THE ACT OF WEDDING is the making of a unit, but now more than ever we place a premium on a certain brand of selfishness. Whether this is another practical way to avoid misery or disaster in the making, well, we won’t know until we look at the divorce stats in 30 years. The goal of today’s couples is definitely to avoid the self-sacrificing mistakes their parents made. “My wife and I put a lot more emphasis on making time for ourselves than I ever saw my parents do,” says Rob. It’s probably a safe bet that Rob’s grandparents would laugh their asses off at the concept of “date night,” or the idea that selfishness is key in a happy marriage. “I think every wife should have two nights a week when you know your husband won’t be home,” Rachel proclaims. “I love having a few nights a week to myself.”
“Couples today expect lifelong passion and friendship. That wasn’t the expectation so vividly once,” says DeMaria. But if the heat fizzles, they’re not opposed to going their separate ways. Again, it’s just being practical. “Marriage became a choice, and divorce became a choice. So it’s easier, if things are rocky, to divorce.”
Indeed, while everyone wants to believe his or her blissful union is the exception, most people are accepting of a certain amount of impermanence around the institution of marriage. “You need to do what’s best for you and what’s best for your children,” Matt says. “I’m glad people are getting divorced if they aren’t happy, because life’s too short.”
The trend toward this acceptance worries people like Penn law professor Amy Wax. “It’s not hip to come to the defense of marriage as an institution. The self-image of educated people is, that’s too old-fashioned. It doesn’t square with quasi-bohemian individualism.” We turned out okay, think today’s younger adults who grew up in an era of rampant divorce.
“As long as we’re trying and things are getting better, that’s great,” Rachel says. “But if things aren’t getting better, then why stay together? I hope we love each other until we’re old and gray, but if that would change, we owe it to ourselves to be happy. I don’t think you should have it in your head that you’re depriving your child if you get divorced. It’s not our lot in life to be miserable for our kids.”
With the divorce option firmly established, can the choice to never legally marry be far away? Ask any guy you know if men want to get married. He’ll probably say “no” in a blink. For now, at least, especially among the affluent and college-educated, there’s still a lingering pressure from family and community. “I think society tells men they have to get married, and [there are] family pressures,” confesses Matt. “If you’re dating a girl for five years, it starts to become rude that you haven’t asked.”