The Pinnacle of Divorce
There’s a perception I’ve heard presented as scientifically confirmed reality: Stepfamilies are becoming more and more prevalent because of escalating divorce rates, which are caused by society not valuing marriage enough. As if our cavalier attitude toward commitment and our apparent disregard for the sanctity of marriage is resulting in the downfall of so many unions. We all just split up and leave because it’s so easy to do and no one seems to mind.
What I’d like to consider is the possibility that divorce, if it is in fact more prevalent, may be so rampant because we value marriage too much. We are a society that idolizes marriage and pushes it as the optimal relationship status.
Everybody ought to be married, women sooner than men. Everybody must be married before they have sex (but, as an aside, we understand – just don’t make it obvious). Yes, no sex before marriage, unless you get yourself pregnant (you woman, you spontaneous self-fertilizer; you man stuck with a woman who got pregnant), then you absolutely must get married right away – to reinstate purity, to back-date your stamp of approval, for the “sake of the kids.” So, people strive to get married and maybe make the wrong choice: about whether to marry, or when to do it, or with whom. And then they’re in it. And how does that feel, Princess? What’s fairyland like? Nirvana I bet! Getting married is the holiest of holy, the pinnacle of belonging, especially in the Church.
Except, as I’m so fond of saying, except it’s not. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable to be seen and known. It’s difficult to share space. It’s awkward to encounter unmet or undiscovered expectations with a witness present. It sucks not to always feel loved and cherished. It’s crushing to realize we aren’t always loving and cherishing. At times, it’s exhausting to live life and sometimes the safest, closest person to air our hurts and resentments on, to demand that they give us what the world has not and what we are unable to, but what we so desperately need, is this person we’ve married. And when they don’t deliver, the ideal of marriage as the acme and the zenith is shattered. This marriage must be the wrong one. This man, this woman; they have issues.
Marriage is our saving grace. Marriage is our gateway into adulthood and all proper society. Marriage is sacrosanct. It cannot be that we’ve lauded marriage too highly, it cannot be that we’ve built it up to a point where it topples under the weight of its own load. If marriage is so precious, if marriage is such a perfect state of being, then when flaws are encountered, it must be something wrong with this marriage and that person.
But even beyond that, even when no one believes that anyone in particular has done anything dreadfully wrong, sometimes marriage doesn’t hold. It comes apart at the seams and its past inhabitants tumble down into the lower caste of divorce, deemed, however politely, second-class citizens. Their status weighs heavy on the back of our mind – what’s wrong with them, why didn’t it work? Perhaps we see divorce as a chronic open wound that will never heal and fear getting the ooze on us, believing it might be contagious. We make the divorced other-than and cloak them in shame, looking politely askance, at least until we can get the story that justifies or explains it and differentiates their circumstances from that of our own, inviolate marriage.
We behave as if we are condoning divorce, maybe even admitting the fallibility of marriage, if we accept or acknowledge its occurrence. We carry on pretending perfection can be attained by marrying and shake our heads in bewilderment that so many end in disillusionment.