Divorce is the New Marriage: Why Marriage is Obsolete and Yet I’m Probably Going to Get Married Anyway

When one becomes an adult, often one gets married. My opinions on marriage are fairly strong as I believe it’s both religious ritual and business contract, neither of which actually are necessary if you are an atheist and have two working individuals in the relationship.

Marriage as a historic religious ritual makes a lot of sense. The whole concept of marriage between a man and a woman is core to the people who wrote religious books many years ago. It also helped ensure that a man would stick around to provide for his wife and children when women didn’t work.

Today, marriage is a business contract. Without a pre-nup, you basically sign a contract that says “you man/woman are now allowed to have half of my life’s earnings for the rest of my life no matter if we stay together or not.” That is all it is, a binding contract so that it’s harder to break up. Being married is actually a tax burden for families with two working people. So why get married?

Yes, marriage is also a symbol of love, an announcement to the world that your relationship is more than — just a relationship — and an opportunity to celebrate with family to kick off your life together. But that’s just the icing on the cake – and do you really need marriage to accomplish this?

Yesterday, a friend of mine who I haven’t seen in a long time asked me to do her a favor. She wouldn’t tell me what it was until I met her in a town about 45 minutes from my house. Perplexed, I agreed to the mission as it sounded very urgent and I am trying to be a better friend to the few friends I have. When I arrived, I discovered a soap opera of a story and task. She was in love with her former boss, and the two of them, both married, were in the process of getting divorced. The early stages of it. She asked me to “serve” his wife the paperwork right then and there. I hesitantly agreed.

It’s not just this friend and her early failed marriage that has me thinking about divorce. For her, a marriage was to a man who was more a friend than lover. Her career was blossoming and he was doing nothing with his life. I could see it from a thousand miles away that they were not right for each other, but a friend cannot say this to another friend. It’s better they end their relationship now than later. Later is where things get further messy. Later, after kids, is when divorce is so terrible.

A family member in her 50s just finished her divorce, and constantly reminds me to “never get married.” It’s really a sad situation. Similar issues with going into a marriage with someone more friend than lover, but in this case both husband and wife had strong six-figure incomes. They owned a house in one of the nicest towns in the area, had two kids, and everything going for them, yet they fought all the time. The nagging on her part, stress from hyperactive kids, and lack of willingness to be serious about problems that bothered her on his end killed any remote passion they had for each other, and the relationship died.

Not only did it die, but the drama continues. Because once you’re divorced the other person can find a new partner. Jealousy rolls in to the situation and things can get ugly. Really ugly. And it’s terrible for the kids to see. It’s terrible to experience. It can turn otherwise rational people into monsters. Yes, this could happen at the end of any breakup (not just marriage) but having to go through a formal divorce process with negotiations for belongings and earnings just exacerbates the awfulness of a breakup with kids.

Another friend who is in, I think, he mid-to-late 40s, is finalizing her own divorce to a man who lost a lot of money on a business. I don’t know the details, but he basically lost a ton of money, was a bit of a deadbeat, and ended up cheating on her to boot. Without a prenup and with a very strong career, she’ll suffer the rest of her life because her husband was not an equal in the marriage. And now she’s single again, having the time of her life, but the marriage is over.

This friend of mine declared that marriage should be 10 year contracts, not lifetime commitments. In fact, there’s research that shows this, she poses, as that marriages were created in a time when people lived to 40 years old, not 100. MarriedSingleMommy.com says “Marriage is Dead.” She notes that an astonishing 40 percent of people polled by Pew say the institution of marriage is obsolete.

The 10 year marriage contract, single mommy blogger Emma writes, would fix the problem of marriage. For the marriage the couple would lay out the goals of the relationship. “A prenup, but more,” she writes. ‘Decide the financial terms during the marriage, as well as how money will be dealt with should it end. Same with kids. But more than that, the contract establishes broad goals for the marriage itself: Is it for companionship? A passionate love? To bring children into the world? Build financial equity or a business?”

That’s not such a bad idea — not so much the idea of being with someone for only 10 years before going on to the next, but to never stop working at the relationship and to have common goals for every 10 years. Setting goals and working towards them mutually is the key of any collaborative success, in work or love.

Regardless, marriage is hard. Most every married couple would say so. It seems the best way to have a happy marriage is to set reasonable common goals and otherwise remain independently responsible for your own happiness. Also, the more you can focus on finding happiness in making your partner happy (vs caring about what makes YOU happy) the more likely you are going to be able to have a long and healthy relationship/marriage. Too many people are all about “ME ME ME” (yes, I can be like that often too.) That’s where marriage falls apart. Marriage is about THEM not you. If both parties can do this effectively then it’s also about YOU, and it’s better because then your partner has a heightened awareness for doing the things that make you happy, and you offer the same back to them.

Long-term monogamy isn’t natural for men or women. But because we have not only brains but hearts (and laws around being responsible for our children not going out into the world on their own as soon as they can walk) we hold it as this shining beckon of morality. All but the most reclusive humans long for close relationships. It is unfortunate that we are unable to be emotionally close to others, especially once we enter into a monogamous relationship.

