Yesterday’s jubilant march along New York streets celebrating the right of gay men and women to marry was a spectacular reaffirmation of something we haven’t witnessed in awhile: A victory of civil rights, yes, but also a victory for marriage.
Marriage needs a victory, for it’s in deep trouble. I’ve long lamented the high rate of depression among young married women—a depression the culture has stonewalled, and which has led to a massive walkout strike among wives. I call it “Matrimorphosis,” this transformation of sexy, authentic brides into unhappy wives. And now that so many middle-class women no longer need marriage to put a roof over their heads, they’re finding other ways to live.
When I wrote in my book, Marriage Shock: The Transformation of Women into Wives, that three-quarters of all divorces are initiated by wives, the response wasn’t, What can this culture do to please wives? No, it was, Who are these overentitled, spoiled women? How dare they leave this hallowed institution that’s so good for them!
It obviously wasn’t so good for them. We are now an unmarried nation. Singles are 110-million strong, meaning that the majority of households are unmarried households. Cohabiting ones, yes. Single with kids, yes. But not married ones. A Pew Research Center nationwide survey analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau reports that four in ten respondents say that traditional marriage is becoming obsolete.
So the joy I feel for gay men and women who have finally been given the right to wed has as much to do with my hope that they’ll create something new and wonderful with their marriages, as it does with my delight that they will share in all the benefits married people have reaped for so long. My hope is that they will resist trying to emulate the idealized, picket-fence version of marriage, and instead go for unconventional, nontraditional marriages—always, I’ve found, the most successful kind. I hope they throw out the “iron framework of men’s reasoning”—a phrase from The Scarlet Letter—that has for so long turned loving heterosexual couples into strangers; turned young, sexual, outspoken brides into muted, unhappy wives; and turned our nation into one that believes marriage is gone for good.
Yes, it’s the couple that doesn’t follow the script that has the best chance of success; the couple that doesn’t see itself through the eyes of the culture; the couple that doesn’t idealize marriage but sees instead a vision of authentic connection and commitment. Gay men and women have never had to follow tradition’s rules, since they’ve been hurled outside them, and my hope is that they won’t idealize traditional marriage now that they’re inside its rules. I don’t mean rules of sexual fidelity. I mean something larger — the hidden rules and regulations buried deep within the institution’s ancient walls, the ones that can kill the soul. My hope is that they rewrite the script and come up with a brand new plot. As for the culture itself, it has a new chance to support marriage–this time, by asking, How do we please these newlyweds? How do we give them not what we believe they should have but what they tell us they need? How do we support their unique, long-desired, well-deserved marriages?