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The Last-Timers

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

We haven't seen at least 5 of these people since that day.

Sometimes it makes me sad how few of my best friends today were not at our wedding.  This group includes all but one of my wonderful girlfriends from graduate school, all of our great friends from GAP’s work, spouses of old friends who have become beloved in their own rite, and many others.  Either because we had not yet met or because the relationship wasn’t fully formed at the time, they were not there.

At the same time, there are people who were invited to our wedding – a couple who were even included in it – whose presence there was a vestige of a phase of life that was winding down.  They had played a role of some significance in our lives up to that point, but their scene was almost up.  Some were childhood friends whose lives have since gone in very different directions from our own.  Others were sorority sisters and fraternity brothers with whom we’d never been that close, but whom we felt obliged by etiquette to invite.  For a few of them our wedding day was the last time we would see them.

I’d been thinking about this recently for a few reasons, and then stumbled across this post on Slate which encapsulates nearly to a T what I’d been mulling over in my mind.  In it author David Plotz discusses the two varieties of last-timers.  There are the obvious ones, the ones you probably know on the day of the wedding are last-timers – parents’ friends from back when you were in diapers, former co-workers, and a sea of plus-ones.  If you could retroactively take them off the guest list, you probably would.  But then there are those whom you would never have guessed at the time were about to fade out of your life.

Plotz comments that extreme pragmatists suggest not inviting those whom you think won’t be a part of your life moving forward, but that such an approach is both unrealistic and misguided.  For starters, oftentimes we just don’t know that someone is a last-timer.  More importantly, perhaps the fact that they are is the very best reason to invite them.  For so many of us our wedding is the moment that ushered us out of the life of an overgrown adolescent and into the life of an adult.  As our lives turn that corner, some of our friendships don’t make the turn with us.  But sharing your wedding with the people who have brought you that far might just be the perfect ending to that chapter of your life.

All of this, though, makes me especially thankful for the weddings that have come after we’ve turned such corners in life.  Some of our very best friends (IEP’s godparents, as it would turn out) had just started dating when we got married, and our wedding was the first out-of-town trip they took together.  A few years later we attended their wedding and it makes me happy to know that our weddings caught our friendship on the upswing.  Similarly, in looking back at the friendships that have fallen away over time I am especially thankful for those childhood and college friendships that have stayed a part of our life in spite of the different paths we’ve taken.

Some good friends of ours recently got engaged and it makes me so happy.  I’m happy for all of the obvious reasons – they are a wonderful match and will have a wonderful life together.  But I’m also happy that we met each other after that fateful adolescent/adult conversion was behind us.  That we will be able to sit at their wedding and comfortably predict years and years of shared moments together.

Perhaps one day my girlfriends and I who married before we met each other will sit around with a bottle of wine and a pot of fondue and tell each other about our weddings.  The dresses, the toasts, what went right, what went wrong, and all that we missed when our lives had not yet intertwined.  But of course what matters most is that we had then, and have now, friends whom we want to include in life’s biggest moments.

Where Would You Go?

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

It started as it always does, with some permutation of the question, “What if we moved to New York?”  It happens every time we are there.  Without fail.

GAP and I spent the weekend in Manhattan.  He had business there on Sunday and Monday, so I tagged along and we made a weekend of it.  This being our fourth or fifth trip to the city together, we’d covered most of the “must see” tourist destinations, and were able to spend a decent chunk of time wandering the streets of Manhattan aimlessly.

This kind of aimless wandering is one of our favorite ways to experience almost any vacation spot.  Not only does it grant us the opportunity to get familiar with the character of a place, it provides the opportunity for us to exhaust all sorts of topics of conversation that get sidelined in a home life that is filled (happily) with our careers and children.

So as we wandered up Second Avenue on Saturday afternoon I think I asked him, “If we were to move here tomorrow – with the kids – which part of the city would you want to live in?”  This gave way to the clarification “Are we moving there just for a year to have the experience, or are we moving permanently?”  The answer, of course, changes in each context.  (One year?  The Village.  Permanently?  Upper East Side.)  The introduction of finite timing then led to the next version.  “If you were going to pick any city in the world to live in for one year, which would you pick?  What about three years?  What about five?”  There were more complicated and contingent versions of the question that followed these.

