My brain and gut recoiled in disgust at the two words: Temporary Marriage.
They were hyperlinked in my email to an article I was certain I would disagree with—A Temporary Marriage Makes More Sense than Marriage for Life.
But then I read it.
I’m a lot a better at admitting when I’m wrong and checking my biases at the door today than I used to be, since doing it the other way is literally the reason me and so many others are divorced despite wishing we were not.
Whenever a philosophical conversation is happening about The Way Things Should Be (politics and religion, in a nutshell), there are two things to consider:
- The best idea in an ideal world under optimum conditions.
- The best idea based on its implications in the world we actually live in.
Which isn’t a small thing. The worst events and conditions in human history usually begin with two people or two groups with opposing opinions regarding this nebulous concept of The Way Things Should Be.
I was surprised at how unoffended I was by author Vicki Larson’s article championing the idea of temporary marriages.
Like a pro athlete’s contract. Something designed to last maybe two to five years, before the terms of the agreement are revisited and renegotiated.
A marital arrangement where neither the husband nor wife OWES their spouse any type of support emotionally, financially, or sexually beyond the length of the marriage contract if one or both of them should choose at that time to NOT renew their marriage agreement.
Like most things in life, there are pros and cons to the idea itself, and THEN, on top of that debate, there’s all the fine print no one is reading or paying attention to.
The Pros of Temporary Marriage
It’s not all bad.
People would never feel too trapped in a horrible marriage. People who WANTED to stay married would be more motivated to behave accordingly, and less inclined to take their spouse for granted.
People who are super-into variety and novelty would have it.
What people want in their 20s is often different than what they want in their 60s. A partner who is awesome while you’re in your 20s but who WON’T be awesome in your retirement years, won’t be an unpleasant surprise later. You’ll both see it coming and NOT renew your marriage contract once the time is up.
Shitty husbandry? At least the way I often characterize it? You’re in a contract year, fellas! Better play your ass off if you want to keep her!
Let’s not underestimate the power of deadlines and a fundamental shift in human psychology RE: positively impacting how people behave within their relationships and marriages.
I honestly believe a lot of measurable good would occur in a Temporary Marriage arrangement in which both married partners fully accepted the terms of the arrangement heading in, and WANTED them, and had the support of their families and social networks.
The Cons of Temporary Marriage
According to the most recent U.S. Census data I could find (2012), there are about 115 million households in the United States. A ‘household’ is defined as everyone (even just one person) living in a housing unit.
Of those 115 million households, more than 76 million of them are “Family households,” which doesn’t take into account people who USED to be in family households (divorced parents, widows/widowers, empty-nesters, etc.)
That’s the bureaucratic way of saying MANY people like to have sex and/or have babies and raise children.
There’s a debate to be had about the merits of reproducing little, ungrateful parasitic humans, but I’m totally glad we do. I’m in the Pro-Human Race Continuing to Exist camp, so it’s neat that babies are a thing. I’m happy I was born, so I’m grateful to my parents. And I’m the father of a rapidly growing little man in grade school and he is the center of my universe. I didn’t even know it was possible to love something the way I do my son.
It’s not a math equation. You can’t measure that. Parents don’t love OTHER children as much as their own children. Most parents would do UNTHINKABLE things to protect their kids, or in an effort to provide them a means of living a good life.
Larson barely mentions children in her article, saying only that the idea was INTENDED for people who did not have children, and planned on NOT having them.
I’m glad, too, because in my estimation, a “temporary marriage” could ONLY work effectively without the introduction of children to the equation.
One group of people won’t put a lot of stock in how children are impacted, because they don’t have any. Makes sense. Seems tone-deaf, but makes sense.
And the OTHER group will stop at nothing to protect their children.
Because of this, I don’t think this is a debate that’s ever going to gain much traction, culturally.
The Fine Print
Larson is proposing an idea. As someone who loves thinking about and proposing ideas that challenge the status quo, I’m inclined to cut Larson a little slack for glossing over the fine print in her short article. I’m sure she and co-author Susan Pease Gadoua go into much greater depth in their book The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels.
