by Jonathan McNicol
Of all the famous, long-married, seemingly happy couples I called trying to get someone to separate and make some news for us to peg our big marriage show to, the Gores were not the ones I expected to assent. But I suppose stranger things have happened. And I couldn’t thank Al and Tipper more for considering Where We Live‘s needs at this difficult time.
charlietphoto, flickr creative commons
Okay, it didn’t go quite like that, I admit it. But we did start putting the show together well before the Gores made their announcement and started a new national discussion about this whole life-long commitment concept that we seem so hell-bent on hanging onto (a conversation that has continued on WNPR, with today’s Colin McEnroe Show, as well).
The original impetus for our show today was a fascinating new book by The New York Times
‘s Tara Parker-Pope
, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage
. It’s nothing if not a breath of fresh air in a culture where Al and Peg Bundy, Marge and Homer Simpson, Elizabeth and John Edwards, and now (shock of shocks) Al and Tipper Gore are held up as examples of the typical American marriage in the twenty-first century.
Think of the things that you know for sure about marriage. Half of them are doomed to end in divorce, right? Nope, not really, says For Better (for couples married in the 1980s, the overall divorce rate is actually less than 40%—for the ’90s and ’00s it’s even less than that).
And the worst thing you can do to your sex life is get married, right? Well, no. (The average married couple actually has sex 66 times a year; singles average about 58 times.)
But these married couples today—and the husbands especially—none of them stay faithful, do they? Well, yes, they do. (In a given year, 90—read that again: ninety—percent of married couples are entirely faithful. And the single strongest predictor of infidelity? Not gender, not age, not socioeconomic or cultural background. Nope. Opportunity. All it takes to be in the 10% is opportunity. Which explains celebrities and politicians, I might add.)
We had a great time chatting with Tara Parker-Pope on today’s show, and the hour is filled with wonderful nuggets like:
Having a partner in life, we literally outsource our cognitive burden, and there’s a lot of people who have evolutionary explanations for why we do partner up. Life is just easier when you have another person to help you, and we all know this. If you’re trying to drive through town and look for an address, it’s so much easier if you have someone in the passenger seat, helping you find that place. And, in some sense, that’s what marriage is—it’s having someone in the passenger seat helping you along. And the little things that we do in our marriages—holding a partner’s hand, giving a pat on the back, saying ‘sweetheart,’ ‘honey,’ these terms of endearment—all of these things help us. It helps us daily through life; it benefits our health. I think there are just a lot of reasons why we want to be married, and why we want to partner up with another person.
But there’s so much
that we didn’t get to. Things like the new Pew study
, released just last week, of divorce in long-duration marriages. Or little P. californicus
, the 100% monogamous California mouse species. Or the transformative effect of Playboy
and TV dinners on the American male (and, thus, the American male’s marriages) in the 1970s (you’ll just have to read For Better
for that one). Also, you can listen to On Point
from earlier in the week: “The Gores and ‘Gray Divorce
‘”, about graying Boomers, long-term marrieds, getting divorced – and what that means.
It’s certainly a lot of information to process, but the takeaway here—Al & Peg and Al & Tipper notwithstanding—is that the data, and the outlook, is probably more hopeful than you thought it was. (If you’re still
feeling uneasy, Tara’s Assess Your Relationship Risk quiz
is probably a good place to start answering the questions you’re left with.)