Ooh, this week’s takedown is a perfect combination of bullshit nostalgia and judgmental shaming, wrapped in a saccharine sweet packaging. The kind of awful that you feel bad pointing out that it is awful, because shucks, the crapdate poster just wants everybody to love everybody else.
Oh look, here’s another version!
Both of these pictures were found on Facebook, and both are shared and liked ad nauseum. The first picture was taken from the Facebook page “I want an awesome marriage,” which caters to unmarried and newly married couples. How can you argue with that? I want an awesome marriage! I also want an awesome job, awesome health, an awesome salary, awesome friends, and awesome weather for my picnic. There is nothing wrong with wanting awesome things.
But the mission of said page is “To encourage, empower and work together to get the divorce rate to zero and help us all have awesome marriages!” And there is something terribly, terribly wrong with that.
There are places where the divorce rate is zero, or close to it. Well, not places. Place1. The Philippines. Divorce is prohibited in the Philippines, so: voila! Divorce rate is zero. Problem solved.
Except it isn’t. A divorce rate of zero is not indicative of a magic happy land where all things are magic and happy. A majority of adults in the Philippines support legalizing divorce, and even with divorce prohibited, it is legal to separate, or to annul a marriage, or to get a “declaration of nullity of marriage,” which sounds to me like an annulment but I’m not a lawyer. Prohibiting divorce does not make marriages more awesome, nor does it stop marriages from breaking apart.
But that’s not what this is saying, right? It’s not saying that divorce should be prohibited, it should just not be the quick answer. Don’t throw your love away! Fix it! Just like the lovely old couples did in the pictures, even though clearly at least one of those pictures is wrong because it is showing two separate couples with the same stupid story.
What it says is “fix your marriage, don’t throw it away.” The very thinly veiled subtext, though, is that somebody who gets a divorce has given up too easily, has not put in the right amount of work, is, as the comments on the pictures say over and over and over, too selfish to do the right thing. So the problem with divorce is not that it’s legal, but that it’s the easy way out. Divorce should be a last resort, something that is really difficult to get, so that people won’t just jump ship at the first sign of trouble.
Wrong again. It’s difficult to quantify what increased shame about divorce does to the population, but what can be quantified is how lives change when divorce is less accessible. When No-Fault divorces were legalized in several states, it presented a clear set of data for comparison: those states with unilateral divorce versus without, and the change in specific circumstances over time. Some states had granted better access to divorce, an easier path to dissolving marriages, and some had not. When you compare the states with easier divorce versus more difficult processes:
Examining state panel data on suicide, domestic violence, and murder, we find a striking decline in female suicide and domestic violence rates arising from the advent of unilateral divorce. Total female suicide declined by around 20% in states that adopted unilateral divorce… Data on conflict resolution reveal large declines in domestic violence committed by, and against, both men and women in states that adopted unilateral divorce. Furthermore, a decline in females murdered by intimates is found, although the timing evidence makes this a more suspect result. (Stevenson and Wolfers 2003)
That’s right. Make divorce easier and the rate of female suicide drops 20%. Domestic violence declines against both men and women. Fewer women are murdered by their spouses. The paper (available in PDF, and well worth reading) goes on to say that it isn’t just that people are able to get a divorce when they need it – family conflict itself changes when people know that divorce is or is not an option. Good marriages get better when each partner knows that they can’t take the other for granted. Bad marriages get worse when everybody knows that divorce is not an option.
The crapdate poster may just be trying to project an image of a personal goal, but what the effect of such a picture has is to spread shame and blame on those who decide to divorce. Although this is not an official barrier to divorce, it is most certainly a social one. The message is clear: if you get a divorce, it just means you were too lazy, too selfish, too uninvested to make it work. Those who divorce are failures. Those who do not, regardless of the situation, are successes. If you are miserable and in physical fights for every day for sixty-five years, but at the end of it, you get to say, “I was married for 65 years,” you are a winner. If you get yourself out of a terrible situation, if you save yourself from domestic violence, if you look to a future of fulfillment, but at the end of it you cannot say that you were married for 65 years, well, you are a failure who refused to try.
The people who are spreading this crapdate, for the most part, are people who are not yet married but have a vision of what it should be like, and people who have been married for a short time. In other words, people who have no idea what they are talking about. My eyes, they roll.
Just because somebody fixed something that was broken, instead of looking for another option, doesn’t mean it is superior. Exhibit A:
Just because something existed in the good old days doesn’t mean that it is superior. Exhibit B:
In the end, this crapdate spreads a message that times are changing for the worse, that people who divorce are lazy and selfish, and that all marital problems can be solved if we just try harder. Reality, however, shows us that the opposite is true.
I want an awesome marriage. But I want an awesome marriage that is awesome because of the quality of the marriage, not the quantity of years behind it. If somebody has to shame me into staying in my marriage, is that really awesome?
1Unless you count the Vatican. I don’t, because it’s population is less than a thousand and is made up mostly of clergy members of the Catholic church.
Stevenson, Betsey and Justin Wolfers (2003) “’Til Death Do Us Part: The Effects of Divorce Law on Suicide, Domestic Violence and Intimate Homicide”, mimeo Stanford GSB.