It’s time. We simply have to talk about this. There is a crisis in marriage of epidemic proportions. We have a problem, and there is no sign of us fixing it. There is a war on marriage, and we are all losing it. No, I’m not talking about same-sex marriage. That is a side-show distraction that steals our focus from the real issue. Make no mistake about it. With regard to the issue of gay marriage, the focus is never truly on the marriage part. It is always on the gay part. I could care less about the gay part. Marriage was in trouble long before same-sex marriage became an issue. It is two-party, heterosexual marriage that is suffering. And that is what we ultimately have to address, and what we keep avoiding.
Stated as succinctly as I can, here is the problem: We have allowed religion to define marriage for so long, that we cannot conceptualize it in any other terms. Even more problematic, the purveyors of religion have an agenda that does not align with human happiness or social realities. Put a slightly different way, we maintain marriage based on the unclear will of an iron-age god, rather than on how human beings actually work.
Before fleshing that out any further, here are a few statistics on marriage and divorce: 95% of both men and women have been married at least once by the age of 55. That’s almost everybody. Though almost all of them promise to be together till death, around 50% part ways before reaching that milestone. Most marriage takes place between ages 25 and 35. If we are just talking 1st marriage, the divorce rate is about 50%. The divorce rate of those who go back for seconds clocks in as high as a whopping, 67%. For the true, gluttons for punishment, the third marriage ends in divorce 73% of the time.
Many stay married because of the children, but far fewer than you might think. Only 40% of failed marriages have children involved. Marriages without children die at a staggering rate of 66%. Those with children beat the average, but not by enough to declare that adding children to the mix will make for a lasting union. If you know your marriage will not produce children, you might as well retain a divorce attorney on the way to pick of the rings.
If you can wait till you get to age 35-39, you’ve got a pretty decent chance of making it. The divorce rate for that group is in the single digits when the rate for both men and women are averaged out. If you want to multiply your chances of divorce, get married between ages 20 and 24.
I need to give you one more set of data points before providing any analysis. It has to do with infidelity. At least one spouse admits to infidelity in 41% of marriages. The percentage of men who admitted to committing to infidelity in any relationship was 57%. Women were not far behind. 36% of men and women admit to having an affair with a co-worker, and about the same percentage admit to having an affair on a business trip.
The most telling stat is that 74% of men, with women not too far behind, admit that they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught. Infidelity in marriage is already rampant from both sexes. The only thing that holds us back is the fear of getting caught. It has nothing to do with a higher ethic, or religious conviction.
The Four Pillars of Marriage
For most of the developed world, marriage is easily recognizable, with a great deal of uniformity across the globe. This is a testament to how long and how thoroughly the religious establishment has defined the institution. Ironically it is an institution largely defined by men who have been denied access to it. This goes a long ways towards explaining the mess it is in, today. There are four things that make marriage so recognizable, all of which are problematic:
A Union of Two: Though the hebrew god was one of the greatest champions of polygamy the world has ever known, as depicted in the Hebrew scriptures, marriage is generally accepted as a union made up of two, and only two people. When the bible is not flogging polygamy, handmaidens, and concubines for the wealthy, it pushed an agenda of strict monogamy. But as the stats suggest, along with out own personal observations have taught us, humans are not cut out for monogamy. With or without the church’s sanction, most relationships are with multiple, sexual partners. We can continue to deny it at our peril, but it will continue to be the case.
Between a Man and a Woman: Not only have we been in denial about our propensity, even preference for multiple partners, we are also in denial about our sexual proclivities. In a society where we cannot even cop to a foot fetish, there is no way to approach honesty about attraction to persons of the same sex. Many are stuck in traditional marriages because they are hiding, or in denial about their true preference. The artificial limitation of cross-gender marriages adds to the misery and instability of marriage as a whole.
Till Death Do Us Part: Since fully half of all marriages never make it to that point, it seems ludicrous to push this unrealistic timeframe as the sole metric for success. The vast majority of marriages make it to five years. Ten is pushing it, and things really fall apart at fifteen. Why not offer a five, ten, or fifteen year contract marriage that can be renewed upon completion?