The answers to these questions* matter less than the exercise of asking them, I think.  It’s the conversation that comes from asking the “what if” questions that makes them interesting, and gives us insight into both ourselves and into the people talking with us.  We might surprise ourselves, as I did with my one-year answer.  We are forced to think about the calculus that factors into such decisions.  We come face to face with the very nature of our character and values:  Do we favor adventure or predictability?  Do we crave a challenge or something more relaxing?  What would we find exciting or stifling or alienating or fun?  How do our answers to these questions change when we consider making such jumps with our kids in tow versus without?

In some way the answers to these questions serve as proxies for greater statements about us.  The choices we make in our external lives are often quite crystalline reflections of what we believe and value internally.  Asking someone, “What do you value most in your life?” is bound to produce broad (and likely uninteresting) answers.  But more specific questions that might be the manifestation of those values can be much more telling.

For two working parents with two young children finding the time to get lost in conversation is sometimes hard to do.  But in my experience walking aimlessly through a city is almost always the right backdrop for just that.

*One year = Shanghai.  Three years = London (although Barcelona was a strong contender).  Five years = New York.

A Fighting Chance

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

I’m skeptical of any married person who claims that she doesn’t fight with her spouse.  No two people are so perfectly aligned that they never disagree, never hurt each other’s feelings, or never sense friction of any kind.  I think I’m even more skeptical of people who claim that they do disagree, hurt each other’s feelings, and sense friction and still don’t fight.  Something about that just doesn’t feel genuine to me.

Of course there is a continuum here.  What I call a fight you might call a discussion.  What you call a fight I might call a hostile screaming match.  What I call cooling off you might call the silent treatment.  And so on.  But the commonality here is that there is conflict, no matter how civilly or heatedly it is expressed.

When the two conflicted adults don’t have children, their fighting style is mostly a personal choice.  Provided it’s not done publicly there’s not much place for anyone to say what is the “right” way to fight.  If yelling and screaming gets the anger out of your system and the issues out on the table (and your partner is game for it), then who am I to claim right or wrong?  If a calm conversation is both cathartic and productive, then more power to you.

The kicker, though, is when kids are in the picture.

Questions abound.  Should our kids know that we fight?  Should we let them see us argue?  If they know we’ve had a fight should we put on a happy face when we’re in front of them, or is that disingenuous and stressful for them?  A post yesterday on NYT’s Motherlode asks these very questions.

The social worker quoted in the article says just what you’d expect her to say – that what matters most is that kids learn how to manage their differences; that they learn how to do so in a loving fashion and with respect; and that they learn how to voice their own needs and opinions.  This all sounds quite manageable in shrink-speak, but I wonder if it isn’t a great deal harder than that in real life.

GAP and I aren’t “fighters” per se.  We disagree and argue often enough – we are both strong-willed and opinionated.  But we don’t yell or scream.  Ever.  We don’t get huffy with each other in front of IEP, which for the moment I think is the right call.  He’s too young to understand that conflict between Mommy and Daddy is normal and healthy and I don’t want any occasional tension between us to ever frighten him.

But what of the future?  What about four or five years from now when he’s in elementary school, perhaps getting into playground spats with friends from time to time, has several siblings he has to get along with, and needs an example of how to settle an issue effectively?  How then does our example affect him?

Like most parenting issues, as the mother of a two-year-old this one is new to me.  So much of what I will learn about raising a child is out in the future still.  And, like many other parenting issues I’m sure we will screw this one up, at least a couple of times, before we get the hang of it and figure out what works in our families.  Nevertheless, I wonder if there is some path – whether wide or narrow – within the boundaries of which I can walk with some assurance of safety.  Even though I know I’ll make mistakes in this realm, I hope that they will be minor.

Then and Now

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Then we had been married less than a day.  Now we have been married seven years.

Then we were 26 and only thought we were adults.  Now we are 33 and realize we’re still not really adults.

Then we made each other laugh.  Now we still make each other laugh.

Then we were in graduate schools and had entry level positions.  Now we have actual careers.

Then we had no house plants, pets, or children.  Now we have no house plants, two dogs, and a little boy.

Then we had just moved into our first apartment together.  Now we have lived in our house for five years.

Then we road-tripped to Cardinals spring training and listened to Atlas Shrugged on cd the whole way there and back.  Now we are planning a trip to Ireland for later this summer.

Then we were still the youngest generation in the family.  Now we have seven nieces and nephews.

