The King of Starting Over

A different version of this piece appeared in November 2006.

Several years ago, my friend Lauren came up with a terrific idea: Project Help Us Help Ourselves, a collaborative blogosphere effort to provide a clearing house for information about how to cope with money, scarce resources, and bureaucracy. It elicited some great responses, but is now (alas) no longer available online.

I read Lauren’s proposal, and felt, well, stuck. Though I could certainly use more money, I’ve been blessed with a certain degree of comfort and security. I haven’t had to cope without health insurance, I haven’t fought an expensive custody battle, I haven’t had to worry about the same sort of things my peers have had to worry about. I thought about just linking to Lauren’s post and urging more experienced readers to send in detailed, clear tips on how to negotiate this complex and difficult world. And then I started to rack my brain for what practical things I “know.”

As someone who has spent his entire life in academia (every fall since 1969, when I started nursery school at the “Humpty-Dumpty House” in Santa Barbara, not quite three, I have been either a student or a teacher in some sort of educational institution), I’ve never held a full-time job other than college instructor. I know how to prepare a good lecture. I know how to evaluate written work quickly. I know how to pretend to pay attention in department meetings.

What else do I know that’s useful? I know how to train for and run marathons. I know how to start a weight-lifting program. I could probably teach an introductory Pilates mat class, or a spinning class. I know how to pick the right pair of running shoes. I can dress myself without clashing. Important skills for survival? Uh, no.

What can I do that’s truly useful? I can’t change my own oil. I hate doing any kind of carpentry or assembling. The old WASP joke:

How many WASPs does it take to change a lightbulb?

Two. One to mix martinis and the other to call the electrician.

Yeah, that’s close to home. I can do the light bulb, actually, but I’ve been calling repair people and handy people for virtually everything most of my life. My body may be lean and toned, but the few muscles I have, sadly, rarely get put to practical use.

So now a post designed to link to another post about economic survival has turned into a musing on my own profound incompetence — an incompetence rooted in privilege. (And should I even mention I didn’t know how to pump my own gas until I was… oh, forget it). This paean to learned helplessness isn’t going to win me any friends.

But in addition to knowing how to give a lecture, and knowing how to finish a hard marathon, I know something else far more useful: I know how to start over. Three times I’ve been divorced. Three times, I’ve moved out of a home I shared with a spouse and into a tiny, cramped apartment. Three times, I’ve bought (or rented) furniture. Three times, I’ve raced to Crate and Barrel or Target to buy another set of dishes, another set of pots and pans, another set of sheets. (In general, my exes all kept the housewares.) Three times, I’ve loaded all of my possessions into a car or a truck and driven away to begin again.

Three times, I’ve left a marriage with major credit card debt. Three times, I paid it back down. Obviously, the debts got exponentially bigger each time.

The amount of stuff that I left with after my third divorce in 2002 was considerably more than after my first one a decade earlier. By the third divorce, I could actually pay movers to come and take my things away, something that had not been possible the first two times. Three times, I’ve said goodbye to beloved pets (I had dogs with all of my ex-wives, and they always kept ‘em), and tearfully driven away to start a new life. Trust me, it got harder each time.

I learned that a microwave, a coffee maker, and a fridge are really all you need. (I’ve bought three post-divorce microwaves and two nice Kenmore refrigerators). On my own post-divorce, months would pass and I would never touch a stove. Lean Cuisines can be bought in bulk at Costco — word to the wise. After my second divorce, I lived on Rosarita refried beans, Uncle Ben’s rice, Pace Picante sauce, Knudsen sour cream, and corn tortillas. (What one friend called “the vile concoction.”) I figure each divorce was good for some significant weight loss.

But the real lesson, of course, was that I could survive. If there’s any virtue at all in telling this story, it’s that I have learned that you can begin again — and again — and again. My cousin calls me the “king of starting over”, and after so many years of new beginnings, upheaval, heartache, and separations, I know with every fiber of my being that it is possible to love again, trust again, begin again. It is possible to both learn from previous mistakes and learn to take healthy risks one more time. It is possible to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars; lose out on a vision of a happy future; kiss the Labrador goodbye for the last time as she licks away your tears; spend those first few awful nights in a dingy little over-priced studio; and, after all of that agony, be willing to try again.

