The Culture of American Marriage and Divorce
by Kayla Jennings-Rivera
Growing up, a lot of my friends’ parents got divorced. It seemed every year I knew someone going through the unfortunate event. As the years passed, the culture around divorce was just that it was happening to everyone and unavoidable.
My parents got divorced when I was only five years old. The memories I have of my parents together aren’t ones that resemble the perfect, dream-like family… I don’t remember us all spending time together or going to family events. When my parents separated, I didn’t really understand what was happening, and I remember asking my mom when my dad would be back. Everything changed that night. We moved into my grandparents’ house, and I grew up seeing my father every once in a while. It was my “normal”.
As a child of divorce, I have a high chance of getting divorced, especially if my partner is also a child of divorce. Isn’t that something to look forward to? I don’t want to get engaged in fear that the “big day” won’t be the happily ever after that I want. What is happening to the idea of love? I want to go back to the traditional times my grandmother used to talk about when she met Poppop, when marriage was a lifelong commitment. I want to marry believing in “for better or for worse” and “till death do us part,” in which divorce is not even considered as an option.
I took a class last year at New York University titled “Children of Divorce”. I was hoping it would clear up any confusion I had about my life and give me hope for a successful marriage in the future. The class was extremely intriguing and what I learned will stay with me forever.
One of the first things we learned about in class is that divorce is NOT on the rise in America – in fact, marriage is less popular now than ever. The rate of marriage has been declining over decades, but is now at its lowest rate in history. People just aren’t getting married like they used to – simply because they don’t have to. We have passed the era when everyone marries at a young age to have that white-picket fence family life. Over time, people have become more independent and career-driven. Nowadays, we have adopted a hookup where we aren’t looking for a long-term partner to settle down with. The roles are changing in relationships and a family is no longer the American Dream. However, as much as these factors are influencing the rate of marriage, I believe they also influence the rate of divorce.
I find comfort that the rate of divorce is declining, yet still half of all married couples will divorce. Couples are influenced by what they see around them and the fact that getting divorced is possible; it may be messy and take time but it is possible. Although every relationship is different, when couples do divorce, most people claim it was inevitable -- that the relationship couldn’t have been fixed. Even my mother told me that divorce wasn’t an option for my parents at first, but rather admits she just shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place.
People are getting divorced for the same reason people aren’t getting married -- our culture has grown extremely independent. We don’t think we need another person in our life. Our family values still exist, but they have changed -- years ago it was frowned upon to not have a family, yet today it is considered normal. We are shown that we can be married and divorced and still be okay.
As my grandmother once said, “I would like to see my grandchildren go back to the concept of working at a marriage. Marriage is not easy -- it is something that has to be worked at by both parents. In this day and age, it seems if there isn’t a quick fix, they throw things away. I would like to see the seriousness and the commitment come back to play in this generation because I really feel like nowadays people go into marriages assuming that divorce is an option.”
I would like to accomplish this wish not only for my grandmother but for myself as well. I have seen my parents’ marriage fall apart, and my father bounce in and out of relationships, bordering on marriage each time. I feel so strongly about marriage and making the right choices for the future because I have seen so many bad choices made.
When I get married, I want to live by my Poppop’s advice, “you got to work everything out. Nobody is perfect. Nobody is ever happy all the time. You have to give, the other person has to give in order to survive. The best part is as you get older, things get different and easier because you realize that everything has to get done you could do together. Being married 43 years, we do everything together. Is everything perfect? No. But will everything ever be perfect? No.”