The Starter Marriage

book cover the starter marriage and the future of matrimonyThe Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony by Pamela Paul (2002)

I recently encountered a new “thing” that struck me as very funny, Relationship Education (RE) proposed as a high school class covering dating, marriage, and things to “help prepare” young people for the reality of what being married means. I still think it is absurd, but upon reflection have to think, maybe there is a bit of a need there. As something else I read put it, we are now experiencing the first massive amount of kids who were more likely to have grown up in a divorced household than my baby boom generation did. This may well skew beliefs or attitudes. Rampant domestic violence has also now been revealed, along with date rape, and AIDs, and useless abstinence only education. Back when I was a young child, the sex education I recall was when they took the boys in one room and the girls in the other room, and showed a cartoon about menstruation. It didn’t even really make any sense to me at the time. Bleeding monthly? How stupid was that! For FORTY YEARS OR MORE, no thank you. Alas, biology is what it is. But no, no one ever talked about sex in a positive way, at least for girls. It was always DON’T HAVE SEX UNTIL MARRIAGE. Personally, I believe that is something men like to push as a virtue so their sexual inadequacies are not recognized by their virgin brides! (ha ha)

In a science fiction story I read once, I remember thinking that the alien race described was a much much better design. It may have been an Ursula Le Guin novel. It was some time ago so I won’t get it quite right, but the main feature I remember was that the female had a body that literally could not be penetrated without her willfully doing so. Now that made sense to me. Then there was that TV show that had a lot of holes to the narrative, but one part was amusing, in order to have a child, a third party priest type person had to have sex with the woman first to kind of unlock her body parts so that she could become pregnant. Another good idea, well sort of. I appreciated the efforts to make worlds where women could not be forcibly raped and/or become pregnant.

DEATH, TAXES, AND PROSTITUTION the world’s oldest profession
On the other hand, pretty much every science fiction future world that I have read, if there is any sexual activity at all, ALWAYS HAS PROSTITUTES, mostly women. But, being modern, it is not presented as an unfortunate last ditch effort to be able to feed and clothe yourself, it is almost always nearly entrepreneurial and falsely presented as empowering. Pimps are not usually around since that would be proof that prostitution is exploitation, not a chosen profession. And they are invariably the hooker with a heart of gold type who give it up to the handsome protagonist for free.

Of course there is always the prostitution as feminism tone to this, as there is now, that some women would rather have sex for a living than be secretaries for shit wages. It would be okay, I think,  if the women were not so vulnerable to abuse, at risk for diseases and pregnancy of course, and they really wanted to be a prostitute, but somehow I don’t think any of us yet see prostitution as a preferred career choice for our daughters. If they could make the same money, and have the autonomy portrayed in the fantasy of storytelling, I am guessing they would choose ANYTHING ELSE for a career or job.

Plus no matter what ANYONE says, to be a prostitute, a female prostitute particularly is  to be a social pariah and shamed and called the many many many [bad] names we have for sexually active women. Opposed to men, for whom only stud comes to mind at the moment. And that is definitely as aspirational goal for boys. Even gigolo reflects more badly on the always older pathetic neediness of a woman than the fact that a gigolo is a kept man, or boy toy. Whereas a woman is a mistress but that just doesn’t have quite the same sense of empowerment or autonomy. In fact, gigolos are really even thought of as “kept” like mistresses, more like rewarded with gifts and money and such for services rendered, on a woman who would otherwise not be worth banging. The power still seems to go to the man and not the mistress, who is generally also perceived as being needy. Just another subtle view from the world of misogyny. And if you say the word “prostitute” everyone is pretty much going to think of a female first, made apparent by the necessity of qualifying it a male prostitute to indicate men, who are then generally assumed to be homosexual male prostitutes it seems to me. Gigolos should be the same as prostitutes, since they are being paid for sex, but I guess the difference between prostitution and gigolo or mistresses is the temporary exclusivity (theoretically) of sexual availability.