Lord willing, I will never, ever, ever get divorced from she who is my wife today. I know so much more about how to be a good and present husband than I did in my first three marriages, and I have married a woman with whom I am spiritually and emotionally and physically profoundly compatible. That’s an unmerited blessing on one level, of course, but it’s also something I earned as a consequence of being willing to learn from my mistakes, being willing to start over, being willing to trust again. Too many folks I know get burned (or burn themselves) a time or three and they give up. Call it stupidity or call it faith or a mixture of the two, but I have a relentless optimism born less of my nature than of my experience. I know that broken hearts heal and that new dishes can be bought over and over again. I know that dollar for dollar, it’s hard to beat Sears brand appliances. I know that having a coffee maker, even a cheap one, is vital for the first morning after you move into your new bachelor quarters. And I know that no matter what, the hurt and pain of any given moment will pass more quickly than I dare hope, and that love and joy and promise can come again and again and again.

This I know.

Of reformed and unreformed bad boys, Hall and Oates, grace and the end of the Gore marriage

The media frenzy (okay, it’s a mild frenzy) over the end of the Gore marriage reminds of something that occurred to me (it may have occurred to others as well) a decade ago, during the 2000 presidential campaign.

Back then, Bill Clinton was still president, and the scars, such as they were, of the Monica Lewinsky impeachment proceedings were still fresh in the public memory. During his campaign, George W. Bush put his faith — and his own conversion story — front and center. Stories trickled out about his drinking and drug use and hell-raising, all before he had his 1986 heart-to-heart with Billy Graham and found Jesus. Even his harshest critics agreed that in the years since his transformation, W. had been faithful to Laura and had stayed away from alcohol. Al Gore, meanwhile, had this image as a “goody two-shoes”, an almost impossibly earnest and clean-cut sort of fellow, the kind who really had only been with one woman in his entire life, the high school sweetheart whom he had married.

I remember thinking that Clinton, Bush, and Gore represented three different (but familiar) kinds of men. Clinton was the womanizing bad boy who had never really grown up; a man of unmatched political skill, intelligence, and charm, he had impulses he simply could not or would not control. George W. Bush, on the other hand, was the “reformed bad boy”, the man who had struggled with youthful recklessness but through spirituality and hard work transformed his life and become faithful and responsible. But Gore struck me — and of course, I didn’t know the man and was basing this on the media image — as the sort of fellow who had never known any real temptation, never tasted what it was like to fall, to sin, to betray. I wondered if Al Gore had ever known the guilt and shame I was confident both Clinton and Bush had tasted.

I thought to myself, politics aside, that I’d rather be led by the reformed bad boys of the world than men from the other two categories. The “Clinton type” was dazzling but heartbreaking; we progressives can only weep at the opportunities squandered because of the 42nd president’s inability to control himself sexually. (However loathsome his persecutors were, no one can deny that Clinton gave them the opportunity to come after him and to derail his agenda.) The “Gore type”, meanwhile, was impossible to identify with. There was a sense I had with men like Gore that they couldn’t possibly know what I had struggled with, had endured. I was certain of Gore’s decency, but not of his capacity to empathize with human weakness. And while I loathed W’s politics, I liked his life narrative, naturally because it was so similar to my own. I could identify with the “reformed bad boy” because that’s what I was trying so hard to be. (The reformed part, silly. I’d been the bad boy/black sheep for years.) And perhaps narcissistically,I suspected that a great many Americans felt the same way: repulsed by Clinton, befuddled by Gore, inspired by Bush’s story (if not his wooden rhetoric or his conventionally right-wing views). On a purely archetypal level, W. had an appeal that the other two didn’t.

For the record, I voted for Ralph Nader.

A decade on, I can only imagine how different our world would be if Al Gore had prevailed in that disputed Florida recount. And a decade on, we learned this week of Al’s separation from Tipper, his wife of 40 years. At Feministing, Miriam asks a sensible question about the media response to the news:

…why does it have to be framed as a failure when a marriage ends? The questions about what went wrong display this narrative perfectly. I hate how we shape relationships around the premise that if two people don’t go to the grave together, it was a failure. How can forty years of loving companionship be a failure? Or even two years of it?

I touched on this subject in a May 2008 post: Three Divorces, Four Successful Marriages.

A marriage is a failure if it inhibits the growth of either party; it is a success if it becomes the catalyst for individual and mutual transformation. Though all three of my divorces were painful, all three of my former marriages were, to my mind, ultimately successful in accomplishing the goal of facilitating the personal growth of the two parties involved. None were failures. I was not and am not a failure, and neither were my ex-wives.

