Why Marriage Matters
by Caitlin Flanagan
...Think of the touching moments on Inauguration Night, when at ball after ball, crowds of young people swooned at the sight of Barack and Michelle Obama dancing together, artlessly but sincerely and clearly with great affection. They are an immensely appealing couple, and it was a historic night, but what we saw reflected in the faces of those awed young people — and in the country's insatiable appetite for photographs of the First Family's private life — was wonder at the sight of a middle-aged man and woman still together, still in love.
We want something like that for ourselves; we recognize that it is something of great worth, but we are increasingly less willing to put in the hard work and personal sacrifice to get there. The Obamas, for example, are enjoying their time of family closeness after almost two years of enforced separation, an interlude that would have caused many less committed couples to turn in their cards and give up. A lasting marriage is the reward, usually, of hard work and self-sacrifice.
...It is time instead to come to terms with both our unrealistic expectations for a happy marriage and our equally unrealistic beliefs about the consequences of walking away from the families we build.
The fundamental question we must ask ourselves at the beginning of the century is this: What is the purpose of marriage? Is it — given the game-changing realities of birth control, female equality and the fact that motherhood outside of marriage is no longer stigmatized — simply an institution that has the capacity to increase the pleasure of the adults who enter into it? If so, we might as well hold the wake now: there probably aren't many people whose idea of 24-hour-a-day good times consists of being yoked to the same romantic partner, through bouts of stomach flu and depression, financial setbacks and emotional upsets, until after many a long decade, one or the other eventually dies in harness.
Or is marriage an institution that still hews to its old intention and function — to raise the next generation, to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct and character that will ensure the generation's own safe passage into adulthood? Think of it this way: the current generation of children, the one watching commitments between adults snap like dry twigs and observing parents who simply can't be bothered to marry each other and who hence drift in and out of their children's lives — that's the generation who will be taking care of us when we are old.
Read the rest at http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1908243,00.html