The marriage hoax

By Maria Russo


Salon Staff
March 23, 2001 1:12AM (UTC)

Read the story.

While I agree with your thesis that marriage has always been difficult, and that divorce statistics are somewhat misleading, I am dismayed because your article seems to lend credence to the idea that divorce is acceptable. I am writing this using my own personal experience as evidence. I believe that books which attack divorce are positive, simply because it is refreshing to see someone other than religious institutions taking the moral high ground on this issue.

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Americans as a whole are part of the most selfish, gratification-oriented society that the world has ever known. Much of this has come from the great economic success we have enjoyed this century. The downside to this success, though, has been the decay of personal and moral responsibility.

I am an adult whose parents divorced while I was in college. The only reason that they held out that long was for my sake. They could have done many things to save their marriage; sadly, deep-rooted cultural stubbornness precluded asking for help until it was too late. What is not debatable, however, was that they put their own happiness secondary to the ideal that a child should have two parents. I commend them for it. I only wish that they could have communicated better, and kept their relationship alive.

I am now married, expecting a child, and will fight tooth and nail to keep my family together. Obviously marriage is and has always been fragile, but it is still the best method for raising well-adjusted children. I know many people whose parents are divorced and with the exception of one husband's abusive behaviors that forced a separation, all of the others were mainly for selfish reasons.

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Your article is well-written, but unfortunately, I believe it is misguided because it subtly reinforces the idea that marriage is out of date. Just become something is difficult does not mean that it is a bad idea. Responsible behavior has been difficult in any age; the difference is that modern society has made it acceptable to blame other people for one's own problems. The consequences of the decline of family life are all around us, but why blame ourselves?

-- Philip DiPaolo

In Maria Russo's article "The Marriage Hoax," she makes the following statement:

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"President Andrew Jackson's wife, Rachel, turned out to have been married to another man at the same time, a fact the president's opponents tried to exploit during the 1828 campaign. Rachel was under the impression that the other man had gotten a divorce in Kentucky, but in fact he'd never gone through with it. Her mistake didn't hurt Jackson politically, though. The public, apparently, understood how such things happened: The couple's Tennessee neighbors accepted them as married, and Jackson easily won the presidential election."

This conveys the image that Rachel Jackson never in fact gained a divorce from her husband, and that society readily accepted that Rachel was committing bigamy.

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In fact, as soon as news reached Andrew and Rachel Jackson that the divorce had never been granted, they immediately split up and kept a careful distance from each other until a new divorce (requested by Rachel this time) was fully granted, and only then did Andrew and Rachel "remarry" and begin living as husband and wife. Even so, Jackson was still slandered as a "bigamist" for the impropriety of marrying a woman who was not ... let us say, "sufficiently" divorced. Stating that Jackson "easily" won election also ignores the fact that he had been defeated in his run for the presidency four years earlier and was a popular war hero; it's hard to make a claim that such rumors had "no" effect, as Russo does. At the very least, when Rachel Jackson passed away shortly after Andrew won the election, Andrew fully blamed the opposition for spreading the "bigamy" story and hounding her into depression and death. Certainly, if there were no stigma attached to being a bigamist, how could Jackson blame the rumors for leading to his wife's demise?

-- John Corrado

Back in those happy days when people just didn't get divorced, there also was a much higher rate of death at an early age. How many of those (incredibly happy and fulfilling) marriages ended not because of divorce but because of the death of a spouse, thus not showing up in divorce statistics? What if everyone married today lived to be 100? What if everyone married today died at 30? Comparison to the "good old days" is meaningless.

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And I expect to eventually marry my girlfriend ...

-- Dean Moore

These conservative marriage-mongers tend to be the same people who advocate parents' "responsibility" to pay for their children's college, even if you're a low-income family whose child has an eye for an institution other than a state school. If you are under the age of 24, you are not eligible for the same amount of financial aid as someone who is classified as "independent" -- over 24, a veteran or married. Not every 18-year-old is going to follow a straight path of four years to receive a degree in a timely manner; some actually break tradition by working full time and (gasp) living off campus! Although such students check the independent box on their tax forms, and may be self-supporting, they are still not granted this status by financial aid laws.

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The solution? Find a like-minded person at freshman orientation, and get married! If you do it quickly enough, you might be able to reap some of the benefits by the beginning of the sophomore year. In addition, if you fall below a certain income bracket and decide to file taxes together, you'll make out on your return like a bandit. Later, when college is finished, and you decide to divorce, you can always use the excuse that you were just too immature -- the moralists are a little more forgiving in these cases, especially if there are no children involved.

If I had actually executed this plan with my male friend back when I was 20 before transferring to NYU, I probably wouldn't be paying $300 a month interest on my remaining $29,000 loan.

-- Jane Hansen

Thank you for taking a hard look at the badly constructed statistics that so many "marriage advocates" tout. It is really despicable when supposed social scientists completely distort and ignore the truth. The truth is that blaming individuals for social trends is ludicrous. If women and children are harmed by divorce, then we need to examine how our social institutions fail to accommodate different family arrangements, not point fingers at "bad parents."

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I would just like to add, for all of those out there condemning cohabiting partners, that cohabitation is not a sign of disrespect for marriage, but in fact a sign of deep respect for marriage. People need to get know each other's habits intimately before committing to a lifetime together. I hate crude metaphors, but I think this one sums it up. You test drive a car before you buy it. Why should you then just jump into marriage?

-- Brandy Todd

I believe that marriage is a social contract. When the marriage is no longer equitable for all parties, it should be dissolved so that each person can find the life he or she would be happy with.

And let's not forget that preventing divorce through legislation or social pressure often has more negative effects on women, especially in abusive relationships.

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I once attended a Charismatic church. There was a young woman there whose husband was a no good so-and-so. He drank, took drugs, partied, fooled around, and he'd abandoned her. But every week the church would pray for her husband to come back and make her pray for it, too, because they believed that marriage was inviolable. And so every week they'd open up the same gaping wound in this poor young woman, never allowing her to divorce, move on and find a man who would treat her with the respect she deserved. I couldn't imagine that nice young woman having to spend one more instant with her husband. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.

I divorced my first husband several years ago. He mismanaged money, had affairs with women, was a compulsive liar and tried to gaslight me by attempting to convince me that I was certifiably insane, that'd I'd imagined all the wrongs he'd ever done to me. Now I have a wonderful husband with strong personal integrity, moral conviction and a caring nature. Sometimes we make mistakes when we're young, and I'm thankful I had the freedom to correct one that I'd made. Shame on Waite and Gallagher and their ilk for trying to send us back to the Dark Ages.

-- Rebecca McCamish


Salon Staff

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