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Oh, Suzanne Venker.

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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!

Want to individualize your marriage? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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This past week has gone from high to low, from the pink pussy-hats seen atop people at the women’s marches across the globe — 3 million-plus in the U.S. alone — to the swift crackdown on our reproductive rights. The image of a handful of white men surrounding President Trump’s desk as he revived — and expanded — the so-called global gag rule was sickening. Even if you are anti-choice — as those who marched on Washington this past week are — this should still be disturbing as the rule will impact organizations fighting such things as AIDS and malaria — maybe even human trafficking — while also providing for maternal and child health across the globe. This will cripple their efforts.

Then there was Texas State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republ-
ican who proposed a bill that would criminalize abortion, saying it would force women to be “more personally responsible” for their sexual behavior.

As if that wasn’t enough, House Republicans introduced HR 586 — a personhood bill that declares that life begins at fertilization, and thus zygotes and embryos have the same “right to life” as human beings.

I’ve written about personhood before and it’s really dangerous; not only would it make getting an abortion akin to murder, but it could also criminalize women for their actions while pregnant, such as drinking or smoking pot (even for doctor-ordered medical reasons) or cigarettes, or engaging in certain risky sports or careers.

Men matter, too

All of this presumes that women and women alone are somehow responsible if something goes wrong in a pregnancy, or even if she gets pregnant. In truth, reproductive health depends on more than one individual; as some academics involved in developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) warn:

There is a long history of society blaming mothers for the ill health of their children. … fathers and grandparents also affect descendants’ health. Studies suggest that diet and stress modify sperm epigenetically and increase an offspring’s risk of heart disease, autism and schizophrenia. In humans, the influence of fathers over mothers’ psychological and physical state is increasingly recognized. So are effects of racial discrimination, lack of access to nutritious foods and exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment.

In fact, one bioethicist/political scientist says, “men have a moral duty to use contraception if their behavior — past, current, or future — could harm the potential fetuses and children who result from their unprotected sexual behavior.”

Hello, personhood people?

And as some researchers state, “birth defects are more often associated with paternal rather than maternal DNA damage.”

Still, the emphasis is always on women. Why? Well, we have historically been the property of men, which is why society still believes it has “a greater right to regulate and control the female reproductive body than the male reproductive body.”

Sorry, guys, but not any more.

Making men ‘personally responsible’

I know I am not the only woman who says, enough. I am so tired of men telling me what I can and can’t do with my own body — especially since no one is requiring anything even remotely similar for men. Don’t they need to be “more personally responsible” for their sexual behavior, Rep. Tinderholt (who, by the way, has been married five times, had a restraining order against him by one wife and who admitted marrying once for “insurance reasons”)?

Yes, they do. If men are going to continue to believe that they have rights over women’s bodies, especially when it comes to sex and reproduction, then we women must reciprocate. Guys, it’s time for you to be more “personally responsible” when it comes to sex and reproduction.

An article about a “male ejaculation bill” proposed by female legislators — isn’t sperm intended for “procreation only” and shouldn’t be “wasted” on pleasure? — and published in the Burrard Street Journal scared some people who didn’t realize it’s a Canadian satire magazine.

But, that got me thinking. It’s time to start regulating and controlling men’s reproductive bodies. So here’s what I propose:

  • Every man 15 and older would be required to take out a $1 million (or more depending on history, genetics, etc.) potential-pregnancy insurance plan, which would cover the cost of raising a child as well as all pregnancy-and birth-related costs as well as IPV and other unforeseen problems (see below).
  • Every man 15 and older must go through DNA testing and agree to have his DNA on file, in case paternity is ever questioned.
  • Every man 15 and older must pay for his own condoms and wear them each and every time he has sex, unless he and his partner are both attempting to get pregnant. If he refuses to wear a condom — ever — even if his partner uses her own birth control, he will be subject to a fine and/or prison.
  • Every man 15 and older must pay for his partner’s birth control, of her choice, or be subject to a fine and/or prison.
  • Every man 15 and older must undergo monthly drug tests. If he impregnates a woman and had drugs in his system  — which damages sperm and can potentially lead to birth defects — at the time, he would be subject to a fine and/or prison. Same with booze and cigarettes.
  • Every man 15 and older would be screened for a personal and family history of IPV, STDs, mental illness, addiction, developmental disabilities, diabetes, cancer and other health issues, and undergo counseling. He would not be able to impregnate a woman unless she signed a waiver indicating she is aware of the dangers of having a baby with him, and agrees to waive her rights, or he would face a fine and/or prison.
  • If a man is employed in a workplace that is known to have carcinogens or other risks, he must find other employment and wait until health testing clears him before he can impregnate a woman. If he does not, he will face a fine and/or prison. If there’s an unplanned pregnancy, he may still face a fine and/or prison, and/or his insurance will kick in (see above) as he could have chosen to have a vasectomy and continue working in his risky workplace.
  • If a man is engaged in risky sports/activities, he must stop doing them before he can impregnate a woman and continue to avoid them until the child is 18. If he does not, he will face a fine and/or prison. If there’s an unplanned pregnancy and he continues to engage in risky sports/activities that would interfere with his ability to care/provide for his child(ren), he may still face a fine and prison, and/or his insurance will kick in (see above).
  • It would be illegal for men over age 45 to impregnate a woman, naturally or artificially, as the baby would likely at a much greater risk of having autism and/or ADHD as well as Down’s syndrome and schizophrenia; men between 30 and 45 would have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis after genetic testing, and may be rejected unless his partner signs a waiver.
  • Any man who impregnates a woman through rape would be responsible for paying for all her pregnancy-and birth-related costs, from medical bills to lost time at work to  postpartum depression treatment, and then be responsible for raising the child by himself, even if he is incarcerated, unless the woman wants full- or part-time physical custody, or face a fine (that covers all expenses for her and the child, through college) and/or prison.
  • Any man who impregnates a woman — whether his wife, girlfriend, lover or a one-night stand — must pay half of all her pregnancy-and birth-related costs, what’s known as preglimony, or face a fine equal to the amount plus damages.
  • Any man who engages in Intimate Partner Violence against a pregnant partner would be imprisoned on the first offense; compensation to her would be provided by his mandatory insurance plan (see above), which may also require more insurance if there’s a personal/family history of IPV.
  • Viagra would be an out-of-pocket expense no longer covered by insurance: any man who asked for a prescription would be required to prove he actually needs it. A Viagra prescription may be denied for reasons other than for pregnancy.
  • If a man’s porn viewing is interfering with his partner’s sexual life (based on her testimony), he would be subject to a fine and/or prison (for repeat offenders).

