Should marriage have an expiration date?

A few years ago, Brad Pitt rocked the world when he announced that his marriage to Jennifer Aniston was over. When pressed for a reason as to why he was ending their union, he said he simply felt that the relationship was complete. Although rumors abounded that Angelina Jolie was already on the scene with Brad, those suspicions were never proven true. marital contract

When Al and Tipper Gore announced that, after 40 years together, their marriage was over, many were shocked. Once again, there were no public scandals, but those close to them said they had subtle cracks in their nuptial foundation.

While there is no shortage of marital dissolutions in this country because of affairs or some other kind of wrongdoing, those that end for no apparent reason, really throw us. It’s as if we need some sort of reason so we can feel a sense of control over our own environment. If there is no person, place or thing that we can point to as the cause of the downfall of a marriage, that means that anybody’s marriage is subject to terminate at any time “just because.” This notion puts all of us on edge a bit.

We are constantly seeking security and permanence. It’s why we make marriage contracts that are legally binding, it’s why we make people take vows that they will stay in their marriage, and it’s why we instill notions of  until death do us part and happily ever after.

Is that sense of permanence just an illusion?

What if marriages have life spans just like all living entities do? What if we took away the judgment that a marriage “failed” and saw it as just being complete? After all, we don’t characterize loved ones who die as “failing to stay alive.” Why, then, can’t we step back and accept that it’s OK to accept that unions end sometimes? Rather than setting up people to fail by giving them an unending sentence, why don’t we provide expiration or renewal dates so that those who want or need out, can do so with dignity?

The pros might be:

  • It could potentially significantly reduce the cost (emotionally, mentally and financially) of divorce
  • People might put a continued effort into keeping the union healthy and alive knowing that their vow renewal was contingent on this effort;
  • The institution of marriage might be made stronger in that those who are not marriage material would not stay married.

The cons might be:

  • As always, the greatest complication of marriages that don’t last is that there are often children involved (but what’s it like now?)
  • People might not take the commitment of marriage seriously (but do they now?)
  • Many might say it’s not “marriage” because marriage is meant to be forever (but is it now?)

What do you think?

George Clooney and the pressure to be married

If you follow celebrity news, you know the biggest thing to happen this week was the announcement that People magazine’s two-time Sexiest Man Alive George Clooney is engaged. It shouldn’t be such a big deal — just another celeb tying the knot, right? Except that Clooney has resisted the societal pressure to get hitched — again — after two decades of bachelorhood.   george-clooney-engagement-ring-photo-amal-alamuddin-engaged__oPt

Not to say that he hasn’t suffered for it; Clooney has had to keep defending his unmarried  state (as if it were a crime) and battling the anti-marriage bachelor image that has been thrust upon him. All of which makes us wonder what is it with this incredible societal pressure that makes an unmarried person have to defend his or her decision to be unmarried?

Do we have an unhealthy obsession with marriage?

Perhaps. Bella DePaulo, author of numerous books on the single life, calls it matrimania.

Clooney keeps reminding people that he isn’t a commitaphobe — he was married for to actress Talia Balsam from 1989 to 1993 after all  (not really long, but still) — and although he has had numerous girlfriends since then, he has been committed to each and every one of them (as are most of us serial monogamists):

People forget that I was married. I love that, ‘Will he get married?’ I don’t talk about it because I don’t think about it. I don’t ever question other peoples’ versions of how they live their lives or what they do.

Nevertheless, that will not stop the media from putting his photo on the cover with the headline, “At last!” — just like poor Jennifer Aniston has had to endure ever since she and former hubby Brad Pitt split.

It’s the “At last!” that’s problematic:

At last! s/he’s found love!

At last! s/he’s engaged!

At last! s/he’s married!

At last! she’s pregnant!

At last? Isn’t it funny — or perhaps odd or sad — that in 2014, when people can live together, have children without being married (or even without having a partner), or be part of any romantic arrangement they want, many still feel uneasy with those who remain unmarried for any length of time? It’s as if we are all blindly following some sort of script for romantic love and any deviation from it causes angst.

It also perpetuates gendered stereotypes. Just look at how the media is portraying Clooney and his fiancee, Amal Alamuddin — she “tamed,” “hooked” and “tied Clooney down,” because she had a secret — she “played hard to get.”

Excuse me, what year are we in?

OK, we get that the spotlight is on celebrities — we are a celeb-driven culture, for better or worse. But there’s a trickle-down effect, and the pressure to marry hits us whether we’re prepared for it or not. So, it’s a good idea to be thinking about it … and hopefully challenge it.

  • What kind of pressures have you felt to couple up or tie the knot?
  • Have you been as successful as Clooney has been in ignoring it until the right person came along and made you feel differently about marrying?
  • What gendered stereotypes have you internalized?
  • Do you have “At last!” moments?