The concept of starter marriages simply recognizes that there is at least of 50/50 chance that the first marriage will end in divorce. And kind of says, maybe we should not even have the expectation that we will only have one marriage our whole life. As lifespans have increased so dramatically, and since first wives are not dying in childbirth permitting men to have second and third wives, or trophy wives, maybe the whole concept to 60 freaking years with one person is not just unrealistic, it is undesirable.

Which reminds me of another science fiction book(s) that address the marriage issue in a practical way. The main thing is what about the kids? So these books have two types of marriage, a contract one and a covenant one. You don’t have kids under a contract one (5 year commitment) and you can either keep renewing it, or if you decide you are ready to commit and to have children, you do the covenant one. The catch is, there is no divorce from the covenant one. That’s probably a little extreme. I would think if the point the author was trying to make was that kids made the difference, then you really would not have to do a lifetime no divorce deal, but rather, until the kid(s) turned 21 or something.

Because seriously, after the kids are independent, you still have 50 or more years to go and maybe that would be a good time to divorce and move on and try something and someone new?

GIVEN THE LIKELIHOOD OF DIVORCE, why are young people still so eager to marry?
The author does a decent job of making a variety of psycho/social points about why people get married in the first place, and some of those reasons result in a doomed to fail situation. Like the competition to marry first after a breakup. The desire to get the hell out of your parents home, whether because of abuse or alcoholism, or just because you want to be left alone, but not completely alone and therefore lonely.

Personally, I think it is because their brains haven’t yet fully developed. [really ha ha] Since I myself took the plunge at 19, I can understand the impulse. However, I went from living with parents to living with a spouse and until my divorce 21 years later, I had never lived alone. And I found I really liked it. While it was very nice having a partner and a stable influence that let me do riskier stuff, it gets tiresome to always have to accommodate and compromise with another persons wishes, particularly when they digress from one’s own. I’m not sure there can be true equality that allows each person to do and be what they want or need to do.

For example, the classic “Leave it to Beaver” style mythological family had no financial fear that Dad would get laid off or transferred to another city. Plus he made enough to support a very nice house, car, two kids and June got to stay home wearing pearls while cooking.

This is well and truly not possible for 90% (I’m guessing) of Americans today. Somewhere between trickle-down lies, downsizing, feminism forcing the acceptance of working women and their subsequent theoretical financial autonomy, women had alternative to that Mrs. degree. But they still want to get married.

WHY WOULD MEN MARRY, the first time or in particular a second time?
I cannot speak for the male side because men completely baffle me. If I were a man, I would not want to get married ever because, yeah, anti-feminist I know, but mostly they seem to me to mainly want to be married for free sex, but with women allowed to be sexually active now too, men have an expectation and the experience that they don’t have to get married to have sex. They don’t even have to get married to have kids. So why would they ever want to become financially culpable for another person’s wishes and actions? And kids are VERY EXPENSIVE and require a real commitment of time, effort, and money. So really, kids should not be something done without due caution and realistic assessment of the economics of your situation and reliability of employment. Something we are in short supply of these days. But is seems like with marriage it is about that heady feeling of LOVE that takes over from a more risk averse rational thinking process.

Wages are inadequate to make a living and support a family unless both parents work, but even then so much goes to then pay for day care. Yes you pool your income to pay rent or mortgage and expenses, but do you have to be married to so that? Divorces can become very ugly. But a woman is particularly vulnerable since she earns less than the man usually, and has a greater likelihood of being the kids primary caregiver. If the man doesn’t choose to pay child support, it is really hard for the woman to force it without much expense and lawyers and then no guarantees. Then she is stuck. An inadequately compensated job, day care costs, and full responsibility for the kids.

And fundamentally, men and women cheat. So as this book discusses, why bother with monogamy at all?

Though it is not a point discussed in the book that I recall, I wonder if the impulse to wed despite the risks of betrayal and subsequent decisions to divorce for any of a number of good reasons, I think people want to get married because that is an if not the ultimate arbiter of worth. Someone wants to marry you. Someone, who doesn’t have to, loves you. That is a wonderful glorious feeling.