There must be more to the definition of success than the mere capacity to endure. As Hall and Oates sang, “the strong give up and move on / while the weak, the weak give up and stay”. Marriage isn’t a marathon where you get medals merely for gritting your teeth and finishing. Marriage is a living, breathing, constantly-subject-to-renegotiation arrangement. As I wrote in another post: Quitting at the first sign of trouble is the sin of weakness, no doubt — but continuing to remain in what is loveless and lifeless is the sin of pride and stubbornness.

I don’t think that Al and Tipper are loveless and lifeless. They are clearly still friends; they have children and grandchildren in common. They have built something marvelous and enduring together. They have shaped and sharpened each other as husband and wife for forty years, and they will carry the marks of that work with them for the rest of their lives. And now, having finished the work that could be finished together, they are separating. In their grace and their generosity towards each other, they are an example to be celebrated, not pitied.

Rebounds and transition figures: doing it right after a divorce

Another email, from Mallory. She writes:

I was married at 27 to my college sweetheart. This man checked all of the boxes dreamed of on the surface – doctor, boy scout-esque from a nice family – all of the family, etc. were thrilled when we were married. However, quite quickly after the wedding things fell apart and he told me essentially that he was not ready to grow-up and had to go find himself. I picked up the pieces, moved to another country with a business opportunity, and started over.

I started dating a man that is very fun, we have a great time together; he’s one year younger, we are very attracted to each other, he stimulates me intellectually and I care about him a great deal. However, I do not see it going towards a serious relationship and/or marriage. This is primarily for a mis-match in ambition levels, he is not willing to move countries, and I am not convinced he is fully ready to take on the responsibilities of a relationship on that level (needless to say a big sticking point after the last relationship).

Currently I do not want to be married, but I am ready to care for someone deeply again.
Being in my 30s, divorced, but not interested in dating lots of men, I feel like it should be okay to have a lighthearted relationship – but I cannot quite shake this feeling of maybe looking like the overweight, middle aged comb-over guy in the red Porsche when dating someone I have no intention of being serious about.

When does it become counter productive to engage in flippant relationships? Am I listening to society too much, or not enough to my gut?

Though I am fond of marriage (I’ve done it four times), I don’t think lifelong monogamous commitments are the only sort of relationships worth pursuing. I’ve come to believe, instead, that at different seasons of our life we may need different sorts of relationships to help us grow. And one of the most important kinds of relationships we can have after a divorce is with a “transition figure” who can help us process the lingering wounds and doubts that almost always remain in the aftermath of the end of a marriage.

I’m not talking about using people. I’m not talking about relying on one’s own pain as an excuse to deal cavalierly and recklessly with another human being. One basic dating maxim for grown-ups: our past history of suffering doesn’t vitiate our responsibility to avoid hurting others. It’s not enough to simply say “I’m on the rebound, watch out!” and then, having broken the heart of the person with whom we rebounded, to exclaim “What did you expect? I was on the rebound!” Nothing we’ve endured gives us the right to disregard our responsibility to consider how a sexual relationship we’re having may affect the other person emotionally. Misleading another person into believing that what is temporary might turn out to be permanent is bad form indeed, particularly for those old enough to know better.

That said, I think there’s a distinction between a “rebound” and a “transition relationship”. The difference lies in three things: our willingness to assume complete responsibility for our own actions, our honesty — in both word and deed — with the other person about what we can and can’t offer, and our own internal clarity about what purpose this relationship plays in our life. If we’re scrupulous about these things, “transitional relationships” which are time-limited but intense can be enormously healing for those who have them. Continue reading

Spared from relapse: of divorce, sex addiction, and angels in hoodies

I got an email yesterday, asking me about advice for dating again after a divorce. It’s a post I intend to get to next week.

But something in the query reminded me of an another question I’d been asked by a mentee of mine. The mentee asked “Since you got sober and had your conversion, have you ever come really close to slipping back into old behavior?” The answer I gave dovetails with that of what one does after a divorce. I’ll share a story.

It was summer 2002. My third wife, E., had told me she didn’t want to be married to me anymore. E and I had met online (Matchmaker.com) in January 2000; she was finishing her doctorate at Fuller Seminary, I was 18 months sober and falling in love with Christ all over again. She had never been married before. I was eager to build a life with someone who shared my faith, shared my values, and was willing to accept a very troubled and turbulent past. E and I moved quickly; we were engaged within weeks and married in early 2001.

