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The Seven-Year Itch Gets Shorter
Sam Roberts writes in The New York Times about a study by USC's Kelly Musick (Yay, Kelly! [Lena and I know her]), who has bad news for those on the together forever plan:

Not to disillusion the half million or so June brides and bridegrooms who were just married, but new research suggests that the spark may fizzle within only three years.

Researchers analyzed responses from two sets of married or cohabitating couples: one group was together for one to three years, the other for four to six years.

While the researchers could not pinpoint a precise turning point — the seven-year itch, as popularized in the play and film about errant husbands, was largely a theory — they found distinct differences between the groups.

“We know the earlier ones are happier,” said Prof. Kelly Musick, a University of Southern California sociologist. “The initial boost that marriage seems to provide fades over time.”

Research also showed that the median duration of first marriages that end in divorce remains a little more than seven years, which means that those couples will likely spend more than half their married lives less happy than they were when they cut the first slice of wedding cake.

“Some folks start getting less happy at the wedding reception,” said Larry Bumpass, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who wrote the study with Professor Musick.

Is there a three-year itch?

“There is not necessarily anything magical about year three,” Professor Musick said. “We know that typically when marriages end in divorce, half end before seven or so years and half end after. This is the same idea.”

...The research doesn’t address whether blissful 21st-century relationships are any more or less enduring than they were in the 20th century, so it may be that happy coupledom always came with a three-year expiration date. With nonmarital childbearing more common and women more economically independent, “What’s keeping people together is their love and commitment for each other,” Professor Musick said, “and that’s fragile.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the findings have some foundation.

Bart Blasengame, a 33-year-old freelance writer from Portland, Ore., was with his former fiancée for three years. “I felt like, by year three, we were both forcing it,” he recalled.

“It’s the whole cliché of pursuit,” he said. “Your dates are planned out like some Drew Barrymore romantic comedy with unicorns and rainbows. By year two, we were cruising along, living together, relatively happy. But from a growth standpoint things had started to atrophy. We were happy, content is a better word, but there was no spark.”

But the evolving rules of marriage provide both opportunities and pitfalls, Professor Musick said. “There may be greater potential to find fulfillment in relationships,” she said, “but that possibility and the expectations that come from it may lead to greater disappointment for some” if the expectations aren’t fulfilled.

The truth is, according to Stephanie Coontz, another sociologist I know, until about 200 years ago, marriage was basically a business arrangement, not a love arrangement. Here's a column I wrote on the subject in 2005:

I’ve been in a relationship with a lovely woman for two years. Six months ago, she gave me an ultimatum. Now I have two weeks to make my decision: marry her or break it off forever. She’s crazy about me, and my family and friends adore her, and all would be ecstatic if I took the plunge. The problem is, I am just not passionate about her. A friend’s father once told me “it doesn’t matter who you marry.” I find that really sad, but if it’s true, what am I waiting for?

--Down To The Wire

Romeo and Juliet were overprivileged freaks. Until 200 years ago, according to historian Stephanie Coontz, “the theme song for most weddings could have been ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’” Sure, sometimes love did follow, but for thousands of years, writes Coontz in Marriage, a History, people married for sensible reasons, like keeping peace between France and Spain. For commoners, matches were not typically made in heaven, but in three inches of manure: “My daddy’s pigs and your daddy’s cows forever!”

Back in the 1550s, when it took two to do a lot more than tango, divorce was about as common as cell phones. In those days, putting food on the table meant chasing it, killing it, skinning it, then turning it on a spit over a fire, and there was a bit more to housework than despotting the water glasses and wiping down the microwave. Since the laboring class usually married in their late 20s, according to Lawrence Stone and other historians, and “growing old together” could mean making it to 40, a marriage might have lasted 10-15 years, at best. These days, with some gerontologists predicting that living to 120 will soon be the norm, if you pledge “til death do us part” at 25, you could be promising to spend 100 years together. (You might serve a similar amount of time if you murder several of your neighbors.)

