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Posted at 9:30 AM ET, 12/31/2010

Natalie Portman, Hugh Hefner, and the wait for marriage

By Alexandra Petri

You may be waiting for marriage. But is marriage waiting for you?

No one seems particularly sanguine about the institution of marriage these days. In general, you can tell something is about to die because people refer to it as an institution. Case in point: Carol Channing.

But marriage seems to be on the brink.

It's not that people don't like getting married. They love it. There's My Big Redneck Wedding. Say Yes To The Dress. The New York Times Wedding Announcements.

But it seems that, increasingly, marriage is just an excuse to have a wedding. The National Marriage Project, which sounds like a horrible, horrible eighth grade assignment, came out with 108 pages of report explaining that for Middle America, marriage is on its way out. Instead, people are investing their effort and commitment in pajama jeans and Betty White memorabilia.

But is it?

Just when I was about to throw in the towel, Natalie Portman announces she's engaged. And expecting! And so did Hugh Hefner.

I'm sad because I used to explain to people that I was waiting for marriage. "Not mine," I would add. "Hugh Hefner's."

Some would argue that Hugh Hefner has done more to undermine the institution of marriage than anyone else in recent memory. He certainly put the kibosh on monogamy - which sounds like something non-traditional cult families do to celebrate the coming of winter. Maybe he wanted to see what it was like after 80 -- the way certain people go skydiving or join swingers organizations.

This is exactly the sort of marriage that all the people who insist that marriage is dead like to leap on as an example. "What a joke!" they insist. "The only things Hugh Hefner does are absurd and unrealistic jokes!"

But what about Natalie?

In general, if Natalie Portman is doing something, I rush out to do the same. She attended college -- I attended college. She took ballet for years. I took ballet for years. She is, uh, expecting and engaged to someone named Benjamin Millepied - I am reserving judgment. Leaving aside the fact that Benjamin Millepied sounds like something that crawled out of my sink recently, this gives me pause.

This seems to be a new phenomenon -- the shotgun engagement. Bristol Palin had one. It's the shotgun marriage without the marriage. "No, it's okay, we're getting married," it says. "We understand conceptually that marriage is the next step here, but we aren't really enthused about it," it says.

But who's holding the shotgun? In Bristol's case, it was clearly Sarah. But what about Natalie? It used to be that people belonged to civic institutions that helped cajole them into connubial bliss. But now the only institution everyone belongs to is Facebook. And marriage is suffering. In the 80's, only 13 percent of children of moderately educated mothers (high school degree) were born out of wedlock. Now it's up to 44 percent. Still, marriage persists. Natalie Portman belongs to the demographic that's keeping it alive -- the very educated, with a college degree or more. Only 6 percent of their offspring are born outside the bonds of marriage. Perhaps statistics manuals are the new guns.

For years, everyone has been able to cite the problems with marriage: it's become a goal, a destination, rather than a state. The institutions that used to buoy it up have been eroded. The idea that there was such a thing as a happily-ever-after has been demolished. Weddings require months of work and stress, but afterwards you can drink and leave for somewhere sunny or tacky. Marriages just require work.

But in spite of this people continue to find themselves in this state at one point or another. Churchill said democracy is the worst form of government -- except for all the rest that have been tried from time to time. The same seems to be true of marriage as an institution for child-rearing. If people could find something easier that seemed more hip, they'd leap at it. But so far, there hasn't been much luck. And both Natalie Portman and Sarah Palin seem to understand this.

Maybe the shotgun has a point.

By Alexandra Petri  | December 31, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Big Deals, Petri, That's awkward  | Tags:  Star Wars, kids these days, marriage  
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Pretty easy to explain this:

in 1960 marriage was:
1. One man, one woman
2. PRESUMABLY generative
3. Permanent
4. Exclusive

by 1970 we'd changed the definition of marriage (and brought untold suffering to children and adults alike)... in 1975 marriage was
1. One man, one woman
2. PRESUMABLY generative
3. Not really permanent
4. Not really exclusive (divorce, serial marriages)

in 2010 gays/liberals are determined to redefine it further, eroding its structure and success...
It is now:
1. No longer One man one woman
2. No longer presumably generative
3. Not permanent
4. Not exclusive

What is it?

The sad new definition is "love makes a marriage" --- a pretty impoverished and dishonest definition to any rational person.

Posted by: dboc_991 | December 31, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

"The sad new definition is "love makes a marriage" --- a pretty impoverished and dishonest definition to any rational person."

