Marry Late, Divorce Early By Mary Eberstadt

3 01 2014

Late marriageAlas and alack, the end of summer turned out to abound in the sort of personal news one really dreads hearing – especially the more one hears it. Several friends and acquaintances now have the same problem in common: they are all getting divorced. And though every divorce is apparently unhappy in its own way, the similarities among these cases are striking enough to suggest some common denominators. All have occurred among older, married, financially (and apparently otherwise) stable people. All have involved small families – most often, an only child. And each was a shock.
All of these divorcing partners, in other words, had ostensibly followed today’s secular wisdom about marital happiness to a T: don’t rush into marriage, take time to find yourself first, establish your own career before settling down, don’t have more children than you can afford. So what went wrong?
I suggest that at least part of the answer – and by extension, perhaps part of the explanation for the staggering Western divorce rate more generally – might be summarized in two words: late marriage. Of course, we can all conjure examples of blissful marriages made in mid-life or even later, just as we can all think of early ones that have been flaming disasters. But if we step back from individual cases and look instead to the general good, the pluses of early marriage do loom large.
Many a sociologist would quarrel with that point, of course. Teen marriages, they remind us, are in fact the most likely to break up. As the contrary-minded sociologist Mark Regnerus has recently observed, that cautionary note is true – and truly misleading; for who said we were talking about teens here? What about marriage in the slightly higher demographic – say, people in their twenties? Why aren’t our churches and other organizations dedicated to family life encouraging more of that?
Regnerus has written a compelling essay in the August 2009 Christianity Today called “The Case for Early Marriage.” He zeroes in first on one particular (and rarely discussed) problem with discouraging early marriage: it means that men and women generally are expected to stay chaste during the same years that are best for childbearing, and in fact far longer than many of them will. “Over 90 percent of Americans,” he observes, “experience sexual intercourse before marrying,” and “the percentage of evangelicals who do so is not much lower.” (The percentage of Catholics probably isn’t, either.) Yes, abstinence education is all to the good, and yes, religious teaching itself is not at issue here; to the contrary, it is a given. “I’m certainly not suggesting,” the author concludes, “that they cannot abstain. I’m suggesting that in the domain of sex, most of them don’t and won’t.”
Regnerus goes on to detail other drawbacks to waiting till today’s fashionably older ages to tie the knot. It encourages men to have a ridiculously prolonged adolescence, as the popular “culture” of many twenty-something males readily demonstrates; it encourages churches to lean too heavily on sexual ecstasy as the foundation of marriage itself; it forces many women, especially believing Christian women, to look long and hard for a suitable partner in a world where many men their age have become anything but; and very seriously indeed, such waiting risks compromising the fertility of any woman who wants to have a family of size – sometimes even the fertility of any woman who wants a child, period.
To these minuses admirably addressed by Regnerus, I would add one other potential plus for earlier marriage that sociologists have yet to grapple with: treating marriage like the home version of Waiting for Godot also risks perpetuating a kind of human consumerism, a habit that cannot possibly be good for anyone.
After all, once a sufficiently large number of relationships have all failed to lead to marriage for one reason or another, it becomes terribly tempting to view the whole enterprise as more like comparison shopping than spiritual discernment. For example, I once knew a man who had dated a great many women by his late twenties – so many that his friends privately rejoiced when one finally appeared who seemed perfect for him. They shared the same religion, political views, and other interests; she was smart, successful, and what today would be called a real babe, to boot. Yet the consumer’s diffident response upon meeting her rang far more of the Consumer Checkbook than of the swain. “I’m not sure,” he temporized. “Her complexion seems really sallow.” Needless to say, no walk down the aisle.
This is what comes of people shopping, perhaps – the destructive habit of making comparative checklists about human beings. No one does it consciously, of course; but still the pernicious voice of experience assesses the goods. He gained thirty pounds, and my other boyfriends never would have, it tells some people, or she looks great for her age, but not as great as my secretary who’s ten years younger, and if only I had married X, Y, or Z instead, we wouldn’t be having all these financial/medical/romantic problems.
Of course there are good reasons to wait for marriage, chiefly that it is the single most important earthly decision that many of us will make, and that the world we live in does indeed make it easier than ever for things to fall apart. That said, from the point of view of trying to bring more, rather than fewer, thriving families into that same world, Regnerus is right: there’s much to be said for bucking the prevailing cultural aversion and marrying young.

