About three months ago, drunk on some kind of color-brightening, air-crispening love pheromone, I got down on a knee in the pouring rain — yes, it was actually raining — and asked my girlfriend to marry me. For a minute or more, Alisaís face cycled through expressions of confusion, terror and joy, leaving some suspense about which of the three it would land on. Then, she eked out a feeble "yes" before asking offhandedly, "but do we believe in the institution of marriage?" I would probably be concerned about all this if the aforementioned state of intoxication, which began three-and-a-half years ago and continues today, left me with basic reasoning skills. As it is, I am elated, fearless, and foggy on my long-standing concerns about marriage, which, frankly, are too complicated for the feeble mind of the affianced. (Ever wondered why engaged people talk about planning a wedding as if they were responsible for transitioning governments in Iraq? They arenít firing on all cylinders.)
Letís see if I can piece together the old logic — half of all marriages end in divorce (according to 2002 Census Bureau projections), and despite that reality, many divorces appear to be about as civil and well-reasoned as a bar fight, using children rather than chairs as blunt instruments. If the purpose of marriage is to provide a stable structure for child-rearing, much less a stable environment for grown-ups, it is failing miserably. Meanwhile, we reminisce about a golden era of marriage that never existed Ė somehow rampant prostitution, countenanced cheatings and multiple bedrooms are left out of accounts of the '50s and earlier eras. You can make a case that American society didnít attempt to enforce the Draconian commitments made in traditional wedding ceremonies until the last thirty or forty years, which is when the family unit began breaking down.
The pheremone-addled couple.
Marriage is really, at the end of the day, a business contract, and one of the most basic requirements for successful business partnerships is that you manage expectations by promising less than you can deliver. Wedding vows and the legal and social strictures that enforce them suggest the opposite strategy: promise everything and make the consequences of failure so dire that you might actually scare yourself into pulling it off. If this is our nationís business strategy for the family unit, the core building block of our society, itís failing by most every available metric, and we would be foolish not to consider a restructuring of some kind.
My generation has responded in typical slacker fashion: weíve avoided doing anything at all for as long as possible. Most of my friends are getting married in their mid-thirties (the national average is near the highest it's ever been: 26.9 years for men, 25.3 for women). Others are doing everything from eschewing marriage altogether to normalizing pre-nuptual agreements to experimenting with renewable contracts.
Alisa and I, meanwhile, are doing none of this. Though we have taken longer to find each other than our parents did, and though we have somewhat more grounded expectations for one another, at a certain point we are taking the proverbial bungee jump, like those before us. In my life to date, hyper-rationality has created as many problems as instinctual decision making, and the latter has created a lot more joy.
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