Divorce American Style

“Ah, yes, divorce … from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet.”

Robin Williams

When I was 10, my parents bundled up my brothers and me into the car one evening and took us to the drive-in, where Divorce American Style was playing. It was a satirical comedy about a bickering couple, and their desire to divorce. My brothers fell asleep shortly after the hot dog sang in the previews, but I stayed awake and watched the film. In it, the newly separated husband Richard befriends Nelson, a divorced man played by Jason Robards. I distinctly remember how absolutely broke the Robards character is. He drives around in a run-down VW Beetle, and lives in a tiny space, surviving on $87 a week. He’s been financially ruined by the alimony payments to his ex. The comedy comes into play as he tries everything he can think of to get Richard to marry her so that he’ll finally be off the hook. Only Richard is now too poor himself to be a viable match. Hilarity ensues.

This portrayal of divorced life for men haunted me, even as a child. It terrified me to think of own father in such straits, and I became quite preoccupied with worry that my parents might split up. (They didn’t in the end.) What does this have to do with you?

The state of marriage in the U.S. is troubled, and divorce both reflects that, and perpetuates the problem. The climate for marriage has deteriorated significantly in the United States in the last 50 years:

The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia addresses this 50% decline in its 2009 The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America:

Much of this decline—it is not clear just how much—results from the delaying of first marriages until older ages: the median age at first marriage went from 20 for females and 23 for males in 1960 to about 26 and 28, respectively, in 2007. Other factors accounting for the decline are the growth of unmarried cohabitation and a small decrease in the tendency of divorced persons to remarry. The decline also reflects some increase in lifelong singlehood, though the actual amount cannot be known until current young and middle-aged adults pass through the life course.

Of course, this is not necessarily all bad. The data is clear that marrying later leads to more successful marriages. People may also delay marriage while living together first, and there may be an increase in the number of people who choose to remain single throughout life. Still, the questions need to be asked:

  • What about the institution of marriage is making it a less appealing option than cohabitation?
  • Why are divorced persons less likely to remarry?
  • How does the decline in marriage affect the birth rate, and what are the economic and societal impacts of that?
  • What percentage of those who never marry choose it?

W. Bradford Wilcox is a Professor of Sociology at UVA and is the Editor of the UVA Report. In his Wall St. Journal piece To Have, To Hold, For a While, he observes that this problem is exacerbated by particularly American behavior. Quoting Andrew J. Cherlin, author The Marriage-Go-Round:

Virtually no other nation in the West compares with the U.S. when it comes to divorce, short-term co-habitation and single parenthood. Americans marry and co-habit at younger ages, divorce more quickly and enter into second marriages or co-habiting unions faster than their counterparts elsewhere. In other words, Americans step on and off the carousel of intimate relationships.

Wilcox goes on to explain that Mr. Cherlin points to competing “models” or ideas of marriage:

On the one hand, he notes, most Americans believe that marriage is the best social institution for bearing and rearing children and that marriage should be grounded in a permanent, faithful and loving relationship. On the other hand, Americans celebrate individualism more than people in other Western societies and so believe that they are entitled to make choices that maximize their personal happiness. When a marriage becomes unsatisfying, difficult or burdensome, according to this model, it can be dissolved — it even should be dissolved.

Such contradictory impulses push the vast majority of Americans into marriage and then push a large minority out again when their dreams of marital bliss go unrealized. It does not help that Americans in recent years have come to see marriage as a symbol more than a covenant — as a kind of “capstone” signaling that they have arrived at a certain position in the world, with a good job, a good résumé and now, it is hoped, a soulmate who will make them happy.


Aha, there’s a problematic word.

I. The Soulmate Problem

What constitutes a soulmate? Just how perfect does that person need to be? And what tradeoffs are we willing to make? Elle magazine recently ran an article by Elizabeth Wurtzel, the author of Prozac Nation. It’s another confession in the “spinster lit” genre as she shares the story of two decades of poor life choices. She did have one great relationship with a man who was wonderful and massaged her feet at the end of the day. She left him, though, and here’s why:

I became seasick with contentment. It was nauseating daily, and I couldn’t still myself against a funny feeling that there had to be more to life than waking up every day beside the same person.

Seasick with contentment. That is quite a phrase!

Does America’s high divorce rate reflect something similar?  A certain boredom, a general sense of disappointment in what marriage delivers emotionally and physically against some pretty exacting standards? Wilcox writes in The Evolution of Divorce:

The psychological revolution of the late ’60s and ’70s, which was itself fueled by a post-war prosperity that allowed people to give greater attention to non-material concerns, played a key role in reconfiguring men and women’s views of marriage and family life. Prior to the late 1960s, Americans were more likely to look at marriage and family through the prisms of duty, obligation, and sacrifice. But the psychological revolution’s focus on individual fulfillment and personal growth changed all that.

Increasingly, marriage was seen as a vehicle for a self-oriented ethic of romance, intimacy, and fulfillment. In this new psychological approach to married life, one’s primary obligation was not to one’s family but to one’s self; hence, marital success was defined not by successfully meeting obligations to one’s spouse and children but by a strong sense of subjective happiness in marriage — usually to be found in and through an intense, emotional relationship with one’s spouse.

Not only that, but divorce began to be viewed as a kind of path to enlightenment. Social historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead has observed of this period:

Divorce was not only an individual right but also a psychological resource. The dissolution of marriage offered the chance to make one-self over from the inside out, to refurbish and express the inner self, and to acquire certain valuable psychological assets and competencies, such as initiative, assertiveness, and a stronger and better self-image.

II. The No-Fault Divorce Problem

Meanwhile, in 1969, Governor Ronald Reagan signed into law the nation’s first no-fault divorce law in California. Nearly all states followed suit in the next 15 years. (By the way, he reportedly did this in anger over having been divorced for “mental cruelty” by Jane Wyman. He later regretted it.)


This legal transformation was only one of the more visible signs of the divorce revolution then sweeping the United States: From 1960 to 1980, the divorce rate more than doubled. This meant that while less than 20% of couples who married in 1950 ended up divorced, about 50% of couples who married in 1970 did.

The sexual revolution, too, fueled the marital tumult of the times: Spouses found it easier in the Swinging Seventies to find extramarital partners, and came to have higher, and often unrealistic, expectations of their marital relationships. Increases in women’s employment as well as feminist consciousness-raising also did their part to drive up the divorce rate, as wives felt freer in the late ’60s and ’70s to leave marriages that were abusive or that they found unsatisfying.

Of course, women should be free to leave abusive marriages, but something much bigger than that happened. The number of women feeling unsatisfied in more nebulous terms skyrocketed. Research has shown that adults who initiate divorce do quite well and have few complaints down the road.

Two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women.

The ill effects of divorce for adults tend to fall disproportionately on the shoulders of fathers…as men are more likely than women to be divorced against their will. State courts no longer take into account marital “fault” when making determinations about child custody, child support, and the division of marital property. In the wake of a divorce, these men will often lose their homes, a substantial share of their monthly incomes, and regular contact with their children.

That’s divorce American style.

Wilcox makes the following concluding recommendation:

State divorce laws should also allow courts to factor in spousal conduct when making decisions about alimony, child support, custody, and property division. In particular, spouses who are being divorced against their will, and who have not engaged in egregious misbehavior such as abuse, adultery, or abandonment, should be given preferential treatment by family courts. Such consideration would add a measure of justice to the current divorce process; it would also discourage some divorces, as spouses who would otherwise seek an easy exit might avoid a divorce that would harm them financially or limit their access to their children.

III. The Societal Problem

Interestingly, the divorce rate has declined since 1980, from 50% to 40%. Wilcox attributes much of this to the increased age at first marriage, when people are mature enough to navigate successful marriages. However, he goes on to point out one very troubling development, which is that working-class and poor Americans are no longer marrying in great numbers.

Marriage is increasingly the preserve of the highly educated and the middle and upper classes. Fewer working-class and poor Americans are marrying nowadays in part because marriage is seen increasingly as a sort of status symbol: a sign that a couple has arrived both emotionally and financially, or is at least within range of the American Dream. This means that those who do marry today are more likely to start out enjoying the money, education, job security, and social skills that increase the probability of long-term marital success.

When it comes to divorce and marriage, America is increasingly divided along class and educational lines. All that remains unique to marriage today is the prospect of that high-quality emotional bond — the soulmate model. As a result, marriage is now disproportionately appealing to wealthier, better-educated couples, because less-educated, less-wealthy couples often do not have the emotional, social, and financial resources to enjoy a high-quality soulmate marriage.

Obviously, this has enormous implications for every aspect of American life.

It occurs to me that at approximately the same time that women stopped looking to men to be the sole providers financially, we started demanding more of them in every other way. We want the positive Alpha characteristics of dominance, leadership, physical size and strength. But we also demand all the positive traits more frequently found among Beta males: loyalty, emotional intelligence, creativity, wit. We want all of that in one man, our soulmate. And it had all better come in a pretty package with a built in capability for giving amazing orgasms.

