Friday, September 25, 2009

On Marriage: An N-Train State of the Union

You know those moments when the generation gap has opened so wide--so  absurdly wide it can contain something as large as, for example, the amount of shit Tyler Perry has produced during his miraculous career--that you KNOW there's no point trying to convince your elder to see it your way?

I had one of those yesterday, while riding the N. We get to 42nd and a very pleasant, very affluent looking yenta of 60ish boards with her friend. Their conversation, which continued in raging stereotyple all they way to 5th Ave (surprise surprise), went like this:

"I know it's not PC or whateva, Barb, but I think it's disgusting. [Barbara nods in sympathetic agreement] Behind closed doors, fine. But outside of that--have some shame! Gay marriage will be the last nail in the coffin for marriage. Getting married doesn't mean anything anymore! It’s supposed to be sacred, but its not. Young people, the sluts, gays, MTV, all of it, they're ruining it, they don't respect it. It'll be like Sodom and Gomorrah soon. "

[Note: No cliched dialogue was added to this transcript. Some stereotypes exist for a reason]      

Okay, she's right: Traditional marriage is in trouble. (Clearly). But I wanted to start screaming paraphrased sections of a recent dialogue between blogger Wades the Tides and myself:

50% of AMERICAN marriages fail NOT because of "the gays," or MTV (who even WATCHES MTV anymore?), but because our current approach to it is all wrong. "Young people" should not be lumped in with what you see on reality TV--and it's mainly the "middle aged" or "old people" doing the divorcing in the first place.

We have to change our expectations about what a realistic marriage--a partnership by definition--IS. (And PS: Marriage is not the wedding day itself. It's what comes after. And "young people" know what.)

In other cultures, various people form a team to fulfill you, some members covering you emotionally, some sexually, some psychologically, some intimately, some get the point. 

Now, I'm not saying we should have a team of individuals assigned to each category of neediness. What I am saying is that today, many people (not everyone) expect our mate to be everything: they must be our lover (and the best sex ever), friend (besties!), soul mate (the one God himself crafted from clay for us specifically), muse (who inspires us), the validator who understands the complex souls we are (hey baby, I get you); they must be good with finances, juggling social circles, cleaning, cooking, child rearing and all other household tasks; they must listen to our every gripe and know the right thing to say, challenge us intellectually but never make us feel stupid, never think of doing the nasty with anything but us and never make mistakes beyond forgetting the dry-cleaning. 

Women must come home from a 12 hour day at work and cook risotto from scratch in an apron and four inch stilettos while teaching the children SAT words and maintaining a 24-inch-waist. Men must maintain our chosen lifestyle, surprise wives with gifts and gestures and monologues of love stolen from films like Jerry Maguire and 10 Things I Hate About You (but Heath singing on those stadium stairs? Whoo-boy, come to momma...) and keep all the hair they had when we started dating. They must make our friends laugh, our wingmen jealous, our parents proud...

...and do ALL of this (it's a package deal) happily, as if energy and patience were as abundant as bad Tyler Perry movies (I'm sorry, I just HATE him so much). If they violate these items (and these are just a FEW of the things we require), we divorce.

When you heap all that crap on one individual, they're going to disappoint you--because no one is that perfect. THAT PERFECT PERSON DOES NOT EXSIST. You will fight, disagree, make mistakes, hit rough patches. But fewer people are willing to weather the real BULLSHIT. Illness, job loss, career disappointments, epic's all coming. And it's going to suck.    


Until we start balancing realism with desire (and peppering desire with realism) we're screwed. And don't even get me started on “traditional,” ball and chain monogamy...that's a post of a different color.

That was a rant and a half. I apologize. 

But I believe it's time to propose a new business model for marriage. Like iPods, the 1950s standard must be revamped and clunky features discontinued. Or else Yenta and her Barbara will be right...and no one wearing acrylic bangles and that much tarantula mascara should be allowed to be an authority on human unions.

Or anything.


Erin said...

You have a lot of interesting points here. I agree that people expect too much from one person, but I don't know if spreading out a person's needs would make marriage any better. I think that for most people there is at least one need (sex, communication, fun) that a person wants more than the other needs. After a certain amount of time, a person would prefer the person that's fulfilling that need and let go of the other people.

I hate Tyler Perry too.

Ash said...

