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Monday, July 25, 2005

"Till we begin to bore each other..."

[Warning--Rule 4 violation follows.]
Fox News documents the latest in wedding "vows"--the Scripted Annulment, or, if you prefer, the Ripcord Sacrament.

As they say: "Lower your standards--you're less likely to be disappointed."

Exhibit A:

Vows like "For as long as we continue to love each other," "For as long as our love shall last" and "Until our time together is over" are increasingly replacing the traditional to-the-grave vow — a switch that some call realistic and others call a recipe for failure.

Almighty God--just when I thought it was not possible for me to hate personalized wedding vows any more than I already do. To be fair, I've heard two that worked. The rest--bleah. I'd say tripe, but that might get me sued by the American Cattlemen's Association for product disparagement.

You know--it's material that is the fraternal twin of the dreck written for high school yearbooks, college poetry journals, or "Open-Mike Nite" at O'Twitchy's Caffeinhaus. The stuff mercifully suppressed before the literary bacillus sprayed by such patent no-talents can infect the wider world. The cloying, saccharine crap cribbed from a thousand Hallmark cards, so obviously calculated to send the listener into diabetic shock that you can almost hear the smiley faces dotting the "i"s.

No sir--I don't like them much.

But this is even worse--to their very great credit, the "love forever under the songbirds" folks want to make a go at permanent. This narcissistic boilerplate might as well say "Until I find someone with nicer cans" or "For as long as I manage to stave off my midlife crisis," or "Yeah, sure, sounds like fun as long as you don't chunk up."

"We're hearing that a lot — 'as long as our love shall last.' I personally think it's quite a statement on today's times — people know the odds of divorce," said New Jersey wedding expert Sharon Naylor, author of "Your Special Wedding Vows," who adds that the rephrasing is also part of a more general trend toward personalizing vows.

Yes, it is quite a statement.

[Sound of toilet flushing.]

But it is not a statement about the odds of divorce. It's a statement about the fundamental incomprehension of what marriage entails. I'm beginning to understand the acceptance of the idea of same-sex marriage. But it's not really support--it's more a shrug. As in "who cares?"

I'm pretty well done with the floss--now you can have it.

More to the point: when this sort of thing passes muster as a government-sanctioned "marriage," there isn't much of an institution left to defend.

Naylor said killing the "death vow" doesn't mean that people don't take their marriage promises seriously.

Yay! Thank heaven for experts!

Experts: Helping Us Embrace Things More Sensible People Found Unacceptable As Recently As Twenty Years Ago!™

Quite the contrary. "People understand that anything can happen in life, and you don't make a promise you can't keep.

The problem is, of course, that you aren't making a "promise" at all. Imagine if you uncorked "as long as it suits me" at a job interview. The prospective employer would be justified in finding your commitment to be less that whole-hearted. Likewise this. The fact that it happens to be mutual does not make it any better.

When people get divorced, they mourn the fact that they said ''til death do us part' — you didn't keep your word in church (if they had a church wedding).

As well they should. This is marriage we're talking about here.

Some people are in therapy because they promised ‘til death do us part' — it is the sticking point in the healing of a broken marriage. The wording can give you a stigma of personal failure."

Reality Check: the death of a marriage--and that's what it is, a death--can be the result of personal failure(s). Obviously, one party often is far more sinned against than sinning--at the hands of an abuser, a philanderer, etc. In those situations, a civil divorce may be the only option, and those people deserve support and understanding. And sometimes certain people just weren't supposed to be married in the first place--again, understanding is in order.

But more often than we like to admit, people can be selfish, fatuous twits who leave a trail of destruction in their wake. In those cases, guilt might just be the sign of a functioning conscience.

This is why Naylor prefers vows like, "For as long as our marriage shall serve the greatest good."

Very Vulcan, that--the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few--Or the one. Live long, and prosper. In fact, I like those better.

But "greatest good"? Which means...what, precisely? What is "the greatest good"? What standard determines it? Who decides?

I'd rather Heather have said "Klatu, Berada, Nicto," thanks. Or "Gimme some sugar, baby!"

"You will promise to be loyal as long as love shall last — you don't want to promise 'when you treat me like crap.'"

Why not? Seriously--at least there's some objective standard behind not treating someone like crap. As opposed to cotton-candy sentiment that positively detonates your average BS detector.

Indeed, actor Brad Pitt caused a stir recently when he said he doesn't consider his marriage to actress Jennifer Aniston a "failure."
"I see mine as a total success ... that's five more [years] than I made it with anyone else," he told W magazine.

Who. Really. Gives. A. S--t.

As a general rule, Hollywood stars are (1) pretty people with (2) good memorization skills. That's pretty much the limit of their competence. Looking to Brad Pitt for marital insights is almost as stupid as asking Tom Cruise for advice about prescription interactions.

But for others, nothing less than forever will do.
Newlywed Dana Novak Ranawat — a Virginia native who married in April, also nixed "'til death do us part" — but she went to the other extreme.
"We changed it to 'For all the days of our lives.' I didn't want us to say 'until death do us part.' I believe in heaven and that we will be together after we die. I kind of went the other way," said Ranawat, who is studying for her doctorate in psychology.
As for people who vow to stay married for as long as they love, rather than as long as they live, Novak said such a mind frame could be a detriment in the long run.
"People think 'we'll continue as long as it works and then we'll end it' — to me, that's going to make it end when it's unsuccessful. For us, this is the only time we're getting married and we'll make it work."

Yes--increasingly un-common sense finally arrives! And she's getting a psychology doctorate, no less!