As I’ve written before, my third wife and I had terrific intellectual and theological compatibility. We also had very little physical chemistry. I saw that as a plus. I had grown mistrustful of “heat” with another person — in my experience over the course of many years and many relationships, the most intense sexual relationships were invariably the most unhealthy. I ought to have known better, but at this stage of my recovery, I equated heat with danger. I thought of the line I’m too lazy too look up (but I think it’s from one of the translations of Medea), the one in which a Greek chorus prays for a “small fire” of love, just enough to warm a house — but not a big fire, which will invariably burn the house down. Having burned down many houses, as it were, I was ready for something different.

My third wife did me the great favor of leaving me. We were not cruel or unfaithful or dishonest. We were incompatible in a very basic way, a way that could not be overlooked. She was unwilling to settle for kindness and conversation alone; she wanted passion, and that was something we could not generate. She promised me that I would thank her someday for leaving. I have done so. She is remarried, as am I. I hope that her new marriage is joyous.

In any case, back to 2002. I was heartbroken when E left. I also experienced a brief crisis of doubt. I doubted God. I doubted the wisdom of staying sober. The perfect narrative of fall and recovery had been shattered; I wasn’t supposed to get divorced again, not now that I was sober and faithful. In my mind, I had done “everything right this time” and still things hadn’t worked out. And as a consequence, I began to flirt with the idea of going back to old behavior. I don’t mean drinking again — that option wasn’t on the table. I meant returning to casual promiscuity.

I moved out of the home E and I shared in early October, 2002. I had rented a small apartment a few miles away. And I had a date lined up for that first weekend with a woman I’d known for years. To heck with celibacy again, I thought; I’d done that as a healing tool before. What I wanted was new skin. I was in danger of going back to a pattern I’d stayed away from for many years.

But I never went on that date. The day before I moved out, one of my favorite students, Katie, came to my office. Katie had taken a few of my classes, and regularly visited me in office hours. Katie had been “out” for quite some time; she had been in the first gay and lesbian history course I had taught at PCC. Katie had been dating her girlfriend, Jackie — whom I knew vaguely but who hadn’t been my student — for about six months.

Katie was in tears. She told me that Jackie had been chronically unfaithful to her. Jackie was sexually compulsive, she said, hooking up with and having nearly-anonymous sexual encounters with both men and women. Jackie kept pledging to stop — and kept breaking those promises. She had begged Katie to stand by her, and Katie had tried, but was now at wits end. “I’m ready to leave”, Katie told me. “But I was wondering if you would be willing to reach out to Jackie. I know your story, and I know you went through some of these same issues. I trust you, Hugo, and I was wondering if you could take Jackie to some meetings and see if you could help her.” Continue reading

Divorce, break-ups, and the bitter loss of shared dreams

Via Amber, a blog post at the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Steve McNair story. The comments selection is particularly remarkable, and Amber notes that at one point, Coates asks:

I have an open question for readers: the person who broke your hearts the hardest, whom it took you the longest to get over, were they higher on social and economic ladders than you? Or were they lower?

Amber follows up with a question of her own:

Part of the trauma of losing a relationship is the trauma of losing the imagined future with that person. One can mourn that miscarried future, and whatever security it might have brought, without reducing the beloved to a meal ticket or a leg up the social ladder. Does this reflect your experiences?

And it’s got me thinking: not about the sad McNair story, but about the ways in which heterosexual romance in this culture is so wrapped up in aspirations and dreams, in issues of class and status. I’ve touched on this before; I’m hardly the only person to point out that we train aging men to seek out younger women as evidence of continued virility and prowess. But this sense that a particular romance opens a door to previously unattainable possibilities seems more widespread than just the older man/younger woman dynamic. It may not be universal, but it’s common enough to be nearly so. For a great many of us, a serious relationship serves to provide security, opportunity, and hope for what could not otherwise be achieved. And indeed, as Amber suggests, the grief we often feel at the end of a relationship is less over what was actually lost and more over the loss of the great cavalry of dreams we had (often unconsciously) marshalled. In other words, we mourn for what might have been at least as much as we do for what actually was. Continue reading

Rights, desire, responsibility: Sandra Tsing Loh’s divorce and America’s cognitive dissonance on marriage

Sandra Tsing Loh is getting a divorce, and in her incomparable way, telling us a bit about it in the new issue of the Atlantic. In Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off (thanks to Harvey for sending me the link), the witty social commentator whose 2005 CalTech graduation address remains one of the finest I’ve ever read announces that she’s left her husband of twenty years after falling in love with another man:

I am a 47-year-old woman whose commitment to monogamy, at the very end, came unglued. This turn of events was a surprise. 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. Cataclysmically changed, I disclosed everything. We cried, we rent our hair, we bewailed the fate of our children. And yet at the end of the day—literally during a five o’clock counseling appointment, as the golden late-afternoon sunlight spilled over the wall of Balinese masks—when given the final choice by our longtime family therapist, who stands in as our shaman, mother, or priest, I realized … no. Heart-shattering as this moment was—a gravestone sunk down on two decades of history—I would not be able to replace the romantic memory of my fellow transgressor with the more suitable image of my husband, which is what it would take in modern-therapy terms to knit our family’s domestic construct back together. In women’s-magazine parlance, I did not have the strength to “work on” falling in love again in my marriage. And as Laura Kipnis railed in Against Love, and as everyone knows, “Good relationships take work.”

I admit that I have little patience for the kind of narrative of infidelity that Loh offers here; falling in love with a man other than your husband is not something that happens to you while you stand idly by. The language of “surprise” suggests a lack of accountability; Loh’s use of the passive voice (“my commitment to monogamy, at the very end came unglued”) neatly avoids a full claim of responsibility. She’s one step away from, as J.M. Coetzee puts it, “resting her case on the rights of desire”. That’s troubling indeed. Someone who runs a red light might describe himself as “surprised” that an accident happened, but it’s obvious to everyone else that a poor act of decision-making preceded the “unexpected” crash.

But then again, I don’t know that claiming responsibility means all that much; most male politicians caught with their pants down do as John Ensign did this week — they claim “full responsibility”, which sounds laudable. It’s the politically wise thing to do: admit a mistake, come clean, and throw yourself on the mercy of your wife and the American public. It’s also a rather stereotypically masculine thing to do: by claiming responsibility, you assert control. You may be thought a wretch who made a bad choice, but you still get to present yourself as a strong person; you recast yourself as a brave man tough enough to “do the right thing”. When the Ensigns and the Spitzers of the world claim “full responsibility”, they imply that bad things don’t happen to them unless they let ‘em happen — which suggests a kind of manly sovereignty over actions and emotions. I’m willing to concede that it’s possible that Loh’s being more honest here in acknowledging that in the end some of us — maybe many of us — aren’t as in control over what we feel and even how we respond to those feelings as we imagine. Loh isn’t running for office; she’s telling a story about what it’s like to be us right now through the imperfect prism of her own life. She can afford a frankness about weakness that a politician can’t. Continue reading

“My wife is my best friend”/”My wife is my only friend”: the Guy Code, and the inability to get naked without getting naked

I’ve been thinking lately about some friends of mine, getting a divorce after more than a decade of marriage. Children are involved, but the two spouses are as amicable as one could hope to expect. What is clear, however, is that the husband and the wife each have very different support networks — or more accurately, that the wife has a fairly strong support network of family and friends, and the husband has virtually no one. And looking at the two of them is a reminder of one of the particularly unfortunate ways in which we structure white American middle-class masculinity; too often, not only is a wife a man’s best friend, she is his only friend.

We live, after all, in a culture which shames displays of male vulnerability. Though some sociologists detect signs of a shift among younger men, millions of boys in this country still grow up with the “guy code” and its rules about toughness, competitiveness, and a steadfast refusal to cry. Even those young men who do everything they can to avoid playing by the “guy rules” — the sensitive, bookish lads, let’s say — find it difficult to find other men with whom they can be open, vulnerable, and safe.

A great many young women have had this experience: they’ve been dating a fellow for a while, things have started to get serious. A fight happens, or perhaps the dude has a setback of some sort or another. One night, he breaks down in front of her, surprising them both with his sudden vulnerability. He may say something like “This is the first time I’ve cried in years” or “I’ve never cried like this in front of someone before, not since I was a kid.” Now, it’s possible that he’s just being manipulative, seeing how far this kind of emotional flattery will take him. But dollars to doughnuts, there’s a good chance that he’s being honest — it’s only in romantically and sexually intimate relationships that many men find the chance to be vulnerable.

