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In short, although we say we love religion and marriage, Cherlin notes, “religious Americans are more likely to divorce than secular Swedes.” Cherlin believes the reason for this paradox is that Americans hold two values at once: a culture of marriage and a culture of individualism.Or is it an American spirit of optimism wedded, if you will, to a Tocquevillian spirit of restlessness that inspires three out of four Americans to say they believe marriage is for life, while only one in four agreed with the notion that even if a marriage is unhappy, one should stay put for the sake of the children.After all, we can easily arrange to sit far from our exes, across the flower-bedecked aisle, so as not to roil the festive day. At least that is the attitudinal yin/yang described by Andrew J.Cherlin in his scrupulously argued Marriage-Go-Round: compared with our western European counterparts, Americans are far more credulous about marriage.
Just because our own marital track records are mixed doesn’t mean our hearts don’t lift at the sight of our daughters’ Tiffany-blue wedding invitations. marriages end in divorce—including perhaps even those of our own parents (my dearest childhood wish was not just that my parents would divorce, but also that my raging father would burst into flames)—doesn’t mean we aren’t confident ours is the one that will beat the odds.Sure, it made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two spouses, grandparents, and a raft of children.But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines, and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete? I am a 47-year-old woman whose commitment to monogamy, at the very end, came unglued. I don’t generally even enjoy men; I had an entirely manageable life and planned to go to my grave taking with me, as I do most nights to my bed, a glass of merlot and a good book. We cried, we rent our hair, we bewailed the fate of our children. My husband is a good man, though he did travel 20 weeks a year for work.
These are the youngsters who are likely to suffer, according to a measurable matrix of factors such as truancy, disobedience in school, and teen pregnancy.