If we are to take the new 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll on marriage to heart, then Americans are still stuck in some sort of happily-ever-after rom-com version of wedded bliss.
But like a lot of polls, the ways questions are phrased, what gets asked and what doesn’t, and who gets asked and who doesn’t have a lot to do with whether the poll means something or not.
Which means, sorry 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair — your poll’s a major fail.
Take, for example, the question: What is the main purpose of marriage today? Fifty-three percent of those single, married and divorced or separated said it’s to mark commitment, while 23 percent said it’s the best environment for raising children (interestingly, more divorced or separated people agreed with that — 29 percent — than married people). Still, a good number of singles and divorced or separated people said it didn’t have much purpose at all; even 15 percent of married people agreed with that.
According to the two news organizations, the poll was conducted by telephone last year from Oct. 26 to 30, with a random sampling of 1,016 adults nationwide. Clearly, those 1,016 people just don’t understand that being married gives couples access to more than 1,100 federal perks and legal protections, and more at the state level. That matters (just ask same-sex couples why).
But the rest of the poll? Well, the questions asked don’t offer much when it comes to understanding what people really think about marriage.
Is marriage an accomplishment?
Here are the answers offered to the question about how the respondents feel about hearing about a couple who has been married for 50 years: “Wow, what an inspiring accomplishment” or “Yikes, they must be so tired of each other.” Not surprisingly, 91 percent agreed with it being an “inspiring accomplishment” versus 6 percent with the former. It’s inspiring!! — but does that mean those couples were satisfied, fulfilled, loving, kind, generous and basically happy? There are probably a lot of other more revealing questions that could have been asked, but — oh well — not this time.
Then comes the question about the biggest threat to marriage. Twenty-six percent of all those asked say jealousy, followed by poverty (19 percent) and the boredom (18 percent). Interestingly, divorced/separated people rate boredom as the biggest threat (22 percent) followed by poverty (21 percent) and then jealousy (18 percent, which ties with the internet). When in doubt, I’d say always go with the people who have experienced marriage and divorce, not those who have never been married and those who currently are. You may not get smarter in love after divorce, but you do learn a few things.
Does marriage make people jealous?
But, what about that jealousy? Why are married people jealous? Could it have anything to do with a sense of ownership marriage creates? Could it have anything to with the expectation of monogamy? Honestly, what makes people in relationships jealous? If you ask me, sex and sexuality are up there. You can look at some of what women on Cafe Mom are saying, but when you distill it down it typically has to do with trust, our own insecurities of being lovable or not, and monogamy. The Vanity Fair and 60 Minutes poll doesn’t take into account whether we like monogamy, are good at it or are freely choosing it, nor does it acknowledge that for the most part, many of us don’t question it or even talk about it with our partner (and for those of you who do, and continue to do so — it’s an ongoing conversation — many kudos!) It just asks, how do you feel about monogamy? How we feel about something doesn’t mean we behave that way.
Since monogamy is a societal expectation, of course a huge number will say it’s fundamental, although I find it interesting that the young — 18 to 34 — and the “old” — 65 and older — say monogamy’s not realistic. Perhaps there’s hope, although that probably doesn’t mean we will agree to consensual nonmonogamy; it more likely means that we will continue to be serial monogamists.
Other options than marriage?
But the bigger question is, what other options do we have? Cohabitation still isn’t as respected as marriage is (at least in the States — I’ll be writing about cohabitation elsewhere soon), but if it were, would marriage still matter; single people are still stigmatized, divorced people are damaged and few of us are relationship anarchists.
Which is why studies such as the latest by the Institute for Family Studies, which touts the benefit of marriage over cohabitation when it comes to family instability, bother me: there’s no way to know if the couples who cohabit would end up divorced if they wed or if their kids would be worse off if they stayed together — and perhaps subjected their kids to abuse, conflict, addiction or other dysfunctions. There’s no way to know, those questions are never asked, no studies compare the outcomes of kids in intact but dysfunctional families versus families that break up (happy, healthy relationships generally don’t end; only the unhappy, unhealthy ones), and etc.
So, I’m not sure what we can learn from from this poll or any poll that’s so generic. I don’t think it offers any more insight than, say, what can be learned from the polls I present here. Nor do I think it will change anyone’s attitude about or behavior within a marriage. But, maybe I’m wrong. Please answer my poll — 😉 and set me straight!
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