There may be hope yet.

Dr. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said to his knowledge, these new vows have yet to creep into the Catholic Church. And while an "innovative" priest might allow them,

Paulist Center, anyone? They're pretty flexible about sacramental formulas up there, I hear.

he said they "wouldn't get a sanction from Rome."
"It's a change for the worse. The 'death do us part' vow is really unconditional. Once you change it to 'as long as love shall last' or something of that nature, it's conditional. It's almost analogous to a prenuptial agreement — simply saying 'we hope it works out.' It goes against the grain of marriage."

Bill Donohue dials it down and offers up sweet reason. I enjoy him in Ready...Fire!...Aim mode, but this is really good stuff.

Psychologist Diana Kirschner, author of "Opening Love's Door: The Seven Lessons," agreed with Ranawat and Donohue that promising forever lets the other person know that you're in it for life — good times and bad — and that promising just for awhile can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One of the comforting things about experts is that you usually can find an opposing expert.

"Over time your mate brings out the best in you, but also the worst in you. You have to have a contract that you'll work together to help each other grow. A contract that is this kind of thing —as long as we feel good — there's a guarantee that you'll feel bad, hit a rocky point, where you don't love anyone, you don't love yourself — that's where the rubber meets the road. That's where active love comes through."
But Kirschner said she can understand why some people, especially children of divorce, would find it difficult to promise eternal love.
"I think there is an unconscious belief that love can't last if there is a model in one's family. You're probably going to get what you expect if you have very limited expectations."

No arguments here. The great tragedy is that such children are subconsciously following in the same path.

But given the abundance of broken marriages in the U.S. today, some say limited expectations are simply realistic.
The Rev. Bonnie Nixon, a non-denominational minister in Torrance, Calif., who presides over approximately 1,000 weddings a year, said the specter of divorce is definitely reshaping vows.
"Some people were born in 1970 and they've already been married three or four times. At least half of the couples we marry come from blended families — some say vows to the other person's children. This generation (the one now marrying for the first time) grew up with a lot of divorce in the '70s and '80s. They have two dads, two moms, eight grandparents. They have divorce in mind — they're wary. It's just realism."

No, it's not realism. It's the tragic, fatalistic acceptance of a crisis that has to be addressed--and soon.

Nixon has even heard vows as extreme as "Until our time together is over" a couple of times.

While the hell would any self-respecting minister agree to preside over what is essentially a sham? The correct response is "No, sorry--I'm a minister, and this is a marriage, not some glorified version of going steady with joint filing. We have standards here, and I am going to enforce them. Try a civil ceremony if you don't like it."

Those of you more enterprising than I am can try to puzzle it out of the Reverend's website.

Oh, wait--she does civil ceremonies, too. About as "non-denominational" as they get, I have to admit. So much for standards.

"They don't really want to commit themselves to forever and ever type thing," she said.
In the case of "Until our time together is over," it was the groom's request, and Nixon said he was "leaving himself wide open."
"I think he was trying to be noncommittal in case it didn't work out — they didn't seem too terribly in love."

I wonder why that was? Quite the head-scratcher.

Look on the bright side--at least they got some eats and presents out of it. Who knows--it's possible the marriage might have even lasted longer than the ice sculptures at the reception.

But why get married at all then? Nixon said it all comes down to tradition.
"The white dress — all of us girls were raised with that. We still want to do that and hope for the best. Men I think are going along for the ride. I think a lot of people feel 'We'll probably get 10 years out of it.'"
That's not to say that Nixon doesn't see the blushing bride of yore.
"There are also a lot of very starry-eyed people who cry tears when they say vows. It's very sweet. And we hope it lasts — there are so many outside forces on people today. I always hope for the best, though."

Look, let's give the Rev. Nixon the benefit of the doubt--I imagine it would be very fulfilling to just officiate at marriages, sharing the blessed day with the families and so forth. The problem is that her laissez faire, chuck-a-signed-license-through-every-open-car-window approach is creating messes the rest of us are going to pay for--and the financial expense is not the first cost I am thinking of. Reverend Nixon's Annulment Roadshow isn't doing anyone any favors.

Indeed, Betsy Goldberg, features editor at Modern Bride magazine, said she's heard about the "as long as our love shall last" trend, but it's not the sentiment she's been seeing among her readers.
"The readers we have [are] still going into weddings saying 'this is forever.' The majority of people still want to go in believing forever and intending forever. I think [the rest] make up a small percentage."

One can hope.

Naylor said some people keep "'til death do us part" and other "scripted" vows just to keep the tradition alive.

"They want to say the same words their parents spoke. Things the bride has been dreaming of saying since she was putting the pillowcase on her head. Even in the most personalized weddings, people usually have one element that is very traditional."

[Cry-for-help-bad example of stupid vows snipped.]

Notice the one element missing from this piece?

No mention of kids for the Sure/Whatever covenanters. Which is another monumental tragedy--what happens when the children come into the ripcord relationship? At that point, marriage is no longer about the two of you alone. Odds are, they'll pass the scars on to another generation, and so on, and so on. Inexpressibly sad, and inevitable as long as marriage is regarded as a voidable at will contract with tax consequences.

The fact of the matter is that every marriage will hit very rough spots even when both husband and wife love and respect each other. The last thing you need is to go into it with the mindset that you are going to bail when it happens. That turns the "vows" into a sick, self-fulfilling prophecy. Anyone who gives comfort to this sort of thing has the guilt of broken marriages on their heads.
[Thanks to Jeff for the link.]

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