I don’t expect any of this to happen anytime soon — if ever. But at least we can change the way we talk about sex and reproduction; clearly we must stop seeing sex and reproduction through a gendered lens. If hetero people are going to have sex, which may lead to pregnancy, intended or not, we must hold both men and women accountable. (Here’s yet another area in which same-sex couples have busted through our heteronormatively narrow-minded thinking about having and raising children).

That’s what I came up with, but there must be more ways society can, and should, regulate and control men’s reproductive body. Please — feel free to submit your suggestions. And then let’s make it happen!

We are approaching Valentine’s Day, the most romantic time of the year, according to many. It’s when we buy a card and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes, and profess our love to our one true love.

But what if you have two true loves?

If you’re Carrie Jenkins, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia who has a husband and a boyfriend, you realize you don’t fit into what most of us think love looks like. You feel like a rebel, although that isn’t what you want to be. It’s just that society doesn’t offer many options for people like Jenkins.

Loving two people at the same time must not be “true” love — as if any of us can come up with a definition of love to satisfy everyone’s conception of love.

So to explore this crazy thing we call love, Jenkins has been spearheading the Metaphysics of Love Project, a three-year interdisciplinary investigation into the nature of romantic love; I attended the first workshop a few weeks ago. And she has just published What Love Is and What It Could Be. This is one of those books that makes me go deep into my own beliefs about love, along with Against Love: A Polemic by Laura Kipnis, All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks and Rewriting the Rules: An Integrative Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships by Meg-John Barker.

It’s essential reading for anyone who has romantic love, wants to have romantic love or had it and felt its sting, and even those who have no interest in it because they, too, are rebels in a society that believes everyone should have romantic love.

Biology or social construct?

Jenkins explores the two views of love — that it’s biological (relying on the research and writings of Helen Fisher) and that it’s a social construct, more about social institutions, practices and traditions, which vary across the globe.

Is love both? Is it neither? Is it some combination of both? Is it something entirely different? Does it matter?

It does matter because, as she notes, “love is an extreme sport and we don’t skydive without parachutes.” We can get incredibly hurt by it, not just emotionally but also physically — in fact, love can kill us — but so much of what we are told through rom-coms, Hallmark cards, relationships “experts” and a lot of other societal messages is that love is a big, beautiful mystery and there’s no way to explain it, nor should we. That’s a problem. Once you put love on a pedestal, you can’t critique it, leaving us vulnerable to making bad decisions. Plus it can lead to misguided thinking, such as women are “naturally” more monogamous, and once we get into what humans are “naturally” or “biologically” geared toward, we are entering dangerous territory, especially when it comes to things like marriage, reproduction, gender and sex.

So we actually need to think about love; we can’t overthink it, but we can and should question it, Jenkins tells me as we sit in a sushi restaurant on a drizzly Saturday afternoon in Vancouver, rather than just accept the romantic script. In fact, it’s a form of self-protection and self-advocacy:

What I really worry about is this idea I call it the romantic mystique — that romantic love is mystical and incomprehensible and wonderful and you shouldn’t try to figure out what’s going on with it, there’s nothing you can change, it is what it is and there’s nothing you’d want to change because it’s perfect. I’m really pushing back on that. You really do need to think about it. You are defenseless in a really extreme situation if you don’t think about love and what it is and what it’s doing, how it interacts with our decisions, our big life decisions.”

Love is not the same as marriage

There are also societal messages that the best or only “real” love is always tied to one person forever, often a sexual partner and often a partner we marry. Which doesn’t leave much wiggle room to include poly people like Jenkins, or people who are in committed relationships but who aren’t married and don’t want to be, or people who aren’t having sex, even if they’re married, or who can’t marry, or any other variations on the theme. Which, she says, either turns you into a rebel or makes you unhappy.

