a number of factors to consider — when the kids find out, how old the kids are, whether it’s one isolated incident or a history of sexual shenanigans, whether it leads to divorce, whether the cheating parent moves in with the lover, whether the child becomes a confidante, how their parents handle themselves after, whether the child discovers the infidelity accidentally (like after DNA testing that indicate the man they believe is their father isn’t, which occurs a small percentage of the time). The list goes on and on.
There just isn’t enough long-term data to make generalizations on how a parent’s transgressions impact a child as he or she enters adulthood. But, there are patterns, just as we see in children whose parents are addicts or abusive. “It’s not just a behavior, it’s a whole dynamic of relationships,” says Azmaira Maker, a family therapy psychologist.
“The unfaithful spouse is mistaken to believe the pain inflicted by the affair happens at the moment the child is told. No, the harm done to the child occurs at the moment that that partner elected to go outside the marriage for an emotional or physical relationship. When an affair happens, it cheats the spouse and the family of the love and commitment of a partner and parent. Telling the child may put an ugly name on why a parent has pulled away from the family, but it is, ultimately, naming a truth. And if there is one thing that affairs teach us, it is how devastating lies can be.”
With that in mind, Haltzman doesn’t agree that children should always be told about a parent’s infidelity. (Which is yet again another reason why all infidelity is not abuse; most of us would agree that children should be immediately removed from an abusive home.)
My kids, 9 and 12 at the time we divorced, knew an age-appropriate amount; I was unsure if they should know, but their father shared that with them and so there you go. Because there was forgiveness — yep, that matters if you ever want to move on — and because we co-parented well with 50-50 physical custody, it hasn’t been an issue as far as I know. I’m sure they will have more questions about it later in life, if they marry and have kids, which is when the Pandora’s box of our family-of-origin issues opens wide.
I imagine few of us have had a perfect, idyllic childhood; most of us are on a spectrum from pretty great to horrible. A parent’s infidelities is just one of the many things life can toss at us. Please share your story.
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You were in love. It didn’t work out. You split. Then one day something happens — maybe your parent dies or you get sick or you realize you’re tired of the dating game at midlife — and you start thinking, “I want my ex back.” No worries because there are thousands of “proven techniques” on the Internet to help you do exactly that.
That seems to be stuff of snake-oil con men, but there are plenty of people who do want their ex back, and get them — most recently Ethan Embry and Sunny Mabrey, who have gotten engaged again after divorcing in 2012.
While Embry admits his former wife of seven years may have been somewhat manipulative in her approach — “She drove over to pick up my son, and I came out to say hello and she’s wearing my old shirt, my favorite f–king shirt! And it’s this vintage Levis plaid number, and she had tied it at the titties” — they are hopeful it works out this time (although I’m skeptical about this maneuver …)
“We grew up,” Mabrey says. “I don’t know, we needed that time, obviously we did. We were just … a little mixed up. It takes a long time to realize what’s important and figure out your own issues. I just think we’d been apart for so long and the love wasn’t going away.”
That’s nice for them but for many divorced people having a root canal would be preferable to remarrying a former spouse; after all, he or she’s a former spouse for a reason.
Yet it happens.
Marie Osmond says it was “mental cruelty” from former pro-basketball player Steve Craig that sent her to divorce court. But when her teen-aged son from a second marriage, which ended in divorce, committed suicide, Craig was there for her. They tied the knot again in 2011.
During a tragedy, we often count on the people who know us best to show up, and he did. That’s pretty powerful. But is that and a couple’s shared history enough to sustain a remarriage?
Perhaps not; while about 15 percent to 45 percent of first marriages end in divorce about 60 percent to 80 percent of second marriages end in divorce (although numbers vary on how many of those second marriages are to the former spouse or a different one with assorted children from different parents all trying to live happily a la “The Brady Bunch” under one roof).
But the bigger issue for exes who are remarrying is personal growth, as in has there been any?“Remarrying may be a good idea if, during your time apart, you’ve changed elements of your behavior that were causing the problems in your relationship. Then you’re not the same person you were before and you have a better chance of success second time around,” says U.K. psychologist Denise Knowles.