Love isn’t the answer, it’s the problem. As Coontz observes, once people started marrying for love, they started getting divorced for lack of it. Nobody wants to ask whether it makes sense to tell another person you’ll love them until you drop. Yes, it can happen. Everybody’s got a story of that one couple, still madly in love at 89, and chasing each other around the canasta table. Guess what: They lucked out. You can’t make yourself love somebody, or continue loving somebody after the love is gone; you can only make an effort to act lovingly toward them (and hope they don’t find you too patronizing). Love is a feeling. It might come, it might go, it might stick around for a lifetime. It’s possible to set the stage for it, but impossible to control -- which is why people in the market for durability should stop looking for love and start shopping for steel-belted radials.

I’ve always thought a marriage license should be like a driver’s license, renewable every five years or so. If your spouse engages in weapons-grade nagging or starts saving sex for special occasions -- like leap year -- well, at the end of the term, give them bus fare and a change of clothes, and send them on their way. But, what about the chi-l-l-ldren?! Maybe people who want them should sign up for a “delivery room to dorm room” plan, with an option to renew. It’s counterproductive to preserve some abusive or unhealthy family situation, but maybe more people would buck up and make parenting their priority if they knew they just had to get through 18 years on family track: “We’re very sorry you’re in love with your secretary, but there are children involved, so zip up your pants and take the daddy place at the dinner table.”

Some people do have to settle. They’re afraid to be alone, or they aren’t brave or creative enough to thumb their nose at convention, or it’s closing time in the egg aisle, and if it’s male and willing, they’ll take it. According to your friend’s father, “it doesn’t matter who you marry.” Maybe it didn’t matter to him because he’s one of those guys who really just wants a tidy house, regular sex, and hot meals -- and he never figured out he could come close with carryout food, topless bars, and a cleaning lady. Do you have what it takes to hold out for a woman who really lights you up? You might -- providing you don’t need another half to be whole. If you let this girl go, you may feel empty, bored, and lonely for a while -- but it beats marrying her and feeling that way for a lifetime. Maybe you can’t order up “happily ever after,” but if you try for “realistically ever after,” you might find “happily ever now.”

Posted by aalkon at July 3, 2007 11:13 AM

Comments

Also spotted this little "gem" this morning:

http://www.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/personal/07/02/marriage.survey.ap/index.html

None of the statistics surprised me too much. But the comments by the two college professors reinforced my suspicion that a lot of academic types are completely out of touch with the world around them. Maybe they don't get out enough. The connection between "mutual happiness and fulfillment" and "living out X-rated fantasies" is completely over the top. Jesus Christ on a donkey, is it that hard to fathom that some people just don't want to have kids? That they might find happiness with someone that doesn't involve kids OR X-rated fantasies? (Well, okay, maybe the OCCASIONAL X-rated fantasy, but people with kids can have those, too.) This is like the assumption that women who don't want kids must be career-obsessed. And note the clucking disapproval! Who cares? The world is not running out of babies.

And of course, just as eyeroll-inducing, you have the socialist professor who wants either the government or businesses (as mandated by government) to subsidize child care. Yeah, that's it - people will want to have more babies if we just pay them to do it! Look at Germany, it sure worked for them! I don't know what these morons envision - a population divided between those who have babies and those who pay them to have babies? (Insert skit from Monty Python's 'The Life of Brian' here.) Who do they think pays the taxes to support these types of programs?

I'm glad more people have come to see parenthood as a choice. It's always a good thing when people remove idiotic "default settings" from their thinking. But sheesh, leave it to some pointy-headed academic types to kill the buzz.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at July 3, 2007 4:50 AM

You know, it's funny that you brought up that column. I just quoted that 100 years/murder the neighbors joke to someone yesterday when talking about marriage.

But my feelings about it stay the same. If she's issuing ultimatims, "Marry me or break it off!" he should do neither and let her break it off. Ultimatims do not belong in a relationship, and what kind of wuss puts responsibility for "breaking it off" onto their partner?

It reminds me of that awful song by the Supremes, You Just Keep Me Hanging On: "Why don't you be a man about it, and set me free? / 'Cause you don't really love me; you're just using me!

A person who's telling their partner to break off the relationship really doesn't have any room to talk about anyone else's lack of a spine. You know what I mean?

Posted by: Patrick at July 3, 2007 6:49 AM

Amy writes: "but for thousands of years, writes Coontz in "Marriage, a History", people married for sensible reasons, like keeping peace between France and Spain. For commoners, matches were not typically made in heaven, but in three inches of manure

This seems to be critically incomplete as a summary of Coontz.

