I shocked both my husband and myself last week. A friend forwarded us a human interest article from a major newspaper, expecting that we would be as appalled by it as he was. My husband reacted as anticipated. To my amazement, I didn’t.
The article ran in a column which each week highlights the story of some newly married couple. The stories describe how the couple met and the path of their courtship. They always end with a wedding and hint at “and they lived happily ever after.” The often touching stories that get featured tend to shine in the ‘obstacles overcome’ category, leaving the reader smiling. This piece was no different in format.
However, the impediment to the relationship in this case was that when the new bride and groom met one another, they were each married to nice people, living basically happy lives and raising their children in stable and secure environments. Despite these facts, they ultimately chose to acknowledge the powerful attraction they felt for each other.
In the article they are candid about the trauma they introduced into their families’ lives and their attempts to behave as honorably as possible in a dishonorable situation. Eventually, they each divorced, setting the stage for the newsworthy nuptials. The couple doesn’t minimize the weightiness of their decision and especially their worries about the damage they might cause their respective children. As the article celebrating their marriage puts it,
“He said, ‘Remind me every day that the kids will be O.K.,’ … “I would say the kids are going to be great, and we’ll spend the rest of our lives making it so.”
The problem was she could not guarantee that.
Neither our friend nor my husband was suggesting that we send the couple hate mail or in any way wish them ill. But they both immediately recognized that publicizing and romanticizing this story was inflicting another wound upon the already badly damaged institution of marriage.
To my chagrin, my instinctive reaction was weaker. While I didn’t “ooh” and “ah” as when a previous column celebrated the marriage of two octogenarians who had been high school sweethearts and reunited after each one’s long-term spouse died, the idea of ‘soul mates’ resonated with me. That tug at the heart strings informed me that I have been more influenced by society’s values than I like.
This particular couple isn’t the issue. What is important is recognizing that today couples embarking on a life together need to define terms like commitment in very concrete ways, because in our day, those words can be as malleable as play dough. For me, it was a humbling experience to realize that I haven’t been as successful as I would like in detaching myself from the moral relativism so prominent today.
After some reflection, I realized that the newspaper’s marriage column read like a condensed non-fiction version of modern chick lit. You don’t have to go that far back in history to a time when popular books might have shown troublesome romantic temptation and chronicle how the protagonists struggled to successfully overcome it. Or else they might have shown tragic consequences flowing from an unfortunate entanglement. Today, an almost universal feature of chick lit is that everybody ends up happy. Quite a change, isn’t it?
Serendipitously, the same week I read the column cited above I also read an excerpt from Nora Ephron’s newest book. In it, while discussing her own divorce, she rather unequivocally states,
…I can’t think of anything good about divorce as far as the children are concerned. You can’t kid yourself about that, although many people do…
Ms. Ephron’s words are a worthwhile reminder, and one that I needed, that it would be a mistake to confuse some genres of modern fiction with real life.
I certainly wish well to the children in the new blended family. They have no choice but to live with their parents’ decisions. It would be truly unfortunate, though, if disseminating this story influences others, even in the subtlest manner, to opt for romance over responsibility.