Saturday, September 10, 2011

Marriage and Divorce - Small Pieces of a Worldwide Puzzle

Marriage and divorce happen all over the world.  At any given moment, these two big milestones in individual lives end up making news for one reason or another.  Here's a collection that's been growing for a while in my bookmark pile.  You'll notice that, like pieces of a puzzle you might find at a yard sale, these newsworthy items are just pieces, but they do make their little contributions to figuring things out.

1.  First up, this story headlined "The Cheating Cheaters of Moscow", and in smaller type "How infidelity has become accepted and even expected in Russia".  Julia Ioffe (writing for starts her explanation of the current state of affairs (so to speak) like this:
"This is quite a shift, given that 20 years ago an affair was considered a career-wrecking scandal. But by 1998, a study showed that Russian men and women led their peers in 24 other countries in their willingness to engage in and approve of extramarital affairs. Since then, these attitudes have taken hold more deeply after a prolonged consumer boom that encourages Russians to indulge their whims and desires. What does this culture of infidelity look like, and what are the costs?"
She's got historical background and some great quotes from Russian girls, including one who changed her lover's name to "Traitor" in her phone.

2.  Next up, what's behind the strange demographic shift in the US where, for the first time in history, "rural Americans are just as likely to be divorced as city dwellers".  NYT writers Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff interviewed social scientists who are studying these changes along with locals in Iowa to get clues about the big picture and how people are experiencing this change to what used to be called "urban values or lack thereof".

3.  Is marriage only for the well-educated and affluent?  Article #2 hinted that might be the case.  This article, also in the NYT, comes right out with a resounding "probably".  Starting out with quotes reflecting a reversal of the 70s and 80s feeling that divorce was liberating, the article settles down to what WNL thinks is more likely going on -
“That this change has occurred mainly among the affluent suggests it’s not just a reaction to the divorce epidemic of the ’70s,” [sociology professor] Dr. Cherlin said. “The condemnation of divorce is also coming from the group that is most confident it can make its marriages succeed, and that allows them to be dismissive of divorce.”
4.  Next, we have a series of stories from participants and from divorce attorneys (with a little therapist input for completeness) about bringing a sexual affair into the marital bed and why, as you might suspect, that bit of behavior is universally considered the worst of the worst.  Here's an example from divorce attorney Susan Bender:
Another client, who learned what Ms. Bender called “the classic thing — her husband was having sex with the nanny,” did not make the visit to the divorce lawyer her first course of action.
“She goes to bed with her husband that night, doesn’t complete the sex act, took a match and she threw it on the bed,” Ms. Bender said. “Of course, he flips out. The story ends with her walking out of the bedroom naked and him trying to put out the fire.”
Did she explain why?
“She was angry,” Ms. Bender said. “The problem with litigation is that it takes a long time. You’ve got that need for instant gratification, that need to get you back. Some people need that, they need to get you back right now.”
There's a moral to each and every one of these stories.  Do I need to spell it out for you?

5.  Ending on a more modern note, here's a look at what's ahead for same-sex marriages.  After all, being able to legally marry means you might also need to divorce some day.  Surely they thought of that when the legislation was passed (as in New York) or court-mandated as in other states.  Well, surely they did not.  NYT's Sunday Review gives you just a taste of the confusion to come.

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