One of the things the book is trying to do both model and explain the value in rebellion, against norms, against traditional life expectations, and one of the serious constraints and norms that needs challenging is what I call amatonormativity, that you’re supposed to be in love with someone. You’re supposed to be in a relationship, you’re failing at life if you’re not in love with someone. And one of the people that hurt the most is those singles at heart.”

Jenkins isn’t trying to define love, as hooks is. “Whatever love is, it’s not something we’re going to be able to put in a little box with a bow on it and give it a tidy definition, and any attempt to do that would misrepresent the phenomenon, which is messy,” she says. But she has a theory about it — that love has a dual nature and when we love we’re like actors; we, the actor, are our biology and the role we play is the social construct. But even that, she says, is just a theory — one that she hopes will be challenged because it’s important that we think about it for ourselves.

This is not a process that ends. It’s more like a muscle you train, and once you’re strong in it you keep being as aware as you can be. But it’s very easy to let that muscle whither away from lack of use because we’re told not to use it. We’re told not to think about it. Love will just happen to you, out of the blue, it will literally just come at you and when it comes, you won’t have to think about it — you’ll just know. That’s a phrase we hear a lot; you’ll just know, and this is not helping anybody.”

No, it’s not!

A better version of love

Still, where does it leave poly people like herself, or asexuals or people who don’t fit the current love mold? Jenkins believes we have a collective responsibility to make romantic love “a force for good,” to make it “a better version of itself.” We can slowly stretch the “rules” of love, which we’ve already been doing; we’ve accepted interracial love and same-sex love. What’s next?

As Jenkins says, we must “keep broadening the social role of love until it no longer imposes any substantive constraints.”

And that would actually make love a lot more loving.

Want to create a more loving marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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The Weeknd, the 26-year-old Grammy-winning singer who recently started dating Selena Gomez, is pretty sure he wants to have kids. But he fears marriage. 

“I feel like I’m the kind of guy that would have kids before getting married,” he told GQ. “The first thing would be kids. Marriage is scary to me, man.”

As a woman who has been married and divorced twice, and who is also a mom to two young men, he has no idea how scary being a parent is! Really.

His comments came out around the same time philosophy professor Laurie Shrage wrote an article in Aeon on the need for co-parenting contracts, basically tying a parent to a child and not his or her romantic partner — if there even is one. Shrage wrote:

(A)kin to a public marriage contract, we need an official ‘co-parenting agreement’ and associated civil status, which not only enshrines the rights and responsibilities of each parent in respect of their children, but also sets out the principles by which they relate to one another and make decisions. Although children benefit greatly from having the ongoing support of several adults as they grow up, they don’t necessarily need this nurturing from people who commit to marriage. Their parents simply need to cooperate effectively, to respect the relationship the other has with the children, and to contribute in comparable ways to caregiving and family finances.”

This is something I have written a lot about, most recently in the wake of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s divorce and how that’s impacting their six children, and when I interviewed law professor Merle Weiner about her idea for making parent-partnerships legal. And, of course, in The New I Do.

Why the fear?

To be scared of marriage and not of the responsibility of having a child seems kind of crazy to me — until you start to figure out what might make someone more afraid of marriage than being a mom or dad.

The first thing that comes to my mind is money, as in how much a man might stand to lose if his marriage ended in divorce and there’s no prenup. Since The Weeknd is worth about $55 million, that’s a real consideration.

A few years ago I interviewed Daryl Motte and Seth Conger, two longtime friends who ran a now-defunct irreverent dating advice blog, We’re Just Not There Yet, that produced a book by the same name. The young men — one was a millennial at the time, the other a GenXer — told me are just not there yet when it comes to marriage, and a big part of that was fear of the D-word: Divorce.

But, again — marriage isn’t divorce, and not every marriage ends in divorce. In fact, the majority don’t (unless you’re over age 50 in which case a good half do, but that still gives you a 50-50 chance).

And since so many more women are breadwinners or have money and property of their own before tying the knot nowadays, spousal support (aka alimony) is on its way out. In any event, couples can always get a prenup — even a postnup. So, there’s no excuse.

So, what’s so scary about marriage?

Maybe it’s because it limits your freedom, especially sexual freedom if you don’t have an open marriage.

Maybe it’s because you are always accountable to someone else.

Maybe it’s because we fear infidelity.

Maybe we fear we’ll fall out of love.

Maybe we fear we’re doomed to replicate our parents’ marriage.

Maybe it’s too much work.

Maybe all of the above plus other things — I don’t know.

Age of anxiety

I didn’t spend too much time thinking or worrying about marriage, even after I’d been divorced in my 20s. I foolishly thought I was smarter the second time, but …

Still, I don’t remember any of my friends in my 20s and then again in my 30s feeling as much anxiety as young people do today about the thought of getting married.

Maybe we live in much more anxious times, perhaps fueled by the overload of information on the internet and social media. Or the multimillion-dollar wedding complex. Or maybe because divorce is easier to get (thankfully) and a lot less stigmatizing than in decades past. Despite that, divorce seems to weigh heavily over would-be-brides or grooms’ minds; no one wants to go into a marriage with the idea that he or she will get divorced, but everyone is aware that it’s a reality.

