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Tuesday: Is Marriage the New Dating?

From: Michael Weiss To: Elisa Albert, Jesse Cook-Dubin Subject: From Pamela Paul to Philip Larkin Elisa, this is no way for us to treat a newly minted papa. I left out my own vale of tears and eye-rolls. Like all … Read More

By / December 12, 2006

From: Michael Weiss To: Elisa Albert, Jesse Cook-Dubin Subject: From Pamela Paul to Philip Larkin

Elisa, this is no way for us to treat a newly minted papa.

I left out my own vale of tears and eye-rolls. Like all theorists of Western decline, I've got personal trauma behind my abstract thundering and grumbling.

I made the sincere mistake of admiring a girl in college from afar long before I got to know her up close; she began as more of a concept than a real person. Once we were together, I don’t think it was ever anything beyond a passing infatuation because she was fragile after a series of emotionally nasty relationships, and I was wholly untested. I spent more time apologizing to myself for hunkering down with someone who could speak of marriage and kids without throat-clogging awkwardness than I did luxuriating in our time together. It was a "meta-relationship."

Why didn’t I see it? Because I was young and stupid and also grateful. Both my parents were nervous that I’d make the common but pardonable error of considering my first opportunity my last one. I persisted with the ex for as long as I did (two years) mainly out of rebellion against this sage counsel. What I should have done was listen to my father, a grizzled veteran of multiple failed marriages, and a living cautionary tale about the perils of domestic complacency. But no, it was to hell with all that, I’d be master of my own fate, buck the stats, etc.

When it was over, I resolved to avoid entangling alliances for a while, and just indulge in casual flings, make up for lost time. My favorite indulgence was what Amy Sohn in New York magazine called the “dirtysomething”: a woman in her thirties, just out of a marriage or a psuedo-marriage, looking to fuck young guys in their twenties. Perfect. Then, two years later, I found myself in another non-starter relationship with a girl a lot warmer but just as forward-looking. This go-round lasted five months. I repeated the same cooing reassurances, acting as if "forever" was an option.

Elisa, I had no idea about Pamela Paul, but she’s my new hero. There is also lifelong bachelor Philip Larkin, who floats in like a healing zephyr:

Oh, no one can deny That Arnold is less selfish than I. He married a woman to stop her getting away Now she’s there all day.

Jesse, you’re right that cohabitation is good dress rehearsal for the real thing. The trouble is that people are not living together long enough, or doing so for the right reasons. Just yesterday I heard a story of two terrific idiots shacking up because one of them is in possession of prime real estate, and it’d be a shame not to maximize on square footage. Not a jokenot in Manhattan. I already see the all-caps text messages about who gets to keep the dog and who pays the last month's utilities…

You neglected the more telling figure in your citation of married friends: the percentage of those that want to be married but don't even have a particular partner in mind. A quick stroll through the fireswamps of J-Date, Nerve, and eHarmony discloses an alarming heuristic: Everyone is "seeking" marriage. What they should be seeking is the honesty to announce: “Born to compromise.” What kind of pressure feeds this thinking, and how can we stop it?

You’ll answer: “Fear of being alone.” Yes, well, being alone is never half as bad as being trapped. It's often preferable, in fact.

Michael

From: Jesse Cook-Dubin To: Michael Weiss, Elisa Albert Subject: Let’s Disagree to Agree

Friends,

So, I guess I’m the guy that’s effectively dug my own grave and nailed it shut. What’s interesting is that, grave-digging accusations aside, we’re all in agreement: wanting to get married young for its own sake will lead to disaster. If you want to call it a trend, it’s a bad trend. If your best friend wants you to set him up with a nice marriageable Jewish girl, tell him to get real.

But how do you prevent yourself from falling into the trap? Elisa (nice to meet you, too, by the way) lists four reasons for getting married that indicate your marriage may be headed for the under-35-and-barren scrap heap. If Elisa (and Pamela Paul) are right, here’s how I measure up:

1) Don’t know how/don’t want to break up. Not me!

2) Getting married for the dress, the party, the family nachas and the fussing over me. No!

3) Future spouse makes me feel better about my idiosyncrasies. Nope!

4) I need to escape my family? No way!

Am I afraid of being alone? Well, not many of us can answer no to this one. So I'll discount that.

So am I less likely to crash and burn? Can I present this checklist to my wanting-to-get-married friends, rather than risk telling them “your future husband is a dipshit”?

