Friday, March 29, 2013

Has Marriage Changed?

Conor Friedersdorf argues that it hasn't changed as much as we think:
Think of the math. My grandparents raised their kids in a couple decades -- that is to say, for less than a third of their time together. The subsequent love and support they gave their kids and grandkids cannot be overstated. But the child-rearing obligation that traditionalists want to preserve -- a stable, two-parent household composed of a child's biological parents -- was met decades ago. Once their kids left home, once my parents got married and had me, my grandparents didn't imagine the core of their marriage as exhausted. They expected "to love and cherish, in sickness and in health," 'til death. They've spent their "empty nest" years with one another as business partners, traveling companions, and friendly competitors in gin rummy.
That wasn't ever negotiable.
I once conducted an interview about another couple from the World War II generation. Their granddaughter shared the advice her grandparents gave her prior to her wedding. "They sat me down and told me, 'Anyone can get a divorce nowadays. But we never did because, as individuals, you die alone. And do you want, grandchild, to be 80 years old and to look back on your life having stopped and started and stopped and started? Or do you want to look back knowing that you went through and got through and learned from and moved forward with one person?' They kept it up, not because of the children or the social implications, but because they were always curious about what would happen at the end. And their comment to me was that the end proved much more worthwhile to them, having gone through it together rather than having done it alone."
I would posit that it has changed in the way that people may be less likely to make the sacrifices necessary to make things work out.  There isn't the social stigma in calling it quits like there used to be.  I think it is easier at the point where his grandparents are in their lives to reflect back on everything and realize that the good times and positive benefits outweigh the challenges.  I also think that people today seem so much less tied to a single place than they did in the past.  Some of the older farmers ended up marrying their neighbors.  Their social circles were constrained by geography.  However, I think Conor is right on the main merits of his argument.  And it is a beautiful thing to hear my grandparents' generation talk about how much they love their spouses.

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