Maybe our sense of entitlement is a problem. Maybe it’s producing some very unfair no-win dilemmas for the men in our lives.

Maybe “seasick with contentment” is enough. It sounds pretty damned good to me.

Hat tip to VJ for pointing me to both the National Marriage Project and the E. Wurtzel article.

Recommended further reading: The Misandry Bubble by blogger The Futurist (link here).

4 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/GudEnuf GudEnuf


    Divorce is a difficult and costly option that you would only make when truly desperate.


    Marriage is meaningless.

    About a year ago I attended a wedding where the vows had apparently been updated to fit modern sensibilities. Instead of pledging to have and hold until "death do us part", the couple merely to promised to stay together for "as long as you both shall love."

    Excuse me? What kind of promise is that? If you commit to something only until it doesn't suit you anymore, you're not committing at all. Now I'm not saying everyone should make a life-long commitment, but you can't have it both ways. You can't pretend you're making a commitment if there's no consequences for breaking it.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

    What? That is crazy! That isn't any better than a commit to "not throw you out of this bed until morning." Who in their right mind would use those as vows? I think it speaks to the increasing expectation young people have that they are likely to marry AND divorce. I read somewhere about a group of women talking about everything they wanted for their first marriages. The inclusion of the word first there is very troubling. As if divorce didn't have enormous financial, emotional and physical costs for all parties, including children.

    • finsalscollons

      It is crazy but it is honest. Every time I see couples promising before God to love each other till death do them part while I KNOW that they think "we will see and if it does not work, we'll get a divorce", I feel like vomiting.

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

        Agreed. An major attitude adjustment is needed. Back to "for better or worse," especially if we have children (within reason, again not trying to force people to stay in marriages where abuse or cheating is a factor.)

  • http://themodernsavage.com Matt Savage

    There's no doubt that our views on the institution of marriage have changed. Just looking at grand parents who have been married for over 50 years and comparing that type of long-term commitment to the couples today who are getting married several times in their life is crazy.

    I think a lot of it has to do with our sense of high expectations in a mate, or that sense of entitlement as you say.

    For example, I have a friend who is from India who just got an arranged marriage, to a girl that he barely even knew. When I asked him if that bothered him, he said no because in India when people get married they go into it having low expectations of their partners, but over time they grow to appreciate each other more and more. Compare that to America, where you go into marriage thinking that your mate is perfect only to become more and more disappointed by the flaws that begin to appear over time.
    My recent post Attraction Triangle Game Theory

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      Matt, welcome! I agree with this – for most of history, the vast majority of marriages were arranged. I wouldn't want to return to that myself, but it was a system that required getting to know someone and appreciate them over a long period of time. Without an easy way out, people made it work.

      I like your new post – I'm interested to see the survey results. I fear that men will choose to forego intelligence in a mate rather than hotness or emotional stability. I also really liked your stuff about nice guys – I've been thinking a lot about this! I was going to write about the Wharton vs. Craigslist pieces, but maybe I'll link to you….

      • Matt Savage

        Susan, thanks for the warm welcome:) Glad you liked the posts and the survey results are looking quite interesting so far, but still waiting to get more female responses before putting up the results, regardless it should be pretty neat.

        I assume you were talking about my take on the "ode to the nice guys," but it'd still be cool to hear your opinion on the matter… and of course any link loving would be appreciated:)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/GudEnuf GudEnuf

      "…in India when people get married they go into it having low expectations of their partners, but over time they grow to appreciate each other more and more. Compare that to America, where you go into marriage thinking that your mate is perfect only to become more and more disappointed by the flaws that begin to appear over time."

      And that makes all the difference. In India they take personal responsibility for marriage.

      I do believe it's possible to have an exciting marriage filled with hot sex and fun outings decade after decade…but only if you work at it. The problems come when people expect their partner to provide their happiness. If you're "seasick with contentment," it's probably because you haven't worked on improving your relationship. THE WEDDING IS NOT THE ENDGAME.

  • Rebekah

    "The problems come when people expect their partner to provide their happiness. If you're "seasick with contentment," it's probably because you haven't worked on improving your relationship. THE WEDDING IS NOT THE ENDGAME. "

    GudEnuf I could not agree more. This statement hits home with me, because my husband left me becasue "I didn't make him happy". I didn't know that was my sole responsibility. I was blindsided by that statement, and it took me many years to get past the hurt of it.

    I said to a friend of mine the other day, that if it was as difficult to get married as it is to get divorced, we probably wouldn't have the divorce rate that we do. It took my years to get divorced, and I was engaged and married in a matter of months. I also think in todays society that marriage is just another accessory, and some people wear it until it no longer suits them.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/hambydammit hambydammit

    Hmm… First, in the spirit of one blogger to another, I'm finding this comment system difficult to navigate. Especially in the threads with a hundred comments, I'm really having a tough time figuring out who's talking to who. It's kind of like reading a hundred random comments. Am I missing something about how these comments fit together? I mean, your response to someone is the top comment, and I had to scroll down to figure out what you were talking about. Also, it's got a nasty habit of telling me I'm not logged in when I'm clearly logged in.

    And with that said, on to divorce and marriage. I think Matt's triangle is an appropriate illustration of just about everything in relationships. You can generally get one or two things you want, but you can never get everything you want. If you want to protect women as much as possible, you need to make it very easy for them to divorce. If you want otherwise good marriages to last through the bumps in the road, you have to make divorce very difficult to get. You don't get to have both.

    And as you say, there's something to be said for protecting men. Prenups are nice, but courts can overturn them on a whim. High quality men are more and more wary of the financial obligations of divorce, and well they should be. It sucks that women still make 70 cents on the dollar compared to men in many industries, but it evens out in divorce court. In other words, a divorced man makes significantly less than a divorced woman in the workplace. It takes a little retroactive thinking, but maybe this will make it easier. Suppose I work for ten years at 50k a year. Suppose after living expenses, I have a net worth of 250k, or 50% of my earnings. Now, suppose I get married and divorced, and lose 125k of my net worth. That's the equivalent of 12.5k a year, which effectively drops my yearly earnings for ten years to 50-12.5 or 37.5K a year. 37.5K is 75% of 50K.

    Now, consider a woman who has been working for ten years at 37.5K doing the same job as the man making 50K. She marries him and then divorces, netting herself 125K in the process. Now who's making more in the workplace?

    Furthermore, if there are children, a man's income effectively goes down by as much as 33% in many states. Certainly children need to be taken care of, but let's not kid ourselves about this. Not all child support goes into the bellies of children. Many women treat child support as punishment for being a bad husband, and accept more money than they actually need. Of course there are a lot of women who really do need all of it, but we're talking about male perceptions here, right? What men believe about marriage? Men clearly believe that if they come out on the wrong end of a divorce, they'll lose their income both retroactively and going forward into the future. This is a strong disincentive to marry.

    And of course, this conversation is a continuation of the value conversation. It seems there's a disparity between what women want, what men want, what men are offering, and what women are offering. It really comes back to the central question: If it isn't about children, why would a man get married? Taking common law divorce out of the equation, it's much simpler for a man to simply cohabit with a woman, keep separate bank accounts, and break the relationship off cleanly and without legal involvement if things go south. And since divorce is so common, there it is. Why marry?

    Women and men both want relationships. It's tempting to think of men as sex machines who want nothing more than twenty holes to fill, but most men want the stability of a relationships, and the friendship that goes with it. But they can get that without marriage. So, we're back to the question. What can women offer that will get them what they want?

    • Passer_By

      I'm sorry, Hamby, but your example is not a very good one. First, the issue of women earning 70 cents on the dollar is largely an issue of women's career and life choices, but that's beside the point here (just couldn't resist throwing that out there).

      But, putting that aside, I wouldn't have any sympathy for the guy in your scenario. Most men (myself included) have very little problem with the notion of splitting evenly all actual wealth acquired during the marriage. Presumably, in your example, the wife's income was also being thrown into the pot and adding to the accrued wealth of the community. Money is fungible, so you can't really segregate his from hers. VERY few married couples do that – nor should that be a desirable goal if they plan to be together for any length of time.

      The problem comes when she lays claim to unreasonable amounts of his income going forward. I won't get into those issues here, since the length limitations preclude it (typed up a long response but lost it).

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      Well, as you say, a man who does not want children has no incentive to marry unless a woman he loves deeply wants to marry and he compromises to keep her. I have seen this happen, but in that case, the two have kept totally separate finances. That probably wouldn't help him if they divorced, but he makes more money, and uses it to travel more than she can, etc. I guess that's the compromise she made.

      I agree, it really does get back to the question of value, or to put it another way, what might make a man love a woman so deeply and be unwilling to lose her? She must greatly improve the quality of his life in a variety of ways.

      Here's a link to your post about Dating and Value for other readers:


    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      Re the comment system, it should have imported all my comments with the proper nesting/threading, and Intense Debate is supposedly working to fix it. I agree that currently, it's a mess, sorry about that.