Be Fruitful and Multiply: Finally, too many still make the argument that marriage is the only institution through which procreation should occur. Nature, however, has placed no such limit on us. In a related matter, some say that procreation is the reason for the institution. This argument is used to fight gay marriage. It quickly falls when applied to the millions of heterosexual couples who cannot produce children, at least, not without bringing in a third-party.
The only reason these four items remain pillars of marriage is due to the influence of religion. Limiting marriage to two, isn’t even the bible’s default position. It is just one of the options. Monogamy was reserved for unimportant people of little means. It made perfect sense for the low-class, impoverished ravel that made up the early Christians.
The bible is rather consistent about the evils of same-sex relations. It goes so far as to demand capitol punishment for those who engage in it. Nature does nothing to forbid or restrict the practice, however, even going so fare as to make some to its orientation. The only objection is religion-based morality. It is gratifying to see that in the US the majority are now in favor of same-sex marriage. It is only a matter of time before god follows suit.
As time progresses, marriages are not lasting longer or getting more stable. The more pressure we place on marriage to be an everlasting institution, the shorter the time marriage lasts. This is actually a good thing. The only places where marriage tends to last are those where women have few rights and fewer options. They are more slaves than wives. Men have the option to cast them aside, but they have no option to leave. That means that in those societies, men can have as many partners as they wish, and treat their wives as little more than property. Where equality exists, so do short marriages.
This tells us that given the option, and all things being equal, we actually prefer short-term relationships. Ten years is about the outer limit to what we can comfortably handle. We do not mate for life. We mate for about eight years. Children give us an added incentive to hang in there a little longer than we normally would. Where did we even get the notion that it should be any other way? What god has joined together, let no man put asunder. Oh, yeah, now I remember. Religion.
Let’s face it. The only one who prioritizes procreation as a motive for sex is god, and those who claim to speak for him. I can assure you, men are almost never trying to create little versions of themselves that will, one day, grow up to compete with them. Men have sex because they like it. If sex was not fun and addictive, we would never reproduce. Reproduction is a byproduct of sex, not a purpose. If all we needed to do was reproduce, nature provides far more efficient models.
In many parts of the world, it is still taboo to have sex outside of marriage. You want to convince a young man to marry? Just deny him the right to sex until he does. Instant marriage. Is there any wonder so many young marriages end in divorce? They married because society told them they had to. They endure it for as long as they can. They seek other partnership opportunities when they can do so without getting caught. And that is the foundation of the mess we know of as marriage, and are trying so desperately to defend.
The men who oversee the religious establishment are not only restricted from marriage, but live counter to the pillars they have established. Priests do not restrict themselves to a single, sexual partner. They have no hesitation when it comes to sampling same-sex relations. Their partnerships last only as long as they need them to. And they are certainly not motivated to stray because of a desire to procreate.
In other words, they live out their sexual lives just as we do, except, without the legal strictures of marriage. I only ask that the rest of the population be given the same rights in relationships as they, themselves, enjoy, except without the hypocrisy and shame. I ask that marriage be as dead for us as it is for priests. Isn’t it time we start living out relationships as humans, rather than as empty vessels trying to live out the dictates of an indwelling spirit from another realm?
Conclusion: Beyond Religion
Marriage is a ball and chain that no longer fits us as a species, if it ever did. When half the population can’t manage it, then we can no longer pretend that it is a sacred rite: a sacrament, that cannot be altered or reconsidered. The heterosexual requirement will fall in our lifetimes, but the church still has a stranglehold over the institution. That is why we will never get beyond marriage until we finally go beyond religion.
We are already there in our behavior. It is past time we stop calling relationships, failures, that last five and ten years at a stretch. What kind of god looks at an accomplishment like that with disappointment? The only thing I regret about my last marriage is that we couldn’t have ended it when it more naturally should have. But we were both trapped in a marriage that had long since become an institution. We did not feel like we were in control of our own relationship. We suffered for that.
I call for the suffering to stop, for everyone! I am not here to defend the institution of marriage, but to destroy it! There is a war against marriage, and I am sleeping with its enemy. Understand, I have no desire to destroy loving relationships, just marriage. As it crumbles around us, I plan to rebuild it in the image of mankind, and not in the image of god: a god who never even bothered to give marriage a try.