Then we had not taken our baby to the emergency room in the middle of the night for croup.  Now we understand how to get him through it at home.

Then I had no idea how to host a dinner party without getting in over my head.  Now we are a comfortable host and hostess team.

Then we thought that a handful of standup comics were the funniest people we knew of.  Now we laugh harder at our two-year-old than anyone else in our lives.

Then we were in love.  Now we are still in love.

Over the weekend GAP celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary.  While much about our lives has changed in the past seven years, I think most of the really important stuff is has stayed exactly the same.  Happy anniversary, GAP.  I love you.

Love and the Ledger

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

There are places where it’s appropriate to keep score.  Sports games.  Debate matches.  Grade point averages.  But not marriages, right?  Mostly right, I think.  A standard understanding of psychology and marriage tells us that keeping score within a relationship is a bad idea; that the tit-for-tat approach only leads to bitterness and hurt feelings.  Nevertheless, I contend that it still goes on, and with good purpose.

A tweet from Gretchen Rubin turned me onto this Wall Street Journal article about how we divvy up all of the responsibilities within a marriage.  Author Katherine Rosman wisely observes that, “In a coupling of two busy people, it’s inevitable that a marital ledger develops, sometimes spoken, sometimes not.”  She notes that during a week in which she had to work especially long hours her husband put in a lot of time with their two young children and then ponders how much free time on the weekend that earns him.

GAP and I have similar arrangements.  We alternate who comes home by 6:00 to let the nanny off.  I volunteer at the children’s hospital on Sundays, and he plays league basketball on Tuesdays.  There is a give and take to these things.  But in order for there to be a give and take, there has to be some sort of score – some baseline of equality against which we measure.  The distinction here, and in Rosman’s description, is that we have to care more about what we owe than what we are owed.  If I care most about when GAP is in the hole, this scorekeeping devolves into the stereotype we all fear.  But if I worry only about my debts, and let GAP worry about his debts, then we stay balanced without things turning sour.

Rosman tells a story about a recent week when her husband and kids were plagued with the flu, when she did laundry for days on end to keep the germs at bay, when she was dealing with a looming deadline that overwhelmed her, and how her husband helped her through her meltdown to make the deadline.  The morning after the deadline she and her husband were both cranky and tired from having been up late.  It had snowed overnight and the car needed to be scraped.  And she explained:

He could have said — but never would — that I should scrape the car because he had helped me with my story the night before. He never would say that, because that isn’t why he had helped me.

In every marriage, there are things we do for the ledger. And then there are things we do for love.

And that’s what makes the difference.  For all our efforts to keep our marriages balanced, what really matters is that at the end of the day, when we really need each other, we help each other not for the IOU on the other end of the favor, but for love.

And I Love Her

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Earlier this week I attended a business dinner with several colleagues.  With the social lubrication of a drink under our belts the conversation veered from professional to personal realms.  Younger members of the group complained of approaching 30th birthdays.  Older members of the group traded war stories of raising teenagers.  And eventually one member of the group told the story of how he got together with his wife.

This man is usually all business, so it was refreshing to hear him speak so candidly about his personal life.  Since he was a bit older (40-ish) when he married, embedded into his story was the following synopsis of how his selection criteria in a potential wife changed as he aged:

When I was in my early twenties I thought, “She’s beautiful.  And I love her.”

When I was in my mid-twenties I thought, “She’s beautiful and she’s funny.  And I love her.”

When I was in my late twenties I thought, “She’s beautiful and she’s funny and she’s smart.  And I love her.”

When I was in my early thirties I thought, “She’s smart and she’s funny and she’s rather pretty.  And I love her.”

When I was in my mid-thirties I thought, “She’s smart and she’s got a solid career and she’s funny and she’s really somewhat attractive.  And I love her.”

When I was in my late thirties I thought, “She’s level headed and I enjoy her company and she’s not altogether bad looking.  And I love her.”

And when I hit 40 I thought, “This is really someone I can work with for a long time.”

I suppose if I were this man’s wife and I wanted to choose the most objectionable interpretation of his story I could be offended that he seems to be implying that it was only after he lowered his standards six or seven times that he found himself interested in marrying me.  But having heard his little litany firsthand I can vouch that this isn’t how he meant it at all.

