The NY Times writes last week about marriage, infidelity and Mark Sanford,
Despite strong social riptides working against it — the liberalization of divorce laws, the vanishing stigma of divorce, the continual online temptations of social sites like MySpace or Facebook — the marriage bond is far stronger in 21st-century America than many may assume. Infidelity is one of the most common reasons cited by people who divorce. But surveys find the majority of people who discover a cheating spouse remain married to that person for years afterward. Many millions more shrug off, or work through, strong suspicions or evidence of infidelity. And recent trends in marriage suggest that the institution itself has become more resilient in recent years, not less so.
The article looks at statistics and finds that since more people are staying married, despite the temptations to get divorced or cheat, marriage is working. It ignores one key fact, that perhaps less people are actually getting married, but more often just live together. The article does acknowledge that since people get married older, they are more clear about what they want and are better equipped at “making it work.”
Firstly, if it is true, that people stay together after infidelity, looking at examples of public officials is not a good gauge of this since public couples have more at stake to stay together and not be destroyed by the public eye and the news media. They want to make an example of how they can overcome obstacle in their relationships, even if it is at great personal cost.
Secondly, if people are staying together despite infidelity, it could be for a variety of reasons. One, the pressure of marriage, culturally and financially doesn’t allow for all the transgressions we think our “free” society allows and second, our view of monogamy has shifted and we can accept when someone falls off the path of heteronormative monogamy. I am sure there are more open marriages now than there were say 30 years ago.
But that doesn’t change the main argument in the article which is really about how marriage is a resilient social institution. And I think it is safe to say the fact that marriage has become a booming industry, increasing cultural norm in almost retrograde terms and the government’s re-commitment to keep it between a man and a woman are not innocent players in this supposed resiliency. So I guess the question is, has anything really changed? Has feminism helped at all in helping women not buy into the industry of marriage?
Well, interestingly, it seems that feminism is part of what is keeping marriage working.
Some of the same social changes that have unsettled traditional 1950s-era marriages have seemingly deepened them in the 1990s and 2000s. Today women are contributing more financially to relationships than earlier generations, and men are contributing more to the domestic duties. Compared with earlier generations, men and women today are more likely to marry someone like themselves, with a similar educational background, experts say. The relationship is less about dividing economic and domestic duties and more about shared interests and mutual happiness.
That is something I can buy, but I still take issue with the “who” of these articles. Only a handful of my friends are actually getting married. Many of them may want to, but many of them are having kids without husbands and they are not getting married. Some because they don’t want to, or they haven’t found someone to marry or they don’t have access to the means to have a wedding. I am over studies that are just about how middle class people stay married and cheat or do not cheat. What are the relationship habits of people that don’t marry, that try alternatives, that don’t have social access to marriage (the queer community, poor people, etc), what are they doing? Their behavior will tell us much more about the institution of marriage than just looking at statistics of how many people are staying married.