The Boston Globe had a somewhat disturbing article in the latest Sunday Magazine called Meet. Marry. Move On. Although the term "starter marriages" was never used, that's what the article was about, twenty-somethings getting married, divorcing not long after, and remarrying. People are apparently having starter marriages the way some folks buy starter homes. If your chosen spouse isn't doing it for you, if you two fall out of love, then cut your losses and move on! Don't worry, there's no stigma to divorce anymore. Why should there be? Things just didn't work out. As the article says:
"When you're looking for a soul mate, why let a spouse slow you down? There's a new emphasis in marriages on emotional togetherness, a standard some relationships just cannot meet. Good thing nobody bats an eye anymore when young, childless couples divorce."
Divorce may be commonplace, but it's not something to be happy or even blase about. It's painful, regrettable and expensive. It deeply hurts people. The article is glib, long on anecdotes, short on statistics. How much of a trend is this? We have no way of knowing. We are given the marriage and divorce stories of three self-absorbed young people: Peter, Arden and Kathyrn. Both women remarried, the man is still waiting to find his perfect life partner. In all three cases, the women intiated the divorce. The writer, Alison Lobron, adds a few anecdotes from her own experiences. The subjects' stories and quotes sound alike, it scarcely matters who to attribute any statement to:
"Oh, my God. What happened to me?"
"Any sense of my 'self,' which really hadn't had a chance to develop yet, was gone."
"It didn't go wrong all at once....It never went wrong. But I changed. I felt that I wasn't as connected to this man romantically and passionately."
"My romantic feelings were gone."
"I didn't feel in love with him anymore."
"I felt I was starting a new decade of my life, and I wanted more for myself."
I, I, I, me, me, me! These folks are no doubt committed to their personal self-actualization, but they seem not to have grasped the concept of marriage. Clue: Us is more important than me. Marriage as an institution was designed for a higher goal than your individual "emotional fulfillment," although many people experience much happiness from their marital commitment. For me, marriage is something of a religious vocation, stemming from the belief that God created men and women to be companions for each other, to share a life together and - ideally - to raise families. My emotional fulfillment is important to me, but it's not the be-all and end-all of my married life. My husband's happiness is as important as my own (well, most of the time anyway....). I don't expect that my husband is the only or even the primary source of my emotional well-being. That's why we have girl friends, sisters, family, buddies. Thinking that another person can magically provide you with your emotional happiness seems misguided and destined to disappoint.
It's sad, I think, that young people enter into marriage almost casually, as some sort of rite of passage or as a status symbol. Not only have these folks missed a key concept, they display an enormous capacity for self-delusion. Both women remarried soon after their divorce. I'm not sure how anyone could think "My romantic feelings were gone" in their first marriage, and then enter into marriage a second time, thinking that things will magically be different. How did these women convince themselves that they won't be facing a second divorce a few years down the road? What was different in the second marriage or in the women's women's attitudes? The article doesn't say. One woman said:
"She says she believes she has found what a marriage should be: 'intimacy, partnership, passion, and attraction.' "
Good luck to them.
P.S. Sorry if I sound all high and might here, but there's something disturbing in the attitude of these twenty-somethings. Bridget Jones, the hilariously obsessed main character in Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary, refers to married people as "smug marrieds." Now we have a new group of people, the "smug divorced." It doesn't occur to them their marriage didn't work because they got married for the wrong reasons or because they didn't contribute what a marriage needs to be successful. Instead, they are fairly congratulating themselves for their cleverness.
This is how "adults" turn out in a child-centered society, where every child is told that he or she is special (regardless of achievements), where schools consider a child's self-esteem to be more important than any other else. The self and the ego trump everything else. Self-indulgent adults? How could they be anything else?