Everyone Needs A Starter Marriage

I’ve got a never-endin’ love for you.

42124From now on, that’s all I want to do.

From the first time we met, I knew:

I’d sing my never-endin’ song of love for you.

  • Delaney Bramlett, Never Ending Love



Starter homes, starter jobs, starter careers, and starter cars. Why do we need these things when we’re first starting out in life?

I’ll tell you why:

  1. 0808-0801-0313-4046Because, even if we have a vaguely accurate idea of what, in the long term, is best for us, we can’t usually get it at the beginning. And yet, that’s where we have to start.
  2. Because we generally don’t have even a vaguely accurate idea of what is best for us. What we think we want, what we think we need, and what we think our life is going to be like is so terribly inaccurate that we make dumb (and sometimes really dumb) decisions. We often need a Mulligan for our first attempt at anything significant, and hopefully it doesn’t scar us psychologically, economically, and socially for life.
  3. Because we are so busy trying to pretend to be who we think we should be that we have no idea who we really are. It takes most people, I’d say, into their 30s—maybe their 40s—to become themselves in such a way that they don’t damage themselves and other people by trying to be something that they’re not.

So, why not starter marriages?

starter-marriage“Oh, no,” I can hear you say, “That’s different.”

But not really. Maybe, in ideal, marriage is a permanent, unique, fulfilling, and on-the-first-try union of two people; but in practice, let’s face it—it just isn’t.

As marriage has become a mutual and fulfilling partnership between consenting adults (rather than a property arrangement between families, the exclusive reservation of a womb, or the only way to become sexually active) it’s no wonder that divorce has increased. The idea of marriage as the mutual bordering and intertwining of two loving lives just doesn’t jibe well with the reality of the changes that most people go through from the time they think they should get married (generally in their twenties) to when they are really ready to undertake such a commitment (generally in their 30).

9780805425765For some people, the solution is to make divorce harder. Create “Covenant” marriages. Eliminate “no-fault” divorce. Lock people into their union until they just wear down and learn to settle for the reality of what they signed up for.  Personally, I don’t think that making divorce harder is going to help marriage or make for better marriages. It’s not like anyone wants a divorce. Getting one now, even if you want one, is like having your insides scraped out with the rusty lid of a cat food can. And, having witnessed the direct and indirect damage that people cause when they stay together when they really ought to have parted ways, I think making such people stay married just so you can feel better or smug about your own lot is just plain cruel.

I loved you when our love was blessed;

I love you now there’s nothin’ left but sorrow and a sense of overtime.

And I’ve missed you since the place got wrecked, 
and I just don’t care what happens next,

Looks like freedom but it feels like death;
it’s something in between, I guess,

It’s closing time.

  • Leonard Cohen, Closing Time.
If waiting for marriage for sex...

If waiting for marriage for sex...

What we should really do is make it harder for people to get married young.

Back in the day, when marriage was an inescapable social obligation, a property arrangement, and a breeding plan, back when you could expect (or hope) to die in your 50s, early marriage made some sense. But not so given the relationship that marriage has become. We’re getting into the workforce older, we’re choosing to have children later, and we live into our 70s. It makes sense to move the marriage start date back a couple of decades. We need to grow up first.

...is such a great idea...

...is such a great idea...

“But what about the meantime?” you say. “How are young people supposed to…you know….” What? Do what they’re already doing? I know that there are a few people who want to encourage people to marry young so that…you know…only happens in marriage, but the idea that any life-long commitment should be governed by an 18-20 year-old’s sex drive makes even less sense than a car commercial. I may be old fashioned, but I don’t think that one ought to drive away married for the sake of  “zoom-zoom.”

...why are there so many of these books?

...why are there so many of these books?

“But,” you say, “What if someone wants to get married young? What if they think that they are ready? What if they want to have children in a stable home?” Well, first of all, current marriage statistics suggest that people who think they are ready to be married in their twenties just aren’t, and they also show that having children in the twenties is one of the surest ways to develop an unstable home. We don’t let underage people drink, drive, smoke, vote, sign contracts, or get married. In each of these cases, the “underage” limit is different depending on the activity. I’m just saying that we should move the marriage floor up from 13 and 14 (for females and males respectively in New Hampshire, 15 in Minnesota, Mississippi, and Utah) to about 30.

