The Great Marriage Divide

The GalPal and I enjoyed a fun-filled 25th anniversary last Wednesday. We celebrated by bicycling the Burke-Gilman trail in Seattle, kayaked on Lake Union, took in the King Tut Exhibit, ate at the China Outpost as directed by the Principal, and swam in Lake Washington. More fun than a couple should be allowed to have in one day. Congratulations to my best friend for putting up with me for a quarter cent.

Speaking of marriage, sobering sociology compliments of the New York Times.

Primary point—Across Middle America, single motherhood has moved from an anomaly to a norm with head-turning speed.

Key excerpts:

The economic storms of recent years have raised concerns about growing inequality and questions about a core national faith, that even Americans of humble backgrounds have a good chance of getting ahead. Most of the discussion has focused on labor market forces like falling blue-collar wages and lavish Wall Street pay.

But striking changes in family structure have also broadened income gaps and posed new barriers to upward mobility. College-educated Americans . . . are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women . . . are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes.

“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University.

About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides . . . . Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.

Long concentrated among minorities, motherhood outside marriage now varies by class about as much as it does by race. It is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class — among women . . . who have some postsecondary schooling but no four-year degree.

While many children of single mothers flourish (two of the last three presidents had mothers who were single during part of their childhood), a large body of research shows that they are more likely than similar children with married parents to experience childhood poverty, act up in class, become teenage parents and drop out of school.

Sara McLanahan, a Princeton sociologist, warns that family structure increasingly consigns children to “diverging destinies.”

Whether and whom to marry are the most monumental of decisions, yet most people make them when they’re young and aren’t entirely sure about what they want to do for a living, or how to manage personal finances, or solve conflicts peacefully, or parent.

And through a steady stream of romantic comedies, Hollywood promotes the idea that love and marriage are equal parts physical and emotional. In nearly complete contrast, the New York Times journalists imply love and marriage is a practical partnership, one where two incomes and two parents are needed to successfully manage a household and reliably raise children with promising life prospects.

The stats are depressing and another reason I suppose to go to college. Of course though, finishing college and then marrying is no guarantee that anyone will make it twenty five years. That takes perseverance, commitment, bicycles, and kayaks.

The Burke-Gilman trail

My Lovely Wife

It’s time. I’m going public with my affection for my wife.

Twenty-five years ago today she walked down the aisle of a Lutheran eglesia in SoCal and committed to sticking with me through thick and thin.

She had no interest in marriage when we met in Venice, CA; went out for fish and chips at Marina del Rey; and and then flirted on a deserted Santa Monica lifeguard stand in the dark. After falling for her hard, she informed me she was going to Mexico for the summer to learn to speak Spanish. So enamored with me, she ran for the border.

Against all odds, while studying Spanish in Cuernavaca, she started to miss me. Following some steamy hand-written letters (remember those?), I flew to Mexico at the end of her language school studies and we backpacked throughout southern Mexico. Like Felix Hernandez in the latter innings, I wore her down. By the time we returned home we were halfway down the aisle.

She should have known she was dealing with a dimwit when, right before saying my vows with the videocamera rolling, I turned the small microphone clipped to my tux off instead of on. Even though there is no audio evidence of my vows, I’ve done my best to honor them.

She’s loved me as unconditionally as possible and for that I am incredibly grateful. Like anyone who has been married for the long haul, we’ve struggled at times, even more than outside observers would guess. There were moments when the Vegas oddsmakers weren’t sure we’d make it to 25. When our wires get crossed, I sometimes lose my temper and patience, and just want to stop talking and take the next space shuttle flight into outer-space. She can also lose it, but always needs to resolve conflicts immediately no matter how long it takes. I mean no matter how long.

She’s the spiritual leader of our household, a Godly woman with a profound social conscience. She also is a damn sexy dancer and the best, most caring, and loving mother on Mother Earth.

My only regret is that we can’t get back all the sporadic days we’ve lost to mindless miscommunication, self-centeredness, arguing, and hurt feelings. I don’t assume we have another 25 years to enjoy each other’s company. I’m not going anywhere, but our health isn’t guaranteed and some of the cars on Mount Rainier got awfully close on Saturday’s training ride.

My plan going forward is to take full advantage of each year not knowing which might be our last. My hope is for steadily improving communication, mutual selflessness, reduced conflict, and even more profound affection and intimacy.

I’d jet down the same church aisle today given the chance all over again.

What’s the Secret?

I bought flowers and a card for my long-suffering wife (LSW) at the farmer’s market recently. The woman who made and sold me the anniversary card asked, “So how many years?” My mind went totally blank and so I just threw out a ballpark number, “twenty-six.” Since it was our twenty-third, I should have added “give or take three years.”

Then she asked, “What’s the secret?”

Many of my family members, friends, and acquaintances would probably be surprised to learn just how much of a roller coaster LSW’s and my journey has been and how fiery we can get when arguing. Our relationship has been more like a John Daly scorecard than a Corey Pavin one, a constantly changing mix of birdies, pars, bogeys, and the dreaded “other”.

Since I don’t have the LSW’s permission to write in any more detail (damn, have I gone too far already, did I just make another bogey without realizing it?) about our roller coaster ride, allow me to segue into reflecting on what can and often does go wrong in committed relationships whether marriage or variations of it. Also, I’d rather ride the Tour de France on a single speed with flatted tires than read 99% of  the “self-help” books in print, but this one by Gottman is a rare exception that’s influencing my thinking a lot.

Despite the twenty-three years, I really don’t feel like I’m in any position to offer relationship advice. I’ve been humbled by how challenging the long haul intimate relationship can be. So what I cautiously offer are two closely related “observations” or “thoughts” or “pitfalls best to avoid” and one “suggestion”.

Observation/thought/pitfall to avoid one A. Typical scenario. Each person gets busy with separate activities (work, child rearing, athletics, gardening, church, etc., etc.) and before you know it, even if most of the activities are socially redeeming, each person loses touch with the specifics of the other person’s activities. Put differently, intimacy is inevitably compromised when partners have too few mutual interests, too few mutual friends, too few dinners together alone.

Observation/thought/pitfall to avoid one B. My assumption. Everyone in a committed intimate relationship annoys their partner in differing ways to differing degrees. Annoyance is a natural, common thread, so the all important question is whether the partners communicate consistently enough about what’s annoying each of them to avoid having run-of-the-mill irritations build into serious, relationship threatening resentment?

I’m guilty of not communicating consistently enough and for letting small things build into medium-sized and larger impediments. I’m sure I’m the only male for whom that’s true though.

Gottman says partners don’t have to have that many shared activities, but they do have to be intentional about inquiring into one another’s. He also says partners don’t have to practice active listening and get along all the time. He even asserts it’s okay to complain to one another which he contrasts with criticizing. A complaint refers to a specific, one-off type of issue that’s relatively easy to resolve where criticism involves disparaging the other person’s character usually as result of built up resentment.

The suggestion is my personal “secret” to holding it together through thick and thin. Take the ultimate solution, the complete severing and ending of the relationship, off the table. In effect, what I’ve said to the LSW during the most distressing of our rollercoaster dips is, “I’m not going anywhere.” The message being, “I’m not sure how right now, but somehow we have to resolve this.”

That’s what I should have told the card maker, but I’m guessing that would have been TMI.