Poor marriage! Many believe it's under assault, what with gays and lesbians wanting in and about 50 percent of heteros wanting out. So the Institute for American Values has been hosting symposiums, looking to get Hollywood to make pro-marriage movies, passing legislation to stop divorce, and making more men marriage material by things like apprenticeships. It wants to bring marriage to the poor, the cohabiting, the fearful.
Which is too bad, because many people say it's too easy to get married. At least that was the thinking of many of those commenting on the discussion fellow HuffPost blogger Beverly Willett and I had in the New York Times' Room for Debate on whether divorce should be harder to get. Many readers said instead of making divorce harder, we should make marriage harder.
Well, OK. My first impression was, yes, that's a great idea. It's too easy for anyone to get hitched -- not just the Kim Kardashians of the world, but also the 30 percent of women who say they knew they were making a mistake on their wedding day. That is an extremely disturbing percentage of women marrying for the "wrong" reasons (and I have to imagine a certain percentage of men are guilty, too).
But, what exactly should we do to make marriage harder, if anything?
A while ago, my The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Cynics, Commitaphobes and Connubial DIYers co-author, Susan Pease Gadoua, addressed this idea (tongue-in-cheek) in Psychology Today:
Perhaps if the hassles and stressors occurred at the beginning of wedlock instead of the end, people might enter into it more soberly, that is, with more caution and understanding that it is a legal agreement not unlike that of a business partnership. As it is now, the decision to marry is often accompanied by a proposal, then a wedding shower (with gifts), then the traditional pomp and circumstance of a wedding ceremony (with gifts), followed by a lovely honeymoon in a remote location. It's all fun, romantic and more importantly, easy. With the new procedure, the historical spectacle of getting down on one knee and asking her (or him) to marry would be substituted by the unglamorous service of process.
It hardly sounds romantic, but perhaps that is exactly what marriage needs -- a reality slap in the face.
It's nice to marry for love and for all the other reasons we marry, even if others may judge those reasons (think Hugh Hefner, 86, and new bride Crystal Harris, 26). But marriage is just a legal contract, albeit with emotional stuff and social significance attached. Should those who are considering marrying understand fully what the legal requirements are?
Yes, says David Allen Green, legal correspondent of the New Statesman, who suggests legal advice for anyone considering marriage wouldn't be such a bad idea:
A commercial transaction of comparable value -- say a share acquisition or a disposal of assets -- would normally be accompanied by lawyerly advice: seeking contractual protections, guarantees, and amounts in escrow. Various adverse outcomes would be discussed with harsh and open realism, and the parties would allocate risks and rights of termination accordingly. And once both parties were properly advised, and had mutually agreed the legal outcomes of various unhappy scenarios, then there would be a cooling-off period of 12 months before the agreement had legal effect. Indeed, the world would be a far happier place if marriage was harder and divorce easier. There would be far fewer divorce lawyers if there were more marriage lawyers, just as companies that are realistic and well-advised when they negotiate a contract tend not to get bogged down subsequently in messy litigation.
Although fewer people might choose to marry, those who went through with it anyway might truly live up to their "till death do us part" vow; they'd know exactly what they'd signed up for.
Still, how do we make marriage "harder"? Should you have to be a certain age, earn a certain income, have a life plan, go through mandatory premarital counseling, wait a certain amount of time after applying for a marriage license, take a test (on what I'm not sure, but go with me here), take parenting classes if you plan to have kids, learn how to talk about finances or all of the above?
And, if we make marriage harder, does that mean more people might choose to opt out of it altogether -- and would that be better or worse?
A version of this article appears on Vicki Larson's personal blog, OMG Chronicles.