The latest "buzz" about Coontz as a fairly prolific historian of marriage is that she has radically reshaped her original thesis - i.e. that "sensible" reasons were traditionally the basis for marriage.

From a recent Slate mag article: "Coontz has changed her mind; the "Ozzie and Harriet" family, she now writes, "was not just a postwar aberration." Her new book argues that, while not universal, marriages based on love and personal commitments started to emerge as early as the 14th century and really began to flower in the 1700s.

I've always thought it a load of crap that "most" ordinary marriages used to be based on economic necessity.

Because, at the very least, this ignores Chaucer - who was showing from the dawn of the 1400s that people understood that loveless marriages were a crummy waste of life.

Poets have always understood that if you marry only for love or only for security, you'll likely be miserable.

The same applies to significant adult romantic relationships, Amy.

Sure, children complicate things.

But there is great folly in trying to prove that people who don't marry have fundamentally different expectations about what they want from a relationship.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at July 3, 2007 7:22 AM

"...they aren’t brave or creative enough to thumb their nose at convention..."

It's a difficult but very rewarding route to take, to create a custom made relationship that makes you happy. Or even a number of concurrent relationships, each of which contributes something different to your happiness.

Posted by: Chrissy at July 3, 2007 7:39 AM

Maybe someone should sent the survey to those kids on MTV's "Engaged and Underage". I can't help but watch the show. It's like watching a crash happening, you just can't look away. I'd dearly love to see what those marriages are like in 5-10yrs.

Posted by: meshaliu at July 3, 2007 7:40 AM

I find it very amusing that people in miserable relationships treat you like you're a failure because you're in an alternative relationship and extremely happy. I've been seeing my weekly sex buddy for a year and a half, and it keeps getting better. I tell my miserable relationship-trapped friends, and they aren't happy for me at all, they don't want to hear about it, and look down their noses at me for not being in a crappy set-up like theirs.

Posted by: Chrissy at July 3, 2007 7:48 AM

Maybe someone should sent the survey to those kids on MTV's "Engaged and Underage". I can't help but watch the show. It's like watching a crash happening, you just can't look away. I'd dearly love to see what those marriages are like in 5-10yrs.

Exactly. It seems to me that a large chunk of our divorces come from couples that had no business even being in the same room together, let alone marrying. It's like auto insurance; there's a reason why 18-yr-olds have to pay more than 30-yr-olds.

Posted by: RMc at July 3, 2007 7:49 AM

It's a difficult but very rewarding route to take, to create a custom made relationship that makes you happy.

And with that sentiment, Chrissy, you are no different at all to Mr and Mrs Warty Pig-Keeper in the Middle ages or Kelli & Wayne who just ran off to Vegas or the two delightful elderly female dears who used to teach me embroidery in New Zealand when I was ten-years old - who posed as "companions" but who'd been discreetly in charge of a lesbian circle for eons...

It has ever been thus - whatever you do!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at July 3, 2007 7:49 AM

Jody, I HAVE the book, and know Stephanie and know her work. The 200 years figure is correct for when not just some but many marriages began to be based in love.

Here's the quote from page 4 of her book:

"As I continued my research, however, I became convinced that the 1950s Ozzie and Harriet family was not just a postwar aberration. Instead it was the culmination of a new marraige system that had been evolving for more than 150 years."

From page 5:

"Until the late eighteenth century, most societies around the world saw marraige as far too vital an economic and political institution to be left entirely to the free choice of the two individuals involved, especially if they were going to base their decision on something as unreasoning and transitory as love."

Also from page 5:

"In the eighteenth century, people began to adopt the radical new idea that love should be the most fundamental reason for marriage and that young people should be free to choose their marriage partners on the basis of love."

My 200 year figure is correct, thanks.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 3, 2007 7:56 AM

I find it very amusing that people in miserable relationships treat you like you're a failure because you're in an alternative relationship and extremely happy.

Nice that you and your "sex buddy" are happy and all, but it doesn't make sense to only look at "miserable" relationships and then proclaim relationships don't work. Relationships work fine when the people involved aren't selfish idiots -- as many people seem to be in our overindulged culture, alas. (No, I don't mean you. If you guys are happy and over 21, go for it.)