But – I suppose – there’s no way to get around the fact that some people (and with their families’ blessings, what yet) are bound and determined to get married during this dangerous time. I suppose it’s easier to make the argument that a sixteen year-old can’t handle a cigarette than to argue s/he can’t handle a spouse. So, what I suggest is that we do for them what we do for all kinds of young people who don’t have the experience, credit, maturity, good sense, or independence to not become locked into long-term commitments that they shouldn’t undertake.

FinancingYes, I’m talking lease-to-own.

I suggest that marriages prior to thirty years of age should be made on five year, renewable, leases. Only over the age of 30 could you enter into the kind of “permanent” marriage that is now the norm. That means if you married at 20, you would renew at 25 and again at 30 before being able to make things permanent at 35. If you married at 27, you could go straight to a permanent marriage at 32. Five-year marriages (M5s) would have a standard agreement as to obligations regarding debts, assets, and any child support. This agreement would be signed prior (and this is important) to the marriage or its renewal, and would commit each party to settle differences by binding arbitration. Full tax benefits, and access to full legal recourse, would not accrue until a permanent-status marriage (MP) was achieved.


I’ve done a lot of foolish things that I really didn’t mean, didn’t I, oh, baby.

Seen a lot of things in this old world, when I touched them they did nothin’, girl.

Here I am, baby – signed, sealed, delivered – I’m yours!

–Stevie Wonder, Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

The beauty of this system is that it doesn’t preclude the possibility that some marriages were just made to last (my parents’ for example). In fact, it might provide an opportunity to celebrate them before they hit the 50-year mark. We could wait until the permanent status marriage to do the big wedding celebrations; kind of like a mortgage burning and wedding celebration rolled into one. And it would allow for bone-heads (like me) who thought they knew what they were doing to make their mistakes with the least damage, and unclog the courts by taking a whole lot of useless, damaging, and degrading divorce proceedings out of circulation.

marriage_made_in_heaven_magnet-p1476496956697797657pdm_325And – get this – it wouldn’t keep churches that see marriage as a sacrament or sacred commitment from telling their members that they had to stick with it. No, they could tell them that couldn’t stay in the church unless they did. I imagine it would be hard to tell the people who had signed up for a five year commitment and didn’t want to renew that they were inferior to the nearly half of the other members who had proclaimed their eternal love and already been through a divorce or two. But that’s their problem.

In any case, renewal time would make for an opportune moment to require some kind of marriage “check-up” counseling for members of faiths that wouldn’t accept that members could turn in a marriage after five years as if they were trading up a Honda lease for a Lexis. I don’t know about you, but “pre-marital” counseling seems to do no one any good at all (except perhaps as an exculpatory rite for the officiating pastor). But mid-term counseling, after the couple has hit the reality of living together, might indeed prove beneficial before moving on to another five year, or permanent, commitment.

Marriage should be more than way for society and the tax code to recognize serial monogamy. If I’ve learned anything about it from two of my own and from witnessing marriages good (my parents) and bad (that shall remain unnamed), it’s that the best marriages are not those imprisoned by a commitment to “marriage” (as if you could have a good trip with someone you detest by being committed to the RV) but those whose relationship grows into the kind of commitment we celebrate and idealize in contemporary marriage. Let’s give everyone a more realistic chance to get there.

StarterMarriageLogoI can’t promise that I’ll grow those wings or keep this tarnished halo shined;

But I’ll never betray your trust, angel mine.

-Cowboy Junkies, Angel Mine.


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8 comments for “Everyone Needs A Starter Marriage

  1. January 14, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    What you say is very difficult to disagree with if a person is coming from a background of 2nd or 3rd marriage, themselves. What you say is humbling to agree with, because it absolutely sucks at how true it is. It’s disgraceful how horrible, selfish, and ruthless people can be towards current and past spouses. This is NOT marriage, by design. It’s marriage by default…in a world of ickiness.

    I’m on my 3rd marriage. I was 25. My first was at 19. You state truth when you say we really don’t know who we are or what we need/want when we are young.

    I agree that marriage shouldn’t be a tax break solution.