But to imagine that having kids would be easier? No, no, no, no no; in fact marriages can (and do) end and you don’t ever have to have contact with a former spouse again, but you will always be connected to your kids. And contracts like the kind Shrage proposes hold each co-parent accountable toward that child. So, yes, they would have to communicate and always put their child’s needs first — married or not. Once you have kids with someone, you are forever tied to that person or as law professor Patrick Parkinson has written, “The experience of the last forty years has shown that whereas marriage may be freely dissoluble, parenthood is not.”

Someone please tell The Weeknd that.

Want to individualize your marriage so you have nothing to fear? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

I’m not one to live in regrets. My feeling is, if I’m happy where I am right now then everything before this point, good and bad, got me here. That’s good enough. But every once and a while, I come across the “what I wish I knew before ….” articles, including ones on “what I wish I knew before I got married.” As if someone’s else’s marital experience would be the same as yours. Probably not — especially if they seemed so specious.

I never felt that way, maybe because when I married the first time I was a few months shy of my 21st birthday (yes, how silly!) and I didn’t give marriage too much thought. In retrospect, it probably wouldn’t have hurt; oh well. When I wed the second time, I was 32, had a life and a career and experience. I had my shit together!! But did I have more perspective? Well …

Yes, this time my husband-to-be and I talked about what we wanted — careers, kids, life goals, etc. — and we also talked about what we learned from our past infidelities. Even that, however, didn’t change the trajectory of our marriage.

The advice I wouldn’t have listened to

I can’t say there’s anything I wish I knew about marriage per se before I married, and I probably wouldn’t have listened to any advice anyway. I used to think that marriage in and of itself didn’t change us, and I still think it doesn’t have to. But now I believe we can allow it to, consciously or not.

These are not things I would ever be able to put in the “wish I knew” category, because I’m not sure I could have known them. That said, I have observed patterns among women (of my generation, anyway) and so I put it out there:

  • We can lose our sense of self. I have heard from men that they, too, lose part of themselves in a marriage. I have no doubt that they do. That said, women are often expected to be the caregivers — and then are judged harshly if they care for themselves. We’re supposed to be selfless, I guess. And, as Moira Weigel points out in her book, Labor of Love, so much of romantic love is actually free labor on the part of the homemaker and caregiver, historically women. That’s a conversation all couples should have.
  • We can believe being “nice” will get us what we want. I was a people pleaser for many years. This seemed to be a good thing — I was nice to everyone! I wanted everyone to like me! I especially wanted my husband — and later, my boyfriends — to see me as the cool gal, the “easy-to-be-with” partner. I went along with everything my man said because “I am a nice person.” Well, B.S. on that. Oh, well, I actually think I am generally a pretty nice person, but the kind of people-pleasing nice person I was for many years was not authentic. It’s what what Divorce Court judge Lynn Toler calls “The False OK.”  It’s what blogger Mark Manson observes as the way “nice” people sabotage ourselves — and our relationship — when we “do everything” for our partner and don’t set healthy boundaries for ourselves.
  • Being the best person doesn’t guarantee anything. I know that we want it to. I certainly wanted it to, and I think I kind of expected it. But being the best you you can be won’t necessarily protect you from bad stuff in your marriage, no matter what so-called experts may say. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be the best we can be; it just means we may not want to have expectations about how our partner may act because of it.

Not unique to being married

None of these are things that fall into the “what I wish I knew before I got married” category. All of these were lessons I learned exactly because I went into my marriages without a lot of expectations and with a certain obliviousness. And honestly, these are not unique to marriage; any long-term, live-together romantic relationship might create similar dynamics.

You may feel differently.

So I throw it back to you — if you’re married, is there anything you wish you knew before you said your “I dos,” and in what way do you think it might have changed your marriage — for better or worse? You can answer the poll below or you can leave detailed answers on my blog or you can email me your answers if you wish to be anonymous; I guarantee you will.

It’s not scientific by any stretch of the imagination; just some insight. Thanks, as always, for sharing.

Want to individualize your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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There’s an odd thing that happens whenever women write about how marriage is a better deal for men than women — men want to argue that we’re wrong. Marriage is bad for men, then say and then they back up their arguments by talking about … divorce.

They complain that women get alimony, or spousal support, and while that has been historic-
ally been true, it actually has been rather rare, from about 25 percent of divorces in the 1960s to about 10 percent today or even lower, according to Judith McMullen, a law professor at Marquette University. Let’s not forget that women couldn’t even have credit cards in our own name until the 1960s. So, yes, a few of us who gave up our careers to stay home, watch the kids and take care of all the household duties needed some help getting on our feet. If couples want someone at home to take care of that stuff, the at-home caregiver should be compensated in the event of divorce. But ever since women have been working outside the home, in many cases becoming the family breadwinner, that is changing (in a side note, even who gets custody of the children is changing, too).

Still, I hate to tell it to you, guys, but marriage isn’t divorce and divorce isn’t marriage; there’s no such thing as alimony or child support within a marriage. That only can potentially occur after a marriage ends. (And if men are so upset by things like spousal support and child custody, why don’t they just get a prenup so they can decide for themselves who gets what instead of relying on the state’s prenup?) But if we’re talking about who actually benefits from marriage, it has traditionally been men — and that continues today.