One rather flippant but generally sound piece of advice I gave (and still do give) in youth group about sex: “Don’t get naked until you’re ready to get naked”, meaning that in relationships, it’s often wise to have some degree of congruence between emotional and sexual intimacy. Generally speaking, emotional intimacy is a good precondition for sex; the danger lies in the attempt to reverse cause and effect, and using sex as a way of generating enduring intimacy. But of course, for many men, sexual intimacy is a kind of trailhead into some deeper and more concealed parts of themselves. This doesn’t mean that heterosexual men can only trust those women with whom they are sleeping, but it does mean that sex gives a kind of permission for a man to be vulnerable. (If I had a dollar for every woman who has ever asked me if it was “normal” for men to cry after sex, I’d have enough to take my family out for a nice vegan dinner. Many women are floored by these sudden post-coital displays of strong emotion; though not universal, it’s more common than many think.) Continue reading

Rights and Sacrifice: more in response to Maggie Gallagher

I want to return to the same Maggie Gallagher piece I wrote about yesterday. Gallagher, in making the case for what she calls a “marriage culture” (which she defines, oddly, as a culture which seeks to limit rather than expand the marriage franchise) suggests that what she calls “sacrifice” is at the very heart of what marriage is. And as it turns out, I think she’s right — at least, if we understand the real meaning of the word.

Gallagher writes:

These decisions are being made every day: Sacrifice or immediate gratification? The audacity of hope or the audacity of fidelity? Grownups have to choose. A marriage culture consists of offering a provisional answer to grownups about how they should choose. Marriage as an individual right offers no cultural basis for helping people answer the questions that matter most.

She’s a bit muddled there, but her last line makes good sense to me, though I stand on the opposite side. Rights don’t exist in order to provide a cultural basis for helping people grow; rights exist so that people may live their lives with the maximum degree of freedom possible without impinging too grossly on the rights of others. Marriage can be a vehicle for personal growth and transformation for some, but it is not the only such catalyst for individual change and happiness. When marriage is defined as a right rather than an expectation, and when that right is granted regardless of the reproductive potential of the persons involved, then we are all liberated. And while Gallagher thinks that all we’re liberated from by altering the definition of marriage is the duty to do hard things, I think we’re liberated from a very particular kind of idolatry.

Marriage advocates like Gallagher fantastically overestimate the power of this one particular institution to glue society together. Like a moonstruck teenager who thinks that life will be perfect when she finds true love, Gallagher thinks that the sooner we’re all in sacrificial heterosexual marriages, the more robust and joyful our common life will be. And the danger is that her very own enthusiasm for the institution undermines the long-term viability of traditional marriage. Raise young people with a reverence for marriage, combine that reverence with a denunciation of divorce as invariably selfish, and wham — you get falling marriage rates. You make an icon out of marriage, and you leave a generation of young people concluding that it either isn’t worth all of that “sacrifice”, or that they had better wait until they’re damn good and ready before dipping a toe into the nuptial pond.

Gallagher makes marriage sound like the Marines: “we’re looking for a few good straight couples”. Some young folks love the idea of joining the Marines — but most aren’t interested. We’re already seeing the signs that Gallagher’s efforts are paying off: the divorce rate, according to most sociologists, has begun to decline slightly. But it is only declining because fewer people are getting married in the first place. And contrary to what Gallagher might think, the increased accessibility of divorce and the drive for gay marriage is not the reason why so many young folks are delaying marriage (or giving up on the idea altogether.) It’s that the vision of marriage as a unique vehicle for human happiness seems more like a quaint romantic fantasy — and that the hard labor of commitment doesn’t seem very appealing. This doesn’t mean young people are lazy or afraid; it simply means that modern marriage doesn’t stand up particularly well to a cost-benefit analysis. (This is why, of course, so many social conservatives are desperate to preach abstinence — the more they can create the sense that orgasms are only licit after marriage, the greater the appeal of getting hitched.) Continue reading

Plus ça change… the more work remains to be done

Men’s Rights Activists are eager to make the case that divorce and family custody laws in Britain and the USA discriminate against men. The Guardian reports today otherwise:

Divorce makes men – and particularly fathers – significantly richer. When a father separates from the mother of his children, according to new research, his available income increases by around one third. Women, in contrast, suffer severe financial penalties. Regardless of whether she has children, the average woman’s income falls by more than a fifth and remains low for many years.

The research was carried out by Professor Stephen Jenkins, a director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and chair of the Council of the International Association for Research on Income and Wealth.

His survey, Marital Splits and Income Changes over the Longer Term, is the first to track the changing wealth levels in Britain associated with a marriage breakdown.