But if you haven’t, it’s too easy to slip back into old habits. “Do that and the relationship certainly won’t last,” she says.
And we all know how easy it is to change at midlife.
Of course, Osmond and Craig aren’t the only ones to tie the knot again. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton did it, so did Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, Elliot Gould and Jennifer Bogart, Stephen Crane and Lana Turner, Eminem and Kimberley Scott. Pamela Anderson married Rick Salomon twice, but is now is the middle of divorcing him yet again.
And it’s not just celebrities. According to research by Nancy Kalish, a psychology professor at California State University in Sacramento, about 6 percent of the participants worldwide noted that they married, divorced, and then remarried their former spouse, and about 72 percent of those reunions were successful.
Science writer Rachel Clark, who chronicles her marriage, divorce and remarriage to her former husband on the Psychology Today blog, Marry, Divorce, Reconcile, believes the 6 percent is too low. So does Michele Weiner Davis, author of Divorce Busting and The Sex-Starved Marriage; she believes about 10 percent of the population remarries their spouse, although not necessarily with the actual legal actions:
“People in long-term healthy marriages experience many divorces over the course of their lifetimes, it’s just that they never leave and they remarry each other. Marriage changes over time. We need to divorce our ‘old’ partners and start relationships with our ‘new partners,’ without ever leaving home.”
That may be so, but once you do leave, the old Thomas Wolfe book comes to mind; you can’t go home again.
That’s why The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels suggests that you try something different rather than work harder on a marriage, which is what “experts” often recommend.
But if you’re already divorced, be really careful about romanticizing your former spouse. Even with all those “proven techniques” to get him or her back.
Want to win a free copy of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels? Seal Press is running a contest on Goodreads through Feb. 23. Enter here and good luck! You can also download an eBook for just $1.99 though March 15.
Please forgive me. I am writing a post about Valentine’s Day even though I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day. Yet I feel I’d be amiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge it like everyone else, which is, of course, part of the problem. It’s the kind of holiday (and I say that while grimacing) that’s hard to ignore, whether you buy into it or not, whether you’re coupled or not. Because too many of us use it as a measure of our worth as , a way to gauge how lovable we are. And if you don’t do something romantic on Feb. 14, it’s hard not to wonder if there’s something’s wrong with you.
No, nothing’s wrong with you. It’s totally OK to ignore what’s basically a fabricated holiday. But if you can’t ignore the chatter and are looking for guidance (or have a bit of a masochistic bent), here’s what the Internet offers as ways to show your love on Valentine’s Day.
The hardest thing about Valentine’s Day is figuring what to get your significant other for the big day, Business Insider says. Really? I find this a bit worrisome. If you are connected to your partner, no matter how long you’ve been a couple, wouldn’t you know what he or she likes? If you don’t, why even bother?
Sure, go ahead and book a night in a high-end hotel or dinner at a chi-chi restaurant (although at this late date, good luck). But if you’re looking for “fun and frugal” — under $15 — date ideas, the U.S. News and World Report suggest you just “hit the bar.” Creativity at its best? And for under $15? Hmm …
Sexy date ideas:
It’s not enough to celebrate love; we need to have hanging-from-the-chandelier sex or at least some sort of an erotic experience that we’re probably not going to have for another 364 days, so why not go for it? AskMen suggests dressing up, blindfolds, whips and chains (are we channeling 50 Shades?), and showering together, while The Nest offers no less than 50 “hot” ideas, including buying your sweetie three new articles of lingerie, driving to your nearby Lover’s Lane to make-out in the back seat, watching the sunrise together, and reading poetry to each other. (Interestingly, all of the above would be a lot less than even the fun and frugal ideas.)
All of which sound incredibly stressful for a day that’s supposed to celebrate love — so much forced planing! So many expectations! And having Valentine’s Day be on a Saturday this year seems to up the ante. Which is why we also have a plethora of articles on — you guessed it — how not to get stressed out on V-Day, from setting the bar low to not proposing (unless you’re certain the answer will be yes) to letting go of what Valentine’s Day “should” look like.