      I'll also have to ask about the login issue – I know some people were having trouble registering in the beginning.

      Ugh. This site maintenance stuff is my least favorite part of blogging!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

    Dammit, I'm sorry. Another problem with the system! I'm banging my head against the table. I really, really don't want comments (or their writers) lost. I have a question in re comment length and if I can't solve this soon, I will have to either revert to standard WP comments, or go back to DISQUS. I'm not sure why this is such a problem – how hard could it be to get this right?

  • Passer_By

    I think the length limitations my be more severe if you reply to someone else's comment (rather than start a new comment). Because I couldn't even post a comment that was not as long as hamby's after I tried to shorten it some. Or it may be because I posted as a guest and am viewed as inherently suspect by virtue of that.

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  • Chili

    Re lower class people marrying less often: I don't know whether this has much to do with the idea that marriage is seen as a "high status" thing as much as it has to do with the high teenage pregnancy rate in the lower class. Unprotected sex tends to be a fact of life in these social strata, and as a result people end up having lots of babies at a young age and obviously, outside of marriage. And we all know what happens to a woman with a baby. Her chances of finding a man to look past that go WAY down. I think that has a lot to do with why poorer people do not get married as much.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      I agree that this is commonplace. In fact, many poor young women happily become pregnant without any real desire to stay with the bio father. They experience a short-term boost in social status for this, and the cycle perpetuates itself. The default in many communities has become numerous children by different men, without marriage occurring at all. It's hard to know which factors came first, but it's all but impossible to imagine marriage returning as a bedrock institution here. That means a continuous increasing stream of children born without fathers participating in their upbringing.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/hambydammit hambydammit

    Honestly, Susan, for the majority of history, marriage has been the privilege (curse?) of the upper classes. Have you ever read "The Way We Never Were" by Stephanie Coontz. If not, please get to the bookstore with all due haste.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      Well, that intrigued me so I googled her and found some interesting reviews of her books. Her most recent is Marriage, a History, and one reviewer says:

      Stephanie Coontz has written an extraordinary book with a powerful message: that today's marriages are fragile not because Americans have become more self-centered and career-minded, but because we expect more from marriage than any previous generation.

      I'm requesting those two books right away!

      • finsalscollons

        I read "The Way We Never Were" and I was not impressed. Their reasoning is vague and it relies in proof like that:

        "This thing is true because author X says so, author Y says so, author Z says so".

        That is, the same kind of proof medieval authors employed to prove that unicorns existed.

        The message of the book is: modern marriage and family are bad but past marriage and family were also bad. She even tells that the fact that black mothers have no husband is not a bad thing.

        A very politically correct book but I was not impressed.

        • finsalscollons

          But I would like to know your opinion, Susan, when you read it.

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          Well, this book is sounding more and more interesting. In general, I'm inclined to oppose anything PC, it just irks me. I'll check it out.

          I will say that I don't have a lot of patience for the "this is nothing new" approach. It's used a lot by feminists defending hookup culture. "Women have always had casual/pre-marital sex."
          True, but that doesn't mean the the causes or effects are the same. Social dynamics really need to be viewed in context to be understood, IMO.

        • finsalscollons

          Well, Susan, you definitely need to read this book, because this is a book directly related to your field and this blog. And it is a good view how left-wing autors dismiss the current family crisis in America.

          But, if you hate the "nothing is new" approach, you are going to hate this book a lot.

          Furthermore, the book lacks some focus. Their basic structure is the following one:

          Each chapter is devoted to a "myth", for example, chapter 10 devoted to "The myth of the Black Family Collapse".

          She starts giving a history of the Black Family. This could be a fascinating subject, if Coontz's idea of storytelling was not to try to glue together data from different books (all from liberal authors) with no solid argumental line. The focus changes from page to page and you lose the thread.

          At the end of the chapter, Coontz concludes that the black family collapse (wasn't it a myth?) is due to unemployment of black males, that black women are models of strength, that black men share more housework than white men and that a baby born in a single mom household could be better than one born in a two-parent family, because black women have a strong social network. In page 253, you can read "traditional nuclear families based on male breadwinning are often not the most adaptative form for a people facing pervasive discrimination and unemployment"

          This is the structure of every chapter. First she picks a "myth" (for example, "strong families are the basis of a society) and then "disproves" it with fallacies, quoting other authors and "nothing is new" approach. I was not convinced.

          In other chapters, she makes this following reasoning: trend X is not new because now the percentage is 20% and it was 20% in other time of the history. Even 25% in a time!! So there is no crisis. Very good. Too bad that, since the book was published, trend X has increased until 60%.

          You may wonder how I can remember so much of this book. It is a book that it is always on my night stand. It is so boring that helps me when I can't sleep. This is not a joke: it's true.

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          Haha, that's hilarious that you use S. Coontz to cure your insomnia! The variety of opinions expressed here has definitely piqued my interest. I'll definitely have to get this book for my night stand!

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/_synthesis_ synthesis

        I remember VJ mentioning the book and I've started to read it. So far it is quite interesting.

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          Oh good, do report back! You are an excellent provider of links, synthesis, but I have to say, VJ is incredible that way – don't know how he reads it all with only 24 hours in the day.

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  • http://www.marriedmansexlife.com Athol Kay

    I think the Soulmate thing is just the worst concept ever. It's just some sort of all purpose justification card for the most appalling behavior. One partner can supply a lifetime of love and the spouse just plays the Soulmate Card and walks. It's like the words "Wife" and "Husband" mean nothing anymore.
    My recent post Game Theory: Marriage, Dating, The Manosphere As Prisoner's Dilemma

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      Hi Athol, welcome, and thanks for commenting. I agree, obviously, and another thing that I find extremely troubling is that often the person walking claims disappointed hopes and expectations, but is at the same time feeling upbeat about a new start, and expresses zero remorse or concern for the other party. There's a big dose of narcissism that comes into play here as well.

  • ATS

    It's bloody media distorting the whole concept of marriage, the "happily-ever-after" myth people buy into, thinking that everything's going to be peachy keen after you say "I do," exacerbated by all these rom-coms where the plot line either involves finding "The One" or the girl-meets-unsuitable-guy-but-he-changes-into-Mr. Perfect in the end. It's so far removed from the realities of long term married life that it makes me wonder where the scriptwriters are coming from. All marriages have their ups and downs, and entering one with the mindset that it will be "happily ever after" is just asking for trouble, as is thinking that you can change your partner down the line.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      Often I think women go through courtship, enjoying the novelty, butterflies in the stomach, etc. If they get engaged, the wedding project itself becomes the focus, and the elevated sense of well-being is maintained. After the honeymoon period ends, women often find themselves bored, and they resent not being the constant center of attention. Life returns to normal, and that just doesn't cut it. And that's when things are going well. When problems occur, as they do in every marriage, there's little reserve of goodwill to tide couples over. The myth has been dispelled and disappointment sets in.

      • ExNewYorker

        This is one of the reasons why one of the qualities I looked for in a wife was: "are her parents still married and have they been married for a while?". While not foolproof, it at least shows the woman has seen what a long term marriage is like. Of course, since more and more people divorce, this probably means that finding someone untouched by divorce will be harder and harder.

        I wonder how significant the "easy divorce" culture affects kids? I would imagine there are studies seeing what the attitude toward marriage is with children of divorce.

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          I do know that children of divorce are wary of relationships in college. Studies show that they are more likely not only to hook up casually, but to prefer it. They are more likely to indicate cynicism about relationships in the short-term, and marriage in the long-term. I believe they are just as likely to say they want to marry someday, but are much more likely to say that they are likely to be divorced.

      • Mike

        Often I think women go through courtship, enjoying the novelty, butterflies in the stomach, etc. If they get engaged, the wedding project itself becomes the focus, and the elevated sense of well-being is maintained. After the honeymoon period ends, women often find themselves bored,….

        You just described my first wife/marriage which lasted less then a year. In my opinion, there are two kinds of women when it comes to marriage, those who want to GET MARRIED and those who want to MARRY YOU.

        As a guy I think it is very important to distinguish which you are potentially saying I DO to. The former will bail and/or not work on problems when the going gets tough and day to day marriage doesn't live up to the fairy tale. The latter I think will have your back and stick with you through thick and thin if you treat her right and are loyal.

        Quick story. I work with a guy, late 20s, total cad (number approaching 200) who is telling me a story from last weekend about a wedding he decides to crash where he wasn't invited by the groom but a bunch of his friends were. Long story short, he catches a glimpse of the bride and is like "oh shit"….he knows this girl as he hooked up with her a few times a few years back. He turns to face the other way and walk away before she sees him (I give him props for that) but his buddies bust him out.

        This woman…nope…this girl….this ***BRIDE*** on her wedding day sees him and gets all excited and runs to him, jumps on him with a hug, and kisses him on the neck…on her frigging wedding day to another man. He tried to cut off that display of excitement/affection as quickly as possible and get the heck out of there which I told him I was glad he did and was the right move.

