Thursday, May 10, 2007

Grumpy old Shark

A Chicago area divorce lawyer has put up this billboard, promoting - not herself for those who face divorce - but the concept of divorce in general. The point seems to be: why stick with the same old, same old when there is hot new stuff out there? The flanking figures add some poignancy to the question, although, of course, the one on the left is just a dead ringer for the Reddess. (Ed: Spousal sucking up needs to be more subtle than that.) (Reddess: I'd never mistake you for the guy on the right.)

The ad is tongue-in-cheek, but there are culture war implications. (You knew there would be.) The decline in marriage is rooted, in part, in an increased willingness on the part of people to buy into the notion that there is little or no value in remaining committed to someone who is not thrilling you lately. The human tendency to regard distant grass as greener makes us susceptible to that. The offending lawyer signs on when she suggests that the billboard is about "happiness and personal integrity" both of which apparently require being led by your whatever.
She says, and she's right, that no one is going to get a divorce because they see a billboard. But that's too reductionist. No one is going to do anything because of a single cultural message. But they are going to be affected by the overall gestalt. This adds to a chorus that says, mostly implicitly but often explicitly, that when the thrill seems to be gone, you should be too. Don't we have the right to be happy - and have hot sex - all of the time?
This has caused a great deal of pain over the past 40 years. If that's cold water, I can't help it.
I can light up enough to joke about this, but I can't ignore its lousy side.


Anonymous said...

Most proponents of marriage equality agree with Rick on this one. Marriage shouldn't be about what two people have between their legs. It's pure myopia to think that setting aside long-term commitment and stability in favor of short-term satisfaction will lead to better living. As Rick states, it's the commitment that leads to a lifetime of satisfaction and happiness, as well as strong communities, good parenting, and strong families.

The state has a vested interest in supporting such long-term commitment, which is of course why the state should extend the responsibilities and protections that come with marriage to gay families.

Wouldn't it be nice if social conservatives like Rick worked to find common cause with gay people instead of working to exclude us from that very thing they value most in their own lives -- marriage?

Anonymous said...

I think most would agree that "marriage" entails a commitment to work through those times when a spouse is not "thrilling you lately." But I think that few divorces result simply from a momentary disenchantment.

Was the world a better place when people stayed in miserable, oppressive, joyless, or even abusive marriages merely because divorce seemed unthinkable? Is is better for kids to be brought up by a loveless couple with tension and unhappiness?

Anonymous said...

Anony, My guess is that the misery, joylessness, and oppression you describe characterizing modern marriages is more the effect of sustained laziness than anything else. So while I wouldn't want to force people to stay in marriages that will be miserable over the long term, I've definitely advised my own friends going through rough times not to (a) expect that marriage is going to be easy, but instead will be something -- like life! -- that requires constant and deliberate effort; and that (b) some of this effort should be placed into friendships so that personal fulfillment and meaningful connections are not all confined to one single, albeit primary relationship.

I think those two pieces of advice would prevent most marriages -- state-recognized or not -- from turning into divorces.

This means I agree with Rick that the billboard, along with much popular media, trivializes marriages, encourages people to think of their spouses in the same way that they think of commodities, and rewards laziness.

Anonymous said...

Pesky little fact, folks: Census data show that the divorce rate has been declining for years.

So this may just be rainmaking, a lawyer looking for work. :-)

Anonymous said...

In my experience, people consider divorce and make the decision in a much more serious manner than some would suggest. I don't think there is a meaningful problem with people making casual decisions to divorce over temporary hiccups in the relationship.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight: the divorced lawyer who brags about his "hot" younger wife ("the bewitching Reddess of Roscommon") is complaining about divorce?

Mr. Pot -- meet Mr. Kettle!

Rick Esenberg said...

Anon 6;34

I was wondering when this guy would show up. You used the same cliche before.

The Reddess is hot, but she is just about my age. (Sorry, dear.)

And she had nothing to do with my getting divorced. Didn't know her then.

My personal life is of no interest to the people who read this blog. I can say that my personal experience - as a son and as a father - supports my view on marriage and the way in which I reacted to that experience is perfectly consistent with that view, although if it had not been, maybe I'd be a hypocrite but I'd still be right.

If you want to think that I fit all your nasty little stereotypes, go ahead. It's easier than thinking.

Todd raises some interesting points. Some social conservatives aren't going to buy into them because they believe that hpomosexual acts are immoral and that it would be wrong to encourage them.