While couples, married or not, may have their unique V-Day stresses, if you’re single, well, you need to know how to “survive” Valentine’s Day alone. Or just block it from your existence (meaning Facebook). Maybe you should just forget romantic love and celebrate any sort of love on Feb. 14. Love is love, right? Which is fine if you’re feeling bad about your romantic love life or lack of one, but I struggle to believe that splurging on yourself is going to somehow make the situation better. And let’s be honest — have you ever seen any advice anywhere on how single men can “survive” V-Day alone? I haven’t. What do guys know that we gals don’t? Still, the pressure is on guys to make things happen.
It’s also led to articles by those who want to remind us of the day’s dark origins — as well as focus on the commercialized holiday’s horrible carbon footprint — thus making Valentine’s Day the Worst Day Ever.
I don’t know about you, but I’m already exhausted thinking about it!
Wherever you fall in the V-Day spectrum — it’s the best day, it’s the worst day; it means something, it means nothing — you’ll just have to figure out what it means to you and why. If you have a partner, I hope you’re able to express that to him or her; if you don’t, I hope you can filter out all the advice and decide what feels good — or maybe just normal — for you.
Or just change your story.
When I was newly divorced (the second time), I remember feeling pretty alone one holiday weekend when all my friends were either away or spending time with their family, my kids were with their dad, and I was unpartnered. My time was my own, which is a true gift — until the moment it feels like a burden. And that’s how it was beginning to feel until I decided to change the story. I took a long bike ride, soaking in the scenery, and then stopped at a popular cafe where I was surrounded by people, laughter, life. I chatted with the wait staff and people at nearby tables, and people watched. When I got home, tired and sweaty, nothing about the day felt lonely. I felt connected.
“Love is a word. What matters is the connection the word implies,” The Matrix Revolution told us. May you feel connected every day.
Want to win a free copy of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels? Seal Press is running a contest on Goodreads through Feb. 23. Enter here and good luck!
Aging is OK, given the alternative. But when my nine-year relationship ended about a year ago and I threw myself back into the dating world again, a thought crossed my mind from time to time — will I ever find love again?Not marriage or someone to live with necessarily, because I’m not sure I want that, just companionship … oh, OK, and passion and sex.
Let’s face it — as you slide into your sixth decade, there are some realities one must face. Illness, infirmity, death. I am entering the age of loss, and I am learning to accept that with grace.
So it was so wonderful to chat with Eve Pell, who, at age 67, fell head over heels in love with a widower 10 years her senior, whom she married when she was 71. Her Modern Love essay in the New York Times was not only one of the most-read in the decade the column has been running, but it also lead to her publishing a just-released book, Love, Again: The Wisdom of Unexpected Romance, in which she shares stories of other couples that found love late in life, too.
It’s not a message most of us hear about being older.
“People tell you that old age is dry and boring and your body falls apart and you start to forget things,” she told me, and those perceptions can be damaging. “Very few people tell you the good side of age.”
Much of that has to do with the ways older people are creating intimacy. What surprised her was how many older couples found more than just companionship, which is what most of us believe older people want in a partner. No, there’s a lot more going on, she says. “The intensity and the passion that people feel for each other, it’s way more than companionship. Companionship itself is beautiful, but there’s more.”
Like sex. Fifty-four percent of men and 31 percent of women over the age of 70 say they are still sexually active, and a third of those say they’re having sex at least twice a month (while I wouldn’t consider that “frequent,” that was enough for the survey-takers to deem it so).
But sex and passion aside, Eve and I talked about the hard realities of falling in love later in life. While we all know on some level that everyone we love is going to die, meaning that we will either be the one who goes first or the one who goes last in a romantic relationship and there may be a lot of caregiving involved, it usually isn’t at the top of our list of things to think about when we’re in our 20s and 30s, falling in love and perhaps getting hitched. Sure, we mumble “for better or worse, in sickness and in health,” but who really focuses on that? No one! Die? Yeah, yeah, yeah … some day.