        What kind of "wife" you think that guy just got?

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          OMG that is a horror story. I agree that her display was completely inappropriate and would certainly make me very afraid if I were the groom.

          However, your coworker sounds worse that Vince Vaughn in The Wedding Crashers! 200? What are the chances that guy doesn't have some bugs and viruses? Not to mention his ability to attach emotionally. I'm surprised he would even remember the bride. And what kind of person crashes a wedding for real? He may have made the right decision to get out of there when he did, but it only came after he proved himself a total asshole.

    • djb

      I would encourage anyone interested in the demographic aspects of the decline of marriage and fertility to read an interesting essay by Phillip Longman titled "The Return of Patriarchy." In short, Mr. Longman's opinion is that our current social modal will be replaced by one in which "Father knows best," not because such a model is better from a normative point of view, but because it is inevitable from the perspective of demographics. We would like to think that what we are seeing in the West is somehow historically unique. In fact, a lot of recent archeological research seems to indicate that marriage and fertility has ebbed and flowed along with changes in law, society, technology, and urbanization. While marriage does fall out of favor over long periods, it is almost always reinvigorated by a set of social and/or religious beliefs that encourages male investment. This is the result of a simple truism -a family where men have continuous sexual access to a woman at an earlier age will tend to be able to comfortably provide for more children. If all or most men have such access, then the society as a whole will comfortably provide for more children as well. Where male investment is not secure, he will bide time to up his odds or choose another definition of "the good life" that does not include family and children. Women do the same thing, but are constrained more severely by biology. In other words, the bargaining power in the marital market rests with the man. Through a long process of social evolution, those beliefs that make male investment more secure will gradually spread as those that hold those beliefs become a greater proportion of a declining and aging population. Then like a phoenix, a new society will gradually be born from the ashes of the barren, old one. Many historians now believe the rise and eventual decline and fall of Rome followed this pattern, the new Christianity being the belief system that reinvigorated the old Roman patriarchy. Patriarchy, in this view, is not so much a system of oppression of women, but a set of reciprocal obligations that forced men into a particular reproductive strategy. The difficulty has always been the male desire for sexual variety. In exchange for forgoing this powerful drive, men received unencumbered sexual access to one woman, as well as a say in how the family is formed and how the children are raised. The object of patriarchy, then, is to bind men to their children and their wives. I think the ideology of the 60's clouded this simple fact, but it is being forced upon us by rapid social changes that began during that period.

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

        Welcome, djb, first-time commenter!

        While marriage does fall out of favor over long periods, it is almost always reinvigorated by a set of social and/or religious beliefs that encourages male investment.

        This strikes me as a very sound analysis. This is how I tend to think of the eventual and probable solution to the problem, though I tend to think in terms of a return to limiting female sexual freedom. Which would be necessary for Longman's vision to be realized.

        The other thought that strikes me is that we need to grant more men sexual access, and a return to a norm of monogamy as described here would address a current, real dysfunction in American society. It would also, obviously, increase the birth rate, which is necessary for a thriving economy.

        For these changes to occur, it does seem as if sweeping and dramatic changes need to occur – I tend to think of a swift and dramatic crisis, like a new virus, but perhaps it will be a long process of social evolution.

        • finsalscollons

          No. There would be no change in the mainstream of our society, which is way beyond the no return point.

          What will happen is that religious groups believing in monogamy will end up replacing the shrinking secular society by force of demography. This would take several generations. In America, fundamentalist Christians who take seriously their faith (many American Christian) do not and in Europe, Muslim people.

          It is not that secular society will change their ways: this is against history. It is that the few people who practice monogamy have more children and end up replacing the mainstream society. This is what "The Return of the Patriarchy" is about

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          That is a frightening thought, a world full of fundamentalists. As DJ said, it was the new Christianity in Rome that came out of the ruined Empire. While it addressed the moral corruption of Rome, it also unleashed centuries of repression and totalitarianism.

        • HC

          No, Christianity didn’t bring on totalitarianism and repression. Totalitarianism and repression, usually on a small-scale, are the norm of history. The Western Roman Emprie died of old age, in effect, and things got back to their depressing norm.

          (The Eastern Empire endured for centuries, but it was effectively a different culture, different dominante language, different dominant religion, etc).

          The most important single factor in the change in gender relations has been the industrial revolution. Henry Ford, with his practical automobile and mass production, did more to undo traditional patterns of marriage and family than Hollywood and the Pill combined. As a society, we’re still in the process of adjusting to those changes in social patterns that go back centuries.

          And of course, in a cold evolutionary sense, they that breed fastest and most win. That’s a nasty way to put it, of course, but yes, if the strongly religious produce more children consistantly than the secular, the future will be religious.

          (Which isn’t surprising, religion is the dominant social force in human history.)

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

        Sorry, just realized you are DJ. Welcome back!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/hambydammit hambydammit

    Here's a really good article I just found while searching for stuff about "how to keep a man happy." I know you and I have talked several times about what women can do besides sex to keep a man committed (and hopefully married), but honestly, the happiest men I know are the ones whose girlfriends/wives do at least three of the five things in this article:


    Here's the gist of the article: All that shit in Cosmo about fulfilling men's fantasies? It's projection. Women care about giving hand jobs with panties and throwing rose petals all over the bed and bathing in chocolate syrup. Men want blowjobs and spontaneous sex. Here's his list, reduced to the essentials:

    1. Unexpected, non-reciprocal oral sex. Often.
    2. Thinking about you with another woman. Men love to hear about this in bed. It doesn't even have to be true. Just indulge in the fantasy with him.
    3. Make him think you're constantly thinking about him sexually. Even if you're not feeling sexy, send sexy texts or naughty photos.
    4. Roleplay "pickup" situations. Flirt with another guy at the bar, then ditch him for the "stranger" (who happens to be your husband). Take him into the bathroom, give him a blowjob.
    5. Anal sex.

    I'm not going to claim that this list is the end-all and be-all of making a man happy for the long term, but it's got the right spirit. The emphasis on blowjobs is important. All men like blowjobs, and they want more than they're getting. Even if they tell you otherwise. If they say they don't like it, either you really suck at… um… sucking, or they're lying.

    Not all men are into anal sex, but a lot are. I know I can live without it in a relationship, but it's been a nice bonus whenever it's been an option.

    The main idea, though, is that men want to feel like they are sexually desired, and that you really, really like pleasing them sexually. And the proof is in the pudding… or the putting… out.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      Haha, yikes Hamby! I swear you must wear your women out. I guess they are known by limping gingerly around town! Sorry for such a late response, this comment was caught in my spam filter for a few days and I didn't realize. Don't know if it was the number of times the words sex, blowjobs, and anal were used!

  • VJ1

    Geez Susan, I think I've cited Prof. Stepanie Coontz's works here many times. She's the preeminent American historian on the history of marriage. And more of her writings can be found here on her website:


    But be that as it may, what were seeing today is a likely a 'truncation' of the marriage distribution at several junctures. From the young, from the poor & young, from the poor & old, and from those unwilling or unable to stay 'in the game' or play it at all well. (For whatever reason, behavioral and/or economic). And that's probably going to amount to about 20% (and greater) of the population very soon. Then there's the growing population of almost wholly 'disinterested' which would include poor Liz W. and of course plenty of folks in the MRM/Ghost 'community'.

    On 'The Marriage-Go-Round' book, Andrew J. Cherlin too makes the same points that Prof. Coontz is making. We're demanding More of marriage, but at the same time it's being freighted with ever more meaning & hopes, many of the traditional societal supports have either been stripped away from it, greatly reduced or simply have become 'unavailable' to the poor & middle class due to their 'short term' status in the institution. If your marriage lasts less than 7-10 years? The financial benefits are likely a wash, especially with a nasty divorce. Worse? Your heretofore lovely 'soulmate' will likely get fatter, uglier and belch & fart more all the while becoming more set in their ways. (Just some of the highlights folks, move along before the gruesome family, childhood stuff, please!) And happily all of that is perfectly normal & expected too.

    Already in Britain, 25% of women over the age of 35 are not having sex. Now all of them can't be happily married, right? [No, clearly a rhetorical question!] [Harpers]

    So yeah, we're going to have to come up with some new social constructs to be able to raise children up properly in a safe & secure environment. Clearly the American way of family as Andrew J. Cherlin & others have pointed out is failing in this for many kids today, simply on the 'churn rate' for their deluded parents always on the look out for 'a better/bigger deal'. Hypergamy meets it's natural limits? See: Scandinavian mosh pit, wherein the 'majority of young Swedish women are attracted to both men & women' (Harpers). It's a brave new world out there folks, and changes are coming faster than we can ever hope to cope with them.

    Still marriage is a wonderful traditional institution, and don't knock it until you've lived there for awhile! You know that lovely traditional big pile of bricks on the hill with all the fine landscaping & gardens…

    Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      Um, my bad. I knew her name sounded familiar…..in fact, I'm sure I've clicked on previous links you've provided. Obviously, I need to read her stuff.

