There’s a lot of talk about divorce stats these days, usually in despondent tones with much handwringing about the breakdown of the American family and the economy making it impossible for men to support families and feminism making women all uppity and men-not-needing and so on. One of my favorite academics laid it out in the NYT this weekend: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/opinion/sunday/the-new-instability.html?_r=1

In other quarters, the relatively high rate of marriage dissolution is attributed to immorality and to the ease of no-fault divorce.

What all the arguments have in common is the assumption that more married people = more better and that divorce or failure to marry in the first place is inherently problematic for the society at large. It’s hard to argue against that view, since here in 21st century USA, both divorce and non-marriage tend to be associated with poverty, if children are involved, and most people do have children.

But as I see it, the problem is poverty, not being or becoming unmarried.

We have structured our society around the married heterosexual couple, preferably with a male breadwinner and a female caregiver, and so families that conform to that model tend to do better than others. That doesn’t mean it is superior or more moral; it is just the behavior that is rewarded by the system as it exists.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that family model. It’s just not the only way to do it.

The whole discussion reminds me of the argument that women can’t do certain jobs because they can’t physically manage the equipment. You know, the equipment that was specifically designed for male bodies. Design more universal equipment and just like magic, women can use it.

Design a political and economic system that doesn’t punish families that don’t look like the Cleavers and suddenly getting divorced or not getting married will not mean a quick trip to the poorhouse.

I must sound rather defensive, given that I’m in the middle of a divorce, and I guess I am. This is not the post I intended to write this morning but it’s the one that fell out of my fingertips.

Someone told me that there would be times when I would feel like the world’s biggest jerk for disrupting my family members’ lives this way. And sometimes I do. But mostly I don’t, because staying married would not really be best for any of us, no matter what the cultural ethos tries to tell me.


17 thoughts on “Divorce

  1. It is a hard road. I don’t know anyone who has felt entirely sanguine about getting divorced; even if the reasons are good ones and the future looks like it will be a zillion times better. I think the idea that divorce or or un-marriage is somehow lesser is so ingrained that it brings with it the occasional moment of blah — even when it is obviously the better plan.

  2. Timely article, that.

    I suppose it’s a cop-out to smear capitalism with a broad brush and bow out of the conversation. Really, though, so many problems do seem to go back to that and the only answer so far as I can see, at least within the current paradigm, is much stricter economic and social regulation. My instinctive preference is a simpler economic paradigm, but that presents its own challenges (and probably some boons, too) to the goal of personal independence. I suppose there’s a lot more for me to learn about all of it, but right now I have bigger, or at least more intimate, fish to fry.

      • I’m afraid I’m not very practiced at expressing myself in this arena, but here goes: my unstudied impression is that capitalism, or maybe I ought to say overgrown capitalism as practiced (and fed) by a nation of rabid consumerists, is such a mess that you’ve got to keep very tight reins on it in order to prevent catastrophes like ecological ruin or economic inequity. It is always sort of teetering on the brink, requiring a lot of correction.

          • Hmmm. Just had an interesting visual: every time we hand over a stack of cash in exchange for (whatever), we are handing over power, in a sense. Thus, the more you buy, the less empowered you are. I’m not sure that’s a valid thought, but it’s interesting.

            • Well, cash isn’t power in and of itself. The ability to purchase goods and services is power. So if you hoard cash but don’t buy anything, you are essentially broke. Unless you are hoarding it to invest/grow/spend later.

              • True, cash isn’t power. We could remove money from the equation and simply say, I’m trading power for goods and services. On a small scale, it’s hardly noticeable. Families used to produce much more of their own stuff, so buying an item here and there didn’t cause much of a ripple. When you take it to the extreme of the modern American economy, where almost everything you can think of is purchased, you begin to see how the hyper-consumer hands over power. The less things I do for myself, the more I need from x, until finally I do nothing for myself, purchase EVERYTHING, and x has all the power. Or maybe not ALL the power; but x certainly becomes more unwieldy and requires much more regulation than back when we fed it smaller amounts of power.

                Or not. I might not be thinking about it the right way.

  3. Divorce stinks, but being married can stink too. My decision to leave my ex was the best decision I have ever made, financially and emotionally too. Now I know where my money goes and I don’t get yelled at all the time.

    Hang in there!

  4. Lots of tricky and interesting topics lost in here. The thing you said about the system rewarding people who do things in a traditional manner is true. If you like being rewarded, it’s difficult to imagine choosing to do things in a non-traditional manner. I mean, if you don’t feel too strongly either way, why wouldn’t you arrange your life in a way that rewards you? Or, put another way, the value to you, personally, of choosing a non-traditional path, must be high enough that it’s worth sacrificing the rewards of doing things in a traditional manner. I don’t think morality much enters into it. It’s just a matter of assessing the trade-offs and choosing the path that will make you the happiest. It’s always hard to determine which path will make you happiest. I don’t know why there is hand-wringing about divorce stats, and I didn’t care for the article. I get what she’s saying about economic inequality being the bigger problem, because it is, but I don’t think the good ol’ days of blue collar manufacturing jobs and entrapped women is really something to miss with nostalgia. I see where it sucks that we don’t have decent earning power for people with high school diplomas. I wouldn’t want to return to the model of blue collar man and his subjected wife, though.

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