But for older people who fall in love, you bet it’s not a “some day” kind of thing. It’s a “one day really soon” kind of thing.
“You know when you are getting together with this person, one of you is going to see the other die and you’re willing to deal with that,” Eve told me.
So then, why go there? Why put yourself into a position when caregiving and death are inevitable, and sooner than later? Oddly, there’s an upside. “The whole shadow of mortality gives an intensity and a bittersweetness to these late-in-life relationships that you don’t have when you’re younger,” she says.
Beyond that, when you reach a certain age in life, your relationships are different. By 50, 60, 70 or later, you’ve had a career, you’ve had the kids you’ve wanted or not, you’re settled into a place that feels like home, and you most likely have some financial security. Those are no longer daily necessary distractions. So now what?
“You have nothing left to do but love each other and be happy,” Eve says.
That’s what I would hope all couples might want to consider — loving each other and creating happiness together. For older people who have been there, done that, it’s easier. They are willing to consider different ways of being together, such as LAT (live alone together) relationships. Now, if only younger couples could do the same!
Want to win a free copy of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels? Seal Press is running a contest on Goodreads through Feb. 23. Enter here and good luck!
We were fortunate to have been asked to be on The Better Show to talk about The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels with co-hosts JD Roberto and Kristina Behr.
We spoke with them first, and then had a conversation with Lori Zaslow and Jennifer Zucher, co-owners of the matchmaking service Project Soulmate. We wish we had more time to address some of the old-fashioned thinking of Zaslow and Zucher — the same thinking that we believe is making couples miserable in their marriages — but we feel pretty lucky to have had as much time as we had.
The conversation is broken down into four segments; please watch and then tell us what you think.
I was honored to be able to present some of the research on how marriage is changing that Susan Pease Gadoua and I unearthed while writing The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels before a group of therapists recently. As has been true in the many years I have been a journalist, the most illuminating moments in mot situations come when you least expect them. And, they often offer more insight into human behavior than expected.
After the presentation, which was really well received, Susan and I made ourselves available for any extra questions (and, OK, to help spur potential book sales), and so a therapist and I started talking about consensual non-monogamous marriages.
She had a number of clients who were considering entering polyamorous arrangements and they wanted guidance. And she was a bit at a loss how to help them, not only because she had no experience with that but also because she freely admitted she had a bias.
She just wasn’t sure how comfortable she felt about polyamorous arrangements. And it was reminder of my on experiences with therapy, marital and solo (when I realized marital therapy wasn’t quite getting us where we needed — or at least wanted — to be).
Forget whatever resistance some of us may have; if the therapists we go to for help can’t help us because of their own biases or lack of training, what are we supposed to do?
I don’t have the answer for that.
Still, marital therapy can be incredibly helpful, especially when couples are willing to explore their own stuff. But you don’t always need that; when I delved into my family of origin issues in the weeklong intensive that the Hoffman Process offered (which luminaries such as Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Loggins, Roseanne Cash and others have felt helpful), I was able to focus on the broader issues that were keeping me from having the relationship I wanted. It felt healthier to explore that on my own.
But there are good therapists and bad ones, and therapists who can get past their biases and others who can’t. So it was eye-opening for me to hear a therapist admit that she had a lot to learn when it came to alt relationships. That’s what The New I Do is all about, and while the book is useful for those considering tying the knot, it also is a guide for couples that would like to transform their marriage. Thankfully, the book and the myriad questions it walks people through may be all a couple needs to do that on their own.
Still, those who counsel people on marriage nowadays must be aware of the changing marital landscape if they want to help their clients in creative ways, not the tired “work harder” but “try something different.” If you see a therapist, you might want to give him or her a copy of our book.
As many have wondered why Camille Cosby continues to stand by her husband, Bill, in the wake of so many allegations of sexual abuse — including me — the comedian recently was defended by the woman who played his TV wife, Phylicia Rashad. And so was Camille. “This is a tough woman, a smart woman,” Rashad said of Cosby’s wife of 50 years. “She’s no pushover.”