      You raise an issue I've wondered a lot about – bisexuality, or situational lesbianism. We know that this can work and even thrive to meet the needs of women in same-sex colleges, e.g SLUG, Smith Lesbian Until Graduation. The culture increasingly rewards it, both in terms of acceptance in society, and as a source of sexual intrigue for men. We know that many college women will "hook up" in front of guys for their pleasure and entertainment, and some of those liaisons take hold, even if for a brief period. I expect we'll see more of this due to the gender imbalance on campuses. It also serves as a way for women to circumvent the hookup culture, as women together are more likely to commit. Although I recently heard a term for the first time that describes how quickly girl-on-girl sex becomes boring: lesbian bed death.

      • Screwtape

        Well, lesbian bed death makes a certain amount of sense if you consider that men are typically the initiators of sexual contact. True, women in relationships do initiate sex quite often, but nowhere near the amount a man typically does. So in cases of situational lesbianism I would imagine once the initial hormonally driven passion wears off you have two women each waiting for the other one to initiate… and then the other one will need to be in the mood. If they aren't having alot of sex, it is unlikely they are experimenting much either.

        I honestly think lesbian relationships only work if one of the women is particularly aggressive in nature.

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          Well, I know little about lesbian sexuality, but it stands to reason that if the sexes are different, and we know they are, and men are more dominant and aggressive in general, and we know they are, then two men together are going to be highly aggressive and two women much less so. So yeah, two less aggressive women may fall into the habit of too much spooning, too little sex.

        • http://stuartschneiderman.blogspot.com/ Stuart Schneiderman

          One Donald Symons wrote a book called "The Evolution of Human Sexuality" where he made an extensive study of relationships between male homosexuals and female homosexuals– in other words, about how each sex would form a relationship if it did not have to negotiate with the opposite sex. His results are consistent with your intuition here.
          My recent post Elizabeth Wurtzel: Addicted to Drama

        • http://stuartschneiderman.blogspot.com/ Stuart Schneiderman

          One Donald Symons wrote a book called "The Evolution of Human Sexuality" where he made an extensive study of relationships between male homosexuals and female homosexuals– in other words, about how each sex would form a relationship if it did not have to negotiate with the opposite sex. His results are consistent with your intuition here.
          My recent post Elizabeth Wurtzel: Addicted to Drama

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          Oh, good! It seems like common sense, but I'm glad to know it's been studied. I have read Symons before – one of the key evo psych guys. I see your new post is about E. Wurtzel – I look forward to checking that out!

  • Pingback: Tips for Relationship Success | relationshiptrouble.org

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

    Perfect, just saw that Kate Winslet is divorcing husband director Sam Mendes out of boredom:


    Apparently her steamy scene with Leo dC in Revolutionary Road were the clincher. So there you go.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/theobsidianfiles theobsidianfiles

    Yea, I'm hip to Coontz, read her book on marriage, read a number of articles she's written and have heard a number of interviews she's given. She knows her stuff, but I'm a bit leery of the slant she takes on things – like Ehrenreich she's something of a Socialist. So, I take what she says with a grain of salt.


    • VJ1

      Well O, I really, really don't like how she comes out with the entire 'Crisis in the Black Family' deal, which is what? About 45 yo as a part of this generational 'concern'. And although I'm obviously not a paleo-con, I've read Kay H. on the topic, (a fav bugbear & political hobby horse for many) to and largely agree with her analysis. I also agree that marriage should & ought to benefit more low income & working families, men & women alike, but that's just not happening today, for whatever reasons, for any segment of the population. That it once did, and was an obvious strength to & for many communities is something we need to examine in more depth & try to understand better. But that generation of 'informants' is long too.

      I'm not down with the thought that single mom only families are 'more beneficially adaptive' than 2 parent families. That's yes, silly PC speak for 'it's about the best anyone might manage under the current/given circumstances, and we're really trying not to call names here or make anyone feel too bad about it.' It's a clear sign of crisis, screaming out in the wilderness (or from the cities), it's as if we're being told that one arm is a 'good as two'. Well you can manage with one arm, almost do as much, and get around quite efficiently too. But is it better or as good as having both arms? No not really. And yes, this is patently obvious to most. But do you walk up to a man with one arm & berate them for this? Yes, there's this huge element of choice here too. (Some times with the arms too). But the arguments here are not lacking or unknown. What to do about it all to effectively move or 'nudge' the population in a more 'beneficial' direction is where the conundrum starts. Well other than recognizing the problem. And that may take awhile too.

      But I'm all for making marriage more successful for it's original purpose. But for most of the past 40 years all this has led to is incessant screaming matches between neo/paleo cons cluck clucking about all those 'darky' harlot women & their no account criminal BF's and the soc-libs who'll try mightily to defend their choices, or capacity of same. We don't have to be geniuses to see the damage wrought here. There's really few decent paths forward. I'm beginning to think that yes, all this needed reform needs to start privately with small dedicated communities that reject much of what's been given as 'received knowledge' and recreate either patriarchal communities or the kinds of 'free-love' anarchist 'cookbook' style of communes (once again), only trying to do it one better than their granddad & mums might have back in the day to adequately address these issues of propagating & preserving families.

      And what does all this spell boys & girls? Chaos, a perceived loss of social & personal control by many who are seeking new solutions for old intractable problems. More 'experimentation', more return to 'tradition' on the margins, and plenty of debate & hand-wringing, and millions of words expended in the ether. Have a drink, you'll not soon see the end of it. Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

      • VJ1

        That should have been "But that generation of 'informants' is long gone too". Sorry for the confusion & other typos. Cheers, 'VJ'

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/theobsidianfiles theobsidianfiles

    Also, Kay Hymowitz's views on the matter can't b e overlooked and present a nice counterpoint to Coontz:


    Money Quote:

    "The conventional answer to the puzzle is this: in an economy marked by manufacturing decline, especially in cities, too many of the potential husbands for low-income women are either flipping burgers, unemployed, or in jail—in other words, poor marriage material. But three facts raise doubts about this theory."

    Holla back

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/theobsidianfiles theobsidianfiles

    "One, it’s not just unemployed men or McDonald’s cooks who have become marriage-avoidant; working-class men with decent jobs are also shying from the altar. Two, cohabitation among low-income couples has been increasing; about 40 percent of all out-of-wedlock babies today are born to cohabiting parents. Why would there be a dearth of marriageable men, when there appear to be plenty of cohabitable fathers? And three, marriage improves the economic situation of low-income women, even if their husbands are only deliverymen or janitors. In a large and highly regarded study, the Urban Institute’s Robert Lerman concluded that married, low-income, low-educated women enjoyed significantly higher living standards than comparable single mothers. Joe Sixpack may not be Mr. Darcy, but financially, at any rate, he’s a lot better than no husband at all."

    - Kay Hymowitz, Marriage & Caste In America


  • MuleChewingBriars

    Ah Lizzie Wurtzel. How we Americans love a multi-vehicle high-carnage pile-up, especially an articulate one.

    Sometimes I think we are prone to ADHD in this country, since our ancestors had antsy-enough pants to brave the rigors of a transAtlantic crossing and reinvent themselves here. Too bad that for nervous systems on the two-sigma plus edge of that particular bell curve, only the sort of life Lizzie led from about 15 to about 35 could possibly produce enough endorphins to keep them from sinking into the miasma of their own norepinephrine-induced Slough of Despond.

    Of course, we all know more than we want to about Lizzie's brain chemistry.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      Haha, MCB, so true! Lizzie has made a career out of what's going on in her head. And yes, I also agree that we Americans, i.e. the media, love it when the best and brightest self-destruct; kind of a high profile schadenfreude.

      I am fascinated by your point re ADD and the Puritans, not to mention all the waves of immigrants who came along afterwards. I think there must be something to that, just as there is bound to be come residual effect in the Australian character of all those sheep stealers :-)

      You are a funny guy, great addition to the conversation!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/novaseeker novaseeker

    Penn economist Betsey Stevenson has a theory that the reason why marriage among the upper middle and higher class (dual higher education, and combined income 150k+) is that these are what she dubs "consumption marriages". In other words, Marriage 1.0 was something akin to "division of labor marriage", where men did some things, women did others, and between the two of them they got done what needed doing to raise a family together — what those things were changed over time, but the division of labor was always a lynchpin such that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. With women entering the workforce and male economic performance declining, there really isn't any place in the current social model for "division of labor marriage". It isn't needed. Women can fend for themselves economically and also generally trust themselves to know what is best for their children — men are an accessory, from the perspective of division of labor, or rather a form of assistance more than anything else. So while Hymowitz is right that poorer women are still better off with the addition of a janitor's pay packet to the mix, they aren't really *that* much better off — not sufficiently better off to justify dealing with all of the stuff one has to deal with in marriage — the various ups and downs and so on. Simply put there has to be more "there" there, and marginally working class men don't bring enough "there" in enough of a quantity to be attractive as mates any longer — hence marriage rates crashing among the working class.