I don't share that view. I think Todd's point is powerful but I am not persuaded that the social impact would be as he describes. I blogged extensively about that last fall. It is a debate worth having but wasn't the point here.

Anon - 1:22: I think the question is what people do when they feel the inevitable "momentary detachment?" Are kids better off when they are raised by a " a loveless couple with tension and unhappiness?" Actually if there is low conflict, the social science evidence establishes - overwhelmingly - that they are.
If you have children, divorce is no longer just about you and who you want to sleep with - no matter how much thought you have given to the matter.

Anon 2:49 - The divorce rate has been declining somewhat among certain groups. It's still high. Of course, among certain groups, the problem isn't that married parents get divorced. It's that they never get married in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I think the "social science" says know such thing. Indeed, I think that the "social science" would say that a couple living in a marriage without intimacy, love, and a sense of connectedness can't simply hum along as you suggest. Just because no one is throwing dishes against the wall or screaming doesn't mean there's "low conflict."

Stated differently, if you think a couple can successfully fool a child about their relationship as they are raising that child, you are way off.

PS - count me as one who ignored the silly cheap shot at you.

Anonymous said...

We have a daughter (step to me) that is divorcing her husband because her child deserves a happy mother.

This speaks of what influences out there can do.

Anonymous said...

The fact that Rick has been divorced makes him unqualified to comment on this? Or, (shudder), a hypocrite?

How laughable. Does the fact I've been married 32 years with no divorce makes me more qualified?

Perhaps, the fact that Rick has been through a divorce makes him more qualified because he does know what's involved.

Perhaps if we engaged those who have been through things (Ted Haggard and that congressman from FL come to mind) instead of instantly labeling them "hypocrites" and trying to score brownie points for our side, we might be able to reach some agreement on things.


Anonymous said...

No, Rick, re the divorce rate -- tune into the news. Since I posted about the divorce rate declining, the newscasts and columns have been replete with the report that the divorce rate actually has declined to an all-time low in more than three decades. And in almost all groups.

So, no, the divorce rate is not high.

As for your digression about the marriage rate, you can make that a separate post, and I will reply to it. But for now, let's stay on point -- and your point about the divorce rate is just wrong, wrong, wrong.

Of course, that ought to make you pleased -- yet you want to argue with the facts. Why? What is your purpose here -- to discuss the realities of divorce rates today, or to pontificate, no matter the facts?

Rick Esenberg said...

Anon 1:36

Here's why I still think this is an issue:

1) I think a break-up rate of somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% is still high - it may be a bit lower for couples with kids but, if you believe, as I do that kids deserve to be raised by their parents in the same home, it's problematic; 2) the divorce rate that I believe you are referring to (divorces per X married couple on an annual basis) remains about 40% higher than it was before it increased - 3.6 vs about 2.5 in 1965; 3) there are researchers who do say that the decline has been disproportionately among the well-educated coining the term "divorce divide" and 4) there are others who attribute the decline to an an increase in cohabitation which has its own set of problems. As I mentioned in my prior comment, there are demographics among which marriage has all but disappeared.

Of course, it may well be that people who experienced the divorce of their parents (or those of their friends) to a greater degree than, say, boomer and pre-boomers did are less inclined to divorce. That would be a good thing but I still believe that the decline in marriage (and, whereever they may be headed) the existence of divorce rates that are higher than they were pre-6os has done a great deal of harm - particularly among poor people.

Rick Esenberg said...


I should hasten to add that I have not "been through" what Ted Haggard and Mark Foley have. I have committed my share of sine, but adultery, pedophilia and the patronization of prostitutes are not among them.

Rick Esenberg said...

Anon 12:09

That's exactly what the social science evidence says. Being bored or unhappy with your spouse does not inevitably result in high conflict. I have friends who I am sure wish they were married to someone else but they stay together and their kids are better off.

I don't know if they "fool" their children into thinking that they think that they have "intimacy, love, and a sense of connectedness." I guess I don't see that as being what their kids are most concerned about.

Of course, there is a point where it becomes impossible but this notion that I am getting divorced because my child deserves a happy mother or will be better off if I am married to a woman that I "really love" is just rationalization. No, they won't. I think people contemplating divorce need to acknowledge that, in all but the most extreme situations, their children will be hurt and then decide whether it is worth it.

Besides I think the issue, as Todd points out, is how much you believe that it is your responsibility to do something about a perceived lack of "intimacy, love, and a sense of connectedness" because there are very few couples who aren't going to feel that way at some point. There are very few who aren't, at some point, going to believe that someone new will thrill them more (because they haven't thrilled them before). What is important is how you respond to that.

