7. A 21st century model for marriage: no thanks I’ll design my own.

by Belle

just married

Emma Johnson’s post on soulmates/marriage/friends, is one of many on her wealthy single mommy blog that not only clicks with me but I feel the need to engage with; and yes I agree with Coontz’s quote too:

“We can strengthen our marriages the most by not expecting them to be our sole refuge from the pressures of the modern work force. Instead we need to restructure both work and social life so we can reach out and build ties with others, including people who are single or divorced. That indeed would be a return to marital tradition — not the 1950s model, but the pre-20th-century model that has a much more enduring pedigree.”

BUT I am not entirely comfortable with Emma Johnson’s response:

“This fits perfectly with my idea of a 10-year marriage contract. By creating a nuptial model that forces the parties to accept the very real possibilities of divorce, we will be more inclined to maintain and nurture other important relationship in our lives. These friendships will bolster each spouse — not to mention their children — and take the pressure off the marriage to be “their everything.”

I disagree; it isn’t a perfect fit. It isn’t even remotely snug.

I’m sure I can learn a lot from Emma Johnson’s posts e.g. her post on fossilised dating habits! However, where the proposal for a 10-year contract hits it also misses. Perhaps it’s a first iteration, or something to be developed within individual circumstances. Many of the principles are sound, not least the understanding that many of us seem to actually want this thing, ‘marriage’, and what it represents (or should that be represented?).

The issues are the same on both sides of the pond; this isn’t an American phenomenon.

Where is falls down is, well where doesn’t it fall down? One size fits all? Why 10 years, why not 9, or 8, or 11 or 12? Why not 7? We’ve all heard of The Seven Year Itch, right. Where does 10 come from? In Europe liability is limited, depending on the context, to 3 months for some things, 6 year, 12 or 20 years for others. Where do those numbers come from, they’re not arbitrary, are they. What if we agreed on 2 years, and then + 18 if/when the first kid appeared? Or 21. Or 25 so they might get through their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Because of course we want that too. Or, what if we tweaked the existing model of marriage instead? Shall I go on… Can friendships harm as well as a help? Can a contract impose commitment? Is it a verbal contract, written on paper, a post-it note, saved in iCloud? I’m not serious of course.

I’m thankful for the post . My concern is that it uses a single ‘Model’ as a starting point. The post refers back to a previous post and, I guess not without irony, to the words:

“And if you are a human being in America today, there is one path to take: Declare your beloved a soulmate, spend tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding, and commit for the rest of your lives.”

The inference that there is currently one common model is bonkers. Excuse my English. One model? The ‘traditional’ 20th century one maybe? In which tradition? In which religion, amongst which culture and at what time of life? Do different people, genders, whatever, all understand that single model in just one way?

By now it may be obvious that I believe that marriage is different things for different people. It has never been and can never be a one-size-fits-all model. Not even within the confines of a single American state. My point is this – instead of drawing up ‘a new model’, with new parameters, what would happen if we shifted the discussion towards the existing modelS, what if the dialogue became about how we can support, encourage, engage and even promote the wide spectrum of models that exist today? And that might exist tomorrow.

Are there ways to support and develop our known models, rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water?