I am fortunate to have observed several Kevlar-esque marriages in my life. The first is my parents’, my mom marrying the guy she met on her first day as a freshman. They sat next to each other in geology.
Growing up, I was convinced that every fight they had would end up in sudden-death divorce, and would spend nights pondering who I would choose to live with when they inevitably split up. This decision, of course, fluctuated based on who I deemed culpable for the current marital infraction. But strangely, their occasional fights never ended in the divorce that a 12-year-old thinks it will. They’ve been married almost 30 years.
Since my own family lives on the East Coast, I have aligned myself with a surrogate family, headed by another strong marriage. My friend’s parents are also approaching the thirty-year mark, and like my own parents, have produced three kids about ready to have a go at their own marriages.
It’s kind of a hard time to do that, though. This week premiers the new Fox reality series (for those of you worried we were coming to an end of them) aimed at bolstering the moral makeup of our country. The premise of “Married by America” is that singles, fed up with whatever scene they happen to be in, agree to let the always intelligent TV viewing audience pick a mate for them. While there are safeguards-friends and family members get to whittle the soulmate choices down to (count ’em) two prospective mates- the couple proposes and potentially even marries sight unseen.
The producers said that since the divorce rate in the United States is around 50 percent anyway, what have these, um, contestants got to loose? After all, arranged marriages have a fairly long and fairly successful history. Where would any fan of Fiddler on the Roof be without them?
But Married in America doesn’t have the safeguards built into it that a culture of arranged marriages usually does. The typical arranged marriage society relies on intensive familial input about the match. It also doesn’t hold divorce as the newest sacrament.
Divorce for our culture has essentially become the final stage of marriage. It is commonplace, regular, and sad. But often no longer surprising. We have unwittingly created for ourselves a society that makes huge commitments in moments of bliss, and then walks away when things get dicey.
But things will always get dicey. That’s the kicker about marriage. There’s a line in the film, “The River Wild” where Meryl Streep’s character is talking to her mom about the toughness of marriage. Streep asks, “did you ever want to quit?” Her mom, married to the same man for decades and decades and decades responds, “of course I wanted to quit. But quitting wasn’t an option for us.”
And what if it wasn’t for us, either? What if we asked for a society that stopped feeding us crap? And what if we stopped eating it?
“Married by America” is sad, not because people are so desperate for fame, money, or even (possibly) marriage that they would subject themselves to a reality show. It’s sad because we live in a society where the show is aired on prime time. Where it is even made at all.
We live in an environment that is corrosive to our souls. And we can react to the solvent, or we can do something to change it. What if we no longer embraced the profane and embraced the sacred instead? Today is Ash Wednesday. Whether you observe it or not, whether there is a God or not, there is something inherently meaningful about wiping off the glitter and putting on some dust. Or we can just let the magic of our culture work, and see where we end up. The choice is, unfortunately, ours.
Sarah Laribee is a student teacher at Rocky Mountain High School, where she has a group of students keeping a list of her faults. One of these faults is flakiness, for which she would like to apologize to the basketball-playing Ducks of Fort Collins. Their profile will come next week.