Weekend Recap: All Things Marriage

by Barbara Ray

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With gay marriage in the news this last week, marriage is a hot topic. Several smart articles over the weekend offer good food for thought about the institution of marriage. We recap a few here.

Tracy Clark-Flory in “Will Gays Save Marriage” (Slate) talks with Barbara Risman, a senior scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families and sociology professor at University of Illinois at Chicago, about the state of marriage. Her take-home?

Marriage will evermore come to be seen as something one works toward: one gets to a place in life where one has achieved enough to be married. You see that with the increasing age of marriage, which I imagine will continue to increase. This notion that marriage is something one achieves once you’re stable and earning a living, that’s relatively new. That will continue and even increase, the sense that marriage is an achieved status. I think that will be true for straight people and gay people.

That certainly rings true to the Knot Yet findings. We call it a capstone event, rather than the cornerstone marriage once was. Young people today up and down the socioeconomic ladder increasingly see marriage as the culmination of a string of important milestones. They build their own life first, getting an education, starting a career, paying off some of the student loans or getting financial set, buying their own condo, and spending time figuring out who they are. Only then do they get married. Not a bad idea, unless it’s nigh impossible to get those ducks in a row first.

As the Knot Yet authors write: “Earlier generations looked at marriage as their entry point into adulthood and the crucial vehicle for defining themselves as mature individuals. By contrast, young men and women today expect to achieve an individual, autonomous identity before they become part of a bound couple.”

Risman also notes this, which Knot Yet well documents, on the tenuous nature of so many relationships, particularly among the new Middle Americans–or what she calls “serial monogamy”:

I think what we see clearly is that serial monogamy has become the norm in our society. People have a boyfriend or girlfriend, a partner, a marriage and it ends, another cohabiting relationship and then another marriage. Although no one will say, “I believe in serial monogamy,” how we behave is a serial monogamy.

In Say No to the Dress, (New York Times)  writer Joanna Hershon writes a lovely coming of age story, with marriage as the capstone event of sorts. The essay centers on her search with her mother for her wedding dress. She’s living at home with her parents trying to launch a career as an author, feeling inadequate and not quite adult. Meanwhile she’s  fallen in love and her boyfriend has proposed, so she’s at Bergdorfs to pick out and be fitted for her dress. The essay ends with a lovely twist about coming into one’s own (which I won’t spoil).

Also in the Times, columnist Ross Douthat in “Marriage Looks Different Now ” looks back on a 1997 debate between prominent conservatives with opposing views, David Frum and Andrew Sullivan, on gay marriage. Douthat notes that Frum’s views, which placed children at the center of marriage, is less relevant today, but:

“There is also a certain willed naïveté to the idea that the advance of gay marriage is unrelated to any other marital trend….Now that this argument seems on its way to victory, is it really plausible that it has changed how Americans view gay relationships while leaving all other ideas about matrimony untouched? A more honest, less triumphalist case for gay marriage would be willing to concede that, yes, there might be some social costs to redefining marriage. It would simply argue that those costs are too diffuse and hard to quantify to outweigh the immediate benefits of recognizing gay couples’ love and commitment.”

Salon has a riposte to Douthat by Alex Pareen.

Executive coach and Huffington Post contributor Susan Patton set off a firestorm with her letter to the editor with some advice for Princeton women. Today, in the HuffPo’s “Why I Told Princeton Women to Get Married,” she has some additional thoughts:

I sincerely feel that too much focus has been placed on encouraging young women only to achieve professionally. I understand that this can be seen as retrogressive, but for those women who aspire to what used to be thought of as a traditional life with home and family, there is almost no ink addressing personal fulfillment outside of the workplace. Specifically, finding lifelong friends and the right partner with whom to share a life and raise a family.

Again, I understand that all women don’t want marriage (to men or other women) and or children, but for those that do, identifying the right partner is critical.

And speaking of a simpler life, Amanda Erickson reviews the hidden meaning of cookbook writing: Are cookbook memoirs a female manifesto or a chick-lit desire to return to the simpler life? (uh, if making a Julia Child’s recipe is the simpler life you can have it). As Erickson writes:

But the expectation that [the author] will pursue a high-powered career and find a fulfilling relationship at the same time is ultimately overwhelming. Real liberation, they decide, lies in a simpler life. And so they set off (bravely, they would have you believe) to make the thing that makes them happy—cooking—more central to their lives. …Except these books don’t quite live up to their promise. In the end, they’re not really about finding yourself; they are books about finding a man.

And finally, although not running this weekend, here’s this thought-provoking Atlantic article asking “What If Marriage Were Temporary?”– a “rent-a-spouse option. Seriously.