“Marriage is Stronger Than Ever”

Matthew Dowd is convinced that in the old days, say 1960 the year I was born, a year when 95 percent of children were born to married couples, marriage was in terrible shape:  marriage had nothing to do with love, women were property with few rights; it wasn’t monogamous for “most of our history” (He’s right, only for the last 2,000 years or so)

Marriage as an institution is stronger than ever he says, because now it’s based on “freedom and love” and if we just “divorce” the old stereotypes we could all revel in how strong and wonderful marriage as an institution is now:

“Once we can “divorce” ourselves from these old stereotypes, we can begin to see love and mutual commitment more clearly and understand that the evolution of marriage has been and will continue to be a very positive development for each of us and society as a whole.”

This is a whole essay on the state of marriage with nary a mention children.  Invisible to Matthew Dowd’s happy talk is the most important development: more than 40 percent of our children are born outside of marriage.  They suffer high rates of poverty, deprivation, suffering and some are damaged.

Marriage as a romantic ideal is stronger than ever.  Marriage as the foundation of a serious commitment to family?  To create a tie so firm a child’s heart can rely upon it.  Not doing so well.

Charlie B
Charlie B

Mr. Dowd may not know (or care) that marriage became more unstable in the years following the Industrial Revolution, with a rise in divorce that leveled off during the two World Wars. It began to escalate again in the late 1960s and 70s. The problems aren't simply a function of stereotypes, romance or the like. The capacity and willingness to make and keep a commitment are key, since feelings are reactions, and they come and go. The current emphasis on finding a "soulmate" (idealization) is also a problem, since no one starts out as one, but grows into one. Thus many couples divorce during disillusionment, rather than learning how to work through a time when the most growth is possible. Instead they leave, "fall in love" again (a feeling) and often, repeat the pattern. The problems of marriage are more about the maturity and capacity of the adults who contract it. The fact that he did not mention children (he has 3 by his first marriage), indicates how far his own ideology has drifted.