An unequal institution

I bring this up because sociologist Lisa Wade recently circulated a popular blog post on marriage in an end-of-year roundup. Wade writes:

Heterosexual marriage is an unequal institution. Women on average do more of the unpaid and undervalued work of households, they work more each day, and they are more aware of this inequality than their husbands. They are more likely to sacrifice their individual leisure and career goals for marriage. Marriage is a moment of subordination and women, more so than men, subordinate themselves and their careers to their relationship, their children, and the careers of their husbands.”

Why does the media keep promoting marriage for women, she wonders.

Good question, but there’s still a lot of societal pressure to couple up and put a ring on it, even though marriage has been called a “greedy institution,” limiting both men’s and women’s freedom, including sexual freedom — unless you have an open marriage and that, my friends, is up for you to create or not.

Women want in, women want out

Noam Shpancer, professor of psychology, notes in his Psychology Today blog that women work harder for a smaller share of the benefits of marriage, which although they may be more eager to get into, they’re just as often also more eager to get out of, too:

(M)arriage actually appears to benefit men more than it does women. Research has shown that the ‘marriage benefits’— the increases in health, wealth, and happiness that are often associated with the status — go disproportionately to men. Married men are better off than single men. Married women, on the other hand, are not better off than unmarried women.”

Which is why women initiate divorce more than men. This is, as I’ve written about before, not unique to the United States; divorce rates are up across the globe, from the U.K. to Iran to China to even Saudi Arabia, driven by women. Given that there are many places in the world where married women suffer incredible injustices, this makes sense. In some places men can still force their wife to have intercourse (which was only changed in the U.S. in 1993, but there still are loopholes), and others where a man can abduct a woman but all’s OK as long as he marries her (no matter what she wants) or even rape her and then force her to be his wife. Why would a woman want to be married and stay married if that’s how she can be treated?

Despite the fact that many studies indicate marriage makes men become better men — even Ben Affleck agrees — many men still think marriage is better for women. Oh, OK — they want to talk about marriage in the U.S., where the hardships women face elsewhere in the world isn’t quite our reality, thankfully. So why are more women rejecting marriage in the States?

For one, we have choices now and some women prefer to be single. But for others who’d like to marry, well, therein lies the rub.

Women want more from marriage

There’s been much talk about a lack of marriageable men, not only for those in lower socioeconomic groups, but also for educated professional women of any color. Sociologists Tristan Bridges and Melody L. Boyd note that what used to make a man marriage material is changing — it’s not just education and jobs (although, yes, women generally want a husband who makes a good salary, and for many lower-socioeconomic women, that’s essential). Women — finally — want more out of marriage itself:

Many still want the economic security associated with marital households, though women today may not need to lean on this security as much as they did thirty years ago. But, they also want a set of intangibles that is much more related to the quality of the relationship than the individual qualities any given man might possess. High-quality relationships provide economic support, but they also come with emotional support, shared commitments to household labor, childcare, and more. They want a partner in every sense of the word.”

Which means men who only pride themselves on having a steady, reliable paycheck may be doing so “to the detriment of things that women might actually want from them,” thus excluding them from being seen as marriageable.

This probably isn’t a happy thing for men who are either unable or unwilling to change in those ways. It may be easier for a man to work harder and earn more money than it is to take on what some men might consider “women’s work.” But who knows how artificial intelligence technology will impact that; we’re going to lose jobs, and whatever jobs arise will require new skills.

Still, a lot more men are interested in become equal partners, although when push comes to shove, they still want and expect their wives to defer their career to his. And, they’re often penalized at work for taking time off to be more hands-on dads. That is something all of us should be protesting.

The end of marriage?

So what do women want? For women who want husbands, we want more out of marriage. And if women want more out of marriage, if we want the similar benefits men get from it, will this mean that there will be fewer hetero people marrying in the future? Probably. (I make a distinction between hetero couples and same-sex couples because same-sex couples, denied marriage for so long, may be more likely to wed and take advantage of the 1,100 government and legal perks and protections, while also enjoying more egalitarian unions).

And if that’s true, then there are a lot of things society depends on marriage for — like caretaking — that we’ll need to find creative solutions for. Maybe it will be having robotic caregivers. Maybe we’ll have time-limited, renewable marital contracts so we’ll finally be free of the belief that marriage should be lifelong. I believe we need to create a society of modern-day alloparents, what I call carenting, which would hugely help the growing numbers of single people and childfree couples, and that’s important.

What do you think?

Want to know how to create a marital plan to have an egalitarian marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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Ever since the second International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots took place a few weeks ago, there have been a deluge of articles talking about marriage between humans and robots and how sexbots might impact marriages, for better or worse.

For every robot enthusiast, like artificial intelligent expert and Love and Sex With Robots author David Levy, who predicts human-robot marriages within in the next few decades, there’s a naysayer, like Kathleen Richardson, founder of the Campaign Against Sex Robots, who worries that “the creation of such robots will contribute to detrimental relationships between men and women, adults and children, men and men and women and women.” 

Which sounds a lot like the people warning us about how marriage between interracial couples, or same-sex couples, or how the increase in divorce will ruin the institution of marriage. Actually none has ruined the institution of marriage — in fact, they’ve just added to the number of people marrying. Instead, love-based marriages, the increased desire for independence and the availability of choices, especially for women, nowadays have done enough “damage” to the institution — if you want to call it “damage,” which I don’t. Instead, they’ve helped people realize marriage isn’t the only way to live.

