Brandy and I were sitting at the kitchen counter when we heard that friends of ours, parents of a similar age, were splitting up. This news came after the news that another couple we knew who have multiple children together we’re in counseling and trying to reconcile after a prolonged estrangement. A month or so before getting that news, we got news that a guy we knew—a father of a very young daughter—cheated on his wife while in Las Vegas. Oh wait, there’s also that other guy. He left his wife after the delivery and before the christening.
All this news broke in a 90-day span. That’s one fallout every 22 days. Considering how much chatter there’s been recently about the divorce rate, you’d think we would absorb each item without blinking, like one of those weather updates on the 10s. But each makes you pause, and exhale in that dramatic way that puffs out your cheeks. Sure, Brandy and I work at our marriage, we sincerely do, but you still feel like that one house left standing in Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley, surrounded by epic devastation from an F-5, and all you suffer is an overactive wind chime.
We’re so lucky. We work hard at this. When you hear about a marriage dissolving, especially when children are involved, these are the things you say to each other. But part of me wants to say something else about our marriage. Part of me is that guy who finds an Atari 2600 in the attic, plugs it in, and discovers that Frogger and Space Invaders are still as pristinely pixilated as they were in 1983. In other words, I feel like saying, “How is this working?”
My wife and I are together. Nine years. Two kids. Together. But how? So so many couples and families are not surviving. The people we know who are breaking up are no less equipped for marriage than Brandy and I. We all start with the same toolkit (of course, what you saw in half and fill full of nails is up to you). But still. It’s like you can catch a troubled marriage from a doorknob or toilet seat. Is there a vaccination for divorce?
The statistics say everything. Twenty percent of today’s households qualify as traditional: married with children. That figure was 43 percent in 1950. The number of 30- to 44-year-olds living as unmarried couples (i.e. ‘til whenever do us part) has more than doubled since the mid-1990s.
So when I read today about the heavy lifting taking place in Washington D.C. and in courtrooms nationwide to keep same sex marriage illegal, one thought came through loud and clear: we are missing a tremendous opportunity. Perhaps if we make gay marriage legal, then gay couples can give this age-old institution of ours a go, breathe new life into it, help it evolve. Because right now, when it comes to marriage, heterosexuals are the L.A. Clippers. Maybe, just maybe, homosexuals could be the L.A. Lakers of long-term commitment.
Earlier today I traded emails with Patty Onderko, a regular contributor to Parenting. She recently got legally married in New York to her longtime partner Emily, with whom she has two boys. (Read all about it here).
I told her I had a plan. I want to hand off marriage to same sex couples, and have them look under its hood with a fresh set of eyes. Basically, Patty, I want to give you marriage and say, “This thing hasn’t had a software update in 600 years. Good luck.”
“But gay people have even less experience at marriage,” she replied. Huh. Good point. “I don't know what the answer is. Because committing to one person for the rest of your life and making it work, with kids, jobs, bills, etc., is a freaking hard thing to do.”
There is one truth that most people aren’t aware of before their nuptials: You must go into marriage knowing you will lose part of yourself. That sounds ominous, but it’s really not. You must compromise yourself—your habits, your philosophies, your privacy, your personal space, your TiVo storage, your center console in the Hyundai—and submit to change. And out of that compromise, something invaluable is achieved. You go from self-governed whole to half of something greater.
And what about Patty’s wedding day? Considering how steep the road has been, were the nuptials extra satisfying? “It was pretty much a non-event and Emily and I fought more than ever that weekend. I've moved on to my next big cause: the fight for gay divorce,” she wrote, adding a winking, smiling emoticon.