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Is divorce ruining relationships?

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Here’s the thing. I am against marriage as the only legitimate romantic relationship. I support gay marriage; matrimony should be possible within any romance, just not the only romantic possibility. I also don’t think marriage has to be monogamous.

But I am starting to have doubts about divorce.

And this is a problem because, er, I am starting to think perhaps divorce really is such a bad thing. I’m starting to think divorce really is ruining our relationships. And it’s starting to make me sound like a hypocritical conservative.

Am I?

Well – perhaps not.

Let me explain.


Divorce used to be difficult, socially. Things that are difficult are generally undesirable, even if their consequence is attractive.

Having the bragging rights to an Mount Everest summit story is attractive, but actually reaching the summit is not. Hence the respect we afford the journey, and the awe-bordering-on-suspicion we grant to those who survive. This peculiar sort of judgement comes from lack of experiential relatability, and a shared belief system – common sense, in this case.

But if the summit could be conquered with ease, and if most of our mates had been there and back, it would be different. Reactions to tales regaled would be met with ambivalence and adverse judgement – “that’s interesting, but you’re crazy” – less likely.

So it is with divorce today. Yes, there are still costs attached to it – legal bills, emotional toll, and so on and so forth, which makes it unattractive. But the social cost has changed. More people have been there and done that, so it’s not as peculiarly fascinating anymore. And the belief system common to most people nowadays doesn’t have the ‘burn in hell’ ring it once did.

Thus divorce is less undesirable. Certainly it’s not attractive – I imagine few divorcees wanted to get divorced as they walked down the aisle – but it is accessible. And this accessibility has impacted on the way we view relationships. And when I say we I mean me, though I presume I’m not alone.

Certainly, when I broach the subject with my 20-to-30-something friends who are single-ish, educated, and could hardly recall a positive parental romance between them, I find similar thoughts have seeded. These notions might not be proudly nurtured by those who would self-describe as liberal progressives who value choice and freedom and individualism above all else. But the idea is there all the same.

The idea that perhaps too much choice, freedom and individualism is challenging love lives in the way their opposites did generations ago, before no-fault divorce swept through much needed change. Divorce in the 60s and 70s was a much needed antidote to the social stiffness and personal constraints of the decades previous.

But that was then. Now, the accessibility of divorce – the ease with which we can conceptualise ending relationships, even very, very serious ones – has helped make the reality of marriage a difficult pill to swallow. The reality of long-term, life-time commitment is the new Mt Everest. Those who manage it might be publicly feted, generally envied and privately doubted by those who have not, but want to.

And about here is where my palm hits my face. What am I saying? That we should go back to a time when marriage was for life no matter what? Where giving up on the great dream was social suicide? Have I regressed?

I don’t think so. I simply think the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction and needs to be corrected. I think many of us are sleeping in uncomfortable, lonely and sometimes very unhappy beds. We’ve made these beds with sheets of perpetual dissatisfaction on which we lie and wonder, ‘are you really the one, or just the one for now?’

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