    Among the upper tier (which is unfortunately a rather small slice of the total demographic), marriage is thriving with high rates of marriage and low rates of divorce. Stevenson explains this by referring to the raw power of dual consumption made possible by combining incomes of that magnitude — sure, either spouse could live well enough on a buck fifty each, but with three bucks they can live even better, and trying to go from 3 bucks back to a buck fifty is pretty painful in terms of lifestyle. It's probably enough to keep these marriages together through rough spots, as a brass tacks reason, because it increases the effective costs of divorce for both spouses. People also speculate that these educated people are simply better marriage partners, but I call BS on that. Educated people are no less likely to cheat or be abusive or ornery or what have you. These marriages certainly have their issues, I am sure, but they do not divorce as often over them because it is de facto a big hit for each spouse, financially, to do so. Better to muddle through and keep the McMansion and the two BMW X3s than downsize on both ends.

    (posting in a few parts)

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      Novaseeker, I was hoping you'd come by to comment on this post, because it was partly inspired by your post at The Spearhead, Staying Married But Moving Out. It got me thinking about what women expect from marriage. I think female narcissism also plays a role, but that's another post.


      Re the working class, what surprises me is that women would choose to go it alone as parents. I do think division of labor doesn't really happen anymore – many women who work do the lion's share of the house tasks as well. Betsey Stevenson's working on the widening gender gap in happiness addresses this, though she stops short of pointing at feminism as the root cause. But adding kids to the mix without marriage – I find it surprising, especially since many in the working class are going to be from families who immigrated within the past two generations.

      Re the upper tier, yes, I think this is clearly borne out. I have read that the divorce rate among college-educated whites is 17%, and that's not by any means all people making 150K. Lifestyle is a powerful trap – do you remember Sherman McCoy in Bonfire of the Vanities going broke on $1 million a year? I agree that they don't make better marriage partners – in fact, this group probably has more opportunities to cheat and otherwise misbehave. They tend to marry later, though, which also helps – they're more mature.

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/novaseeker novaseeker

        I guess what I think is going on among the working class is that the additional income isn't enough to justify the hassles of getting or staying married. The difference between 30k solo and 60k combined isn't that great when you take into account that someone at 30k solo is getting government assistance in various forms, if she knows what she is doing. So the incremental financial benefit of marrying isn't really that great — whereas the "bump" from 150 to 300 (or even from 90 to 180) is substantial and has a direct lifestyle impact.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/novaseeker novaseeker

    Part 2

    I'm not quite sure it's possible to put humpty dumpty back together again. No-fault divorce, which lies at the crux of the problem, really, when it comes to divorce rates, is not unpopular, and is not going away anytime soon, if ever. Most people who have not been divorced, and even quite a few who do, believe that no-fault is preferable because, in theory, it allows people to avoid litigating the ins and outs of their dysfunctional marriage and lets them just get on with their lives faster. The trouble with that, of course, is that people, in fact, *do* litigate those ins and outs when child custody is being disputed anyway, but that the ins and outs as husbands and wives are often discounted and shoved to the side – effectively meaning that people can behave badly in marriage but "get away with it" if they win custody of the children. That leads to the next problem with the current divorce regime: it is far too based on winner take all type litigation approach where the spouse who is "awarded" custody of the children effectively wins the marriage because they become entitled to a long financial annuity which is misnamed "child support" (more on that below). So you get the odd result of a person deciding whether to initiate largely based on whether they will get sole physical custody (the trigger for more substantial child support payments) — and this is generally the woman, as has been pointed out by the study (http://aler.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstra… by a lawyer and an economist. And they know that because of no-fault, they can obtain this result even if they are themselves in the midst of an affair, or if they simply are bored.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      This is why I agree with Wilcox's suggestion that the courts should be willing to consider parental conduct when awarding custody and support. Perhaps no-fault divorce is here to stay, but if child-related issues could be spun off, that would make a huge difference. I'm still a neophyte on these issues – so I don't have a sense of whether these ideas are tenable or not.

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/novaseeker novaseeker

        In theory it's possible. In fact they do so today, but it mostly works in one direction — vilifying fathers with often trumped up claims of abuse to justify sole mother custody if he is contesting custody. What would work best would be mandated joint custody unless one parent is clearly unfit — Tennessee has a bill pending that would do this, probably the first state in the nation considering moving to this standard. Predictably women's groups are against the bill, because they say it would protect abusive men, but the bill provides a clear exception if one parent is abusive or unfit –> they just don't like the idea that the spouse seeking to avoid the default joint custody situation actually has to prove that the other parent is unfit and/or abusive, rather than simply alleging it, calling 911, getting the guy to spend a night in jail and so on without any proof, and obtaining temporary sole custody on that basis — knowing that a temporary sole custody award is only rarely overturned later on in the divorce. Of course we need DV laws, that goes without saying — but the interplay between DV laws and custody rulings is often quite problematic given the various "prophylactic" elements of the DV laws that are designed to protect women from violence but which are easily (and regrettably all too often) abused by women looking to gain an advantage in divorce, precisely because no proof is required in order for the soon to be ex husband to be subject to draconian penalties and placed in an extremely bad footing for the pending divorce.

        What we really need is to step back from these laws and take a good hard honest look at what is working and what is not and fix them. It's very hard to do so, however, when NOW and their ilk start screaming their heads off any time anyone suggests doing so.

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          Yes, this is why NOW lost me many years ago. They're playing dirty pool, and women should stand up and call them on it. An organization that purports to stand for fairness and equality stopped adhering to those standards decades ago.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/novaseeker novaseeker

    Part 3

    Why is child custody so important as a motivator? Primarily because in most states today, child support is calculated according to a statutory formula as a certain % of income, not based on any true estimate of the "cost" associated with raising a child. What that means is that the standard is basically "keeping the child in the same standard of living to which it had become accustomed" — which, in effect, means keeping the custodial spouse also in that same standard of living. In effect, child support is calculated on the basis of an alimony standard, rather than a child raising cost standard. And the custodial spouse is never required to account for how (typically) she spends the funds. Nor are the funds adjusted if she remarries. Further, the payments are not taxable to the recipient spouse, but are also not deductible to the paying spouse. Nor is the amount of support that is supposed to be "borne by" the custodial spouse ever policed. So, in effect, "child support" is essentially an untaxed transfer payment from ex-husbands to ex-wives about which she is completely unaccountable for how it is spent. And a soon to be ex-wife can obtain this annuity simply by asking for divorce and refusing to agree to joint custody (even in states that will award joint custody, courts typically will not do so unless both parents are in agreement, which in effect gives wife a veto to achieve the default result of mother custody). These payments are made long after the offspring are no longer children — typically now "child support" awards go until the "child" is 21 or 22 and are still, even after the "child's" majority status, paid to the recipient *spouse* and not to the child — even if the child no longer lives there! The fact that this type of payment is called "child support" is really simply an indication of how politically clever the people who made these legal changes were — by calling these transfer payments "child support", they in effect make them extremely difficult to criticize politically — critics are easily dispensed with as being people who do not support children, who are in favor deadbeats and irresponsible parents and so on. Even though the payments often are not used to support children and are never priced that way.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      In effect, "child support" is essentially an untaxed transfer payment from ex-husbands to ex-wives about which she is completely unaccountable for how it is spent.

      This is the crux. I have personally witnessed women using this money for luxuries, vacations, eating out, and the absolute worst – to subsidize some new guy on the scene. There has got to be a way of making custodial parents accountable – there's no way to roll back the laws; but perhaps there is more appetitie for increased accountability.

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/novaseeker novaseeker

        I agree re: accountability. It's a broken system currently because it lacks that.

        I know a woman, divorced and remarried. She is a lawyer, her ex-h is a Doc and Hubby 2 is a partner at a large law firm. No lack of funds anywhere, yet she still pockets ~2600 in CS every month. It gets used on trips to the Caribbean and such while the two boys stay with relatives and so on (and definitely not with Dad, because if the kids stay with Dad too much that could reduce her CS amount). My ex used to be friends with this woman, but upon seeing her antics, she simply got disgusted with her and distanced herself from her. No accountability, though. Her ex-h has been in court about this and the court simply told him he has no right to question how she spends the money, because that is in her discretion as the custodial parent.

        Luckily my ex isn't like that and I know how she spends my CS payments pretty much.

        • Passer_By

          Well, to be fair, money is fungible – so to say they use the 2,600 to go on trips is a bit unfair if they are otherwise spending a lot of money on the kids. Whether or not the amount is fair would depend on the circumstances – I don't know how much the doctor ex makes or how much the lawyer mom makes or could make. Also, the amount that New Dad (remember that SNL skit?) doesn't much sway me. He shouldn't have to foot the entire bill for the upbringing just because he married this woman.

          I don't think it's really practical to ask custodial parents to account for everything spent and trace every dollar – life just doesn't work that way and who has the time to record expenses for every meal and every activity, etc? I just think that the amounts awarded are sometimes patently absurd.