The problem is that the answer to all of these things is no. I love being married but the bare desire to settle down in one’s mid-20s is a bad idea. Even if we’re talking about marrying a particular individual, you still have to clear Elisa’s four-part test just to make it less likely that your marriage will fail within the first five years. And even then there is the usual chance—somewhere around 40%—that your marriage won’t hold up.

It’s not just fear of being alone (though I’d much sooner credit that than cultural pressure); it’s not just having emotional problems that you’re running from; it’s not just getting married because you don’t want to break up. The problem is marriages ending, not marriages beginning. When people are really free to make the choices to get married and divorced, many of them will, often for short-sighted reasons.

Cultural pressures might make the problem worse, but I’ll let you two decide for yourselves which is the most likely explanation for why people want to get married in their 20s: (1) because Paris Hilton did it twice and it’s cool; (2) because mom says you should; (3) because you’re neurotic; or (4) because you think you’re in love and no test will convince you it’s a bad idea.

Jesse

From: Elisa Albert To: Jesse Cook-Dubin, Michael Weiss Subject: On Beshert-ness and Inane Motherfuckers

Yo, Jesse! That was no intended personal attack, new friend! I am spewing generalities based on my experience and that of the people around me.

The only people who know what goes on in any given relationship are the two people in that relationship (or the millions watching that relationship on reality TV).

I know of exactly one couple who found their beshert in late adolescence and got married out of college and are (a) still together and (b) seem really happy. But the “seem really happy” part comes more, as far as I can tell, from the fact that said couple is comprised of two twatwaffles. The kind of twatwaffles whose sole narrative, ten years and three children into a marriage that began when they were 22, is about how they met on the first day of counselor-training at Jewish summer camp! They tell this story a lot.

They and their three children live with bridey-poo’s parents, because apparently in the
retelling of their fateful, fairy-tale Jewish summer camp meeting over and over and over, they didn’t realize that they should probably figure out what to do with their lives. What were they thinking? That the Jewish community would, like, fund their family life together as a reward for marrying the first teenage Jew they’d fucked? Seriously. This couple is quasi-famous for being just the cutest, most handily married-off couple of Jewbots in the history of Jewish summer camp. Never mind that they are unable to support themselves or move at all past that long-gone teenage-romance fable they’ve created.

My ire is directed at a community and a society that rewards and exults such paradigms.

Who might those people have become if they’d delayed their beshert-ness for a few years? What might they have learned about themselves? Where might they have traveled? Who might they have met? What might they have found out about the world and their place in it? Maybe all that’s moot, because maybe these are just two somewhat limited people. I do not know. (But I’m reminded of something a somewhat unsympathetic character says in Anna Karenina: “People who can’t do anything should make people, and the rest should contribute to their enlightenment and happiness.”)

But let us get back to one of the original questions at hand: Why would anyone, given the choice, turn away from opportunities to experience different people and get to know themselves better through that process? You don’t have to die alone; just delay lifetime partnership and reproduction a decade or so.

Call me a hairy-legged, man-hating, raving-bitch feminist (the man-hating part is NOT TRUE), but it’s got to have something to do with the backlash, guys. In a nutshell, the only way to keep the ladies down in the wake of so many newfound options is to cram so much dismal single-girl-in-the-city chick-lit bullshit down our throats that we cry “uncle!” and start casting about for the person to whom we can permanently attach ourselves the minute we finish our higher education and hit the mean streets of the West Village.

The single-girl shtick is shopworn and scary. We don’t want to be Carrie Bradshaw at 35, in debt because we’ve bought too many shoes, and weeping at the end of yet another failed cohabitation. We want to be uptown earth mothers with bugaboos and a mortgage, on our way to prenatal yoga, sending the alumni magazine serene updates about little Sophie and Jackson and Eunice and Jermaine.

Marriage isn’t the new dating. Marriage has always been a much easier and more persuasive choice. Dating is kind of a deeply subversive act, when you look at it that way. It means holding out.

I was simply chicken-shit when I got married. And I’m seeing a lot of friends-of-friends getting really worn down by Match.com and J-Date and the JCC and fix-ups and just saying: okay, dayenu. I don’t wanna do this crap anymore. I want to get married.

It’s a battle-weary thing. Dating is rough. By the way: Paris Hilton isn’t the hyper-married starlet of whom you’re thinking. Britney’s the young lady who did it twice, while Jessica Simpson just has the one under her belt. Paris just screws on camera. HUGE DIFFERENCE.

And hey: show me a twentysomething middle-class Jew who’s not (a) neurotic and (b) still at least a little in the thrall of his/her family of origin, and I will show you a WASP tripping on acid.

XO!

Elisa

Wednesday (final day): Welcome to the age of the zipless mindfuck

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