Thursday, December 10, 2009

the marriage-go-round

“The Marriage-Go-Round: the state of marriage and the family in America today”
Andrew J. Cherlin


I just finished this fascinating book and wanted to post a few quotes here in case any of you find it helpful. I have not read many books this year that do a better job of describing the culture we have made around us. I thought it might just be an interesting book about marriage but the author surveys all the radiating issues of family, hyper-mobility, religion, and individuality as they occur in our historical moment.


The basic question of the book is, “why, more than any other western country, does America emphasize the importance of marriage as a positive cultural idea?” The concluding chapter is called “slow down.” This is the author’s tonic for what he sees as an unhealthy and frenetic relationship merry-go-round (see the last quote below). Here are some nuggets that give you a hint about the author’s insight and conclusions. (if you live in Lexington...i am returning the book to the library today so it's up for grabs)

“Without doubt, the, there are more breakups of marriage and cohabiting couples in the United States than in any other Western country with the possible exception of New Zealand. So not only do Americans marry more, they also divorce more. Further, they end their cohabiting relationships more quickly. So they start and end partnerships with a speed that is virtually unmatched.” (p.18)


“Ones primary obligation is to oneself rather than to one’s partner and children…As a twenty-first-century individual, you must choose your style of personal life. You are allowed to – in fact, you are almost required to – continually monitor your sense of self and to look inward to see how well your inner life fits with your married (or cohabiting) life. If the fit deteriorates, you are almost required to leave. For according to the cultural model of individualism, a relationship that no longer fits your needs is inauthentic and hollow. It limits the personal rewards that you, and perhaps your partner, can achieve. In this event, a breakup is unfortunate, but you will, and must, move on.” (p31)


“Across Protestant and Catholic religious life, the spirituality of seeking was not about laws or doctrines but about finding a style of spirituality that made you feel good, that seemed to fit your personality. Just so, individualized marriage was not about rules and traditions but rather about finding a style of family life that gave you the greatest personal rewards. Religion became a site for self-development – a place where you could continually “learn and grow,”…– and so did marriage. Rather than inheriting your faith from your forefathers, you were free to choose your own through a process that might involve exploring several churches. Similarly, you were free to choose your spouse through a process that might involve living with more than one partner in order to make that choice. And should you become personally dissatisfied with your church, you could leave in search of another, more fulfilling one. So, too, could you leave your marriage if you become dissatisfied with it. Both the spirituality of seeking and the individualized marriage became part of the larger project of developing your self-identity, a quest that became the focus of personal life for more and more Americans during the last several decades of the twentieth century.” (pp.107-8)


“The result is that we have sped up the hands of the relationship clock. We have more turbulence in our family lives, more changes of partners and parents, than any other nation. This unprecedented rapidity reflects a cultural contradiction between marriage and individualism that most Americans carry around in their heads. It is as if we each use two lenses to view family life and shift between them unaware, like an automatic camera effortlessly adjusting its focus from close-up to panoramic views of the same scene. One view emphasizes the desirability of marriage and, by extension, stable long-term relationships. The other emphasis self-development and causes people to end relationships that no longer provide the benefits they think they need. The cycling back and forth we do between these two views whirls the American marry-go-round of partnership after partnership faster than anywhere else in the Western world.” (p.201-2)

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