Maybe though, we need to look at divorces with a little more compassion and recognize that “til death do us part” is a really big burden. Certainly not one to be entered into lightly, yet so often that is what happens. You love each other, you want to live together, so you do now that that is socially acceptable, even routine. There are lots of really good LEGAL reasons to get married then though that are kind of irrespective of how the emotional part is going. Right to visit someone in the hospital, right to have “family” pick on medical insurance coverage. And a whole bunch more.

That is why the LGBTQ community fought so hard for the right to marry. (Not covered in the book, I got the sense that the author was a little rightward leaning.)

Is there a anyway to say these words without negative connotations? Women’s worth is equal to their value sexually, but in particular, their value is measured by the desire of one man to, essentially, pay for exclusivity with a woman by marrying her (while they also have a mistress on the side perhaps). Males sit around looking at women saying, “I’d tap that!” but not all women are so positively reviewed. And the oddly confident belief that those women would WANT to be “tapped” by them is another reason men baffle me. And the natural consequence of this is that some men rape and some men kill or strike out when women refused to be “tapped.” Everyone has heard the routine of the guy at the bar who wants to buy a woman a drink and says sweet things to coax her to accept and then, when she declines REPEATEDLY is screamed at for being a bitch AND A SLUT because she doesn’t want to have sex with him. And he feels that if he bought her a drink, or especially dinner, that meant he’s entitled to sex. Same guy does not see how that just makes the woman a really cheap prostitute.

Women who do not evoke sexual desire by men are scorned and ridiculed and punished in many ways. Name calling, shaming, and more. That’s can be why they seek plastic surgery or diet to death, to compete with the Photoshopped and enhanced women portrayed by the media. Women must be wanted to be worthy of life. The reciprocal situation is no one seen as often, where men are principally judged by their sexual desirability. They are also desirable by being economically and financially sound of course. That’s how men like Donald Trump get to have sex at all.

This is also why the “nerd” boys or “wonks” are somewhat dismissed as “girly men,” ha ha. But recent years have turned that around a bit and more men who are not body builders on steroids are perceived as more appealing sexually I think. Haven’t read any Cosmo lately or the usual recipie and ads and tips on how to keep the house clean and your husband happy women’s magazines lately to know want is trending.

One other point that I have said for decades, and that is, how is being married not like being a prostitute? Well, I guess there is the exclusivity factor. And the sanctified religious ceremony that gives you permission to have sex. Maybe not this book, but one I read mentioned that back in the day, the women were an integral part of the economic unit that was the family. She WORKED, made food, planted gardens, sewed clothes, kept the house, bore the children and minded them, sometimes schooling them in a limited way. Industrialization changed everything. And if a woman can’t or chose not to have children, then she better have a career because now she is expected not to just sit around or shoe shop all day and go to the club, living off the husband. Even if she pops out a kid or two and they’re grown, she’s done her job, and is replaced by a newer more sexually desirable trophy wife. Which puts the whole lie of marriage as something more than a quid pro quo of sex and childbearing even more obvious.

The book does bring up some interesting perspectives on marriage and is notable for calling attention to this concept of maybe monogamy is irrelevant today. But it really didn’t take a very detailed or extensive view of the entire concept. As I said, seemed a bit on the conservative side. And when I was reading the anecdotes of the people mentioned, all I saw were white Dick and Jane with blond hair and trust funds. She specifically cites other economic situations, but I still felt like the whole philosophical premise was little more than a promotion of a return of “family values” and no divorce, being forced to suck it up and carry on, and that would be a really dreadful world to live in again. NO FAULT DIVORCE was one of the best changes to the law for women than many in recent years. COMMUNITY PROPERTY was the next best thing.

And she entirely skipped that whole dynamic of women have to wait to be asked to get married. Sure there are the occasional amusing Hallmark movies with a Sadie Hawkins theme, but really, the truth is that it is always the man who gets to choose whether to get married or not.


Leave a Reply