Rather, what he meant to convey was how foolish we can be in our youth.  When we are 22 appearances are paramount.  But by the time we turn 30 we need more.  We need someone we can relate to, someone who can have a conversation, someone who is fun.  And as we age further we need more still.  We need compatibility.  Give and take.  Balance.  Trust.  Fulfillment.  And a thousand other things that mere beauty can’t deliver. 

If you think about it his standards actually increased over time.  Finding a beautiful man/woman?  Not so hard.  Finding a man/woman you want to build a life with?  A Herculean task.

What I find curious about this little phenomenon of evolving tastes is that it takes us so long to figure out what really matters.  Do 20-year-olds not care about a decent conversation?  Do they not care about a good laugh?  Do they not care about common interests and values?  Or is it that at such a young age the need for real compatibility seems so far off that in our youth we indulge ourselves in the qualities we know can’t matter as much when we start to look at “forever”?

I like to think that I had a better-than-average head on my shoulders back then.  In retrospect, I know I didn’t.  So I suppose the fact that I ended up with a handsome husband is either a function of dumb luck or hard work.  Actually, I think it’s a bit of both.

Who’s Got Your Back?

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

IEP’s second birthday brought with it many of the expected two-year-old challenges.  Most namely strong opinions backed by a strong will.  Among those opinions is, “I hate having my diaper changed, and I really hate Desitin.”  So I was not surprised yesterday morning when I told IEP that it was time for a diaper change and he made it quite plain that he had other ideas.

He whined.  I corrected.  He squirmed.  My voice got sterner as I explained that a clean diaper was non-negotiable.  He shouted, “Nnnnnno!”  Then, like a night in shining armor, GAP walked in from our bedroom, looked down at IEP on the changing table, and in a very deep and very stern voice said, “You do NOT talk to Mommy like that.”

IEP shut right up, looked at his dad and made his “Sorry” sign.  GAP responded, “Say you’re sorry to Mommy.”  He looked at me and made the sign again.  I told IEP thank you, and then GAP left the room to finish getting ready for work.  IEP smiled at me and was unusually cooperative through the Desitin application, and promptly gave hugs and kisses to both of us (GAP had wandered back in) after I zipped his footed PJs back up and stood him up on the changing table. 

Initially I was thankful for GAPs intervention.  Actually, I still am.  It made that particular moment much easier.  But as I gained some distance from it, I began to question it.  What does it say to our son if only one parent is the enforcer? 

Naturally I am grateful to have a husband who has my back.  I am grateful that he respects me and is invested in raising a son who also respects me.  But there is a part of me that wonders if my authority is weakened if its credibility does not stand alone, but requires the endorsement of my husband.  To clarify, IEP does recognize my authority.  He sits in the corner when I tell him to sit in the corner.  He knows what it means when he looks at me as he tries to pick a glass of water up off my nightstand and I shoot him a knowing glance.  And he obeys my instructions most of the time.  But when tantrums strike it is GAP whose voice he is most likely to heed.

I realize that most two-parent families have one parent who wears the disciplinarian hat more frequently.  And I realize that in my own family it is unlikely that GAP and I will be perfectly equal in our disciplinary roles.  But I want my son to respect me and my parental authority because of me, not because of my husband standing behind me.  And further, I don’t want GAP always stuck being the “bad guy.” 

There are times when IEP challenges me and GAP begins to intervene and I call him off.  I want to resolve these toddler issues on my own.  But sometimes it’s so much easier to let my tall and deep voiced husband step in and command our son’s attention. 

So, what’s a girl to do?  I’m eager for your advice on this, so please chime in!

Drawing the Lines

Monday, October 25th, 2010

At some point, in the early stages of a marriage (or other cohabitant relationship), we draw lines.  We answer questions like:  Who pays the bills?  Who does the grocery shopping?  Who cooks dinner?  Who does the dishes?  Who cleans the house?  Who does the yard work?  Who gets the oil in the cars changed? 

Over time we add to the list.  Who cares for the kids, or handles the childcare logistics?  Who walks the dogs?  Who gives them their monthly flea and heartworm preventative?  Who bathes the dogs?  Who brushes them?  Who sweeps and vacuums the house because the dogs shed so constantly it’s a wonder they’re not bald?  (Sorry.  The dogs are in the midst of one of their biannual shed-fests.  I’m going a little crazy.  But I digress…)  Who figures out whether or not to refinance the mortgage again?  And so forth and so on. 

