So this post was difficult to title. As a child who lived through a divorce, I’m not really a fan of it. For me, marriage is a very important institution that brings happiness and stability to the lives of those involved and is worth fighting for and protecting. No, I’m not coming at this from a religious perspective. Marriage is an institution created by and upheld by humans. It’s a good institution though. As a side note, it’s such a good institution that it should be extended to all who want to have it’s benefits.
That being said, I seem to be disproportionately exposed to the worst marriages at the moment. I do have some friends and relatives with wonderful marriages that I would be happy to emulate. However, several friends and relatives are in terrible marriages, and I feel like I have stumbled across an interesting dynamic. I may be late to the party, and it’s not really my research area so I won’t pursue it but it appears that it is particularly difficult for woman to leave bad relationships/marriages. Yes, this is reflected in popular myths: “Nice guys finish last,” “Woman love bad boys.” I think this is beyond that, however. Woman seem able to leave relationships that aren’t working for a variety of reasons, but only if the person they are with is understanding and a good person for the most part. I’m not suggesting that if the guy is nice enough to leave you should stay. Sometimes relationships with good people still don’t work. What I’m suggesting is that the reason woman (and perhaps men, I haven’t seen that dynamic as much) don’t leave relationships, marriage in particular, when they are afraid of the person they are with. We as people tolerate a lot because of fear. And we, as a society, do a lot to support this fear.
I have a few examples in mind when I think of this. I have a family member who’s husband steals, has incredible substance abuse problems, and generally, seems unhinged to the point where physical violence is likely. She doesn’t like him as a person, their children have both left the house as soon as they could at 18 (the son at 17), yet she won’t leave because she is afraid of a)what society will think and b)of him. To me, this is a clear cut situation where she should leave. I also think it’s a situation where even people who believe in marriage would support her decision.
It’s a little less clear in my other examples. Whenever physical abuse is a potential, we as people seem to be on the right side of the issue. When it is psychological or neglectful abuse in nature, we don’t notice it as a much and put a lot of pressure on people to stay. Some of this has to do with what I’m going to cavalierly label the Mad Men effect. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a glorification of marriage in the 70s where men ran the show, the wife was an object of status, and mistresses were a pretty common object as well. As a media scholar, I don’t think this show has created this dynamic, but there has been a notable increase in hostility towards women as people. I’m not sure where it is coming from, but it’s there. Woman are increasingly being treated as objects as they were 30 years ago. These are the types of marriages that I also think should fail, but there is a lot less societal support for this. The examples I have in mind here are two friends, that I’ll mix the situations together to show what I mean. Their husbands may not be out and out having affairs, but they are certainly open to it and somewhat pursing them. They’re not going to turn down women when their wives aren’t around. It makes them feel younger, more powerful, or more relevant. I actually believe that in both cases at least one affair has happened, and in one case there is a strong likelihood that multiple affairs have happened. It has nothing to do with the woman they are married to or pursuing. They are just objects that they feel entitled to.
This entitled dynamic I think is worth exploring a little more also. Recent research has found that the widening gap between rich and poor has also exposed an interesting gap in morality. Those that have more tend to do more cheating for financial gain, lying for status gain, and are more likely to at least inappropriately flirt because they deserve it. That’s why Tiger Woods did what he did, he was entitled. It’s why our politicians often get caught having affairs. It’s a troubling dynamic.
On a smaller scale, however, this mindset seems to have filtered down to our views on women in general. It bothers me when my male students seem to believe that women are money hungry sluts. It doesn’t help that major political talking heads perpetuate this feeling. These are the type of men that women shouldn’t marry. And my concern is that there are more men like this and more women trapped in these relationships by fear. If these woman brought these issues up, I’m certain that they would be met with terrible repercussions. Friends who should support them point out how much material stuff they would be giving up. That they’re getting older and no one would want to be with them (I hate this one in particular because I have a few friends who feel this about themselves as a result). Then there are the real consequences. People who view the world in this way and are challenged are willing to do vindictive things when they have the opportunity.
I also have friends who are married and are separating. Both of them are incredible people. They have mutual respect for one another. As a group of friends, there is a great deal of confusion as to why they are getting divorced. We don’t know the issues, so that’s not fair. Why I use them as an example is because neither is afraid of the other. I’m sure they have some very difficult issues, but they respect each other which seems to make the divorce possible. The other examples I have in mind (family and friends) seem to be much better candidates for divorce in the first place, but because of the fear that makes those marriages problematic: physical abuse potential, vindictive mental abuse, a willingness to try to destroy the lives of others, they will remained married. And there is a society structure around them that supports the continuation of these marriages. This post was a bit brainstorm oriented and may not have flowed as a cohesive thought, but perhaps I was able to convey somewhat what I have been seeing and how troubled I am by this. Even as a person who truly believes in what marriage is for individuals, families, and society.