Sep 11, 2011

Why Remarry?

I am divorced, and I live with my boyfriend, also divorced. I have quite a few divorced friends, women and men. Some are happily remarried; a couple are planning to wed new partners; several are looking for love and, I assume, another shot at marriage; at least one is recently divorced and probably not ready to even think about dating; a handful are ambivalent about remarrying; and some insist they will never again take the matrimonial plunge.

According to a study published in the American Law and Economics Review, women initiate more than two-thirds of divorces. There is variation among states, and the numbers have changed over time, with over 70% of filings by women in some states just after no-fault divorce was introduced. Also, a new report from the U.S. census bureau shows that, for those 25 and older, 52% of men and 44% of women were remarried. Statistics indicate that 50% of all first marriages fail; the divorce rates of second marriages are estimated to be over 70%.

These numbers are surprising considering the conventional wisdom that men are generally coerced into first marriages by women hell-bent on snagging a husband. Don't take my word for it; check out the number of books and websites devoted to coaching women on how to trick their man into committing. (I challenge you to find similar advice for men.) And much of the information out there is absurd. For example:

From Your Tango’s Top 10 Surprising Ways To Get A Guy To Commit: “2. Don't be exclusive until you're engaged. Once you've become exclusive and have your eye on marriage, a man can sense that you're thinking about the relationship, wondering where things are going, hoping he loves you as much as you love him—all of which are totally normal feelings, but they make men withdraw emotionally.”

Is this 1950? Keep that man on his toes until he puts a ring on your finger! And while you're at it, date a bunch of other guys who don't realize you "have your eye" on marrying someone else! Sorry, Your Tango, but engagement is not the carrot women should be chasing, and marriage is not a prize that guarantees commitment. Marriage is the result of commitment.

From Love is No Guarantee author Peter Hector: “It is men’s nature to delay anything that can cause drastic changes to their lives. And although men have always been aware of the changes that marriage brings, they accepted them as part of the territory; ‘when a man marries his troubles begin.’ But whether or not today’s men are aware of this old saying, one thing is certain. They are not ready to be plucked from their comfort zones and thrown into a life of responsibility, compromise and sacrifice. And by their own admissions this is the life they believe awaits them whenever they decide to take what they consider the final plunge.”

Barf. Thanks for this sweeping generalization that makes all men sound like pathetic assholes, Mr. Hector. I can't imagine who comprised your sample group, but perhaps you could publish a list of like-minded men so single women everywhere won't waste their time trying to pluck them from their comfort zones and plunge them into a lifetime of trouble.

I came across another revolting factoid around marital disharmony: rather than acknowledge they are unhappy and leave the marriage or, better yet, work on the underlying causes of their and/or their spouse’s unhappiness, many men cheat. (I believe this is referred to as Passive Aggressive Dick Behavior, or PADB.) So who knows if women are ending their marriages because they are unhappy or because hubby needed a little variety to make it through the “long haul” of married life?

My summary, based on the above: men resist marriage the first time around; women are more likely to leave their marriages; men are more likely to remarry (possibly their mistresses!); and second marriages are more likely to fail. In other words, divorced women, more often than men, get what they want and then decide they don’t want it anymore. Men, more often than women, get what they thought they didn’t want, lose it, then realize they want it again. And both men and women are unrealistically optimistic about the chances of a second—or third, or fourth—marriage lasting.

Statistics are numbers crunched to reflect trends. Just that—trends. While some people may have a genetic predisposition for violence, not all of them act on it. Similarly, not all single, married, divorced, or remarried men and women act in accordance with statistical probabilities. While I see some of these trends playing out in my friends’ relationships, the behavior of the majority of people I know does not fit so neatly into these molds. Good for them, I say, because these statistics are freakin’ depressing.

I believe marriages most often succeed or fail due to the reasons people decide to marry, and how committed they are to working their asses off for the rest of their lives to make the marriage work for both of them. So, I offer my unsolicited thoughts on good and bad reasons to remarry:

Top Five Reasons Not To Remarry:

1. It’s the logical next step. There are no logical next steps in any relationship.

2. Marriage will strengthen the relationship. I don’t think so. Being married makes it more logistically difficult to split up, but if your relationship is weak now, toughen it up before heading to the altar.