Courtesy of Lionsgate Tyler Perry as Madea in ‘Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family.’
That creates unique challenges for black marriages:
When people reason from an unquestioned White model of marriage and relationships, they often end up suggesting that there is something pathological about the marital patterns of Blacks. Yet using the race/gender prism, it is just as easy to construct an argument that these patterns are logical and pioneering.
Slavery, they note, radically altered what work and family roles looked like for black women. Being a wife or mother in an intact family and doing what women were expected to do — caring for “home and hearth” — was not possible for enslaved women, although they were able to accomplish that and more in African societies. Meanwhile, black men were no better able to fulfill their expected marital roles — they were denied even the most basic ways to provide for their family, even after the abolition of slavery.
Well, OK, that was so long ago. True, but that history has helped shaped the reality of black marriage, even today. Excluding blacks from some of the basics necessary to create what we might consider “normal, healthy” marriages means that their marriages would somehow never measure up. “Black communities are depicted as comprised of ‘weak’ men and women who are ‘too strong,'” the researchers note. Sadly, many — including black leaders as well as the church — would rectify that by having blacks accept traditional gender ideology, which would strengthen “weak” black men and weaken strong black women (although a strong black woman would be welcome, of course, to use her strength solely to bolster her man). Much of what’s talked about as the “problems of black marriage” can be somehow “solved” by moving black men out of subordinated masculinity, they say. And guess who is expected to do that?
The message to Black women is that their assertiveness is holding back Blacks, especially men. It devalues a history of Black female financial independence from men and the constant, self-sacrificing economic and emotional contributions that women have made to Black families. This message also moves analysis away from the structural causes of Black social problems. An unintended consequence is that Black women’s dominance and strength are interpreted by both Blacks and Whites as pathological, contributing to the oppression of Black women.
That places an extra-heavy burden on black women and puts the focus on gender while ignoring racism and sexism. As I’ve written before, referencing Loscocco, heterosexual marriage is already a gendered social reality and gendered institution, and wives and husbands have “his” and “her” marriages. Throw racism on top of that and, well …
All of which makes Oprah’s decision to reject tying the knot with Stedman Graham, her steady partner of nearly three decades, understandable; she realizes 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.
Oprah isn’t the only black woman choosing not to wed, although black women who choose to remain single are judged, and judge themselves, harshly. But as some suggest, black women’s “failure to live up to dominant (White) femininity makes them less marriageable than White and Asian women, and also Black men.” Even in interracial marriages, 73 percent are made up of black men with white women and 86 percent are black men and Asian women.
And as Johnson and Loscocco note, married black couples are at greater risk of divorce; they have lower marital happiness and satisfaction than white spouses; they disagree more than white spouses about such things as sex, kids and money; and black women get less benefits from marriage than white women and even black men do. It would be foolish to think that racism has nothing to do with that; of course it does.
Still, the authors say if we remove the white, middle-class blinders of marriage, we’d see aspects of black marriages that are “egalitarian, empowering and pioneering,” and that could potentially “undo gender.” Black marriages tend to be more egalitarian when it comes to household chores, and marriage for blacks isn’t nearly as “greedy” an institution as it is for whites because black couples, especially black wives, tend to be “weight-bearing arches of their broader communities” in addition to caring for their own family.
But using black marriages as a model to “undo gender” is unlikely to happen. “(R)ather than sanctioning other family forms, American society continues to hold everyone accountable to the norm of gender differentiated marriage.”
We are not even a week into the new year yet it’s already brought a lot of interesting and important developments (which bodes well for 2015, at least in my eyes).
