“It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage.”
– Jane Austen
I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”
– Groucho Marx
Last week was a rough stretch of road for marriage. In less than seven days, we learned that Hollywood couple Laurie and Larry David were splitting, that LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his wife of 20 years were calling it quits and that pro golfer John Daly showed up at a Memphis tournament with scratches on his face and accused his wife of attacking him with a steak knife.
Generally, we tend to feel that marriages that involve one or more celebrities are vulnerable to special pressures that make matrimony a bigger job than it is for the rest of us. But I would argue that if money and sex are the two biggest inciters of marital unrest, then one should have a home that is peaceful at least half the time when your husband, like Larry David, is worth in excess of $600 million dollars. In that household, there couldn’t have been much quibbling over the cost of produce at Whole Foods versus Vons. But then, you’ve seen Larry David make something out of nothing.
More than the money involved, and that part of it is always real even for households earning less than $600 million, last week’s splits and spats highlighted diversity. The people involved were highly talented and self-aware. And each home was presumably without economic stress or arguments about a child getting dental braces. So taking all that in, one could reasonably ask, “If marriage doesn’t work under those conditions, does it still work… period?”
And the super-wonderful quality about that question is that you can’t really dwell on it if you’re married. You might just as well ask yourself, “Do these pitons really hold?” as you dangle by ropes off a sheer rock face.
The question more troubling to those in and near the aging boomer generation might be, “As time goes by, will marriage continue to work?” And if that is a concern for many, then three high-profile middle-age marriage blowouts in the same week is akin to hearing a chilling howl in the night fog. “It’s out there… waiting for us. Quick, honey, the wolfsbane.”
Wolfsbane is thought by some (not many) to reverse shape-shifting spells. Hence its mention in old werewolf movies. Shape-shifting is often cited when people tell their divorce stories. “He changed. She changed.” Yes. How horrible that people, as they grow older and learn more of life, might keep evolving. Oh, they didn’t mean that. They meant he or she took up physical relations with another. The concept or “institution” of marriage, having failed to come up with anything else, continues to use sexual fidelity as its warranty card. Odd, since nothing in known human behavioral science corresponds to decade after decade of monogamous sex. But, violate the terms of the warranty and the deal is off. More than 50 percent of marriages fail: You wouldn’t take that deal from Midas Muffler in regard to brake work on your car.
Society needs couples organized into family units for purposes of security, stability, taxation and economics. (You can’t sell “Family-Size” ketchup if there are no families.) But what do we need? When “have it all” couples split, it may mean nothing. Marriages may be like snowflakes, no two alike. It’s possible that despite the ridiculous spending on old-fashioned weddings, nobody really clings to an old-school image of marriage based on what we know at this point about being human.
Still, three Democratic candidates were grilled on CNN last week about “faith.” Of course they asked Hillary about moving on after her husband’s, um, warranty failures. We still insist that “marriage” exist as something solid that only occasionally proves to be more of a gel or liquid. And anyhow, werewolves aren’t real.