I’m not sure what the “right” answer is here, other than there isn’t one, but the fact of the matter is so many people end up cheating on their partners, which is sad but fact. Some people just need variety. Others needs aren’t met by their partner, or they aren’t compatible. Others just get bored after the same thing for many years. It isn’t just about sex, though a lot of it is about sex. It’s also about the emotional intimacy that — younger, maybe dating many different people — you had with many others, and now, as a married adult, you can have with only one for the rest of your life. If that dedication and intimacy isn’t there, one can end up feeling very lonely. It’s no surprise so many marriages end in divorce caused by adultery.

Another friend of mine in her early 30s is married and pregnant with her second child. Her husband works full time but she complains he is not moving up enough in his career and money is very tight. Despite complaining that money is tight she — surprise — got pregnant with her second child. She works part-time now in a service job and is the primary housekeeper as well. She is exhausted and complains further that her husband doesn’t help around the house. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think they’re sexually compatible either. The only thing keeping people like them together (any couple with such problems) would be the marriage contract. It’s too hard to get out, for now, might as well wait until the kids get older…

My parents have been married over 30 years. Do they love each other? Ha! They barely put up with each other. My father is abusive to my mother calling her dumb and occasionally shoving her across the room while my mother continues to nag him which inspires his sessions of rage. It’s ridiculous, and it’s not a happy marriage at all. But they’ve stayed together because my father doesn’t believe in divorce and my mother, who left the workforce when she had me at 29, hasn’t worked a paying job a day in her life since — she’s not about to give up the life she’s used to and go back to work now at 60.

So with all of this context to why marriage is a terrible idea, why in the world do I still want to get married? I don’t know. It’s hard to let go of the concept since since day one in life a little girl in America is often groomed to long for her prince charming. I certainly was. And the idea of following along with society, announcing to the world that I’M NOT BROKEN SOMEONE ACTUALLY WANTED TO MARRY ME seems to be the logic behind getting married vs just being in an extended relationship with children. But why is it any of anyone else’s business?

(ok, ok, and I want a party where I get to dress up in a white dress and look beautiful on camera with my friends and family before I’m an old hideous beast, but that’s a superficial and expensive want which is completely unnecessary in exchange for what could be a percentage of a downpayment on a house)

So why get married? Ugh, I’m torn on the concept. For my boyfriend of eight years and I, we want to get married to prove we can do marriage right. His parents were never married, nor did they have a committed relationship. Knowing them, it’s hard to understand how he happened at all, but happened he did. His upbringing has him longing for the stability that marriage brings, but again, the stability is not actually the marriage itself but the goals and commitments of the two parties involved. You don’t need a contract for that. You need to be two consenting and transparent adults with reasonable requests of each other. No judge or rabbi is going to give you a piece of paper to make that happen.

After dating the same person for eight years, and now, finally, co-habiting (oh boy does that give me more fodder to write about on my personal finance blog), I feel, well, married. There was a time in the relationship, early on, where I often thought about what it would be like to be with other people, but now I’m in it for the long haul. I know he’s not perfect, neither am I, but we already know everything that drives us nuts about each other. The trick is to accept those things, all while working to improve what we know drives the other person nuts in ourselves. Again, the trick to a happy long relationship is focusing on what makes the other person happy, not what makes you happy.

I’m sure having children completely complicates this because then you end up with other living creatures you are responsible for and have to raise. You may not always agree on how to raise your kids — and those are the challenges in life that are both beautiful and painful. If life had no challenges it would be boring and dull. So embrace challenge and conflict, learn how to debate a point well, and always be open to hearing the other side and rationality behind an argument. You can’t win every argument, so pick and chose your battles, and make it a friendly debate complete with banter instead of a fight.

Is it possible for two people to do this and love each other and be monogamous? Is marriage only viable in olden times when one person (unfortunately the man) had the final say in everything and the woman could only be happy with what he was able to provide, and do nothing about what he wasn’t? Marriage just so seems like a concept tied to the logic of the past and is not relevant at all today.

Yet I’ll probably get married. Maybe I’ll get a pre-nup (that to me nullifies the romantic side of marriage but enables the business contract side to be more reasonable) if I can get my boyfriend to agree to one. We’ve talked about getting married forever and while he is obsessed with the idea of getting married (and almost broke up with me once when I told him I never wanted to be married) he hasn’t proposed to me after eight years of dating. It didn’t bother me for most of the relationship, but what bugs me is that he’s so set on getting married yet refuses to make it happen. I’m in date-life purgatory. To be honest, I just want to have children, as I’m not getting any younger and it seems marriage is this hurdle in the way of getting to my goal. He wants kids too, we’re definitely aligned there, but there’s just so much in the way of this… rationally it makes sense to NOT have kids, but I probably will.

And, lucky for you, I’ll document it all on this blog!

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