There was a spirited discussion on Evan Marc Katz’s website about potentially “wrong” ways to marry — albeit it wasn’t presented that way — and then there was a sort of vindication by someone who has been a staunch pro-marriage advocate (she even defended former Vice President Dan Quayle’s attack on the TV character Murphy Brown, an unwed mother, back in 1992) who is rethinking her ways.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with reasons why someone might want to marry. Katie wrote to Evan that she and a best friend, who’s a guy, don’t have romantic feeling for each other but they have a lot of other things in synch — lifestyle goals and financial ambitions among them. She wondered if they could make those goals come true if they married or lived together — even if they removed the sexual equation from their partnership:
(W)e are both fine with the idea that there would be other people we would seek for that. Obviously, if we move forward with this arrangement, we would have separate rooms. We also acknowledge that potentially down the road we could fall for other people but can cross that bridge if and when it happens. So my question is, do you think a marriage or a relationship/friendship like that could work if both are open and upfront about the terms and boundaries of the relationship, and both are content to cohabitate (sic) in an arrangement like this because we make each other happy and we love each other in our own way, but we’re not in love with each other?
This is what Susan Pease Gadoua and I call a Companionship Marriage in our book, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. Since passion seems to peter out about two years anyway (at which point couples are often advsed how they must create excitement with new toys, positions and lingerie, schedule date nights and sex nights, etc.), most marriages become companionship marriages at some point anyway, no matter how passionate they began. Since few believe that’s problematic, and since people name companionship as the No. 3 reason to marry, why is it “wrong” if a marriage starts off that way?
Yet Evan, who I believe has been a pretty smart and grounded adviser in all things romantic in general (he was an instrumental voice in Lori Gottlieb’s 2011 book, Marry Him: The Case for Mr. Good Enough), put the kibosh on her idea:
(T)here is a reason that marriage has a sexual component. Not merely because attraction is generally what brings two people together, but because people have sexual needs. And it’s much easier to get your sexual needs met from within the marriage than to have a marriage whose very premise is based on infidelity.
Well, whoa. Yes, sexual attraction often brings people together, but that happens with people who also chose to be in consensually non-monogamous relationships, too, and there are quite a few people who dabble in such things. Researchers estimate 1.2 million to 2.4 million people are exploring consensual non-monogamy, and about 9.8 million allow “satellite” lovers — like Dan Savage’s monogamish arrangements.
But let’s be clear — consensual non-monogamy is not infidelity. A couple that agrees to have sex with others has an entirely different relationship than couples that don’t agree but experience non-monogamy anyway. In that scenario, one partner doesn’t have a choice, but for couples who mutually agree to be consensually non-monogamous, both do. Big difference!
So, there’s that. And then there’s this — kids. Evan wonders what might happen if kids come into the picture for Katie (and from her letter as published, it’s impossible to know if kids will be in the picture at all):
You start a family under the guise that you’re best friends/business partners. You both keep dating, seeing other people, having sex with strangers, friends-with-benefits. That means that each of you is either going to have to leave the house (and your little kids) in order to pull off these sexual shenanigans, OR bring your various sex partners to your house (and your little kids). How’s that for a normal, healthy, stable family environment? Finally, if it’s not just random sex partners, but you actually find someone you care about, you will then be torn between spending time with your lover and your family. Either way, you’re neglecting the other, while both of them deserve a full-time commitment from you.
I am a monogamous woman by choice (monogamy is a choice, you know), and even I have problems with such thinking! It is totally dismissive of anyone who is in or interested in an open or polyamorous arrangement and has or wants kids. It also ignore the fact that many single and divorced parents are engaging in “sexual shenanigans” (we like to just call it sex) while their kids are around or not. Divorced parents who share custody quite thankfully have time to themselves while their former spouse is doing what he/she needs to do — parenting — so there’s nothing wrong with that scenario. But even a parent who doesn’t have that arrangement has other options — a baby-sitter or sleepovers. Why can’t a parent take care of his or her needs, sexual or not, and be a good parent, too? It isn’t “sexual shenanigans” that are causing problems for kids, it’s conflict and that occurs in intact families as well as divorce ones (although yes, subjecting kids to a parade of lovers is not a good idea, but most single/divorced parents don’t do that). Still, Katie didn’t mention kids nor was she asked how kids might fit into the picture (and really, not every woman wants to be a mom, and even those who do have found ways to co-parent without having to have a sexual relationship with the father of her kids).
