The eternal marriage is as passe as the dinosaur: Could it be time to change the marriage vows?
I don’t pretend to understand what “divorce rates” actually mean; I frankly think a lot of those statistics are ludicrous and meaningless. But let’s assume that 50% of marriages will end in divorce at some point in time. When you consider that there was a time that close to 100% of marriages were “till death do us part” it is very sobering to think how much things have changed.
Today, a marriage that lasts more than 20 years is a staggering accomplishment as far as I’m concerned. I am personally awed by this. It seems an awfully long time to be chained to one person in monogamy, affection, fiscal partnership and all the rest of it. I mean, when you think about what marriage is and the type of marriage you would even want, you know what I’m saying? You expect your spouse, for example, not to cheat on you, to only have sex with you. Till death do you part. And that could be upwards of 50 years. You want that. You expect that. You get bent out of shape when there is a slip up. But is it realistic? Is it pragmatic? Is it fair to hold someone to an impossible standard such as that? And what about pure, human boredom? Fifty years can get pretty damn monotonous, wouldn’t you say?
As life expectancy increases, so does the burden of the “till death do us part” component of marriage. Yes, I said burden. I think it can become unreasonably burdensome after a while. I am willing to bet that when those rules were made up, people were routinely dropping dead by, say forty or fifty years old. They were not living to eighty, ninety and, freaking, one hundred. So they could afford to make promises like that: TILL DEATH DO US PART. And they routinely kept those promises because they were dead not long after they make them. And we look back at them with adulation and envy. We wonder how come they could hack marriage and our generation cannot.
Arguably, in our world today, this idea of “till death do us part” as a vow or promise or pledge is Jurassic and it shouldn’t even be in the vows anymore. It’s a farce, really, as fake as fault divorces in New York used to be. Fault divorces forced many people to lie to the court in order to get out of their marriages. The “till death do us part” vows forces people to lie to their spouses in order to get into the marriage. The liars say “I will stay with you till we die” but really what they mean is “I will stay with you till this doesn’t work for me anymore.” Why can’t folks just be allowed to state the obvious truth? Why not take this line out of the vows?
It is romantic to think of the old way of marriage. It is romantic to think of the eternal marriage; to just want to spend the rest of your natural life with just one person, sleep in the same bed, share intimacies, money, children, homes and flu germs for the rest of your life, no matter how long that is. Look at the birds. They do it. No, really. They do. But birds don’t live to be 100. And we humans, our reality today is very different from what it was just 50 year ago – and not just in terms of our life expectancies.
Some marriages are going to implode before death parts them. Divorce is going to happen. And in a way, it is healthy. Why stay chained to a situation that no longer works? When life is so long and there’s so much more to experience?