Posted by: Dan Savage
Topic: Can lack of realism about marriage lead to divorce?
In Against Love, Laura Kipnis' bracing, kick-ass-and-other-significantly-painful-spots-on-the-lower-body polemic (buy it by clicking here), she describes a world in which people have no illusions about love. Everyone, according to Kipnis, is aware that love is a long, hard slog.
We all know that Good Marriages Take Work: we've been well tutored in the catechism of labor-intensive intimacy. Work, work, work: given all the heavy lifting required, what's the difference between work and "after work" again? Work/home, office/bedroom: are you ever not on the clock? ....
Somehow--how exactly did this happen?--the work ethic has managed to brown-nose its way into all spheres of human existence. No more play--or playing around--even when off the clock. Of course, the work ethic long ago penetrated the leisure sphere; leisure, once a respite from labor, now takes quite a lot of work itself.... But when did the rhetoric of the factory become the default language of love--and does this mean that collective bargaining should now replace marriage counseling when negotiating for improved domestic conditions?
But Kipnis is addressing people that have some experience with love and romance and long-term relationships. That is, she's taking about and to people whose illusions about love--that love is blissful and effortless, that monogamy is easy and gratifying, not difficult and tedious--have already been shattered by reality. So, yeah, I'd say a lack of realism can lead to divorce--because the reality of married life (or long-term coupling for the unmarried/unmarryable) can be radically out of step with our romantic notions.
What do we do about it? I'm not sure. If we paint too dark a picture of married life--marriage is hell!--we make it less attractive, and the marriage-industrial complex will have our throats slit in the night if we drive the marriage rate down any further. But if we allow people to enter into marriages without at least nudging them in the ribs and saying, "Hey, it ain't all glamor," we risk driving the divorce rate back up. Maybe the trick is to encourage people to be realistic about some commonly misunderstood aspects of married life.
I have three suggestions: 1. You're still going to want to sleep with other people. The mark of a loving monogamous commitment is not a lack of desire for others, but refraining from acting on those attractions. Hammering this into peoples' heads would save numerous marriages. 2. Children don't bring you closer together. Children, in fact, are a wedge you drive into your relationship. Once you have kids, however you come by them, you MUST make time for yourselves as a couple--date nights, weekends away (fly in grandma and take off for Vegas). It's only when you're away from your kids that you remember why you liked each other so much that you wanted to have kids together in the first place. 3. You're still an individual--and so is your spouse/partner. You need your own friends, hobbies, passions, and time away, and so does he/she. If you don't have your own lives, you quickly run out of things to talk about when you're together. So don't get married, drop all your friends, stop doing the things you enjoyed alone (or insist that your partner stop doing things he/she enjoys and you don't), and then move to some suburb and isolate yourselves--unless you want to quickly tire of each other, divorce, and start the process (meet, fall in love, marry, isolate, divorce) all over again.