Today I read that Heidi Klum and Seal may be getting a divorce. Not confirmed, but the story’s out there. The other day Dooce, perhaps the most well-known female blogger of all, wrote that she has separated from her husband.
On the one hand, why pay attention? Divorce is common. Just because these are famous people? No. No. Because divorce is heady and raw and difficult, and remains one of our most uncivilized processes.
You know that we haven’t solved marriage, don’t you? Especially modern marriage. People have been tying the knot for centuries, but only pattern we know now for, what, 70 years? Give or take. We allowed love in, and free choice, then justice-infused divorce. Thus we found ourselves here. With a difficult and apparently intractable pain in our heart.
Nobody wants to get divorced. It feels horrible. So personally horrible in my case that you may want to discount everything I say. But even if I take my own reaction with a grain of salt, the analysis troubles me. All kinds of institutions spend all kinds of energy on the wrongness of divorcing. And yet it happens, frequently. Here’s my question. Do we need to, if I can use the term, deconstruct?
Are we, as a society, taking the wrong approach? Is all the cultural language around staying married only sound and fury? I’d like a closer look at why we think it’s best to stay married. While we see all sorts of data saying it’s best for children, which I will not dispute, while the religious have their codes, what other remarkable benefit or virtue to long marriages can we find? Other than preservation of capital, and happiness, I cannot think of one.
Happiness is a private matter.
Let’s presume, just for the sake of deconstruction, that the primary driver of society’s focus on marriage should be the welfare of children. In that case, given that it appears to be so hard to stay married, should we maybe spend more time understanding the real machinery of child nurture, than on marriage endurance itself?
Bear with me. Imagine an engineered system. In this case, the design center being the care of children. But let’s say that system has a particular sub-system with a high failure rate. Let’s say, hypothetically, that one has to house rocket engines in glass, and that no matter how much time you spend optimizing the design, explosions happen. Don’t you then shift to designing the ground below the rocket, to minimize damage? Don’t you then start working on your glass-melting processes? Your recycling, if you will? Systems should degrade gracefully.
You can imagine what that might look like, the way things might change.
I mean in no way to minimize the pain of marriages’ end, or our desire that they last. I am only asking that we start to tease out the next thread of thinking and expand parameters under consideration. That’s what one does when problems don’t get solved in a reasonable period of time.
But balance my ideas here. Go and read Miss Whistle, a blog by Bumble Ward. She posts a lot of poetry, but in between poems you’ll find some absolutely painful and beautiful writing on the startled end of a long marriage.
Or visit Delia Loyd, who often writes about how to stay married, at Real Delia.
Deconstruction aside, I encourage you, if this is happening to someone in your life, to forgive. To anneal, if you can, what’s shattered. It may or may not be their fault, and in any case, there’s no more to be gained from shame. What matters is the children, and that’s where we ought to focus our societal heart.
Have a lovely weekend. I hope your dear ones are sleeping nearby.