These are things I’ve talked about before. I’ve also talked about how robots might impact romantic relationships before, too — the movie Her beautifully asks us to question, what is a relationship? — so it doesn’t make sense to regurgitate old ideas.

But since the recent spate of articles, I’ve been thinking about other ways robots will impact us beyond sexbots, because they’re surely going to be part of your future and mine. Certainly when it comes to work; this is a given. As well as self-driving transportation of all sorts. And even if you have no desire to have sex with — let alone marry — a robot, easy access to robots (assuming they’re affordable, a big unknown but presumably not initially) may impact how we approach our relationships, and create and re-create family.

Elderly care

Say, taking care of an elderly parent. Caregiving is an essential part of society but typically seen as women’s work, thus undervalued and underpaid — if paid at all. In fact, more and more working women over the age of 50 are leaving their careers to care for an elderly family member — at great personal loss, financially and emotionally. What if a robot could do that for us? A few years ago I interviewed Christopher Ford, who made his movie Robot & Frank — about the bond between an elderly man and a robot — after watching the struggles his parents faced while caring for their elderly parents, his grandparents. Would robotic caregiving be a bad thing? Would it be better than putting an ailing parent in a nursing home? Would it free up adult children — again, overwhelmingly women — from that responsibility so they wouldn’t have to disrupt their career?

Child care

What about caring for your own child? Would you choose a robotic nanny to help raise your kids so you wouldn’t have to opt-out — or struggle with work-life issues? What if a self-driving car would pick up your kids from school and take them to their various after-school sports and activities? Would that relieve some of the parental duties, again overwhelmingly the women’s role, that make having a career and a family seem so daunting? Will having a robotic caregiver make marriages more egalitarian? Would the robotic caregiver have a gender — and will that just perpetuate gendered caregiving?

Single parenting

What if you’re a single person who wants to have a child but hasn’t found a romantic partner to have one with, or perhaps isn’t even interested in having a romantic partner; would having a robotic caregiver make your life easier, or perhaps even make you more likely to have a child on your own? And, if so, would that mean fewer people would actually choose to marry, or even cohabit, given how “there is evidence of a certain fatigue with the difficulties of dealing with people,” as Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes.

I think the emphasis and perhaps freakout about sexbots is obscuring other discussions about how robots likely will be intertwined in our relationships, romantic or not. Artificial intelligence is a growing part of our future, and not just when it comes to sex.

Will you welcome it and, if so, in what ways? Food for thought in the new year …

And, happy new year!

Want to explore having a robot be part of your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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I grew up watching Disney films, from Cinderella to Snow White to Fantasia to Mary Poppins. I loved all of them, dressed as a princess or ballerina on many a Halloween and … well, I think it stops there.

As a young girl, I never thought — or expected — a handsome prince would rescue me, and I didn’t feel that way in my 20s, either. I went to college to study ecology — I had dreams of saving the world — but then dropped out and left it all behind to follow my boyfriend to Colorado, where he was attending college. Well, were he was taking PE classes; he had no idea what he wanted to do. I supported us by working crap minimum-wage jobs and relying on food stamps to make ends meet. Nevertheless, I married him a few months before my 21st birthday because I was in love. Clearly, I was not looking for a Prince Charming to rescue me!

But was I somehow influenced by the Cinderella story nonetheless? Did I expect it but settled?

That was one of the topics discussed at a workshop in Vancouver, B.C., on love put on by Carrie Jenkins, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, that featured many wonderful speakers besides Jenkins, whose thought-provoking book, What Love Is And What It Could Be, comes out in a few weeks, including Marina Adshade, UBC professor of economics, author of of Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and entertaining TEDx speaker; and Mandy Len Catron, who teaches writing at UBC and whose Modern Love essay on how to make anyone fall in love with you was one of the most-read Modern Loves, and that lead her to write a book on love essays that comes out in 2017.

Catron discussed how the Cinderella tale influenced her as a young girl. It’s ubiquitous in our society — there are 345 versions of Cinderella across the globe — from fueling some of our most-beloved rom-coms (Pretty Woman, anyone?) to infiltrating sports, or what ESPN calls “the ultimate underdog for whom we wish a fairy-tale ending.” We’re suckers for the Cinderella story because it’s about good things happening to good people.

Who doesn’t want to be seen as a good person? Who doesn’t like a fairy-tale ending? Don’t we all want to live happily ever after?

I certainly do. But is that somehow skewing our view of romance? Do women today really believe that, despite cheerfully withstanding unbelievable abuse and cruelty (usually from our own family, mostly other women), our beauty and goodness alone will lead a handsome and typically successful prince to notice us, and once he does, we’ll go off with him (despite barely knowing him) because he has power, status and money and thus will provide for us? Isn’t Cinderella just a story, one of many love stories we tell, and one that’s no longer relevant in today’s empowered you-go-girl reality?

The dangers of Cinderella

There have been many articles and books written about the danger of the Cinderella story. Men, especially in the MGTOW (men going their own way) movement, love to blast women for believing — they’d say demanding — a fairy-tale romance, forgetting that those fairy tales were written by men, turned into movies by men (hello, Walt Disney) and are stories that model what a patriarchal society expects from women — to be “good girls,” people-pleasers and dependent on men. That’s how women can be controlled (which is why the assault on women’s rights that is sure to happen under President-elect Donald Trump is very real and something to be vigilant about).

