Wednesday, October 12, 2005
BY DANIEL KLINE
My wife wore a horribly ugly shirt last Sunday. By today's standard that, coupled with the fact that I made the mistake of telling her the garment was hideous, would have been more than enough for her to begin divorce proceedings. Fortunately, she's not all that fond of the outfit, so the two of us, our son and her green-spotted ensemble went on to visit a local museum without incident.
While liberals and conservatives fight a war over whether allowing gay people to participate will harm the institution of marriage, the real attack on matrimony has come from within. Straight people, especially those from the Baby Boomers on down through Generation X, have set a lousy example to young people by treating marriage as a casual commitment that's relatively easy to get out of.
The parents of the Baby Boomers - the Greatest Generation - stayed married even under horrible circumstances, which might have been taking things too far. Still, there's a balance between sticking with a miserable marriage forever and dissolving one before giving it a proper chance.
Today, people seemingly get married without even intending for it to last a lifetime. They have the giant party, collect the presents and swear to all sorts of serious sounding vows without actually making a commitment. If it's easy and it works out, great, but if it doesn't they'll get a divorce and move on to the next person.
It's not simply the high divorce rate that sends this message, but the fact that so many couples break up over the slightest of problems. If marriages are easily discarded than why go through the bother of working out your differences or finding common ground? It takes much less effort to walk away and find someone new than it does to improve what you have.
The problem has been compounded by the nearly endless attention paid to celebrity marriages. It seems that the more media coverage a wedding receives, the less time its participants stay married. The end of these relationships might be portrayed by the media as sad, perhaps there's a teary "Oprah" appearance by the female member of the couple or a "People" magazine cover story, but that sadness never lasts.
Instead, after one news cycle of tears, we immediately return to mountains of speculative coverage about what fabulous celebrity the divorcees might now become entangled with. Basically, divorce according to US Weekly, Entertainment Tonight and their ilk ranks as a minor inconvenience on the road to dating someone new.
This concept - that commitment means nothing and you can leave a situation as soon as it becomes hard - has infected young people and seeped into other areas of their lives. If a vow taken in front of our closest family and friends, often in a house of God, can be so easily discarded then what can't be?
Our bad example teaches kids that when the going gets tough, the tough tell their lawyers to negotiate the best deal possible. Adults acting this way teach kids that they need not stick by any commitment. If you get cut from the team, stop practicing and quit the sport. If you don't understand algebra right away then decide that math must not be for you. Do anything you want and at the first sign of trouble, feel free to bail out.
If we expect our kids to show perseverance in times of trouble, then we must set a better example. Marriage has to mean something, because adults have to show the next generation that giving your word matters and that sometimes the hardest things to attain are the ones most worth having.
Daniel B. Kline is a freelance writer based in Connecticut. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.