Divorce and Conquer

Morally, legally, politically, and religiously we view marriage as a sacred institution. The right to divorce should equally be celebrated if not cherished. A look inside the failing marriage system.

Time magazine’s recent article extolling marriage as really gnawing me. It gave some insight into the benefits of two-parent ‘ideal’ families over broken homes (but avoiding pressing questions I will outline later) but it began quite charmingly with an anecdote. So here I am, and I am going to open this blog post with an anecdote too.

My grandparents were happily married for nearly 70 years. It was a marriage of love — it was not a marriage with passions, nor one of demands, but rather a marriage of understanding. How did they manage it? Distance. My grandfather spent most of his life at work; firstly a civil servant, then an elected official, and eventually a busy businessman, he was never there to question my grandmother’s judgment or interfere with her decisions. For the last fifty years of their marriage, they slept in different rooms–grandpa toiling until the very morning hours and grandma looking after their every-increasing family. They enjoyed their time together, but they enjoyed their privacy even more. They longed for each other in their time away from each other, and that cemented and kindled their love again and again.

It was an ideal marriage… and how all marriages suppose to be. In our superficial and self-centered world, we quickly ran out of love–even from our closest ones–because we demand it as a panacea for everything. In the age when a mouseclick can satisfy many of our needs, we became a demanding generation. In our selfishness, we forget to pay attention or respect to our partners and more importantly still we oft fail to concede our failures. We remedy our failing marriages with other pleasures, or discretions. We fail to see exit signs or signals that precede them.

Some say divorce is an easy way out. No, in fact, it is the right way out, and the only way out. We lingered around too long after our loves have exhausted. Our failures to see why our marriages have fallen apart is one reason, but the other reason comes from our environment and its mores. Why is every recession coupled with a spike in divorce rates for middle-class and upper-middle class families? Because a bust means they have less joint ownerships to divide; they have less income and less taxes to pay. Marriage has become our haven away from government interference in our lives rather than a testament to our loves.

Thus we became a society unnaturally limited and even motivated by marriage. Every social issue or moral outrage of the age–genealogy and lineage, virility and heterosexuality, financial security, premarital sex and abortion, ad nauseum–was tied to marriage. Currently, the Defense of Marriage Act, legalization of gay marriage, adoption rights, and even taxation are invariably linked to so-called ‘sanctity of marriage’.

So let’s review. Marriage as an institution was a relic of hunter-gatherer society. The Greeks and the Romans required no law for marriage or divorce (except between different castes, where it was forbidden). Until the late Middle Ages, marriage, divorce and even adultery were deemed private affairs. ‘Courtly love’, sans marriage, was a guiding literary and poetic adventure. Then along came the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. In 1545 the Council of Trent declared that a Roman Catholic marriage would be recognized only if the marriage ceremony was officiated by a priest with two witnesses. The days of marriage as an adventure were numbered after that.

Marriage and its far-reaching consequences are ridiculous. The idea that you gave away your freedom (to pursue other love interests, other partners, or just other recreation in general) for a measly signature of a piece of document just because it looks ‘official’ directly contradicts the principles of freedom and right to self-determination we espoused for three centuries. That a priest officiated our marriage should not mean a thing in the eye of law either; he is supposed to be sanctioned by God to perform marriage, so let God–not the state–judge us for our broken promises and broken marriages. If our marriages are ‘legal’ thanks to our religions, why do our divorces need to be affirmed by the state? If holding a man against his will is called ‘kidnapping’ or ‘enslavement’, doesn’t refusal to divorce also counts as such? Aren’t pre-nups just common sense and shouldn’t they be part of common law? And what assumptions are made in deeming two parents bound together in a luckless marriage is better for a child than a single parent?

No one actually answer these questions. They divert the attention away from the flaws of marriage itself to the flaws of divorce. Divorce courts, alimony, paternity suits, broken families etc. are not the results of divorce, but of the failure of marriage. Critics point out that more marriages are failing now because of our failing values. I don’t know about that. Our values, if anything, are shifting; birth control, feminism movement and parenthood outside of marriage–all of which contributed to marriage’s fall from grace–are not what I call ‘failing values’. We have reached a point where we no longer need to tie ourselves to a stronger, more capable person. We evolved thus far from Cro-Magnon hunters-gatherers.

Then how about our children? We were trained by centuries of folklore, literature and motion pictures to think that a stranger cannot be a good parent. From Hansel and Gretel to Parent Trap, we are exposed to this idea without any statistical proof. We came to live by it, but not it is time to grow out of it. Time magazine ended its article by saying that through our failing marriages we are sending a wrong example to our kids, which “is the generation who will be taking care of us when we are old”. Probably that same demanding, self-centered mentality is why some marriages just don’t work.

“To have and to hold” read the Common Prayer. Sometimes, we just need to let it slip.

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