Two Theories of a Lasting Marriage

Reading the Sunday New York Times always fertilizes the imagination, for good or ill. Today they had a psychologist named Eli J. Finkel writing about how since 1965 we have been in the era of the “self-expressive marriage,” which is “for self-discovery, self-esteem and personal growth” and “less . . . an essential institution and more as an elective means of achieving personal fulfillment.” This sounds potentially selfish, and indeed I fear that people are looking to their marriages and relationships to get that which only God supplies, but Finkel declares that the best way to hold these “self-expressive” marriages together is to “invest time and energy in their marriage,” which unfortunately is easier for more affluent people. [I can testify that if you are married to an honest spouse, you will get more “self-discovery” than you ever wanted!]

Finkel also declares, “among spouses with children at home, spousal time declined to 9 hours per week from 13, and much of this decline resulted from an increase in time-intensive parenting.” But Richard Reeves, of the Brookings Institution, apparently thinks that “time-intensive parenting” is a strength. As he write in The Atlantic, he sees three kinds of marriages operating today, Traditional, Romantic, and High-Investment Parenting. The last, he says, is the one that has been adopted by the upper class, and that the upper class should try to teach to the lower classes. [For the working classes, the woman is often more employable than the man, and the man may need to be the primary parent.] In the modern economy, a higher degree of investment in children is now needed than in the past. So people in the upper classes postpone marriage, though not a ‘protected’ sex life, until they are well established in their careers.

But if the parents are concentrating on their children, are they not weakening their own relationship? “[T]here is some evidence that there is less sex in these egalitarian, child-focused marriages,” but perhaps, as neither Reeves nor Finkel take into account, there may be more friendship, because the parents are actually focused on something outside themselves, and what C. S. Lewis called ‘friendship’, not eros, may be what is holding the marriages of parents together in this new world. The parents love each other, but they are also bound together by a common interest in their children. As for the children, they finally get the space to live out the dreams of Booth Tarkington and Mark Twain’s visions of childhood and youth in their twenties – one reason, I think, in addition to the requirements of education and experience, why full adulthood is delayed till after thirty for so many nowadays. I remember reading Huckleberry Finn a few years ago; I came away with a rather curious impression. I think Huck and Joe were supposed to be 14 years old or so. However, between the fact that the two of them were so self-sufficient on their own for children, and the fact that they seemed quite indifferent to things sexual, I had the strange impression that I was reading about 24-year-old eunuchs; and indeed, if we ran across characters like Huck and Joe today, that is exactly what they would be.

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