Here’s the fine print:
Statistically speaking (just in the United States, but these numbers hold up throughout most of the world), 95 out of 100 people will get married, or are planning to.
Because we all grow up—and even if our parents are divorced (mine were)—it seems like EVERY adult is married, or dating with the intention of getting married, and that all of our friends are planning to get married one day.
We all know someone in the 5 percent. The “I’m never getting married!” people. And what do we think of them—even if it’s bullshit and unfair? We think they’re weirdos. Or, that they’ll sell out and get married anyway (which is pretty common, because—95 percent).
We have that reaction for the same reason that I thought I was going to get all pissed off and self-righteous about this Temporary Marriage article and idea.
We BELIEVE THINGS. All of us. We believe things.
Sometimes what we believe is pretty innocuous, like which team will win the football game, or how many ‘S’s are in the name Mississippi, or who is responsible for leaving those presents under the Christmas tree on December 25.
Other times, what we believe carries more weight. You know—the scary stuff. God. Climate. War. Afterlife. The value of an unborn human. The value of people who live in other parts of the world. The value of people who don’t believe what we believe. The value of people who don’t look like us.
What we choose to do with THOSE beliefs determines the fate of the world on a macro scale, and on a micro scale, determines the fate of our personal lives.
I used to believe that everything I was taught and believed was TRUTH. All caps. Truth. And that anyone who believed other things was wrong.
You know who else uses that same logic to make important life decisions and justify doing or saying things that might hurt others? Mass murderers and terrorists.
When I finally realized that much too late into my adulthood, I pledged to stop.
Here’s why this is important to marriage—temporary or otherwise.
BILLIONS of people believe marriage is more than just a government-sponsored contract. They believe it’s SPIRITUAL. Divinely influenced by an all-powerful creator. By God, essentially, even though many of those people believe radically different things about God.
Various religious groups have been trying to convince OTHER religious groups that their beliefs are WRONG for—well—a really long time. Humans have only been writing things down for about 5,200 years, so it’s tough to know just how far back religious arguments between people or groups actually go, but I’m pretty sure in 5,200 years, there is no documented evidence of THAT practice working out well for all involved.
Don’t Be So Quick to Dismiss it Just Because it Looks Different
The concept of “temporary marriage” flies in the face of so-called “traditional marriage,” which is a trash term, but we all know what it means.
It’s a trash term because so few people honor what it ACTUALLY MEANS to enter a traditional marriage, and that includes myself back in 2004.
I was 25 years old. I was a moron. And worse, I was a moron who BELIEVED myself to be smart.
Those are the scariest people.
Here’s my quick and dirty take on marriage (leaving spirituality out of it, because that’s super-personal to everyone and well above my pay grade):
What people need to succeed in marriage is PHILOSOPHICAL ALIGNMENT. It helps to believe the same things, want the same things, share the same goals, and speak the same language. (Metaphorically, I mean – you need to be able to accurately interpret what the other person is saying to you. Most people suck at this, which is why couples always have the same fight.)
I think almost ANY belief system can work, but it’s so important in a life-long committed partnership that BOTH people share it. Differing beliefs create conflict. Conflict creates negative emotions. Negative emotions provoke shitty marriage behaviors and all-around bad feelings.
And then toxic marriage and/or divorce happens. All the traditionalism in the world can’t stop that from being true.
I don’t think “temporary marriage” is super-practical, but it’s damn sure a superior option to toxic marriage and divorce.
I’m not likely to become a “temporary marriage” advocate any time soon, but I think the POSITIVES of a mutually agreed-to temporary commitment to one’s life partner can’t be dismissed.
Because near as I can tell, THAT would solve so much of what I believe ails modern marriage.
So, I guess if you’re unable or unwilling to have children, and brave enough to tell everyone who thinks they know what’s best for you far more than you do to piss off, check it out.
Thinking and asking questions never hurt anyone who wasn’t being violently oppressed.
And maybe stop doing things simply because someone without any skin in the game told you that you should.