Posted by: RMc at July 3, 2007 7:57 AM

Unicorns, rainbows, Drew Barrymore romantic comedies? Hand in your balls, sir. Am I the only one who fetishizes high-conflict relationships?

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at July 3, 2007 8:00 AM

I'm only saying that I've found what works for me. When I do see someone in a happy traditional relationship, I'm glad that it works for them, and I hope they are both genuinely happy. Sometimes women sacrifice a lot just for the sake of being with someone, but if that isn't the case, then more power to them.

If a genuinely happy couple were comfortable enough with themselves to be non-judgmental of my arrangement, I would really respect that. My comment was only along the lines of 'misery loves company'.

Posted by: Chrissy at July 3, 2007 8:09 AM

Jody, as long as no-one tries to burn me at the stake, or throws rocks at me, I really don't care. Generally I'm very discrete so I don't have to deal with the disapproving looks & comments.

Posted by: Chrissy at July 3, 2007 8:11 AM

Amy,

How do you explain Chaucer's Wife of Bath, then?

If love as a basis for marriage was a "radical, new" 18th century concept, where was Chaucer (circa 1345-1400), the great populist, getting his ideas from?

Human nature seems always to have struggled to provide the needs of both body and soul when it comes to love.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at July 3, 2007 8:16 AM

"I find it very amusing that people in miserable relationships treat you like you're a failure because you're in an alternative relationship and extremely happy."

Chrissy,

Personally, I'd like to bite the heads off anyone who looks down on you!

The other great constant in human nature is the need to look down on others. So if "their" satisfaction is derived from assuming your arrangement is wrong/bad/delusional, consider yourself providing a service!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at July 3, 2007 8:24 AM

For our 38th wedding anniversary, my wife and I went out for dinner. The waitress asked how we had managed to stay married so long. I said, "We share a lack of imagination and initiative."

Seriously, we have always been sympathetic and supportive when friends got divorced. We knew it could happen to us if one or both of us changed in a way that made living together intolerable. We both come from homes in which the mother divorced the father; best thing that could have happened in both cases.

Oops, I just reminded myself of a toast I gave at one of our anniversaries, I forget which: "To [xx] years of wedded tolerance!"

Posted by: Axman at July 3, 2007 8:28 AM

Jody's got my back! thanks!

Posted by: Chrissy at July 3, 2007 9:51 AM

> With nonmarital childbearing
> more common and women more
> economically independent

Far less often at the same time, I'd wager.

> “What’s keeping people together
> is their love and commitment
> for each other,” Professor Musick
> said, “and that’s fragile.

That's not really saying much... So maybe we should insist that people's commitments be stronger.

Jody's comment of 7:22am rocks. It's always fun to fight with her, but I can't find a purchase.

> a large chunk of our divorces
> come from couples that had no
> business even being in the same
> room together

Right. I think social pressure from the peer group could be useful here. I wish my friends had warned me away from my first wife...

> Hand in your balls, sir.

Ever see "Music & Lyrics"? Not that I'm recommending it... But Drew Barrymore is gifted as hell. It's like watching a Jordan step-through-the-air slam in 1989.

> The other great constant
> in human nature is the need
> to look down on others.

God Damn! I can't believe you said that! I've been saying that here for years.

Let's get married. What, you're already married? Ok, so let's start a church. You do sermons and administration, I'll handle collections and enforcement. Can you be ready by Sunday? This is gonna be great.

> We knew it could happen to us

It's remarkable how many of the older happily-marrieds I know --one who, like you, have thrived in the eye of the divorce storm in its worst generation-- reflect on this with similar humility. I have no real understanding, but would bet that you're still married because of a whole lot of selfless effort. A theme emerges.

Posted by: Crid at July 3, 2007 12:13 PM

Chrissy - what idiots "look down their noses" at you?

That's a shame. I was in a "no strings" type of thing for a few years. It was fun - but that's all it was. After a bit of time I wanted to develop a deeper friendship with someone...to get to know someone in an intimate way that my "buddy" and I couldn't (because we didn't click in any non-sexual way...and that's prob why it was so much fun). At any rate, the no-strings thing lost its appeal to me but I'm glad I was able to enjoy that type of relationship.

