General Interest

Embracing marriage, the long and the short if it

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People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on "being in love" forever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change — not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last … but if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest."

— C.S. Lewis

My husband and I gathered with friends recently at the Columbia Tower Club to fete a couple celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary.

We toasted marriage’s enduring qualities and staying power. (And we trekked repeatedly to the ladies restroom where giant picture windows — including in the stalls — boast panoramic views worthy of a tourism designation.)

The day after, my husband and I lingered over Sunday lunch with a couple in the neighborhood. Moqueca de Camarão, an amazing Brazilian prawn and coconut stew, was as delicious as the discovery that we both liked this couple equally. If you’re married you know how rare that is!

Later, I saw on Facebook that friends living in Chicago were celebrating 15 years of wedded bliss.

Then there was the send-off for another friend, made all the more poignant because her husband and young children will remain behind. A bicoastal relationship with all of the romantic challenges layered by the practicalities of getting kids to soccer practice. Military families know the drill all too well.

In all of these instances, longevity and commitment are worthy of a toast. New York became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage. Other states should follow. These moves embrace marriage and run counter to the many statistics telling us that we married couples are part of a waning institution.

Marriage rates have been declining for some time. Part of the problem is generational. Rising divorce rates, which have only plateaued in recent years, meant many of us grew up in households marked by divorce. We were expected to establish educations and careers before marriage and families. So most of us did.

Millenials, that group of 18- to 29-year-olds, value parenthood far more than marriage, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. More than half believe being a good parent is one of the most important things in life, compared with slightly less than a third who say the same about successful marriages.

There are notable exceptions. When my friends at the Columbia Tower Club saluted their parents’ combined marital total of more than 80 years, the room erupted in applause. We are awed by such connubial stamina because many of us aspire to it.

Still, trends point to more people than not taking to heart H.L. Mencken’s acerbic quip about marrying best by marrying late.

Delays in marriage have been accompanied by a corresponding increase in single women having children. Just over half of all births among the under-30 set in 2008 were to unwed mothers.

That jibes with young adults’ embrace of single parenthood and dismissal as too traditional the premise that a child needs both parents at home. Some traditions are worth breaking, but not this one. Raising kids is hard, even harder alone. I suspect the younger generation’s optimism about eschewing marriage and raising children alone stem from views on something about which they know very little. More insightful views on marriage might come by checking back in a decade when Millenials are better acquainted with the twin responsibilities of career and family.

After 13 years of marriage, I’ve come to believe it is a tradition one truly doesn’t get until its his or her turn.

Before then, we’re merely seeking to be the generation doing it differently and better than our parents did. Such naive optimism has permeated generations since the first one.

In the end, we all turn to the enduring power of committed relationships.

Longevity has its rewards.

Copyright (c) 2011, The Seattle Times

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