Yeah, much better we define it by genitals and breeding ability than by love, emotional connection, spiritual relationship, partnership, anything like that. How rich and fulfilling a definition, based on simple bodily functions any other animal can perform, treating people as though all that mattered about them, all that defined their most intimate adult relationship, is what's between their legs. How honest it is to define a marriage as two reproductive systems in a legal relationship, primarily for breeding purposes, with only incidental involvement of the actual people attached.

It was SO much better back in the old days when everyone's place was determined by what dangly bits they had, rather than their talents and inclinations. Back when people married for money and status quite openly, because a woman's only chance of economic survival was to find a husband financially secure enough to support her while she bred the multitudes of children she needed to ensure that a few survived, and because a man's best chance of jumping class levels was to marry a wealthy heiress. Back when parents had more say in choice of marriage partner than the couple did. Back when divorce was impossible, and smug abusers/liars/cheats could beat or berate or cheat on their spouses with impunity, knowing they could never leave. Back when a man owned his wife and everything she produced (including the children), and if she worked her fingers to the bone trying to get them some food and clothing, he could come by, take all her money, and drink it away in a tavern if he pleased. Back when a man could even sell his wife in the marketplace if he pleased.

As for the idea of exclusivity and monogamy having gone away, it was never really there in many Western cultures for males. In some ways, we are more monogamously-inclined than our forebears, because we no longer encourage women to tolerate rampant cheating with a simple, "boys will be boys" attitude.

As for permanence, well, marriages generally last about as long as they ever did, it's just more likely they'll end in divorce rather than death given our longer lifespans. At least a child of divorce has both parents alive to have a relationship with them and look out for them. Healthy marriages last far longer than they used to, really.

As for gay marriage, I dare you to give me one solid reason why, if heterosexual marriage is so superior and valuable, it will suffer so much from the mere existence of gay marriages which, by definition, do not even TEMPT heterosexuals. If hetero marriage is worthwhile, it doesn't need a government-granted monopoly. If it's not, it doesn't deserve one. My gay friends' marriages and their willingness to fight for them add to, not diminish, my own view of marriage as a sacred and blessed way of life.

Posted by: Catken1 | December 31, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

As for Hefner, or Natalie Portman, or whoever, anyone who defines their own marriage by what celebrities do is too shallow for real marriage.
Hefner may do as he pleases. My marriage will survive, because my husband and I take personal responsibility for ensuring that it does, and we don't base our choices on what famous people do.

Posted by: Catken1 | December 31, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Petty easy to explain this:

In 1960 marriage was:
1. One man, one pregnant woman
2. Presumably the man could be relied on for birth control
3. Permanent
4. Women not usually able to be more than a baby producer or secretary
5. Affairs were not publicized, see JFK

by 1970:
1. The pill became available, no longer rely on men for birth control
2. Women could achieve indpendence without men
3. Women could be more than secretaries or stuck at home
4. No Fault divorce meant no longer stuck with abusive idiot for husband
5. Want to date, able to date, ready to date and dance

In 2010 teh gay are determined to achieve equality in marriage
1. No longer one man, one woman - now two people who love each other
2. Gay parents adopt children hetero's refuse to and raise them with love
3. Religious marriages fail at even higher rates - blame the gay couple with the beautiful lawn down the sreet
4. Want to date, able to date, ready to date and dance

The sad news is there are so many who want to define marriage as a 1950's black and white fictional TV program

Posted by: PamDB | December 31, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

"Marriage is a three ring circus
First you have the engagement ring
Then the wedding ring
Then comes the suffering"
-Lou Costello

Posted by: Capn0ok1 | December 31, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

In our narcissistic society that we, the baby boomers, have proclaimed marriage has morphed into one more moment for celebration of the self. Bridezilla sums it up well.

The clamor to redefine marriage to include the bizarre relationship of two homosexual men will certainly make marriage unrecognizable and will probably push it completely over the edge. I suspect many of the mindless will applaud.

That marriage was the foundation of society in Western Civilization and we have no replacement for it in the rearing of children will probably be overlooked.

Then again, narcissism was never about being responsible.

Posted by: concernedcitizen3 | December 31, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Taking all the coercive effects out, and the fear of pregnancy simply removes the extortive aspects of marriage. Its natural that the marriage rate would suffer because of it.

The main reason people get married these days is because there are a large number of tax and legal benefits to do so. Of course a lot of people go for it because of the public commitment involved, but they are probably dwindling overall as a percentage.

In my mind the greatest threat today to the institution of marriage is the misguided attempt to make marriage discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation (one woman - one man definition). Attempts to legislate discriminate that isolate the right of select groups violate the spirit and the text of the constitution. Its only a matter of time until one of 2 things happen:

1) Marriage is declared a completely religious matter of faith and the government withdraws all federal benefits from it (with the possibility of setting up an alternative non-religious set of benefits not defined by marriage).

