The Times ran a series of pieces on the rising number of divorces among people who have been married at least 30 years. The interest in the topic is prompted by Al and Tipper Gore’s announcement that they are splitting up after 40 years of marriage. I find all of this interesting in light of what I think of as cross-national differences in marriage in the US and China.
Our Chinese friends tell us that Chinese women face enormous pressure to “marry up” and Chinese men who do not already own a nice home (purchased by his parents) are going to struggle to find a wife. In all this talk about relationships, the topic of love or being a “good fit” or having a spiritual connection (or whatever) never really comes up. It seems to me that, generally speaking, class status plays a less explicit role in pairing-up in the US. Instead, the dominant thinking is that a couple comes together in a mutually agreeable relationship. What makes it agreeable? Some combination of personality, physical attraction, shared purpose and interests, etc.
So, in this Times series I really like the second article that gets at the heart of the matter when it comes to concerns over divorce. What, really, is marriage for and why should we care if older couples seek a divorce?
In families with small children divorce can create financial difficulties for the custodial parent. With more divorce among older couples we may see an increase in single older adults with failing health and without a family caregiver. These hardly seem to be moral problems and the repair is social support instead of cries of moral decline.
I have a friend who, approaching 60 years of age and about 30 years of marriage decided with her spouse to “declare a successful conclusion to their partnership.” The kids were out of college. She remains on good terms with her former husband. She went to back to school for an advanced degree and has embarked on a new career in a new country. Undertakings like hers can inspire us all to make the most out of what time we have to live.
Update: For the record, I am very happy in my marriage. Just thinking.