Divorces of Convenience

What does Lynne Gold-Bikin think marriage means?

Lynne Gold-Bikin’s piece on “gray divorce” on today’s Post seems to miss the whole point of marriage—or at least, marriage the way it used to be, before half of all wedded unions eventually became un-united. “People tend to grow apart over that much time and develop their own interests,” Gold-Bikin writes. And: “With the prospect of many more productive years ahead of them, why stay married to someone who has different interests, different friends and different goals?”

Of course people change over time. Life leads us all in crazy directions. And it’s true that once the bonding power of raising small children together is gone, marriage undergoes mutations. But what about “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer”? Isn’t marriage supposed to be all about enduring life together, come what may? Isn’t that why we marry in the first place—to have someone we can count on to share life’s joys and its crappiness?

Gold-Bikin appears to view marriage much like car-buying: Relationships should be maintained only so long as a couple chooses, with regular trade-ins for newer, more satisfactory models. That’s not marriage; that’s dating. What about when a wife develops Alzheimer’s, or a husband suffers a debilitating heart attack? Is that trade-in time, too?

Gold-Bikin applauds the “respectful,” civilized nature of the split-ups of Ed and Midge Rendell and Al and Tipper Gore. I’d never suggest that people stay in marriages or relationships that are making them miserable, but I find these 40-year breakups heartrendingly sad. It takes a long time to grow so far apart that you imagine life as better without your long-term partner than with him. All along the way, these people had chances to work on their relationships: to find new, shared interests, get to know one another’s friends, reexamine and reimagine their goals. In a marriage, you can grow apart, or you can grow together. Change doesn’t have to mean dissolution; it can also bring growth, and the wonder of discovering new aspects of the person you chose to have and to hold until death do you part.