I found all of that upsetting. But then there was the kicker:
So how about you do what everybody else does and marry for love?
I am reminded of the saying, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.'” Considering that love wasn’t part of the marital equation until recently (assuming we even agree on what love is) and that love’s introduction into the marital equation has made the whole institution crumble, I’m not sure this is the best message to send to people who want to think outside the one-size-fits-all marital box. And clearly Katie does. And so do others. Still, why should Katie have to marry like “everybody else does” — couldn’t she marry like Katie wants to, and define a successful marriage in her own terms?
“Marriage is a contract between two people about how to organize their lives together. But modern marriage is a one-size-fits-all contract — a default written by the state legislatures. It makes no sense to me that I would want to sign the same contract with Justin that you sign with your partner. So we didn’t take the standard off-the-shelf contract that we call marriage. Instead, we’ve talked at length about what is important to each of us, and it’s that Betsey-and-Justin-specific agreement that guides our lives together. And as anyone who has studied divorce knows, the formal marriage contract doesn’t actually bind our future selves. But I have something far more enduring with Justin than a wedding certificate: We have an amazing daughter, who will bind us together for, well, until death do us part.
Which brings me to the staunch pro-marriage advocate, Isabel Sawhill, an economist and former Clinton administration official who now works with the Brookings Institution. In an long article about her last Saturday in the Washington Post, Sawhill is rethinking her pro-marriage message. Rather than try to revive traditional marriage, she suggests we may need to figure out what might relationships might evolve into, and some of what she suggests is already happening:
“Maybe some people will be married, or have some kind of commitment to each other, but they’ll live in separate places. Or maybe there will be marriages with upfront time limits. Not, ‘We thought we were going to be married forever and decided in the middle to get divorced.’ But marriages where you say to the other person upfront, ‘How about a five-year contract to be committed to each other, and then reassess?’ ”
More than the decrease in couples choosing marriage, Sawhill’s big concern is the rise in single parenting (because let’s face it — society doesn’t care too much about what childfree couples are doing; it cares about the kids). She’s interested in an “ethic of responsible parenthood,” which sounds good on surface but borders on elitism once you start exploring what that may mean: George Lucas adopted two children as a single man and I will bet that Sawhill would not insist that he have a partner first and wait until they are “ready to be parents” — he was wealthy enough to hire surrogate moms until he married again and, last year, became a biological dad at age 69. But at least she is looking at the marital landscape and acknowledging that it is changing. Those who care about marriage or advise couples who wish to marry need to understand those changes, and let people know there are options.
This week Susan and I will address a local group of marriage and family therapists — they are on the front lines of unhappily married couples. I’m hopeful that our research will be useful to them as they seek to guide their clients. We’re all searching for the same thing — healthy and happy relationships, romantic or not. Rather than accept the standard off-the-shelf marital contract, it’s time for couples to realize they can create the marriage they want by how they define a successful marriage.
So yes, Katie — as long as you and your best friend set out and mutually agree on the goals of your marriage and define its structure, you can happily marry. If you decide to have kids, then you may want to tweak your contract to become a Parenting Marriage to better provide a stable home for your kids. Please don’t do what everybody else does; the only person who knows what’s best for you is you.
The year is almost over and a new one is upon us. I’m not big on the belief that a year can be a good or bad one — “2014 sucked so 2015 must be better!” It’s an artificial construct. Nor am I big on making resolutions; most of the time we just set ourselves up for failure. And I am not big on advice — there are far too many “experts” telling us what we should or shouldn’t do, especially when it comes to love. Sadly, many of them are Internet experts, people who have found a platform because of their life experience — they endured infidelity and now advise devout followers what to do if they are cheated on, too, or they had an acrimonious divorce and are suddenly self-described divorce counselors. The problem with Internet experts is that they tend to see the world in black and white — there is rarely any gray. Well, life, love and relationships are messy and full of gray, and there’s no right or wrong way to be; there’s just a right and a wrong way for you once you’ve identified what that is.