I have a boyfriend right now and I am loving it (year and seven mos.). I don't know what you mean by women usually sacrifice something...that's a real shame if they do. I don't think there needs to be a standard type of relationship. If the persons involved are happy and give and getting what they each need and want then who the fuck cares?!

After reading this this morning I started wondering how confusing it would get if the normal thing became "medium term" relationships. In such a case, each person could easily have children with three different people. It struck me as being awfully confusing and that's probably why patriarchal, polygamous societies have communal type living and parenting... Or maybe Aldous Huxley was on the right track with the idea of children being raised in a non-family environment for the sake of perpetuating the human race but not to develop familial ties. Off topic as usual, but it's interesting to think about where the human race in general will go as our emotional and intellectual needs change.

Posted by: Gretchen at July 3, 2007 12:24 PM

Relationships aren't for everyone, but what you all seem to forget is that any relationship, not just marriage, takes work. If both parties care enough about each of the consistantly work at the relationship, then it can survive and grow over time.

I have been married for 14 years, gone through my share of fights, struggles, joys, passion, and deep and abiding friendship. We work every day to keep our relationship happy and healthy. It is not always easy, but the good things in life rarely are.

To me, I see too many couples who don't want to work at the relationship and decide to split the minute it gets tough. Those who aren't married - just have an easier time ending the relationship than those who are, but bottom line is, work at it!

Posted by: Klin at July 3, 2007 1:05 PM

Crid,
Glad you mentioned "Music & Lyrics".

Now I can mention, down here, that I used to go out with Hugh Grant (& all I got was a lousy unauthorised biography to write out of it - yeah, yeah - long in a remaindered bin near you - google will back me up. I'd have been better off with Drew, frankly.)

Sunday it is then!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at July 3, 2007 1:14 PM

Drew Barrymore was probably a bridge too far but I'm holding my ground on unicorns and rainbows.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at July 3, 2007 1:17 PM

"To me, I see too many couples who don't want to work at the relationship and decide to split the minute it gets tough. Those who aren't married - just have an easier time ending the relationship than those who are, but bottom line is, work at it!"

This assumes that keeping the relationship going is a person's goal. If you already have a job, and don't actually want to be in a relationship if the going is tough, then why do it? Notice the comments above by people who had sex-only relationships. If that is the only thing you want, then why "work" at it? Some people get all the deep friendship and emotional attachment they need from their families or friends, and don't see the need to have an opposite-sex romantic relationship that provides that. Just playin' devil's advocate. I would think twice before saying "too many" people don't "stick it out." Not everyone wants the same things you do.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at July 3, 2007 1:47 PM

> I'm holding my ground

To every man's midlife comes a certain hour of surrender, where he realizes that his macho dismissal of certain popular themes as trite and girly has left his heart diminished. At least, that's what happened to me.

The first guy (a slide-rule booklearner) kicked the door open, the second guy (a stunning autodidact) took it off the hinges.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bfz_xhkTmro

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZNJf-h7F8s

The unicorn thing is cool, though.

(PS- The studio versions are even better.)

Posted by: Crid at July 3, 2007 1:56 PM

Also, I saw a moonbow in Fiji once.

Posted by: Crid at July 3, 2007 2:02 PM

Proposed to - and then ignored -by Crid in under two hours...

God, talk about people not being bothered to work at relationships.

Did the Hugh Grant thing piss you off?

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at July 3, 2007 2:08 PM

No! No. But there's no competing anecdote. (I had a fabulous encounter with Sharon Stone in the vestibule of a Trailways bus between Fort Wayne and South Bend once, but don't want to appear to be bragging about it.)

Posted by: Crid at July 3, 2007 3:56 PM

The truth is marriage is a contract. It takes work to honor contracts. If one wants to have kids, which take years to raise, then one must enter into such an agreement. What is so shocking about the fact that when you displace this idea with fair tailed ideas about love that one ends up with these types of statistics?
Amy, truthfully, aren’t you tooting your own horn here? Are you married? Do you have kids? So you throw something up that supports the life style that you believe in? I don’t actually know, but that is my impression from your writings that I have read.

Posted by: rusty wilson at July 3, 2007 4:15 PM

I saw Music and Lyrics and enjoyed it very much. Which surprised me because I have little use for either Grant or Barrymore (who, of course, have even less use for me, since they don't even know me).

But as Hugh Grant (or his voice double, if applicable) sings, "Don't write me off just yet."