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          I agree that precise bookkeeping is impractical. But perhaps it could be written into the law that the money is to be used ONLY for the direct benefit of the children. And if the supporting parent could prove otherwise, that would be grounds to go to court. Of course, this could potentially drag children into the disputes, which would obviously be unacceptable.

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/novaseeker novaseeker

          Yeah with that person it's more the case that she deliberately blocks access to the kids so that it doesn't impact support. This is a woman whose former nanny contacted the ex-husband because she was so upset at how mom and new husband ignore the boys and spend the money and so on. It's a bad case all around.

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          That is lucky, and she sounds like a woman of integrity. I have no idea what percentage of ex-wives are honorable about this issue. I'd like to say 75%, but I bet it's far closer to 25%. Just guessing here, but humans are greedy and spiteful much of the time.

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/novaseeker novaseeker

          It depends on circumstances very much. A woman who is a single mother and earns relatively less than her ex will probably use more of the CS on the children and children-related expenses. A women who already make a good bit of money, less so. And even less so a woman who makes a good bit of money *and* remarries someone who makes a good bit of money, as in the case above. The more you ratchet the facts in that direction, the more of a windfall it becomes.

          The basic problem is the insistence of the system on the income tax approach to child support rather than basing it on actual cost. Other government regulated payments and supports are more closely based on cost, but this one uses the alimony standard, which makes it very attractive for the custodial spouse to "game" the system — the custodial parent directly benefits from that in pretty much exactly the same way she would if she were being paid alimony, only here she can remarry and continue to get the same benefit (whereas alimony ends upon remarriage).

          It's a broken system, but we're still in the early days of people even realizing that it's broken. Most people don't really know that much about how child support works and is calculated and so on, and just assume that it's based on the cost of raising children — most don't know that the standard is pretty much the same as alimony.

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          Honestly, I am new to this awareness myself, even though I've seen a brother go through a divorce that has been difficulty financially. It really is very unlikely that one will come across this information in the MSM – I only stumbled onto it via the overlap with Game. I was recently speaking with a group of women about this, and they were unanimously interested and surprised. None of them have experienced divorce, so they didn't have personal knowledge of the system, but all of them agreed that the laws appear to favor women, at least based on my reporting.

          I know the PR piece is difficult b/c of the women's groups. But this has to be overcome if these issues are going to get any real traction, IMO.

        • Obsidian

          You know I agree with you wrt "consumption marriages" and with what you said about why Working Class WOMEN don't see marriage as a viable option anymore. But you really didn't answer my question, and whenever I find a lot of people not answering a very good question I toss out on the table, I start smelling blood in the water:


          To simply accept what you say above, is to assume that Women and Women alone decides who marries and who does not. Clearly, by all we've read, that isn' the case.

          So…any takers?

          heh heh…

          The Obsidian

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          Obs, I don't know why you get women saying on your own blog that men want to marry as much as women do. It seems to me, and others who have commented, that there are only a couple of incentives for men to marry. The first one is children. If a man wants to parent, most will marry. It's proven to be better for children if their parents make it official, and the long-term success rate of cohabitation is much lower than marriage, even with children.

          The second one is if a man loves and trusts a woman completely, and it is very important to her to marry, for whatever reason. I personally know several men who have married for this reason. Sometimes it's just generously granting something the woman wants, other times it's in response to an ultimatum.

          Having said this, though, 78% of men in their 20s still say they intend to marry. Obviously, this does vary by race and income. I wonder if there are stats around intention by various subgroups?

        • Obsidian

          Ms. Walsh,
          You may recall my saying that I talked to the authors of the book Promises I Can Keep live on the air during a radio interview. I asked them whether they had ever cared to interview low income Men, the baby daddies of the low income Women they were studying. They hemmed and hawed and had to admit that they didn`t.

          I can promise you that you won`t find any such studies, Ms. Walsh, and that goes for anyone else reading this. In the eyes of the Chattering Classes, Blue Collar guys simply don`t exist.

          You heard it here.


        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          Well, the UVA Marriage Project definitely breaks down marriage and divorce stats by race, though not by income as far as I am aware. What I haven't seen is any study looking at attitudes toward marriage, but I'm going to have a look around. Someone must have looked at this…

      • HC

        No, there is no way.

        Money is fungible, and short of assigning some kind of monitor answerable to the court, or other external authority with the power to decide that ‘expenditure x’ is legitimate, but ‘expenditure y’ is improper, there’s no solution. The fact that money is fungible means that real accountability would require the ex-wife’s (or ex-husband with custody, for that matter)’s entire budget be open to inspection and approval by outside authority of some kind. The invasiveness necessary would be more than a free society could handle, and set precedents we don’t want to set.

        (Just giving the support-paying spouse the right to know where the money goes is useless unless it’s backed up by some way to intervene. And then we’ll get the additional complication of support-paying exes using that as a tool, too.)

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/novaseeker novaseeker

    Part 4

    So, if you create a legal regime that makes it beneficial for one person to divorce, and then you create a cultural climate which makes people expect soulmate marriages and so on, it doesn't take a genius to figure out what the result will be.

    Yet, this remains a very difficult problem to fix. There are many moving pieces at play. It isn't just the legal system. It's also the cultural expectation regarding soulmate marriages. The cultural acceptance of divorce, even casually. The economic drivers that make marriage less attractive for the lower middle and below in the socio-economic curve. And so on. There are a lot of moving pieces contributing to the downfall of marriage in our culture, which means that even if we addressed the legal issues (which we probably won't — there isn't any real grassroots support for that on a wide scale at all), we'd still be stuck with all of the other moving pieces that are conspiring to make marriage increasingly a failed institution in our culture.

    • AT

      There is still a huge stigma attached to being separated in my society, and some exclusive Catholic schools are snooty enough to reject children whose parents cannot produce a marriage certificate (so single motherhood is, in a sense, punished this way). This stigma has virtually disappeared in the US, and a man or woman who is divorced, a single parent, or on his or her third or even fourth marriage would nary raise an eyebrow.

      I can’t help but compare the Western model with ours. In my country, where there is no divorce (only annulment, and it can be availed of for only one basis: psychological incapacity of the spouse, which must be proven by a certified medical practitioner) people tend to stay married, and in my own personal circle I do not know of anyone who has separated or applied for annulment. The availability of annulment was only introduced in 1988, and it’s too soon to see what its impact will be here. Hence, people still have that mindset that marriage IS for keeps, at least with the generation getting married at present, but I don’t know if this will stay this way when the time comes for my own sons to settle down, say, in another 20 years. I say this because the rules of courtship are rapidly changing for the twentysomethings in this country–whereas during my time it was unheard of for a man NOT to pay the woman a visit in her house during the courtship stage (it was a sign of respect to introduce yourself to the parents of the woman you were after to prove your intentions were noble), these days, my twentysomething nephews tell me they managed to get girlfriends just by text messaging!

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

        Uh-oh, AT, sounds like the insidious hookup culture is slowly making its way to the Philippines. Well, I guess it depends on what is being texted. Overall, I'd say men like text messaging b/c it lowers the risk of rejection. And booty calls, which are almost always texts, are much easier to do from a distance.

        From what I hear, asking a guy to meet one's parents is likely to strike terror into his heart – not b/c he is worried about making a good impression, but b/c he'd rather not be pinned down in that way at all. In other words, his intentions are likely not at all noble.

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      I keep picturing this as a pendulum that keeps swinging further and further in one direction, and I really don't think it's ready to swing back. I suspect things will actually get still worse before it starts to swing back. But it will happen at some point – there will be an upheaval that will initiate a correction. In fact, I think I may live to see it, at least in part. It should be interesting.

      • Mjay

        I don't think there will be a "correction". The current system is the basis of a lot of business in the legal, therapist and government sectors. What's the incentive for giving that up?

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          Well, one problem is the declining birth rate. The Western European countries in this boat are not replacing their population and are forced to import immigrants to sustain commerce. Many of these immigrants are Muslims who are not assimilating. This has created very intractable problems for those societies. I'm not sure what form it might take, but I can envision either direct or indirect incentives for having children in the U.S., if born to an intact family.

          Another possibility is an opportunistic illness that is sexually transmitted. Something like a new AIDS virus, perhaps. STDs are spreading rapidly now. Research shows that at graduation 25-50% of college students have genital herpes. It would not be surprising to see a new or mutated virus.

          Or perhaps it will be as djb suggested above:

          Through a long process of social evolution, those beliefs that make male investment more secure will gradually spread as those that hold those beliefs become a greater proportion of a declining and aging population. Then like a phoenix, a new society will gradually be born from the ashes of the barren, old one.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/theobsidianfiles theobsidianfiles

    " And that’s another thing that burns me up about Women like Gottlieb-which, I am very sad to report, are the coin of the realm in our times: they not only want, or expect, but DEMAND the tip-top absolute best Man in the Universe, but give little if anything in return. They surely aren’t offering equal value, that’s for certain. Ever took a peek at Craig’s List, or Match.com, or eHarmony, and looked at these ladies ads? Their “lists” of the ideal Man are yay long, but notice something:

    They never, ever, offer what the guy gets in return. It’s almost as if these gals are doing such sought after guys a favor just to be in their hallowed presence. What’s in it for me? Not a whole lot. Gimme, gimme, gimme.