3. Marriage will decrease the chance of infidelity. Um, no. (See above.) If you and your partner are already committed, fidelity should not be an issue—yet. And if infidelity is a deal-breaker for you, make sure you address it before getting married, because there's a damn good chance you'll be addressing it later on.

4. My parents expect me to be married. Good for them. They probably also want you to give them grandkids (if you haven’t already), floss regularly, and take care of them in their old age. But you’re a grown up now, and it’s time to make major life decisions all on your own.

5. Marriage will provide financial stability. Hahahah! Remember that divorce? How stable were your finances, then? On the other hand, if you’ve made a conscious decision to marry for money rather than love, go get ‘em! But prepare for a life of insecurity once you sacrifice your independence.

Top Five Reasons To Remarry:

1. You and your partner are truly committed and equally enthusiastic about tying the knot. Enough said. Preface each reason below with this one.

2. You want to start a family (or add to the one you have). Fair enough. It’s fun to be married when you have kids. You get to argue over whose last name they’ll take.

3. Your religious beliefs encourage marriage over living in sin. While I obviously don’t subscribe to this, many people do. Go with God (or whoever).

4. You’ve recently come out of the closet, ended that icky hetero marriage, and now you’ve found someone special with whom you want to share your life. Congratulations! If you live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, hurry up and get hitched, because religious-fanatic-right-wingnut lunatics all over the country are fighting like rabid, feral cats to take away that hard-won right.

5. You simply can’t imagine growing old without your partner. Smart cookie, because when you're really, really old, you want her/him to have legal standing to make end-of-life medical decisions for you. Also, it just sounds so friggin’ sweet.

The other night, a friend remarked that she and her husband considered my boyfriend and me the "perfect couple". I burst out laughing, then explained I don't believe perfect couples exist. (She joked that they do on Facebook. True, that.) Every couple has their share of struggles, depending on their history, emotional maturity, and—most important—their commitment to each other. This left me wondering, however, what commitment really means. If two people claim to be committed to each other but their definitions of commitment differ significantly, does that commitment benefit the relationship? I don't have an answer, but I imagine that conversation would be an excellent place to start for any couple considering marriage.

What do you think?


Shaindel Beers said...

I don't have any answers, but I appreciate your thoughtful blog entry. People ask if Jared and I will get married since we have Liam, and my answer is always "Maybe after the second child." Who knows? But it's interesting that other people seem so concerned about it when we're not.

Jillian Barnet said...

Is it possible to separate the concept and act of marriage from the relationship itself? ...I mean, I was married twice before and remarriage didn't work for me at all the second time (obviously), but not because of the institution. It was the person and how we were together. I'm married for a third time now and marriage is completely different this time than before. I'm not sure I can say exactly why, just that we work better together. A very wise person once told me that we will forever choose the same type of people to be in a relationship with; once you get in there, it's what you do with who you are and who the other person is that matters. The institution is pretty much beside the point, as far as I can tell.

Brandon Davis said...

I have been married, was so for four years, got divorced, and since met a wonderful woman that I love dearly. Maybe I am one of those guys that lost it, and now wants it back, but honestly I cannot imagine going into my middle to elder years without Tracey by my side. Sure we have problems and will, but we have both been married and are dedicated to making our relationship work. When I was first divorced, I said never again. Now, I cannot wait to stand before a priest/justice of the peace or who ever who choose to perform the ceremony and say "I do." Do I feel a relationship HAS to lead to marriage? No, in fact I know a few couples that are perfectly happy unmarried. I think it is up to the couple and how they feel about it. If they feel it is the right thing to do and are willing to do so, by all means go for it. If not, don't do it and save yourselves the headache and hassle later. If you go into a marriage unwilling or unprepared, it will only end badly. If I was to give one piece of advice to anyone that is looking to get married, either for the first time or again, it would be just to make sure you are ready for it.
By the way, excellent blog entry, and thank you Shaindel, or as I knew her for three years, Professor Beers, for linking this on Facebook.