Posted by: Patrick at July 3, 2007 4:38 PM

Ouch, Crid.

(Not my intention remotely - but I can see any mumbles about intention only appears self-serving.)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at July 3, 2007 4:52 PM

I've been harsh on the institution of marriage in the past. What I do endorse is the option for mature adults to have the right to pursue whatever relationship they're personally in favor. It is just frustrating at times when people assume that marriage and kids is the only opiton. That is how I interpret Amy's posts on the subject, Rusty.

My close celebrity (political) encounter was knocking George Will on his keester in a popular bookstore in Washington DC. The 2 of us were not looking and bam! Will is about 6'1 and gangly. I'm 5'10 and have the center of gravity as an advantage.

Does that count for something?

Posted by: Joe at July 3, 2007 5:09 PM

More than you could possibly, possibly know.

God Bless you, son.

Posted by: Crid at July 3, 2007 5:15 PM

I have little use for ... Grant

Even in "About a Boy?"

Posted by: kishke at July 3, 2007 6:21 PM

Hey Joe, could you do Maureen Dowd next? Just an uppercute would be fine. We'll all pitch in for expenses.

Posted by: Crid at July 3, 2007 6:31 PM

Coontz is a controversial figure-- she is an advocate and her agenda is ideological feminism. I have seen her debating issues of marraige on TV and she is decidely an ideologue with a social agenda. Her points were heavily critiqued and questioned. Such " academics" should be approached with caution.

Posted by: jedwards at July 3, 2007 6:38 PM

Well, Dowd being herself is punishment enough.

Also, I have my doubts on Stephanie Coontz's work too, because Martin Luther wrote voluminously on the proper marriage rites based on a couple in love before the eyes of God. So marriage rites have evolved alongside the traditional regional customs of commerce, dowries and the extension of the various families. It would matter on the individual nation's outlook towards modernity of the given time period. The whole Gutenberg moveable printing press helped spread the popular medium of love through sonnets and plays. Public theaters showcasing love drenched stories not dealing with epic heroic or religious themes were quite popular. A very dangerous and radical idea that love for another was either equal or higher than the love for God. The cultural changes were firmly in place during the 15th and 16th Centuries. (Jody's Chaucer reference and the Luther writings.)

Posted by: Joe at July 3, 2007 7:43 PM

Lovefilled marriages a modern concept?

Who were Odysseus and Penelope?

Go look at the Cave Art in Lasceaux and tell me love filled marriages were not possible 10K years ago.


Posted by: austin at July 3, 2007 8:20 PM

No one has mentioned the fatal confluence of the romantic marriage ideal and the fracturing of society into "nuclear families." The other extreme is, of course, the family-arranged and controlled matchups, like the tribal customs causing so much grief in the ME and India these days. But somewhere in-between is an extended family model that provides enough involvement, variety of contact, and so on to make it a robust arrangement.

The point is, the pointy end of EVERY hard problem and family issue is shoved into the guts of the solitary nuclear couple, separately or jointly. The wheel gets rebuilt, if not reinvented, every generation, like it or lump it. It's amazing any marriages make it through. Mine didn't, though it lasted longer than 7 years, sort of. My parents (now deceased) and 3 married sibs seem to be making it pretty much all the way thru (over 20 yrs. in all cases). They live in the same city and interact a lot, which may have much to do with it.

As for "friends warning" you, take my word that it doesn't much matter. The Will to Believe laughs at such advice. Personal experience, and lots of observation. Can you think of anyone dissuaded from marriage by friends? Exceptional cases only, I'll warrant.

Keep in mind, as background, that all well-off countries are experiencing crashing birth rates, far below replacement level. The US is managing to stay above it with the aid of immigration, much of it illegal (combined with the immediate breeding frenzy of illegals). [ Russia is a special case, no immigration, lousy living conditions (generally, not universally), and one of the lowest birth rates and life expectancies in the developed world. ] But the urban nuclear family doesn't much like the consequences of childbirth, actual or projected. Especially multiples, which must be frequent enough in self-replacing populations to make up for the childless and infertile.

This may all be a long developing historical setup for the biological "singularity" we will experience if life expectancy starts going up more than 1 year every year; theoretically, that means indefinite lifespans and no room for many newborn. Interesting times, indeed.

