Solution to Divorce Woes: Don’t Get Married

Been there, done that, save your time

My generation has been divorce-shy in the wake of our parents’ bad behavior. When I was in school, at least half my friends’ parents were getting divorced, and some of those divorces were vicious; my friends were used as pawns in emotional games between people who were little more than children themselves. It was pretty gruesome.

So I guess it’s to our credit that when members of Generation X do get divorced, we try to do it right. In the Sunday New York Times, author Susan Gregory Thomas wrote an article called “The Good Divorce“—a phrase she knows sounds contradictory:

Frankly, hearing the word-sandwich of “good” and “divorce”—which I do with some frequency—makes me queasy. Bluntly, there is precious little upside to divorce. It is a horror, its effects on everyone are real and enduring … It is hard to feel as if one is a good, divorced parent. But one can try.

Gregory Thomas seems to be doing quite well with her husband and children, but obsesses over research results (I’m sure she has “children of divorce” as a Google Alert), citing a June study that upset her. Here’s how she characterized it:

Children of divorce score worse in math and social skills, and suffer from lower self-esteem than those from non-divorce households, period. Published in the June issue of American Sociological Review, the author, Hyun Sik Kim—a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison—formulated this devastating conclusion: “After the divorce, students return to the same growth rate as their counterparts … But they remain behind their peers from intact families.”

First of all, I understand newsrooms have to cut down, but that second sentence has a misplaced modifier that a third-grader—even one with divorced parents—could spot. Secondly, have the fact-checkers been dismissed as well? The study isn’t nearly as devastating or all-encompassing as Gregory Thomas implies. In his conclusion, Hyun Sik Kim writes:

Because the analyses followed children for only two years after parental divorce, neither latent negative effects nor resilience effects could be fully observed. … The results presented here are confined to children who experienced the divorce of two biological parents during the period between spring of 1st grade and spring of 3rd grade, and who were 7 to 9 years and 9 to 11 years in respective survey points. This limitation means the results may not apply to children who experience parental divorce in early childhood or adolescence.

Then, citing prior research, he cautions: “These observations preclude unwarranted generalization of the current results.” Er, too late.

I don’t have a dog in the fight over children of divorce since the only children I have are a hydrocephalic Chihuahua and three mercurial sugar gliders. But I do have a solution for people afraid of the enduring horror of divorce: Don’t get married!

Oh, I know. Some people have to get married. People whose religion requires it. People in the military. People who are gay and are unable to substantiate their partnership otherwise. People who are of different nationalities but want to live in the same country.

But otherwise, why do it? I’ve lived with the same partner for seven years. I’ve also been married. The only difference is that I no longer get calls from a union rep to discuss my husband’s work performance, and I no longer worry that being late with a bill payment will impact someone else’s credit score.

My partner and I have chosen to live together and share our lives: pets and vehicles and food and bills and vacations and families and everything else except shampoo and body wash, about which I am annoyingly finicky. I even get health care through the company he works for. What would marriage bring to the picture that’s not here already? (For the women out there saying “security and fidelity,” well, you might want to rethink your expectations.)

People say, “Well, it’s easy for you guys. You don’t have kids.” But I do have friends who’ve been together for years, have children, own a home together—the whole razzmatazz—and they’re not married. They haven’t encountered any problems as a result. If we’re comfortable with Heather having two mommies, why not be amenable to Chelsea and her non-married mom and dad?

Not getting married solves all of this divorce panic as well. Two people come together at one point in their lives, then they move on to something else. Why must that represent failure? It doesn’t—unless it’s within a context that requires a big fat DIVORCE label. When I mention a past relationship, a friend might say, “Well, you were working through such-and-such.” When I talk about my former marriage, people lower their voices as though someone died. In fact, there’s no difference. Just disparate moments in a lifetime—ups, downs, drawing outside the lines.

For years, I was deeply curious about successful marriages. Having heard about my parents’ happy union for my whole life, I needed outside information. So anytime I met people who’d been together for 15-plus years, I’d ask this single question: “To what do you attribute the longevity of your relationship?” I got all kinds of different responses, but I noticed something important. Not one of the people I asked answered, “Marriage.”