Anonymous said...

Lemme come at this a different way. You don't disagree with the notion that children of divorced parents can stilled be raised so as to produce whole, healthy, well adjusted, productive, etc. children, do you? Contrarily, lots of life-long marriages have produced monsters and unproductive kids, no?

I mean, isn't the key how the parents do their job, still married or no, right?

Second, you don't suggest that this is an issue of public policy calling for government action, do you? I mean, isn't this the most private and intimate area in human life?

Anonymous said...

Yes, 40 percent is high -- and it's also a common but flawed statistic, based on a ratio of divorces and marriages per year. Of course, most marriages last at least until the next year!

This statistic also can be deceptive in reverse ways, when the marriage rate is improving or even stabilizing -- as also apparently has been happening.

The actual rate is estimated at about 35 percent -- not much better, but at least more accurate. And accuracy is helpful in such complicated debates.

Of course, so is empathy. If a parent doesn't want to divulge why a daughter is not happy and leaves it at that -- you would be wise to leave it at that, too. Many women would be wise to get themselves and their children out of dangerous circumstances that, other studies suggest, may only perpetuate many societal problems for which we all will pay in many ways.

Trust that persons closer to the situation know best -- as I hope that those who know you did, too. Moralizing about others' marriages or divorces is far different from moralizing about tasteless billboards.

Rick Esenberg said...

No, the flawed figure that you are referring to is the 1 in 2 figure. You've seen 35 and I've seen 41 but both are attempts to measure the actual percentage of first marriages that end in divorce.

As for empathy, I took his post for an expression of puzzlement over his stepdaughter's decision and not a reluctance to say more. Unlike a few people who have stalked me through the blogoshere, I make no presumption or judgment about any individual person's divorce unless I know them well enough to understand what happened and there are relatively few people - at least outside of family - that most of us know that well.

I do think that there is much of a legal solution other than in the ways that the law can have symbolic and reinforcing effects. Maybe some aspects of the pre-no fault divorce regime were admirable, but I am skeptical about that.

If in fact things are getting better then it's the culture that is improving. And since it has been the culture that caused this mess, my guess is that is where it can be fixed.

Anonymous said...

No, don't tell me what I mean when it's what you mean.

See the following; the full story says that the rate may have been about 40 percent in the '70s but not since then.

Divorce Rate: It's Not as High as You Think
The New York Times

How many American marriages end in divorce? One in two, if you believe the statistic endlessly repeated in news media reports, academic papers and campaign speeches.

The figure is based on a simple - and flawed - calculation: the annual marriage rate per 1,000 people compared with the annual divorce rate. In 2003, for example, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 7.5 marriages per 1,000 people and 3.8 divorces, according to the
National Center for Health Statistics.

But researchers say that this is misleading because the people who are divorcing in any given year are not the same as those who are marrying, and that the statistic is virtually useless in understanding divorce rates. . . .

The method preferred by social scientists in determining the divorce rate is to calculate how many people who have ever married subsequently divorced. . . .

Rick Esenberg said...

No, that's precisely the article that I linked to and precisely the method that I had in mind. It does not say what you attibute to it. It does not say that the percentage ofT

The highest rate of divorce in the 2001 survey was 41 percent for men who were then between the ages of 50 to 59, and 39 percent for women in the same
age group.

Declining is one thing, I'll buy that, although it also seems clear that it is, at least, not declining equivalently for everyone.

Low is not a characterization I am persuaded to make.

Anonymous said...

Well, there seem to be words missing from your post, and you focus on one age group while I look at their conclusion overall -- so let's just say we differ on whether the glass is filling or emptying.

I'm happily married now, you seem to be so, and we will hope that happens for others.

And I hope for them, if they have children, that those innocents are not damaged by the moralizing attitudes of others -- which can do more damage than any thing that their parents do, from what I witnessed.

To the father who is in pain for his daughter -- that's being a good daddy. Mine was the wisest of anyone and simply was supportive to all of us involved, unlike others. So he became a comfort to his grandchildren as much as to me -- and is beloved in their memories today, while others . . . well, my children have learned to hope that the others are resting in the peace that they denied this world when they were here.

Rick Esenberg said...

Of course, when divorce happens, you ought to be supportive of those coping with its aftermath. I think out-of-wedlock birth is a very unfortunate development, but I sure don't think you stigmatize people after it happens.

Anonymous said...

If the divorce rate is declining, it's because less people are getting married. Get married, feed a laywer.

Anonymous said...

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