I got to thinking about all these things because of a comment I left on one of Big Little Wolf’s posts over at Daily Plate of Crazy last week.  She wrote a post about cash versus credit and posed the question: How do you pay for your groceries?  In my not-at-all-rambling comment I mentioned that I am a bit debt averse, but we pay for everything (everything!) on credit because we have a killer rewards program and because GAP is very financially savvy and does a top-notch job of keeping track of balances, making sure everything is paid off each month, and knowing when longer term balances are due. 

The follow-up thought to that comment is one that I’ve addressed in my head many times before.  GAP and I maintain very traditional gender roles.  He handles nearly all the finances, the yard work, and the dinner dishes.  I do the cooking, the grocery shopping, the coordination of nanny, housekeeper, and dog walker, and most of the other dog stuff.  Except for the fact that I have a job, we could be Ozzie and Harriet.  How on earth did this come to be? 

Sometimes I’m self-conscious about where we’ve drawn the lines.  Sometimes it seems like GAP should be responsible for a dinner or two and I should edge the lawn from time to time.  But in spite of my self-consciousness, I never wish we’d actually drawn the lines differently.  You see, I like cooking.  I enjoy my relationship with our nanny.  GAP loves tinkering with our investments and (I think) gets some sick sense of satisfaction out of balancing our many checking and credit accounts each month.  And I don’t really like the idea of being pushed around by some misguided application of feminism.  This is what works for us.

I have girlfriends who handle all of the finances and whose husbands whip up dinner every night.  I have friends who’ve drawn the line straight down the middle in all departments.  And we’re lucky to live in a culture where we can each choose differently.  We should all find the path that works for us and stick to it until it doesn’t anymore.    

Nevertheless, there’s something that feels strange about choosing the role that many women were forced into for so many generations.  However, if feminism is about anything it’s about options.  It’s about choice.  And if it means that we can’t still choose for me to cook dinner and for my husband to pay the bills then it failed, plain and simple.

A Flurry of Activity

Monday, October 4th, 2010

I love my weekends with GAP.  They take on all sorts of flavors.  There is the household-projects weekend wherein we tackle various and sundry tasks in a whirlwind of productivity.  There is the lazy-on-the-couchweekend wherein we watch football, movies, and Tivo’d episodes of Tosh.0.  There is the our-dance-card-is-fullweekend wherein we have an assortment of plans (and were able to find a sitter) and flit about the town being social butterflies.  There is the obligatory I-have-to-get-some-work-done weekend of telecommuting.  And finally there is the last variety of weekend when one of us flies solo because the other one is out of town; the I’m-on-my-own-and-loving-it weekend.

GAP and I both not-so-secretly love the solo weekend.  There is something utterly luxurious about having the house to yourself.  No negotiating over dinner plans, household chores, or what to watch on TV.  No waiting for the other person to be ready before you can leave the house.  No sacrificing your own intentions for the weekend because they don’t coincide with his/hers.  I don’t mean to confuse the issue – there are drawbacks.  No snuggling on the couch.  No shared experiences.  No intense conversation or inside jokes.  Nevertheless, a weekend to yourself and with your own agenda is, from time to time, an absolute gift.  

This past weekend was one such gift as GAP was out of town for a friend’s bachelor party.  (I will pause here to clarify that I was more spoiled by these weekends alone pre-kids.  There was another little person in the house with me this weekend, but as long as there are graham crackers nearby he’s pretty much up for anything.)  And with a weekend to myself on the horizon I made a long list of plans.  Not lunch dates or spa outings, but a collection of things I wanted to get done!  My list included:

Walk dogs (twice/day)
Bathe dogs
Go to gym
Get hair cut
Touch up paint on bedroom walls
Brush dogs (they shed a lot after a bath)
Catch up on laundry (approx 5 loads)
Hang family photos
Go to church
Go to grocery store
Volunteer at the hospital
Go for a run
Sweep/vacuum as needed (based on immense quantities of shedding)

As I entered the weekend I was a little bit skeptical that I’d piled too many things onto the list.  (In the interest of full disclosure I did have to get a sitter for the haircut and the volunteering.)  But as the weekend drew to a close I was amazed and delighted to have gotten it all done.  I was actually quite proud of myself.  Even amidst such a flurry of activity I had some wonderful times with Isaac.  He loves to “help” with projects, of which we had many.  And we read extra books before bed each night because I thought he deserved some spoiling too. 