Posted by: Brian H at July 3, 2007 10:03 PM

>> Go look at the Cave Art in Lasceaux (sic) and tell me love filled marriages were not possible 10K years ago.

Austin, not sure I get your point about the cave art in Lascaux. It's truly stunning, but I don't get the connection to romantic love. Do you mean that any people capable of such profound art must also have been romantic? If anything, I think it illustrates what Amy said about relationships existing to met our fundamental needs:

>> In those days, putting food on the table meant chasing it, killing it, skinning it, then turning it on a spit over a fire, and there was a bit more to housework than despotting the water glasses and wiping down the microwave.

But whatever. Anyone going to that corner of France must absolutely not miss the cave art in Lascaux. It's rightly referred to as the "Sisteen Chapel of Prehistory".

Posted by: Marie at July 3, 2007 11:28 PM

Well, let's shuck right down to the cob here. Review the first sentence that Amy quotes for us. This story would only be bad news if you were the sort of person who thought a lifetime union was supposed to be all about "sparks."

Posted by: Crid at July 4, 2007 1:16 AM

Coontz is a historian, not a "controversial figure." And she is far from an "ideological feminist." Challenge her on the facts, don't simply name-call. And the appearance in literature of love as a motivator of marriage isn't quite the same as demographics. (Kelly Musick, by the way, is a demographer.)

Furthermore, many (possibly even most) people go into marriage thinking "in love" will last. That's why they marry. They believe the fairy tale. The truth is, love may last a while, and then you fall into something else. If that works for you, or if you need the arrangement of marriage, go ahead, walk the aisle! Otherwise, come up with a non status quo plan that works for you.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 4, 2007 7:27 AM

P.S. The "spark" sentence was written by the New York Times guy. And, again, you think people go into marriage thinking that "in love" will die off and they'll be sort of platonic partners (if they don't come to hate each other) sharing a bed?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 4, 2007 7:29 AM

I think you doth protest too... Well, an awful lot.

I think most people, even lovestruck teens, are aware that not every hour of a successful union is going to feel like prom night. This is especially true of happily marrieds, who seem to know things about trust and contractual fulfillment that the rest of us don't.

People have always talked about how our culture is endlessly obsessed with youth. I believed them, and fretted that 18-year-old girls would as the supreme attractions that they were when I was that age across the whole lifetime. But of course they aren't. They're sometimes most fun to look at, but that's about it. The great majority of people don't walk around wishing we were children, and don't need to feel a child's sense of novelty in order to be fulfilled. People are more comfortable in their own skin than that.

Hollywood is all about this. Celebrities pair off repeatedly, always explicity describing their fresh response to some new love. Months later, it's over. The reason people no longer think so highly of Cruise has little to do with Scientology (sorry to say).

(Does your office have a pool on Brad and Angelina's divorce date? Suddenly I'm thinking there's money to be made in a software package --or maybe a website-- to manage such a bourse.)

It doesn't matter who wrote the line. If it takes "sparks" to get your attention, maybe you weren't doing the Big Warmth anyway. Maybe you weren't even trying.

Posted by: Crid at July 4, 2007 10:05 AM

...would always be the supreme... etc

Cheap typist needed.

Posted by: Crid at July 4, 2007 11:16 AM

TO: Amy Alkon
RE: Service, Please

"Maybe it didn’t matter to him because he’s one of those guys who really just wants a tidy house, regular sex, and hot meals -- and he never figured out he could come close with carryout food, topless bars, and a cleaning lady. Do you have what it takes to hold out for a woman who really lights you up?" -- Stephanie Coontz, as cited by Amy Alkon

You people are just eating each other up until there is nothing left by bitterness. Rational people refer to it as 'cannibalism'. And it's alive and well in modern hedonistic society.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Who can find a good woman? Her value is greater than rubies. -- Proverbs 31]

Read the whole thing....

Posted by: Chuck Pelto at July 6, 2007 11:16 AM

Love is not a feeling.It's a decision that comes after a wise and well-thought analysis of many factors that surround a relationship.Many marriages fail because couples think that love has faded after the "spark" is gone.Love is not dependent on any spark.Spark is just the initial come on to bring two people to get interested on each other.

Posted by: angelie at November 23, 2007 7:13 PM

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