Salvo Mag started up a conversation between me and my son. The magazine is excellent for that. If any of you need such fodder, I HIGHLY recommend it. I even agree with it quite often.
Anyway, Salvo blamed the rising and already astronomical divorce rate on something. I'll let you read it for yourself to find out what. I'm going to give you the rant I went on over it. The conversation was pretty awkward, because I'm one of those statistics, but I never let a little awkwardness stop me. I argued that everyone's wrong about the reasons behind the crazy divorce rates.
The Left Wing often says the divorce rates went up as soon as women were no longer forced by economic necessity to survive in empty, unfulfilling and even abusive marriages. They have a fascinating data point, and one for which I have respect. The divorce rate in any society increases and decreases in lockstep with the degree to which women are treated like chattel. As women become freer, the divorce rate increases. With this data, they point out the essential inequality of the deal women get in marriage. Women, they assert, immediately realize how much better off they are alone when the option becomes viable for them.
The Right Wing usually says all us divorcees just lacked commitment. The romantic excitement went away, and things got hard, and we all caved and ran away looking for greener pastures. They point to the hippy generation's free love mindset and the Boomer's self-obsession and find all the explanation they could possibly want. The "Greatest Generation" died and left America in the hands of a bunch of selfish cowards. When the marital going got tough, we walked away.
It seems to me both arguments are paper thin on the surface. The lefties cannot possibly imagine women are better off alone. Raising kids is the most fulfilling experience life offers us in our 30's and 40's, but doing it as a single parent is devastating. There's still good and joy in it, but the workload kills you a little bit every day. And financially, the single life is stupid. To be single financially is to have no backup plan, and to pay double for most of the resources in your life. (Housing, food, utilities, etc. could all be split with a spouse.) The idea that women are freer just because there's not anyone committed to facing life with them is silly.
The righties could possibly be more insulting, but I don't know how. Everyone who says divorcees lack commitment has simply tattooed on their forehead that they've never been divorced. Again, I don't know any Christian who got bored and decided to spice things up by starting over fresh with a new face. Pretty much when your "answer" on any subject is that everyone's lazy, you're missing something key. I just wish evangelical Christians wouldn't miss this one from the rooftops with their bibles held high over their heads, because millions of broken souls have no way to take their self-righteous accusations helpfully. They just turn away, every bit as lost and broken as they were before Jesus' self-appointed representative stepped in to "help."
Still, we all need an explanation for the hockey stick that describes divorce rates from 1960 until the present.
The explanation is simple. None of us knows how to stay married any more.
It's a skills thing. Our parents used to be involved in helping us judge the quality of our prospective spouses, and after we'd chosen someone to wear our ring, they were "present" enough in our lives to help us navigate a course through those critical first rollercoaster humps.
Who's involved now?
Our parents used to live a couple blocks away from their Mom and Dad. Now we live a couple states away. The extended family used to be the only family there was. Now, it's almost weird to stay in touch with Mom and Dad, much less to lean on them for help and advice. Moms and Dads used to watch "that son-in-law of theirs" and if things got iffy, they got mad. Not any more. These days we keep everything to ourselves, and our parents never hear about our problems, even if they can see them.
And we are hopelessly awkward at fighting. Spouses used to know how to have a good fight and a good forgive. These days the fights are too intense and the forgiveness is too shallow. Consequently, we don't know how to complain to each other. If you cannot complain without starting a too-strong, too-permanent fight, then you won't complain. And if you don't complain, things that could be changed fester. We panic at every conflict.
And that's caused because we don't know about the rhythms of relationship.
We're told that the emotion in a marriage follows a steep downward curve and bottoms out by about year 10 of marriage. If you ask many kids today to draw the trajectory of romantic love in marriage, you'll get something that looks like the current housing market - it starts high and spends the next 50 years in the toilet.
But that picture is not true. Instead, romantic love starts high, dips low, bounces back a little less high, dips a little less low, and through this process eventually settles somewhere in the middle of the scale. No one taught us that. No one taught us it was so simple, so when the first huge dip came we poured heart and soul into getting the fight resolved and the love restored. And when we "won" and everything was back where it should be, we relaxed - only to find ourselves speeding into another dip. We wore ourselves out trying to fight every dip and depression, when all we had to do was trust each other and exercise courtesy, honesty, and forgiveness.
Our generation KNOWS that you need a personal trainer to lose weight or learn tennis. Anything that requires actual skill requires meaningful training. No one tries to become a good tennis player without finding a good coach to give them the basics.
So what do we think? Marriage is easy?!?!
Marriage requires no skill?
Anyone can have a successful marriage if they are willing to be enslaved and if they have enough commitment?
When my wife and I were struggling through those first years of marriage, we had no training and no support. I don't think we were unique in that. We had another couple going through the same stuff we were, but we couldn't really talk to them. Church leadership didn't care to be involved, and our families were so distant as to be no influence at all.
We were guessing!
The real question is how we guessed right for 16 years given all the ballast we were carrying. But we were Americans, and we were smart, and we were successful at so many things. And it looked like things were working for so long, and we made it through so many high waters together. We sweated out days and months and years of low times, and we made it. Up until the last year of our marriage, we were proud of how we'd faced everything together.
But every struggle took its toll.
Go ahead and lecture me about not being committed. What? Do you think I haven't played that mp3 in my head? You can be as committed to tennis as you want. If you lack training, you'll injure yourself while learning nothing so much as to hate the game.
All our successes taught us to hate the marriage.
It takes a village to make a marriage. Look back on history, and you're fooling yourself if you think you see greater commitment in 1950. You're fooling yourself if you think you see women who wanted to be free, but couldn't find a way out. Look back on a world that lacked the isolating entertainment of the television, though, and I think you're onto something. Those kids HAD to play with each other, and they learned profitable conflict. There was nothing else. Look back on a world that expected parents to be involved in their adult children's lives. You can see the last vestiges of that world played out in the sitcoms that made the mother-in-law a villain. Mother-in-law jokes aren't funny any more, because there's no more friction there. The mother-in-law is half a state away, and the young couple has her visitation rights carefully controlled.
Nobody meddles any more, and it's costing us dearly.
We need help.