Many people seem to think that marriage changing is a bad thing, but I see it more as an inevitable evolution in human partnership. Sometimes it stays the same (i.e., male-female monogamous religious unions) and sometimes it may be different (homosexual civil unions, homosexual religious unions, male-female open-marriage secular unions, etc.) but in the end, what does it matter? As long as people love each other and choose the union that they're both comfortable with, it's really not a big deal.

People are so concerned about "the children", that children of non-conventional relationships will somehow turn out warped and fucked up. In reality, i think that children of non-conventional unions where there is real, true love will turn out far better than children whose parents had a "normal" religious marriage, but was followed by a horrific divorce.

ND said...

I could not agree more. Teaching a course on marriage and family to lower level undergrads, I feel like I'm constantly having to single-handedly bat down all of the stupid concepts that we've built into our collective ideal partner -- and usually to 18 year-olds, (girls wearing VS pink pajama bottoms and full make-up to my class that takes place at noon), who've grown up with Disney flicks that teach you to use your body to get what you want (a la Little Mermaid), to treat abusive partners kindly as to reveal the prince hiding within (via Beauty and the Beast) and to be strong, but not TOO strong, so that we can end up with the man in the end (Mulan). (Side note, yeah, we've all grown up with those subversive Disney messages -- but I'm tired of my students telling me that Disney is all innocent fun and games when we see that entire stupid company as a sacred institution about whom we should never speak ill) and stories like Twilight that work to convince women that we're just waiting for the sparkly knight-in-shining-armor to come sweep us off our feet and fulfill our every dream (while we, of course, get to play out all of our little girl, house-playing fantasies). God, I'm a sociologist -- a 20-something, divorced sociologist -- and I still fall for all of the well hidden (and not so well hidden) messages about love and marriage. ::sigh:: my date will never break into my house to watch me sleep or stalk me as I visit my friends like that ever so dreamy Edward Cullen. We're setting ourselves up for disappointment from the minute we start play cooking and play cleaning in our fake kitchens as toddlers and it's all reinforced by the generations before us and the visual musak (thanks to Suzy Orbach for that awesome term in her book Bodies) of the pervasive media we consume.

Oh, and the 50% statistic on divorce? That's within any given year. Number of divorces/Number of marriages in any year: for every two marriages in 2009, there will be one divorce. But most people don't divorce within the year that they marry. If you look at the number of divorces in a year/the total number of marriages (and this is solely in America), then the number is closer to 2%. So in any given year, 2% of all of the current marriages will end in divorce.

:end sociologist rant:

M said...

This is brilliant. Eloquently written with a great structure, astutely observational, and fucking funny.

Such a good snapshot of NYC and the inner 20something monologue at the same time.

Natalie said...

You recently asked if your heart always does the pitter patter thing. Well it seems as though you wrote the answer in this post...

"Until we start balancing realism with desire (and peppering desire with realism) we're screwed."

Polly Syllabick said...

These are all such fantastic, valid comments. Having smart people read your rantings and then comment so intelligently on them? That's like someone handing you an oreo milkshake when you gave them a doodle of boobies on a dinner napkin. Thank you, all.

And Natalie? You totally called me on my BS.

I knew I liked you.

Chef Green said...

Lady, I am so with you. In some hideous way, marriage is almost obsolete. I love your musings on relationships. You always make me think.

wadethetides said...

So happy you pulled the cooking in heels reference.

Marriage is simply two people saying "I vow to tolerate you for the rest of my life." Nobody is perfect. It's all about balance and figuring out the things you can and cannot live without.

ash.lin. said...

two posts in, and im already smitten with you!

nail on head about lumping our generation into what is seen as 'our media outlets'...first off, when did MTV become an accurate depiction of the youth of america? even since its inception it was meant to embody what an older generation thought 'we' would like.

not to say that my friends arent heavy drinkers, with social grace issues- but are we all rock of love characters? are we all fame hungry reality show rejects?

and hasnt marriage always been a flawed institution? sure, the romantic idea of marriage is beautiful, but let us not forget the days of dowries, women as property, and arranged marriages were not too long ago. its always been fucked up- its all a matter of what you choose to see for the sake of your argument.

finally, love love LOVE your writing style.

Polly Syllabick said...

Smitten? With moi? I'm blushing!!