Mary Eberstadt is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution





Live Together Before Marriage Get Divorced After Marriage: Strange World By Janet Smith

3 10 2013

 Live Together Before Marriage Get Divorced After Marriage: Strange World By Janet Smithcohabitation and divorce2

We live in a strange world in which people live together before marriage and get divorced after marriage. There is a much higher divorce rate for those who cohabit. The figures just go up and up. About 65 percent of those who cohabit before marriage get divorced. About 50 percent of the rest of the people do, but since more and more couples cohabit, the divorce rate is just going to just keep climbing and climbing.

As a matter of fact I think some people get divorced before they get married; that is, some people have two or three extended cohabitations, get “divorced” from them, and then they get married.

I feel I must apologize to those in this room who are younger than I. I often feel that my generation — I am 55 — owes anybody younger than we are a big apology. They call my father’s generation “the great generation”, they lived through a depression; they worked very hard. My parents are of that generation: they have been married 58 years. It’s just incredible. I think a good name for my generation would be “the stupid generation.” Whereas, my parent’s home is very well ordered, if you looked into my refrigerator, you wouldn’t know when I last did anything in that refrigerator. It’s a kind of scary place. I find it hard to pay my bills on time. I find it hard to get the oil changed in my car. I have a hard time doing what my parents do with great ease. In fact, my whole generation is pretty much always stressed out. We were exceptionally stupid in our youth. We were the generation that started the whole drug and sexual revolution. We went off to college and experimented with drugs. We thought that that’s what college is all about. We’ve got to smoke marijuana, if not take a little bit of cocaine and LSD. Yeah, well, why not? That’s what you do when you got to college. And certainly have sex. Our poor parents, they had to get married to get sex. They had to rush into marriage. We thought they probably married some totally unsuitable person so they could have sex. I remember hearing people say, “You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive, so surely you wouldn’t get married without having a test drive. And you wouldn’t buy a car without taking several for a test drive. So certainly you would do that in respect to marriage. You’ve got to find what model you like.” We thought that way. That’s my generation.

My generation went down a lot of dead ends and fell into huge potholes and we’re having a hard time climbing out. I want to save other people from going down those same dead ends and falling into those same potholes. If you don’t know exactly what you think would be the right direction, at least look at what we did and do something different. It doesn’t much matter what it is, just do something different.

Divorce Rates

I would like now to make a case that contraception is a factor leading to the increase in divorce. In the 1960s, 1 out of 4 marriages in the United States ended in divorce. Compared to the rest of the world and the US itself for most of its existence, that is a very high rate of divorce. At the turn of the century in the United States well under 10 percent of marriages ended in divorce. The divorce rate had been climbing up all century — contraceptive use had been increasing all that time as well. Again, in 1960 the divorce rate was 1 out of 4 marriages. By the mid 1970s 1 out of 2 marriages ended in divorce. It has stayed right about there.

Why did the divorce rate double between the 1960s and the 1970s? That’s a social revolution of unprecedented proportions. Never in the history of mankind has the divorce rate doubled in a short 10 to 15 year period. Why did it? Robert Michael, an economist from the University of Chicago, studied this phenomenon. As an economist he was interested because divorce, just like unwed pregnancy, is terrible for the economy. For some extended period of time people who are in divorced households often live on about half the income they had prior to the divorce. As an economist Professor Michael finds financial explanations most persuasive for explaining the increase in the incidence of divorce. He says that he has the data to show that couples who have a baby in the first two years of marriage and another one in the next two years — two babies in the first four years of marriage — have marriages that will last a lot longer than those who don’t. He explains that women who have babies early in the marriage become financially dependent upon their husbands. Even if things are going badly in the marriage, they’re going to stick it out and work at the marriage because a woman with babies at home needs the support of her husband. Now women are delaying childbearing until four or five years into the marriage. By that time a woman is established in her own career. She’s financially independent and so if the marriage goes badly and there are no children, she can kick her husband out. Even if they do eventually have children, she’s established herself in a career and she can take care of the children.

I suspect there is great deal of truth in Professor Michael’s explanations but I would like to suggest a few others. I think that when people have babies, they become much better people. In another talk I claim that the purpose of children is to make adults out of their parents. In fact, a person married to a parent is married to a better person. Being a parent nearly forces the parents to acquire certain virtues. Parents must become more disciplined, more charitable, more responsible, more hard-working. It’s hard work to get up in the middle of the night to take care of someone who’s crying and to change diapers and to plan for college and all the rest. That’s hard work. Both spouses take life more seriously. It’s as natural as can be.

One of my favorite people on the face of the earth is the first time father. I have had the great privilege and pleasure of seeing several of my male friends shortly after their first baby was born. Within about three sentences they all say the same thing. They float about 2 or 3 feet off the ground, they’re kind of dazed and they say: “Everything is different now.” And they mean it. Yesterday they didn’t care how good the school system is, who the chief of police is, whether the playgrounds are safe. Now that they have a baby, they do. They want to make this world safe for their children.

