First, I must preface this post by reminding all readers that sometimes, writing is a form of experiment and exploration, and that sometimes, the things I say are not necessarily direct reflections of my own personal opinions, but rather some idea that I want to propose and see how people react to it. With that being said, this post is dedicated to some ideas regarding The Big D (Divorce) that have been fluttering inside my head (mostly spurred by my recent addiction to ‘Mad Men’), and there’s potential what I’m about to say could be offensive to someone (and you may be thinking in your own head, ‘What does a 26 year old who has never been married or divorced have any ground to speak on this topic?”), to which I might respond, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments section.
Second, I must also say that I hope to never get divorced myself. Watching Betty and Don Draper’s marriage fall apart on ‘Mad Men’ is painful enough. I just started season 4, and it is utterly agonizing to watch just how lonely, desperate, and lost Don is (to the extent that, the man who appears to have the fairy tale life, pulls a Holden Caufield and gets a stripper for Thanksgiving company). Everyone’s always running around, saying how we are “on the moral decline” and “Millennials are just so selfish and lazy” and that’s why our divorce rates are so high. I don’t think we can necessarily say that the issues splitting couples are strictly “modern day problems”, because I think humans have always been crappy, and have always argued about the same things–the venue might just be different. Like, I think politicians and celebrities and regular people have always cheated on each other. I think people have always argued over finances and how to raise the children. I think abuse and manipulation has always existed. I’ve met plenty of established couples who spent a portion of their marriage living in separate places because they couldn’t stand each other, and had they lived in today’s modern society, there are probably the same amount of unhappy couples. Right, even Betty Draper kicks Don out of the house in Season 2, and they live apart before coming back together.
So, once upon a time, the human race created marriage, and then this phrase, “until death do us part” gets thrown in there, and the social expectation is that once we sign that little piece of paper, all of our animal instincts go directly out the window, and we will never, ever experience feelings for another person, we will never, ever dislike our spouse, and we will never, ever question our decision to get married. One of my new favorite books, The Transit of Venus, explores this very topic, and argues that perhaps this socially constructed view of marriage that we have actually goes quite against the grain of innate human existence. That, because we are creatures, crafted and stimulated from experiences, and because our lives move along a linear (well, relatively linear) spoke of time, we are always changing, and that perhaps the spouse who we once found refuse in at 22 is no longer the spouse we need at 42. This is absolutely true for Don and Betty Draper; each business transaction (both literally and metaphorically) he engages upon changes him; Betty changes after her mother dies, when she takes up riding and begins expanding her worldview, her father passes away–and the people they once were no longer fits what each needs in this union. And, maybe this drifting happens in real life, too (because, after all, doesn’t T.V. mimic reality?…), and that’s where The Divorce comes into play.
I also believe that most things in live exist upon a bell curve: intelligence, levels of selflessness, productivity, hair color, etc. You name it, and I bet that if we were to survey the entire population, we would end up with the majority of people, running about an average mark. While I believe The Universe gives us all the option to find supreme happiness in marriage, I also am inclined to believe that this falls upon the bell curve as well: some of us will fall flat, some of us will achieve it, and the majority of us will fall somewhere upon the average spectrum. Some of us will reach the ideal image of marriage, some of us unfortunately never will, and the majority of us will be somewhere in between. It’s like teaching: I hope that every students earns an A in my class, and I certainly want to give each of them all the necessary tools to do so, but because humans are fallible, corrupt, and broken, a majority of them will not (its this necessary tension between what we are allotted to have, and what we, as humans, actually allow ourselves to obtain).
On a macro level, perhaps human existence has also shifted. When the concept, “until death do us part” first came out, I’m sure the life spans of people maxed out at like 35 (which, according to Google, the average divorce age these days is 30, which is pretty close to 35). If I knew I was only expected to live for five more years and my marriage was on the rocks at 30, I’d probably stay with them too just to avoid the hassle. But, these days, the average life expectancy is 85 (83 if you are left handed like me), which means that a marriage on the rocks at 30 looks like a very long road. But, I think this is true with many other aspects of living in the 21st century; thanks to technology and our super cosmic brains, as a species, I believe we are progressing further and adding immense amount of discovery to the pool of consciousness, and the society that we so fondly reflect upon may not necessarily work for us anymore. Like, maybe one time, the right to bear arms was necessary, or the Internet need not be censored, or liquor sales should cease on Sundays, or extreme and rigid religious rituals were fundamental, but perhaps those rules and customs no longer fit the society in which we live; maybe a “until death do us part” was once something that worked, because as a people, that’s what we needed, but not anymore.
I think there certainly are times when a divorce is necessary. As parents, I think we owe it to our children to give them the best possible environment to grow up in, because children learn habits and expectations from those environments. If we set a standard that it’s acceptable to run the dishwasher once a month, or to leave the lint in the dryer screen, or to blast our 80’s punk metal at 2 AM in the morning, then our children will pick up on those habits as well. Once, as I listened to the radio, there was a mom who called in to celebrate her husband and son’s 20 year sobriety, and all that I could think about was how that son was probably a product of his environment, and whether or not the mom had a moral obligation to remove him if she knew her son could pick up on those alcoholic habits. My parents divorced when I was 12, and it was honestly probably the best decision for our family, because staying together would have been more caustic than being apart. I certainly carry my own wounds from growing up in this fractured family, and I do sometimes think that, if I had a good example of a marriage, I may not have allowed myself to date some of the guys I did, but I also think I would have been more wounded had my parents stayed together–because THAT would have been a worse example than them just severing ties, and sometimes, for the children, eliminating that potentially toxic environment is what’s best (not staying together).
In conclusion, I am in no way condoning divorce, nor am I coming up with a bunch of excuses, and I’ve never been divorced myself, so I don’t know how it feels, but I think that perhaps there are some other confounding factors we should consider before throwing in the towel and accepting that our society is on the moral decline. Like morality, perhaps our expectations have shifted, our ways of living and tools to interact with the world, and so should our definitions.