This morning I found my almost 10-year old daughter with a towel wrapped around her head so that it was draping down past her waist. She was pretending to be a bride. “This is what my veil will look like when I get married, Mom. Do you think it’s pretty?”
And then, this: “Mom? Why did you say your first wedding was a bigger deal than your second?” She didn’t mean “bigger deal” as in it mattered more; she meant why was it literally bigger.
Like most young girls, my daughter is fascinated with the idea of marriage and weddings. Feminists try to convince us this is a socially constructed phenomenon, but smart, everyday moms know it’s in the genes.
So the time has come for me to guide my daughter in the ways of matrimony: what marriage is like, what it means, and when might be the ideal time for her to get married. At 41, I’ve been married a combined total of 16 years. That’s most of my adult life, so I’d like to think I have some words of wisdom to offer her. She seems to think I do anyway.
But I have an added responsibility: I need to explain why my first marriage ended in divorce. My daughter has asked many questions about my first husband, and I’ve told her bits and pieces. I know the thought of my having had a home with another man I loved and slept with is unsettling to her – so I’ve tried to make my first marriage sound like it was no big thing (“He wanted to live in New York and I wanted to live in St. Louis”), but that makes it sound like I was cavalier about getting married the first time – which is not the message I want to send, and it isn’t true anyway. So what to tell her?
The women of my generation – I was born in 1968 – must now face the reality of having to explain ourselves. Today as many as 25% of first marriages in America fail within two years, and 43% of first marriages end within 15 years. Many of the couples from the first group don’t have children together, but most of these men and women will have children eventually. And their children, like mine, will want to know why their parents failed the first time around. Our children deserve answers.
My generation was the first generation to be taught that marriage is something to postpone in exchange for one’s freedom. These men and women avoided marriage like the plague — all to their detriment. Many find themselves single with no good prospects; others find themselves 40 and childless; and others spent a ridiculous amount of time and money a wedding day that became entirely insignificant later when they found themselves divorced. In my generation, divorce was always an option. No big deal.
What my daughter needs to know is that the emotional disaster that follows the severing of a sexual and spiritual union is a very big deal — and I do not want her to experience it. I want her to know that a happy marriage is absolutely attainable, that all it really takes – aside from making a good choice of partner (which is no small thing) — is the right attitude.
Which means, my dear, when you do marry, assume it will be for life. Though divorce is lawful (as it must be), pretend it is not. Second, do not marry someone just because you love them. It is not enough. There’s much more to a marriage than feeling starry-eyed about a person. Trust me: You will not feel starry-eyed forever. As a man once said who had been married to his wife for 50 years,
“It’s funny: all that falling in love business. I hear myself tell the story and it all sounds so superficial. And it is, when you compare it to what we ended up with.”
And last but not least, do not put yourself at the center of your life as feminists implore women to do. It is a recipe for disaster. Marriage and family is about sacrifice, pure and simple — and it is from this sacrifice that one grows as a human being. Should you wish to read books about marriage, stay away from self-help books and memoirs like the oh-so-popular Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Almost all of these books are written by feminists who are either trying to figure out how life works (like Gilbert) or will simply confuse you even more. Unfortunately, you will hear more from these women than from any other group of women in America, but I can assure you they have little to offer.
So pull up a chair, my darling; and I will tell you where I went wrong. I will tell you everything you need to know.