    No, screw that. It ain’t “almost as if”-it IS as if."


    The Obsidian

  • VJ1

    Here's what I said over @ Matt's:

    "Being very old, I’ve come to think than just about any combo with ‘above average looks’ is almost always toxic in the mix, one way or another, now or later. And yes, that’s based on years of observation. It’s a nice & vaguely appealing & fragrant dream. But mostly in real marriages? It almost never works out well. The eternal pull of hypergamy will have the women constantly reassessing their self worth on the basis of their looks. And that just deadly, in too many ways to count, no matter how intelligent you are. Cheers, ‘VJ’"

    I know that's not what many are wanting to hear, but if you spend your life chasing after only the very attractive models/ You'll likely wind up with a series of short term & disappointing relationships at best. The number of truly very attractive people who've not been otherwise 'spoiled' or affected by their relatively higher status is commonly so low that they're likely to remain 'undiscovered' by most people seeking mates. Hell, even the number of them who've not already used this to their advantage somehow is surprisingly low. So yes, it does tend to distort personalities and lives in ways that are typically & tragically indulgently narcissistic, selfish and even cruel.

    So I tell every one, find the smart sane ones, and try to get with them. You'll never regret it. They're almost always worth it, and more likely to get you where you want & need to be. Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

    • Passer_By

      So, if I understand you correctly, if you want to be happy for the rest of your life, you shouldn't make a pretty woman your wife. And from your personal point view, you should get an ugly girl to marry you?

    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      Yes, I do think that we're in the middle of a narcissism epidemic, and that means it's very hard to find a stunner with any sense of modesty or grace. Still, I don't think we need to go so far as eliminating all attractive people! Certainly it's important that you feel attracted to your mate. I mean, how can a marriage last if there's no vibe? I will agree that smart and sane is very important, I personally chose those two in Matt's triangle myself.

      • VJ1

        If they're young enough? That usually covers a multitude of 'sins', believe it or not. And the older you get? The furthest from the organic ideals of beauty you do as well.

        So hopefully strike early while under the age of 30 say. And if so? Well look around the mean then. It's not a bad place to find yourself, plenty of attractive lassies & laddies there in the 'muddled middle' while youngish. It's part of nature's plan actually. But once you're eying that lovely lithe ex-ballerina who suffered that tragic career ending injury while in her teens? No matter how 'stable & sensible' she might seem? There's likely a cost for all that repressed 'glamor' and certainly for keeping up with the Jones' as far as stylish accommodations are concerned. It's a certain 'beautiful' mindset that's not very accommodating of everyday realities, and is not all that forgiving of same too. So there's definitely a 'cost benefit' analysis that most guys just never stop to consider here. They think about plenty of contingencies, but 'what cost beauty' is typically not one of those. It's always something to consider, especially in any LTR. How easily satisfied is this person? How 'easily amused'? If amusement to them is typically flying off to Europe for the ski slopes in France, Switzerland? That's something really 'special' to consider. Cost/benefit here has some really important long term implications.

        So go as young as you can, (and probably as soon as you can after college), go long, go smart & easy going. Leave the 'tragic young beauties' for the fashion mags, their psychiatrists & pills and the alpha cads they know & love to play with. Leave behind the inevitable troubles & 'complications' of baggage past & present, the 2nd guessing, the incessant arguments over this & that. Go for that 'easy keeper'. The easily satisfied mind, the women & men comfortable with themselves and knowing who they are, where they fit, what they're doing, what they're after and how they'd like you to all be a part of it. I've just rarely seen any true 'beauty' who's able to put that all 'together' in any comprehensible way. And if they can & do? They're probably justifiably very famous for this, and are well out of your league!

        But yeah, I know the old R&B song, and I'm not talking ugly here either. Just 'average' or even [Gasp!] normal. My wife can disappear in a crowd, like most women her age. It's what she is that's important, not precisely what she looks like all the time. Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

        • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

          Yes, this makes a lot of sense. Remember the poor guy who actually dated Lori G and had to get on the scale for her? Psycho swirling hell, I think you called it. People should not be so quick to disregard emotional instability. Whatever its cause, from chemical to spoiled rotten, it's a very difficult way to have a relationship.

  • Neely Steinberg

    Hi Susan!

    I wrote an essay about soul mates in the Globe Magazine called The Soul Mate Myth: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articl

    Not sure if you already read this, but it touches on some points you make in this blog entry.

    BTW – I have the MP3 of your appearance on my radio show and will post it soon to my Web site so you can direct your readers to check it out. You were such a great guest and had so many important things to say. Hope all is well! :)


    • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/susanawalsh susanawalsh

      Neely, thank you for reminding me of that piece! That's the first essay of yours that I wrote and I loved it! I had forgotten completely how perfectly it fits this issue. I urge all readers to click that link and read it – it's a great and intelligent reflection that comes out on the right side of this question, in my view.

      Thanks so much for your kind words, and for posting the mp3. I had a really great time doing your show!

  • http://www.enjayneer.com Robert

    Thanks for sharing this! :) I am learning a lot from your blog! :)

  • HC

    and I couldn’t still myself against a funny feeling that there had to be more to life than waking up every day beside the same person.

    That goes to the heart of it in many ways, and it touches on a problem that goes far, far beyond just marriage and divorce. Our entire society in the West has reoriented itself, partly for natural reasons and partly for reasons driven by money and power, into a model that demands more of life that is ever going to be practical. Once our immediate physical needs were satisfied, we looked to the next ‘level’, and Hollywood and Madison Avenue happily fed that with expectations out of all proportion or connection to reality.

    The influence of advertising and entertainment on our life-expectations is incredible, once you become aware of it. It permeates our culture. For example, the ‘old custom’ of engagement rings. Up until about a lifetime ago, that was mostly a custom followed among the wealthy. It didn’t become an ‘expectation’ until a consciously-calculated ad campaign made it so. (Ditto ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and the romantic images that ad campaign uses. They’re also worth about half what you pay for them in resale value. That’s a depreciation rate worse than cars!)

    Cars? We’re judged by what we drive. Cars are marketed (by implication) as sex aids, status symbols, proof that you’ve ‘made it’, anything but what they actually are: i.e. transportation. Two cars that are essentially the exact same model, with different styling details and a different model name, more go for thousands of dollars different prices out of the expectation that one is ‘nicer’ than another.

    Clothes? People pay extra for clothing that is ripped and worn out when they buy it, because that’s the expected thing.

    That raw marketing power has had huge effects on social expectations of marriage and relationships, the moreso because the fantasy they peddle is so very appealing. Marriage is boring on a day-to-day basis. So is a long-term committed relationship between singles, for that matter. But the ad industry and Hollywood has us thinking that everybody else is having all kinds of fun.

    Objectively, nobody in their right mind should want to live the relationships portrayed in romantic comedies, romance novels, etc. That isn’t love that’s being portrayed, because real love isn’t terribly dramatic or interesting to watch. The real thing is about putting your partner’s interests at least on the same level as your own, overall. Thus the entertaining antics of romance movies are precisely not about love. They’re about infatuation and lust, which are or can be entertaining to watch.

    But drama is exhausting on a day-to-day ongoing basis.

  • Pingback: Marriage 4.0 « A Brave New World

  • Biff Tannen

    “For these changes to occur, it does seem as if sweeping and dramatic changes need to occur – I tend to think of a swift and dramatic crisis, like a new virus, but perhaps it will be a long process of social evolution.”
    I have been reading a bit about AIDS lately, and I wonder what the next scare-your-pants-back-on STD is going to be.
    These days it appears to be genital herpes (20% of young adults? wtf), and now that we have a vaccine, awareness of HPV is raised even if its transmission is almost unavoidable.
    With widespread multigamy, something else is coming sooner or later. The bacterial STDs are curable. AIDS kills your immune system and is a game-changer. Herpes is annoying but not life threatening save for birthing. Will the next one affect our cognitive abilities? Maybe a sexually-transmitted toxoplasmosis that screws up everybody’s brains?
    (Incidentally, Dr Marcus Conant, a SF dermatologist whose experience with early AIDS cases in his Castro practice helped him start the SF AIDS Foundation, worked at the Haight clinic in the free-love late 60′s. He helped track the first recognized “epidemic” of genital herpes, an experience he said drove his impulse to start an AIDS-focused clinic in SF in the early 80′s.)

  • http://www.hookingupsmart.com Susan Walsh

    @Biff Badger

    Will the next one affect our cognitive abilities? Maybe a sexually-transmitted toxoplasmosis that screws up everybody’s brains?

    That is a terrifying thought, but perhaps not even as terrifying as reality will be. History is full of such examples.