    In my opinion, it has just become way too simple for anyone to “just do as they please,” without being forced to be held responsible for their decisions. No respect for parents, themselves, or others. A respect for marriage and what it represents and what it should be is lacking in many many people. If what I just said wasn’t real, then maybe young marriage would have more of a chance. Sadly, I don’t see that ever happening.

    Welcome to a world of hurt, revenge, and hatred! Yay.
    Optimistically, however, marriage can truly be so wonderful and freeing….if we’re committed enough to put in the work to make it so. Giving up is easy. No one said it would be easy to have a great marriage. The best things in life are worth fighting for! This is true. People are short-sighted and shallow. Drop the blinders, and we’ll all see a wiser generation re-born.

  2. October 1, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    May your finest whiskey turn sour for this dreadful assault upon treasures that should age well!

    While I’m not usually one to do flaming in blog comments, I have to say that I’m astonished to find someone so smart writing something so dumb. What you have done here is turned “giving up” into a system of itself. Your functional arguments may be compelling from a “frustration and money” perspective of success, but we as humans are not called to be successful or efficient, but to be faithful, loving creatures. Divorce, serial monogamy, lease-to-own, fool-around-and-find-yourself or whatever you want to call it are dreadful models of faith and love, and are fundamental contradictions of our humanity.

    Your final paragraph was pretty good, though. Yes, marriage as a legal notion is pretty hollow.

    –Eric Ruthford

  3. Katy
    October 1, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Very interesting ideas, and not without some merit. However, one very important thing here is missing for me. You talk about all the normal starter acquisitions (cars, homes, jobs) but these things are static, and don’t have the ability to change much as you change. They don’t grow with you. Your spouse is a person, and you are a person and as such you will both grow and change. Sure, you may grow in opposite directions, but there is also a certain amount of choice you both have in it.

    Its not only fully possible, but I think is a large part of a person’s growth to be challenged by their spouse and grow closer (or further apart) from it. But the choices you make are what determine that. There’s a push in our culture to do your thing, make choices that are best for you, and not take responsibility for those you hurt in the process. Sometimes this is a good path, one that people need to take for sanity. Sometimes its a very selfish path that is used because it is easy and sounds good – it fits with the times.

    My only worry with “lease-to-own” marriages is that it would support people choosing themselves over the challenge of making a marriage work. It could easily add to our already crazy amounts of selfishness and entitlement in this country, as well as encourage a continued disinterest in learning how to communicate effectively.

    Not that I have a better idea. Maybe we should go with the common idea in ‘barbarian cultures’: Your marriage isn’t final until a year after you start. If it doesn’t work, no harm no foul, and children are still supported by both people, but live with one person (historically, the mom). That way the sex drive is out of the picture, and you’ve had a year to live with this person and really get to know them.

  4. Rory Pitts
    September 30, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Eric,

    Well written. You’re ideas are “outside the box”, but I think I could wrap my mind around some of them. My only concern–and forgive me if you do mention it but I didn’t see it–is babies. I agree people in their early 20s might not be ready to handle kids or for that matter 1/2 a dozen by their 30s, but what are your ideas on that? How many times have we heard, “We’re staying together for the kids”? Be nice to avoid that guilt also. Very good for your first blog!!!

    Rory

  5. Barbara (Haberman) Jones
    September 30, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    Checking facebook and, now and then, my e-mail, takes up about as much time as I’m willing to spend on the computer.. but of course I HAD to read the beginning of your blog… and I’m hooked! AND… I so agree! Our youngest was married this past April, age 20! NOT our idea of good judgement, but it was get on the train or not be involved. The new husband is in the marines and was shipped out almost immediately after the wedding – we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes. Our other daughter broke off her engagement (still BEST friends with the ex! Whoo Hoo!) and doesn’t know if she’ll ever marry. Wow… polar opposites! I absolutely adore my children – I, like all parents, want their lives to be as uncomplicated, enjoyable, meaningful and fulfilling as possible. But I cannot live their lives or make their decisions for them.. as if my decisions would be any better than theirs! ha!… anyway, I’m sure you have more replies than this one to read and I’m rambling… I wish you the best in your blog endeavors! I do enjoy your writing!

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