In the months leading up to our wedding some 20 years ago, my husband and I had a series of meetings with the priest and the rabbi who were to preside jointly over our ceremony. These weren’t exactly pre-cana classes – more like a series of “getting-to-know” you sessions – but they were thought-provoking all the same.
We got a lot of good advice from our respective officiants. The Rabbi leaned in and told us that the secret to a good wedding wasn’t the food, but the music. He then proceeded to recommend a band from the South Side of Chicago called The Gentlemen of Leisure which he assured us would rock the house. The priest, for his part, counseled us that we should never go to bed angry.
Both kernels of wisdom turned out to be true. But something else the priest said has also stuck with me through the years: “In my opinion, it’s far too easy to get married in this country and far too difficult to get divorced.”
I know that several years back, Mexico contemplated a change to the civil code that would issue temporary marriage licenses. Under this proposal, the minimum marriage contract would be for two years and could be renewed if the couple stayed happy. The contracts would also include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits.
The idea never went anywhere, and as far as I can tell there were no other countries clamoring to get in the mix. But it’s certainly an idea worth taking on board, in Mexico and elsewhere.
I consider myself to be a happily married person. But I also know that I’m a minority. Many of my close friends and relatives have split from their partners, some bitterly so. And many of the couples I know who have stayed together clearly regret that decision. As Gina Frangello put it so eloquently in a recent piece for Full Grown People:”Promises made at the age of twenty-five can feel like words uttered by someone else entirely by the time we are forty-six.”
I’m not pro-divorce. But the statistics speak for themselves. While divorce rates are surprisingly difficult to calculate, it remains the case that the lifetime risk of divorce remains between 40 and 50%. One survey in the UK where I live referred to a “three year glitch” (as opposed to the “seven year itch”) in estimating the average time that elapses before a couple begins to grow sick of one another.
And yet– almost blindly – we continue to idealize marriage.
To be sure, some interesting alternatives to marriage are surfacing on the horizon. The number of adults cohabiting with a partner continues to rise in the U.S., particularly for those over 50. The new buzzword is “LATS” – what documentary filmmaker Sharon Hyman calls “Apartners“) – which refers to people who live apart but remain in long-term, committed relationships. In the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, the number of LATs is growing, estimated at nine percent of the population in the U.K.
Alongside these innovations – could we not also make marriage – like so many other contracts we enter into – fixed-term and renewable.? In today’s world, that seems not only practical, but desirable.
Please respond with “I do.”