So in the 1970s, feminists started rewriting fairy tales to create stronger female roles for their daughters to read. That sounds great but just switching genders — say, making a princess rescue a prince — doesn’t change the narrative much; someone is still a victim who needs rescuing and someone’s a hero who has to do that. It’s still sexist, and it still makes romance and a happily-ever-after heterosexual life of two beautiful people together the outcome.

Clearly, most women nowadays are more interested in having rich, full lives of our own. If Cinderella and other fairy tales are as damaging to girls as some say, why do we continue to read those stories to our children, especially our daughters, and take them to see Disney movies?

As parents, this is something we should be paying attention to. The stories we tell, especially if they have romantic love endings, help shape our idea and expectations of love. As one scholar notes:
There are myriad other traditional fairy tales where women and girls take it upon themselves — often at great personal risk — to become the heroines of their stories. The real question is not ‘why don’t fairy tales reflect strong and powerful women?’ but rather why don’t we read those fairy tales that do? Or a better question still, why do we insist on selectively reading only those fairy tales that tend to reflect passive female characters?”
Good questions! Because we have a choice. There are many fairy tales that have nothing to do with romantic endings (or whose original tellings, such as “The Little Mermaid,” have much different endings.) There’s even a West African version of Cinderella, Chinye, in which the smart and resourceful heroine discovers a treasure and uses it to help the women in her village live a prosperous life. No prince needed. How’s that for a great girl-power story? Why didn’t Disney decide to make a movie about Chinye? Probably because we can’t resist a good love story — all of us want love, and many of us want a partner and perhaps marriage. That’s the romantic script we unconsciously follow.

A different Cinderella

Still, is it wrong to want someone to rescue us? Interestingly, not all women feel the same way about Cinderella. “For white women the Cinderella myth is about passivity, but for black women it’s about actively seeking a partner who’s their equal,” according to Newsweek.

Historically, the struggle for racial equality left little room for black women to indulge in Cinderella fantasies. From Reconstruction through Jim Crow and through the civil-rights movement, black women devoted their energies to these struggles while secretly hoping that one day their prince would indeed come. Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint remembers that during the 1960s, ‘many of the black women in the movement used to joke — but it was partly serious — that part of why they were fighting was so black men would be able to get good jobs and they would be able to stay at home like white women and have their men take care of them.’ Furthermore, in the 1970s, many black women were reluctant to embrace feminism because it seemed that just when it was about to be their turn to be Cinderella, white women were telling them that the fantasy was all wrong.”

If women of color would happily desire to be chosen and cared for, what about other women for whom handsome princes aren’t readily available? As professor Sami Schalk explores in her paper “Happily Ever After for Whom?: Blackness and Disability in Romance Narratives:”

The structures of the romance genre — which rely upon white, middle-class, able-bodied, and heterosexual norms of social mobility and citizenship through the marriage union — make a nonstereotypical and nondiscriminatory inclusion of black and disabled people quite difficult, since social mobility, rights of citizenship, and marriage are still actively denied to black and disabled people.”

wrote a provocative essay in the New York Times about how even having a strange man on the street check her out would be welcome:

I also do understand what it feels like to get attention from the wrong man. It’s gross. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary and tedious. And in certain cases, traumatic. But I still would much rather have a man make an inappropriate sexual comment than be referred to in the third person or have someone express surprise over the fact that I have a career. The former, unfortunately, feels ‘normal.’ The latter makes me feel invisible and is meant for that purpose. I like it when men look at me. It feels empowering. Frankly, it makes me feel like I’m not being excluded.

I imagine she wouldn’t be too upset if a prince wanted to give her a happily-ever-after future, either.

All of which means we don’t have to stick to fairy tales that have a happily-ever-after romantic ending. It just fuels matrimania — the obsession society has with being a couple and marriage as the be-all and end-all. As parents, we might want to pay attention to that. Let’s tell our children other stories, too. On the other hand, if having a happily-ever-after fairy-tale romantic ending isn’t all that available to us in our daily life, is it wrong to actually want it?

Interested in creating a happily-ever-after marriage based on your needs and goals? Learn how in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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Let’s face it — there’s no way to divorce-proof a marriage. You know it and I know it even if so-called marriage “experts” tell you there is.

As I’ve written before, you can’t control another person’s behaviors and therefore if your spouse wants out, he or she is going to get out. That’s how it goes, whether it seems fair or not.

That’s not to say we should just throw our hands up, look to the stars and accept our fate. We can certainly try to be the best person we can be and we can set up healthy boundaries that respect us and our partner, and our relationship.

That said, we know there are certain things each of us can do to give our union a boost. The Gottman Institute suggests kindness and generosity go a long way. In The New I Do, we suggest creating a marital plan based on our individual and joint needs and expectations, which creates a kind of a road map and baseline from which we can see how our relationship is doing. And then there’s professor Judith Gere’s study on joint goal planning, or the lack of it, and what that might mean for a marriage. When I came upon her study, “The Effects of Lack of Joint Goal Planning on Divorce Over 10 Years,” and her comment that “Given the negative consequences of divorce on health and well-being, it is important to try to identify its predictors,” I was curious.

