Till death (or debt, desire, dishonesty, irreconcilable differences…) do us part
By Natalie Serafini, Assistant Editor
“Could I look at uneven eyebrows for the rest of my life?” — Jerry Seinfeld
We’re all young adults here. For many of us, marriage ain’t on our minds and our minds ain’t on marriage. There’s no need to worry about a spouse, picket fence, or 2.5 kids when our lives are happily and solidly in the now—the future’s for another time, when the unencumbered 20-something lifestyle becomes tired and stale.
Still, our romantic entanglements are, to a degree, moulded by the potential possibility of marriage. Even something as little as “He/she doesn’t wash their dishes immediately after eating!” can be grounds for the end of a relationship, if set against the Dirty Dishes Till Death Do Us Part marriage standard. Quite apart from Seinfeld’s immortal query about a lifelong sentence to uneven eyebrows, there are questions about religion, politics, how many children both partners want (if any), compatibility, division of labour, ability to communicate… the list goes on. Marriage is a daunting prospect, and divorce doesn’t do much to soften the blow—not that it should.
Many of us millennials grew up in breaking and broken up homes, or at least witnessed the bouncy-ball-lives of friends who were shuttled from one parent’s home to the other depending on the weekend. The Huffington Post reports that around 50 per cent of US marriages end in divorce, while Statistics Canada reported that in “2008, the divorce rate peaked after three years of marriage, when just over 30 out of 1,000 marriages ended in divorce.”
To a cynic, those numbers might not sound too bad; to an idealist, one divorce is a divorce too many. The question is, if you were in love and at the right point in your life, would marriage be worth the risk?
Marriage itself is an evolving whirligig of an institution compared to what it once was. Weddings are essentially the same, with virginal white and the exchanging of rings remaining pillars of the practice; when it comes to marriage, though, the conventions of yesteryear are so yesterday.
To start, the more developed the country, the later its citizens are marrying. That means that according to a 2011 report from Pew Research Center, the average marrying age is 26.9 for women and 29.8 for men.
The hackneyed expectations that wifey will stay at home to take care of the kids while hubby goes out and hunts down the bacon have changed. Whether either partner is stay-at-home, bring-home-the-bacon, or works part-time—and whether they have kids or not—has become a personal choice.
In Canada, a federal divorce law didn’t emerge until 1968 with the Divorce Act. Before that, there was a motley collection of laws in various provinces that regulated the partings of ways. Where grounds for divorce were previously limited to adultery, the Act allowed for mental and physical abuse, desertion, separation, or a spouse who was in prison. The Divorce Act was further updated in 1986.
Now the legal questions facing matrimony centre around same-sex access to marriage—and the exclusive nature of the institution has prompted many heterosexual couples to protest by not signing up for “club membership.”
Still, the choice to marry or not isn’t a political statement for all. So, down to the juicy bits: if you like it, do you have to put a ring on it?
In 1938, William S Bernard published a paper called “Student Attitudes on Marriage and the Family.” From interviewing participants, Bernard concluded that “the student today is concerned and thoughtful about the problems of modern society which [they are] to face, at least in relation to marriage and family.” Believe it or not, many 20-somethings have held onto that thoughtfulness that the youths of the Dirty ‘30s had (at least when it comes to life-long commitments).
When asked about their views towards marriage, some saw it as indicative of certainty in a relationship, while others felt marriage doesn’t shine bright like a diamond anymore.
Asked about his attitudes towards marriage, SFU student John* said, “I love the idea of marriage but I’m terrified of the reality. … No one goes into marriage expecting to get divorced and yet almost half of them do.”
Evan, 0n whether he saw himself getting married in the future, said “I do—though definitely not anytime soon! Marriage provides a tangible commitment; it’s a proclamation to the world and your partner that you believe in your relationship and are willing to put your money where your mouth is.”
Between the passing of time and countless divorce proceedings, the topics of separation and marriage are inextricably linked. There’s a mixed bag though of those who are off-put and those who feel statistics don’t tell the whole story.
Asked whether rates of divorce impacted his views of marriage, Carl, a Douglas College student, said “While most adults I know are divorced, I have to remember most of them got married early in life and probably weren’t with the right person.”
On rates of divorce and whether it’s a reason to steer clear of marriage, Lisa said that “divorce statistics shouldn’t affect the opinion that someone has of marriage. A divorce means that the relationship fell apart, but the causing factor of why the relationship fell apart was not that the two people were married.”
Regarding whether he would be deterred by the rates of divorce, Evan said, “Not at all. I honestly wouldn’t care if the statistics said 99 per cent of marriages ended in divorce. You have to believe in something. And if you believe in something, you always have to try for it.”
Meghan, an SFU student, similarly felt that divorce rates shouldn’t be a deterrent in and of themselves. She said, “There is always a chance that a relationship—no matter how strong—will eventually fall apart. Although many marriages end in divorce, I don’t think that this should be a reason to avoid getting married. A solid relationship should be able to endure challenges regardless of whether the couple is married or common-law. A romantic relationship of any kind requires communication, trust, and adaptability.”
Clearly, attitudes towards marriage, and indeed divorce, can vary greatly. In terms of what makes for an ideal relationship, though, answers consistently pointed at solid foundations.
On what qualities would make for an ideal relationship, SFU student Zori said that “the ultimate would be trust. If you’re able to trust one another… then I feel like that’s what’s going to [get you] through issues that you’re going to face.”
Regarding her view of a healthy relationship, Anna said that “[it] should function on trust and communication; the moment either of those factors is gone, everything will fall apart.”
On what makes for an ideal relationship, Eli said, “An ideal relationship above all else is two people caring and supporting each other. Does marriage change that? I can’t imagine it doing so. I believe it’s the people that change, not the bond that holds them together.”
If you want to get married, and you find someone who makes you happy and whose flaws you find endearing, that probably means you get married; alternatively, if you’re not sure you ever want to get married, that probably means you end up in a long-term committed relationship instead. When it comes to matrimony, the decision will be different depending on the people and the context.
Personally, I’m trepidatious, although my trepidation isn’t the consequence of any poignant origins. My parents are still together, and I haven’t been witness to any tumultuous or dysfunctional relationships. Honestly, I’m more anxious about the possibility of ending up stuck in an unhappy marriage than I am about the possibility of divorce. I would likely still be willing to get married if I felt I had found the “right” person—keeping in mind that I don’t believe in soul mates or true love. Given my skepticism, I imagine my agreement to marriage would be more a “Sure, why not!” than a full-of-certainty “Yes!”
I believe in compatibility. I believe in caring about someone enough to choose to stay in the relationship and work through issues. I believe in all of the important bits like honesty, communication, good intentions, and knowing what you want. I believe in making the best choices that you can based on the information that you have. If you’re doing it right, you will probably take some chances and make yourself vulnerable regardless of how legally binding your relationship is, and the end of a relationship will almost always be devastating. Sometimes—well, a lot of the time, going off those high statistics—the choice to get married will end in divorce. That sucks, but nothing in our uncontrollable lives is certain. That’s life.
*Some names have been changed to protect anonymity