vendredi, novembre 08, 2013

All the single ladies (and guys)? We're not "the problem."

The past few Friday nights I've had meet-ups planned with friends.

But many Fridays, perhaps most Fridays, I'm at the gym, or at home reading a book.  The weekend (at least until Saturday evening, when Mr. C. comes home) often looms lonely.

It is then that the thoughts may start to creep into my mind, as I pick up an escapist novel. I bet my married friends, by and large, aren't feeling lonely.

They are having dinner with their spouses, out at a movie, sharing a nice night out with another couple.

Laughing at some joke only they think is amusing, staring lovingly into each other's eyes...well, you get the picture.

And it's not as though I have always been single (though the ranks of the NEVER-married 18 and above in the US far outweigh those of the divorced and widowed).

I'm one half of a failed marriage, a split family, a broken home.

People of my economic class and education just don't do what I've done -- or they don't do it as much as those who earn less money and have less education (that's what the numbers say).

But here's the reality, one which my married friends simply don't seem to want to hear -- my ex and I get along much better apart than we did together. We are better parents than we would have been if we'd remained in a household divided by such a cold, bitter truce.

In spite of some truly difficult times, we parent better together than we do apart. And we live far, far happier lives apart than we did together.

But it is also a fact that the largest percentage of unmarried and divorced parents don't have the resources that I do.   Here's some interesting data from the American Psychological Association on what may keep a couple together:

Ethnicity is a factor.

"Asian women and foreign-born Hispanic men, for example, have the highest chance of the demographic groups studied that their marriages will last 20 years (70 percent), while black women have the lowest rate of reaching the two-decade mark (37 percent). For white men and women as well as black men, the chances are just more than 50 percent, NCHS reports."
Education makes a difference.
"Women with at least a bachelor's degree have a 78 percent shot that their marriages will last 20 years, compared with a 41 percent chance among women with only a high school diploma, according to the NCHS data. Age at marriage is also a predictor of marital success: Couples who wed in their teens are more likely to divorce than those who wait to marry. In addition, a person whose first child is born after the wedding is more likely to stay married than one who enters a marriage already a parent."

And money? Money talks.

A 2009 report from the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project, for example, showed that couples with no assets are 70 percent more likely to divorce within three years than couples with $10,000 in assets. That comes as no surprise to Terri Orbuch, PhD, of the University of Michigan and Oakland University, who says arguments over money — how to spend, save and split it — plague even well-off couples. In her work with the Early Years of Marriage Project, a longitudinal study of 373 couples who married in 1986 (funded by the National Institutes of Health), Orbuch has found that seven out of 10 pairs name finances a cause of relationship trouble. "Money is the No. 1 source of conflict or tension," she says.

Simply put -- if you have more assets, you have more choices. 

That's true whether you are single or married. But it's part of the reason why divorce can often lead to a lower standard of living -- pooled assets are now split up, and running two households can be very expensive.

While I'm by no means rich, I don't have to worry about buying food or putting gas in the tank. But if your husband walks out on you, and you are a woman working two jobs with three kids at home, your choices become much more difficult.

Saying "stay married" to someone in that situation is like telling someone who has put on ten pounds just to show more will-power. 

Sure, there are many people with unrealistic expectations of married life -- people who probably could have stayed together if they'd had someone to talk to and a supportive community.

But those aren't always available, particularly to the poor. In addition to psychological and spiritual help, they also need material support. I've seen tremendously capable and frankly, courageous women and men struggle mightily to keep their children clothed and fed in the face of tremendous adversity.  While I'm sure that there are those who take advantage of our social welfare safety net (I'm quite positive there are many of all races and ethnicities), there are also many who choose to apply for help as a last option.

I've heard the "there but for the grace of God go I" lines from some of my wedded friends slip out when I've shared my search for friends and now and then loneliness.

I don't really blame you. There's joy in companionship. I don't begrudge you that.

And I'm pretty strong. Where I once might have let the opinions of others define me, I'm not as quick to do so today.

But I do ask for your respect, and understanding that my experience has been different than yours.

And I beg you not to use the sword of marriage as a stick to beat the poor without doing something concrete to support them. Marriage may be part of the answer, but it isn't the universal cure.

And until we admit that we are still struggling, as a society, with how to help those who don't have security, safety and faith that they live in a world in which opportunity is possible -- wedlock is going to be more of a taunt than a blessing. 

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