No, we’re not privileged, pro-marriage, elitist jerks
Well, here we are, just having celebrated our 56th wedding anniversary with two posts, here and here, on how to have a long and happy marriage. And some of you have joined in the celebration by saying, “Fuck you!”
The general idea, it seems, is that celebrating the idea of a long and happy marriage is a celebration of privilege and luck, and that it’s also a way to look down on other ways of structuring a person’s life.
And I gotta say, I totally agree. Really!
So let me lay my cards on the table. It’s truth time.
And I don’t even know where to begin.
How about here: when it comes to love and companionship and support and sex and all the other things we look for from a committed relationship, there are lots of options beyond the long-term marriage. I wanted that for myself because as a child refugee and the child of refugees, I really craved that sense of stability, trust, and continuity. But that’s just me.
In general, I think the best model is not to hang in there until death releases you from the grip of a dead or bitter relationship. God forbid! The alternative that may work best for many people is serial monogamy. You find someone. You stay together as long as it’s “good,” whatever that is for you, and when it stops being “good” you say “Bye” and move on to Ms. or Mr. Next.
Here’s how we know that’s a good idea. During the many decades when the divorce rate climbed from rare to its peak in the 1980s, the degree of satisfaction in marriage climbed dramatically as well. So what did serial monogamy accomplish? Happier marriages! Divorce weeded out the crappy ones.
Notice how flexibility makes things better?
It’s the same within marriage. Even within a long-term committed relationship, who’s to say you have to keep re-enlisting every five years on the same terms. There is everything to be said for the idea of rolling re-marriage, where every five years or so the two of you revisit who you are to each other and what your setup is. Everything is on the table: Who supports whom. Who cooks or cleans. Who pays for what. Who sleeps where. Who lives where. What the deal with sex is. You don’t have to change anything, but there’s nothing you can’t change.
And let’s go further. The ties of a relationship aren’t for everyone. There are lots of people—particularly women—who thrive with a circle of close, supportive friends. And when they have that they find that their need for having a man in the house dwindles down to very little. Killing spiders and a bit of dick every once in a while.
There is absolutely no reason to make people like this feel “less than” for never achieving a golden wedding anniversary. I mean, I don’t feel badly for knowing I never have and never will become the NRA Woman of the Year. I’m all for leaving people alone to set their own goals.
And as for what’s been called the “triumphalism” of celebrating something like a 56th wedding anniversary...
I don’t feel that way at all.
I thank God for my marriage in the humblest possible terms. I certainly don’t think I deserve this because I’ve been such a wonderful spouse, because I haven’t been.
More importantly for you, yes, it’s true we gave you in the last two posts all kinds of super-good advice about how to increase your odds of having a long and happy marriage, if that’s what you want. But the thing is, we were talking about relationship-type things you can do that you have control over.
I said I was going, to tell the truth, and part of that is that there’s so much you don’t have control over, so much that’s peripheral to your relationship. For example, did you know that the cheaper your wedding, the more likely your marriage is to last? Who knew! As reported in an article in Bloomberg, two economists
found that the money couples spent on wedding rings and the ceremony itself was inversely related to the long-term viability of the marriage. The more ostentatious the wedding, the less likely it would endure.
So who knows? Maybe that’s why our marriage lasted. Our wedding rings? $25 bucks each, gold, at Tiffany’s! Our wedding was in my mother’s apartment. The reception was in a bargain-basement nightclub in the Lower East Side, family only, twelve people tops. And speaking of bargain-basement, I bought my all-white “wedding gown” for $19.95 in the cruise wear section of Klein’s basement, the basement of what was already a bargain store! Our honeymoon was in the house of a friend of a friend in Chocorua, New Hampshire. Cost? Nothing.
And here we are right after the ceremony, teenagers stupid with love, me in a cruise wear “wedding gown” that cost less than my husband’s necktie:
I sorta think that’s definitely why our marriage has lasted. You can’t buy that kind of luck.
But bad luck can take down any marriage, and you’d have to be stupid and blind indeed not to acknowledge the truth of that. We’ve seen that over and over in our practice. It can come from anywhere.
Here’s a couple who married later in life. Covid shows up. The guy goes online, gets caught up in anti-vax conspiracy theories, turns total nut on the subject, and this rips them apart. A true nightmare.
Or a couple we worked with... They thought their problems might be workable until her husband, who often “worked late,” was arrested on peeping Tom charges.
Or the many couples where one partner—after ten or twenty years—turns out to be gay. Oops.
So any self-congratulation for a long and happy marriage would just be pride and naivety.
But there’s nothing you can do about stuff that comes at you out of nowhere. Doing well in life is controlling what you can control. So why not take some control over the age-old problem of getting your needs met when they conflict. That’s the relationship-ending problem couples have. And that can be solved. The solution is right here in our new book, Why Couples Fight.