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Black Lamb

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The One-Third Plan

April 1st, 2007

BY CERVINE KAUFFMAN

I spent most of my life being unmarried and when that started to bother me, I began to look at all of the marriages that surrounded me, and that I read about, and began to form some conclusions.

pensivegal.jpgIt is too easy to get married and divorced. Getting married should be at least as arduous as applying to college or taking out a loan. I would like getting married to require escrow accounts, psychological and physical exams, financial audits, property and parenting agreements, and penalties for premarital pregnancy. I would also like to see divorce trials reinstated so that dumping a spouse could not be a unilateral process of filling out paperwork. If both spouses wanted out, they’d have to tell the court why. It would be wise to follow Eastern Orthodox practice and limit a person’s lifetime marriage allotment to three. And although I’m a hardbutt on certain people getting and staying married, I also know that it is not for everyone. I also suspect that the way most couples practice marriage is bound to drive the parties crazy, celibate, homosexual, or all three.

I believe that marriages should be run more along the lines of Platonic, same-sex friendships. This means that a person would not expect the spouse to solve all of her problems, pick up after her, or pay all her bills. These expectations are what make the sexes hate each other, encourage infantilism in men and women, and lead to bust-ups of marriages when either party spots a target who will do a better job of paying the bills or agreeing with him, or is just plain hotter. A woman doesn’t dump her girlfiend because she still feels frustrated in her job or would like to have more money — why should she dump her husband? And do guys expect their guy friends to show up with food, listen to them talk endlessly about themselves, or keep track of all of their possessions so they don’t have to? No, that’s why they stay friends.

Another key way that friendships endure is by not subjecting them to travelling or living together. That rooming together or vacationing together can spoil even frienships of long standing is axiomatic, yet this is exactly what we want the besotted to do, even though the romantic bond depends much more than a normal friendship on mystery and distance. When purses and daily life merge, the arenas for conflict expand exponentially. Suddenly, everything becomes a turf war. Back when spheres of influence existed for each sex, spouses could make each other miserable, but it was agreed that one or the other had the right to his or her own way. Now we’re saddled with the much less realistic egalitarian romantic ideal that a man and woman are so suited to each other that they will want to do the same things in the same way at the same time, every day, for as long as they both shall live. Again, this is an expectation that is never placed on friendships or any other familial relationship. I once read an Eastern Orthodox matrimonial preparation guide that described one of marriage’s functions as the grinding down and smoothing over of the spouses’ personalities. In other words, the spouses’ differences rub against each other like blades against concrete and the resulting dullness is supposed to be spiritually advanced. This sounds like a recipe for creating blank-faced, cretinous citizens of that totalitarian regime the State of Matrimony.

When I got married, a several-times-divorced (and now recently engaged) woman asked me why I was bothering. I told her it was for the public expression of fidelity, and that is what I believe marriage is all about, publicity and fidelity. It is not about fashion, or a new last name, or quitting your job. It is not about having someone clean up after you.

The spectacle of a single, childless woman is profoundly disquieting to men and women alike. Women either want you to marry and have children to affirm their choices and be as generic as they are, or they want you to stay single and babysit. Men just want you to sleep with them.

I slogged through the valley of spinsterhood for many moons before I met my hubby so I have great empathy for men and women who would make good spouses but can’t find anyone else who agrees. I had my share of never-heard-of cousins who sent me invitations to wedding and baby showers complete with lists of what I might want to buy for them. I endured dinner parties where it was kosher to grill me about my job, personality, and preferences so that the other guests could answer for themselves the unspoken question, “Why isn’t she married?” I was also overtly and covertly recruited for the maiden aunt’s duty of babysitting by family and strangers alike. When I replied that I already had a job and wasn’t looking to work more than full-time they looked at me as if I’d broken a sacred pact. When I hear preachers insist that one-man, one-woman marriage has been the foundation of society for millenia, I have to laugh. For generations in European society, yes. In most times and places, though, a man was permitted multiple wives, mistresses, and the odd trollop and fling while each woman was restricted to him. Hugh Hefner conducts his love life this way, and even the sainted Chief Joseph took on the wives of the chiefs he defeated in battle. And what about King David? Polygamy for men and monogamy for women is the one constant across the millennia. I don’t think that today’s equal-opportunity promiscuity is an improvement, but people who want to fortify marriage by making it more old-fashioned are going to have to come up with a way to mitigate the double standard. Women don’t want to go back to it, and men don’t want to start hearing “no,” yet making women as sexually casual as men and as oblivious of fatherhood as dairy cows has been a disaster.

My thinking is that a good marriage and child-rearing regimen would have each spouse earning some of the money, doing some of the housework and childcare, and being alone some of the time. Call it the One-Third Plan. This would require true teamwork and partnership and would minimize the temptation for either party to bail out for the simple opportunity to do something new or to get some peace and quiet. It would also prevent spouses from not knowing what’s going on in their own households. With a rigid division of labor, the end of a marriage, whether through divorce, widowhood, or illness, can leave each party completely at a loss as to how to function at what the other person did. That’s how marriage breeds dependency. But it should make each person more adult, not less.

In truth, the sexes don’t have very much in common maritally except the desire to get together. With the decline in belief in a Higher Power, it’s almost as if everyone wants a spouse who will combine God-like powers of life-improvement with extraordinary sex appeal and the all-nurturing qualities of a cosmic grandma. This chimera does not exist, nor should it. People have got to stand on their own two feet, and if they find romantic companionship along the way, that’s wonderful. But they still have to have their acts together, even when they’re apart. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Marriage Issue, Kauffman | Link to this Entry

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