That’s why I’m incredibly proud that The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels is not an advice book. While my co-author is a therapist, I am not and so I am not comfortable telling anyone what to do or not do (well, besides my kids, of course!); all we have done is looked at research, our own and others (peer-reviewed), talked to people who are living alt marriages, and culled from all of that the pros and cons of various marital models. Then we offer a list of questions readers might want to ask themselves to help them clarify what they want out of a relationship and whether a particular marital model might work for them.
Americans fundamentally believe there is not a problem that does not have a solution — it’s the Nike approach: Just do it. But try to apply that to eroticism? I don’t have answers, as in ‘This is what you do.’ I do say, ‘This how I think it works.’
From all my research, here’s what I’ve discovered — there really are no easy or fool-proof or guaranteed tips that will ensure you will have the love or the sex or the marriage that you want. There are no guarantees, so don’t expect them. As Perel says, “On some level we trade passion for security, that’s trading one illusion for another.” But that doesn’t mean living in fear — he’ll leave, she’ll find someone else, this won’t last etc. — will make things better. Embracing the ambivalence and impermanence of life and relationships might, something psychology lecturer and writer Meg Jo Barker suggests.
While I don’t necessarily believe New Year’s resolutions matter all that much, I do believe that striving to be the best person we can be — for ourselves — matters, and that isn’t restricted to a certain time of year; it’s ongoing. And when we do that, we are also — surprise! — able to be the best person we can be for others.
So, no, I’m not going to offer you advice for the new year. But I do have a wish or two for you in 2015 — please consider getting rid of the script in your head of what love, relationships or marriage should look like and instead ask yourself what you want them to look like; that you stop looking to others to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do and question, question, question any advice you read or hear from Internet experts or, for that matter, even credentialed experts (some are just not very good or have their own biases); and, finally, to stop giving credence to articles in women’s magazines that often fuel anxiety and chip away at self-esteem because the emphasis always seems to be that you’re doing something wrong and if you just did X, Y and Z, you’d have what you want and live happily ever after. Sorry, it just doesn’t work that way.
2015 is an open road, just as 2014 was and every year before. This is how I think it works: You’re the driver. Don’t worry about the detours and breakdowns, just focus on the journey. May it be a great one.
I am a big fan of Grammy-award-winning musician Marc Cohn and usually catch his shows whenever he’s in the Bay Area. So I was saddened to hear that after his wife of 12 years, TV news anchor Elizabeth Vargas, had entered rehab — again — late last year the couple, parents to two boys, 11 and 8, are divorcing.
Well, let me rephrase that. I am well aware that sometimes divorce is necessary, and feeling sorry for a couple that’s splitting may be the wrong emotion as one too many divorcing person has told me, no it’s a good thing.
No, I’m saddened because yet another family is destroyed by alcohol. Equally sad is how common it is, yet so few of us are willing to admit it. There is a lot of shame around it, and so most of us don’t tell anyone; we suffer in silence.
All of which makes sense in the case of the Cohn-Vargas split. As Cohn said when he was accused of cheating on Vargas with a family friend (and since when is having dinner with a family friend of the opposite sex an “affair”?), “addiction and recovery are serious challenges and it’s been a tough road for all of us,” mentioning “the long-standing issues” between them.
Well, yes. Anyone who has dealt with an alcoholic knows the havoc it causes to everyone close to him or her. As Alanon, the group for friends and families of alcoholics, notes:
Alcoholism is a family disease. The disease affects all those who have a relationship with a problem drinker. Those of us closest to the alcoholic suffer the most, and those who care the most can easily get caught up in the behavior of another person. We react to the alcoholic’s behavior. We focus on them, what they do, where they are, how much they drink. We try to control their drinking for them. We take on the blame, guilt, and shame that really belong to the drinker. We can become as addicted to the alcoholic, as the alcoholic is to alcohol. We, too, can become ill.
It’s the holidays, when people tend to imbibe a little more than usual (I’m being kind here). But once we’re into the new year, it might be a good time to take an honest look at what role booze plays in your life. And if you don’t like it, what will you do about it?