With the weekend now behind me I’m rather confident that had GAP been in town I would have been less productive, not more.  There were moments when an extra set of hands might have been helpful, but being on my own this weekend meant that I was free to plow forward at my own pace.  As I reflect back it’s not that having GAP around impedes my productivity; he can be every bit as goal-oriented as I.  It’s just that when we are together (which is much more on weekends than during the week) we want to steal away moments just to be together.  And those moments come at the expense of my to-do list.

We seem to have a decent balance in this department.  We’re each away without the other a small handful of times throughout the year.  We relish in the return to single-dom with its greater autonomy and fewer compromises.  But at the end of the weekend we are happy to be back in the same house and making plans for the following weekend which we’ll spend together. 

I suppose my point here is to remind myself that I am an individual, apart from my husband.  It’s nice to be reminded of that every now and then, and to be forced to engage with it by setting out into a weekend whose path is charted by myself alone.  This particular weekend was one of productivity.  Others are characterized by old black and white movies and extra long pedicures.  Either way, I get to choose.  And that is luxury indeed.

Do You or Don’t You?

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Last week I picked up a copy of Newsweek at the gym and read this article on marriage as I pedaled away on the elliptical machine.  With my wedding band firmly affixed to my sweating left hand I read two women’s assertions as to why today’s woman doesn’t need marriage as her mother and grandmother did.  Further, authors Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison argue that the institution is an utterly outmoded thing of the past.

The statistics in their article collectively make a good case:

  • We can support ourselves without a man’s salary.
  • Americans have the highest divorce rate in the Western world.
  • For every year that we delay marriage our chances of divorce go down.
  • Due in large part to the efforts of same-sex couples, heterosexual couples now enjoy more rights as an unmarried couple than ever before.
  • With 41% of 2008’s births coming from unwed mothers the stigma attached to having children out of wedlock has almost completely lost its stigma.

These and other points in the article did not surprise me.  I don’t have to look around for very long to see that the landscape of the American family isn’t today what it was for Ward and June Cleaver or for Cliff and Claire Huxtible.  What did surprise me was my own reaction to the premise that marriage isn’t necessary.  I didn’t disagree with it.

I am happily married.  Once GAP and I had been dating for several years and knew that our futures would be forged together, it never entered my mind not to get married.  It was, without question, what we wanted.  The wedding lived up to all of the romantic ideals of my girlhood.  And the marriage has seen better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness, and health.  As I sit here today I cannot envision a life in which GAP and I are in a committed, monogamous relationship but not married.  Yet I cannot articulate why.

As I read the Newsweek article I found myself with neither words to defend my decision to marry, nor a desire to defend it in the first place.  By the time I reached its conclusion my thoughts trended along the lines of, “Hmmm.  Well I guess it’s not for everyone.”  It was in the same vein as “Some people like vanilla and some people like chocolate.”  But shouldn’t a topic like this trigger a more vigorous response than a comparison of ice cream flavors?  Shouldn’t I want to passionately advocate for the decision that changed my life and has served me so well?  Is there a point at which our levels of tolerance and dismissal of social constructs become destructive to our culture?

The rub for me is that the social constructs that I value – family, community, education, support networks, and the like – do not suffer in the absence of marriage.  Bennett and Ellison write:

Research shows that the more education and financial independence a woman has—in other words, the more success she has outside the home—the more likely she is to stay married. (In states where fewer wives have paid jobs, for example, divorce rates tend to be higher.) But when these egalitarian, independent couples decide not to marry at all, they lose none of that stability. Just take a look at couples in Europe: they’re happier, less religious, and more likely to believe that marriage is an outdated institution, and their divorce rate is a fraction of our own. Not being married may make it slightly easier to walk away—at least legally—but if you’ve gone to the lengths to establish a life together, is it really all that different? Studies show that never-married couples with the intention of forever are just as likely to stay together as married ones. And for all the talk of marriage being good for families, a study of the Scandinavian countries—where a majority of children are born out of wedlock—found that kids actually spend more time with their parents than American children do.

And so I am left in an odd place.  I have made a huge decision about my life.  It’s a decision that affects me, my family, and my community.  I believe it was the right decision for me.  But I have absolutely no interest in promoting it to other people.  Does this mean that I walked blindly into marriage as a result of cultural norms?  And if I did, is that a bad thing?

The family landscape is changing indeed.  But I struggle to understand my own neutrality on the topic.