Basically, what she discovers is that, even when controlling for various demographic, individual and relationship issues, the “lack of joint planning with the relationship partner was associated with a 19% increase in the odds of divorce.”

Well, a 19 percent increase in the odds of divorce is something to pay attention to. While we may not quite be able to divorce-proof a marriage, we can at least make it a bit less likely to end that way.

What’s joint planning?

What does she mean by joint planning? I reached out to professor Gere to learn more about her findings. Here’s an edited version of our email exchange:

Q: What got you interested in looking at how couples might engage in joint goal planning or not?

A: Some of my prior research has shown that goal conflict is really bad for people’s relationships and well-being. I thought that one way to potentially reduce goal conflict would be to plan jointly with the partner. So I wanted to investigate if lack of joint planning would be associated with higher rates of relationship dissolution.

Q: It seems like planning long-term goal would be a no-brainer. From your research, does it appear as if most couples haven’t been doing that? Any reason why?

A: Most couples do, in fact, plan jointly with their partner. However, there are some couples who do less of that, and it seems that the less people plan their goals jointly with their partner, the more likely that relationship is to end over time.

Q: Did you look at specific kinds of goals — if and when to have children and how to raise them, financial, lifestyle, etc. — or just the general idea of planning the future together?

A: (W)e looked at joint planning of both short and long-term goals. One of the questions asked specifically about joint planning regarding medical/financial/family issues, whereas the other two questions looked at joint planning across all domains.

Q: Do you believe joint goal planning occurred more in the past, or did wives basically just go along with their husband’s desires or vice versa?

A: I am not sure if joint goal planning has changed across time. I unfortunately do not have data that could address that.

Q: Does the desire by most of today’s couples for an egalitarian relationship make joint goal planning harder or easier?

A: Joint goal planning is probably challenging in some cases, regardless of the type of relationship people desire. But higher egalitarianism probably promotes higher motivation to plan jointly with one’s partner or at least have equal levels of joint planning between the partners (egalitarian relationships can also mean neither consults the other when setting goals). So it’s hard to say what the effects of wanting the egalitarian relationship would be on planning jointly.

Q: As far as you can tell, did couples merely talk about future goals or did they write them down in some sort of informal contract?

A: We did not assess this. We asked about whether they consult their partner or seek advice from them. So these seem to be issues assessed more in conversations than in writing.

Q: Was there a difference for couples who have children and those who do not?

A: No, joint planning was good for partners regardless of the presence of children.

Q: You mention that “perhaps joint planning is more important in the case of certain types of issues.” Were there some issues that were apparent for you?

A: In this study, we did not have data on the types of issues people discuss. But I would presume joint planning with regards to long-term goals would be more important than short-term daily goals.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you from the study’s results?

A: I was surprised that the effects of lack of joint planning on relationship dissolution were apparent even when we accounted for various relationship quality indicators, the partners’ agreement on various issues, overall goal planning, and all sorts of other things. These effects seem to be really robust.

Q: How can couples best use this information in their own partnership?

A: I think the best way to use it is to make sure one plans goals in some way jointly with the partner. It is really important for people to make decisions about their goals in consultation with those who will be affected by their goal pursuits.

Q: From the results of your study, do you see any value in couples creating a written marital plan with long- and short-term goals clearly addressed with the agreement that they’d revise and tweak as life circumstances may dictate?

A: I do not think that writing things down would be necessary. Goals change all the time and what’s important is ultimately whether the partner behaves in a considerate manner and supports one’s goals, rather than whether you have that in writing or not.

While I agree with professor Gere that “goals change all the time and what’s important is ultimately whether the partner behaves in a considerate manner and supports one’s goals,” I also believe know that, over time, partners don’t always act in a considerate manner nor do once-supportive partners always stay supportive. Which is why I like the idea of writing it down.

Why writing it down matters

Do I think that having goals in writing will prevent divorce? Absolutely not. Still, when a couple writes down their goals together, when they clarify for themselves what they’re both agreeing to and some “what ifs,” then there’s no question or doubt of who said what. That doesn’t mean that you or your partner might say, X-number of years later, “Well, I meant that at the time but now things have changed.” Hopefully, when things change, couples would be addressing it in real time — “I know we agreed to X, but now that I have this job offer, I’d like to talk about what that might mean for us” or something like that. In other words, the long-term goals are not set in stone; they’re fluid.

Still, from my experience, as a twice-divorced woman as well as from the experience of many of my friends who were breadwinning wives with stay-at-home/marginally employed husbands, it’s all too easy to have a partner renege on joint plans (and I imagine many breadwinning husbands will feel the same). “I never said that!” or “I didn’t really mean that” or “I only meant that if …” are not open to negotiations if you actually have a written agreement that clearly spells out your partnership goals.

Yes, you still might end up divorced (sorry, but that’s real!). Still, having some sort of “proof” that you both approached your partnership with the best of intentions may make the dissolution less contentious, which may help you uncouple consciously, without anger, regret or revenge. If you have kids together, this is huge. But even if you don’t, it’s an important step toward acknowledging and accepting that we can love people and they can love us without demanding or expecting that it lasts forever.

Interested in creating a marital plan? Learn how in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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