Robert Michael also says that adultery has skyrocketed since contraception has come on the scene. Can anybody figure out why that might be the case? If 80 percent of women are using some form of contraception, that makes a lot of women and a lot of men think that there is no problem with having sex with someone who is married to someone else. Many people had multiple sexual partners before they married. They don’t see any particular reason to stop after they get married. Because, you see, sex was no big deal before they got married. There’s no particular reason to think that it’s a big deal after marriage. Before marriage, sex was not an expression of lifetime love. Sex was not exclusive before marriage. It was just a fun thing to do with another person. How, when you get married, do you all of a sudden turn sexual intercourse into something that is profound, something that is a deep, intimate, exclusive expression of love for one person? How to do that 180-degree turn?

That’s why I want to talk about natural sex — which is not what people in our culture are having. The pattern in marriage in our culture is this: people have generally three sexual partners or more before they get married. Most people have sex in high school. If not in high school, certainly before they leave college. Maybe by the time they leave college, they are on their second or third partner. They split up with their current partner because there’s no real relationship there. Now they are out in the real world and it’s hard to find somebody. They start dating, pretty quickly they have sex, if not right away, eventually. Before long they are spending all their time at his place or hers. So they move in with each other. Why pay rent on two places? After a period of time people are saying: “When are the two of you going to get married?” The couple looks at each other and say: “Why don’t we get married? The sex is pretty good; we don’t fight that much; and who wants to start all over again?” That’s what I call “sliding into marriage.”

Currently people have had several sexual partners before marriage: some of those break-ups were accompanied with some degree of heartbreak, probably much confusion, perhaps some regret and guilt. Nearly everyone brings some sexual “baggage” in a marriage. Nearly all of the sexual intercourse they have ever had and will ever have is contracepted sexual intercourse. They contracepted before marriage and after marriage. Within marriage, they stop for a short period of time to conceive a child and then contracept again. Then they stop for a short period of time to conceive child number two. Then they get sterilized and then they get divorced. That’s the pattern in our culture, over and over again. People have had a very short period of time, if any, of what I want to call natural sex. They have never had a prolonged period of sex with someone whom they deeply love, to whom they have made a lifetime commitment, and with whom they are open to having children. Most of their sex life is contracepted, some of it in an uncertain relationship.

After one of my talks a man came up to me and said you missed a step in that little story you told. He said after the vasectomy or tubal ligation, one or other of the spouses often engages in an adulterous affair. He said he saw it at his place of work all the time. Man after man came in after he had a vasectomy and before long he was having an affair and before long he was divorced.

What you need to know is that couples using natural family planning almost never divorce. This is the biggest selling point of natural family planning when I’m talking to college students. The fact is, young people hate divorce. Either they’ve grown up in divorced households and they know the pain of divorce very personally or their friends have. Even if a couple has been married for 25 or 30 years and they think they are never going to get divorced, their kids don’t think that. The kids know someone else at school who went home and dad was packing up or mom was gone and they think it could happen to anybody. And so they’re living in this very fragile world. “Yeah, I don’t think Mom and Dad are going to get divorced, but Kevin didn’t think his mom and dad were going to get divorced either and they did.”

There is also an amazing difference for couples who don’t have sex before marriage. People who don’t have sex before marriage have an immensely lower divorce rate. Abstaining before marriage is one of the surest predictors of not getting a divorce. There is a study that shows that of people who were born between 1933 and 1943, 83 percent of the males were virgins when they got married and 93 percent of the females were virgins when they got married. And every decade thereafter it goes down about 10 to 15 percent of those who were virgins when they got married. Staying a virgin until marriage is one of the surest predictors of a long lasting marriage. Is that bizarre? Why would it be bizarre? You’ve waited for this one person. You probably chose this person fairly carefully. You said I’m saving myself for marriage, so I’m not just going to slide into marriage. I’m going to be very careful about this relationship. I am going to get to know someone slowly, let someone get to know me. The sex isn’t going to be at the beginning of the relationship; the sex is going to be at the beginning of the marriage. We’ve got a lot to know about each other before we can even begin to think about making that commitment.

Contraception’s Bad Consequences

What are the bad consequences of contraception?

It facilitates sex outside of marriage.

It increases the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases.

It leads to unwanted pregnancy and single parenthood.

It causes and leads to abortion.

It contributes to divorce and it contributes to social chaos.

Does anybody think there might be a reason to rethink our enthusiasm for contraception?

 








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