For those who've followed the breakdowns of the Sanfords, the Edwards, the Gosselins -- well, need I go on?--marriage may seem a bit bleak. TIME takes the issue straight on in a compelling piece sure to draw flack: "Why Marriage Matters." (Although it seems a bit odd to follow that with "Top 10 Mistresses!") In the piece, Caitlin Flanagan notes a connection between one-parent marriages and poverty, drugs, jail time, etc. According to Flanagan, growing up in a two-parent marriage creates a better environment for raising a family.
In response to TMI reports on the Sanford affair, Flanagan quotes Leonard Michaels:
"Adultery is not about sex or romance. Ultimately, it is about how little we mean to one another."
She goes on:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May that births to unmarried women have reached an astonishing 39.7 percent. How much does this matter? More than words can say. There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage. It hurts children, it reduces mothers' financial security, and it has landed with particular devastation on those who can bear it least: the nation's underclass.
The poor and the middle class are very different in the ways they have forsaken marriage. The poor are doing it by uncoupling parenthood from marriage, and the financially secure are doing it by blasting apart their unions if the principals aren't having fun anymore.
The growing tendency of the poor to have children before marriage — the vast majority of unmarried women having babies are undereducated and have low incomes — is a catastrophic approach to life, as three Presidents in a row have tried to convince them. Bill Clinton's welfare-to-work program encouraged marriage, George W. Bush spent millions to promote marriage, and Barack Obama has spoken powerfully on the need for men to stay with their children: "We need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."
Interestingly, the response of some press reports has been to imply that the failings in some of the high-profile conservative affairs (of which the Gosselins, the Sanfords and the Ensigns fit) are related to their religious backgrounds. Alan Breed of the Associated Press does a bit of editorializing after noting a quote by Mark Sanford:
“Their point is that love is not a feeling,” Sanford told the Associated Press in a tearful two-day confessional. “It’s a choice. It’s an action.” That sentiment might seem cold to many Americans, but it is perfectly consistent with the born-again, evangelical Christian world that Sanford inhabits, says sociologist John Bartowski.
H/T Mollie for finding that. I'm married so maybe I have a different response to that statement. My feeling is that a commitment is the highest measure of what love is meant to be. Breaking it is the highest measure of what love is not. To quote Mollie:
I can’t help but laugh that this sentiment might seem cold. To me, cold is cheating on your wife with an Argentine bombshell because you feel like it. Cold is messing up your sons’ view of marriage, romance and love through your narcissism and lack of foresight. Cold is breaking the heart of your wife and partner. Cold is telling the world that you so callously disregarded your marital vows that you somehow managed to pick up a “soul mate” who lives 5,000 miles away. Dios mio! But believing that love is demonstrated through your behavior? That doesn’t seem particularly cold to me.
In response to this piece, I think that last thing we need in American society is more feeling. We feel just fine. We feel fine enough to shop and buy whatever we want, whenever we want it without regard to our finances or the environment. We feel fine enough to be with whoever we want, whenever we want, without regard for the people that get hurt along the way. And people do get hurt. Divorce and adultery don't just happen between two people. What we do need in American society is commitments to action. Just like we need commitments to act positively toward the environment, we need commitments to act positively toward our wife. That's what marriage is. And what we need is a society that keeps it.