2) Marriage will be defined as a contract between any 2 people.

Unfortunately, the way its going, the courts will probably go with option number 1.

Now we are really talking about a massive 3rd hit to the institution.

Posted by: reussere | December 31, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

The attitudes today merely reflect the debasement and debauchery of a liberal society. FWIW a society without mores and rules will not exist for long. Hopefully we can right our course before we experience a total collapse.

Posted by: freepost | December 31, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Marriage is when a man and a woman get a marriage license. Then the man and the woman go to a minister or a justice of the peace or a ship captain. A ceremony is performed. Then the man and the woman are married. It will always be thus.

Posted by: stinkingtuna | December 31, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm a 51 yo never been married single from Seattle that hangs out with married people but NEVER married couples. They suck the energy right out of the party or event or happening or whatever etc. You name the occasion and they'll be sure to bring along their very personal baggage. And just as happy to drag y'all into it too.

marriage. r.i.p.

Posted by: Mitchavery7 | December 31, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

The fact marriages can't last is quite pathetic. Back in the 50's, 60's and even 70's I would say that some people married that shouldn't have and stayed in a marriage just because they didn't want to be known as the "divorced" people. Today people think that marriage really isn't sacred and rush into marriages knowing they can just get divorced. No responsibility anymore

Posted by: Jsuf | December 31, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how long Hugh Hefner's commitment to monogamy will last. Just over 10 years after marrying his second wife, Hefner started maintaining a harem of anywhere from two to seven "girlfriends" even though he was still legally married. Hefner didn't file for his second divorce until last year.

Considering Hefner's advanced age, I wouldn't be surprised if perhaps a year passes before he's at it again.

Posted by: jjlc125 | December 31, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Do you believe in something that you've never seen before? ... *excerpt*, "There Is Love". (song). Mary McGregor. ... and many other versions.

Posted by: deepthroat21 | December 31, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Marriage is dying because its purpose has been abandoned by society. If it is just a state for adults and not children, there is no reason the same cannot be accomplished without being married. Love who you want for as long as you want. If you need someone new, go find them. But from a child's perspective, as as they become adults, from society's perspective, the death of marriage is the death of civilization. There is no "institution" to teach the means of lifelong commitment, sacrifice for others, in sickness and in health. Yes, individuals can still develop those attributes, but it is much more difficult. The old ways were not perfect for everyone and neither are the new ways. But how children can thrive under such lack of stability or common purpose is difficult to conceive and contrary to all modern evidence.

Posted by: Ashland | December 31, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Marriage is dying because of the slow death of integrity in America.
It is no coincidence, that along with the erosion of marriage, we have seen the decline of long term jobs. The average length of a job for educated people is about five years now.
For most Americans, there has been no wage growth, while housing and medical costs skyrocket.
Up to early 1970's, one could expect to work twenty years or longer.
When we decided to become corporate janissaries in the 1950s and developed a casual view of martial fidelity, the current troubles developed.
Integrity was the next casualty. It first developed in declining product quality. This became scientific with planned obsolescence in the American Auto Industry.
Other organizations soon followed. Then came the downsizing of products.
Today we have extensive financial fraud and a lack of integrity in financial reporting and auditing.
The ideas of trust, covenant, and honesty have become, in many places, a source of mockery and exploitation.
So as we agonize in a economic recession, we must also face that face the fact that we are in a moral depression as well.

Posted by: peterroach | December 31, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I was always taught, marriage is an institution, and who likes institutions. Also for better or for worse. "You could not have done any better, I could not have done any worse". Lastly, take kiddies out of the equation, and Marriage is doomed.

Posted by: dangreen3 | December 31, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

yeah, the good old days, I had an aunt who committed suicide in the early 60's because she couldn't get out of a miserable marriage, of course it effected her kids, one of whom committed slow suicide, and the other who took up with a serial abuser/cheater. Good healthy marriages back in the 50'sand 60's. I see a lot of pretty strong marriages around me now, no telling what they will be like in the future, but at least they have options if they turn sour.

Posted by: chet_brewer | December 31, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Is marriage in decline? What a silly question. Mine is not. Millions upon millions are not. Marriages are individual contracts. They can not be generalized. They are not related to each other, except in the minds of some people. My marriage is not damaged by the failure of my neighbors' marriage. I bet marriages are just as healthy now as they always were. The change is more people are willing to get out of bad marriages nowadays.

Posted by: baldinho | December 31, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

The news of marriage's demise has been greatly exaggerated. The cause of this exaggeration is the need to get attention: eyes on blogs and newspaper columns, promoting a political agenda, etc.

Whether marriage is strong or is under siege, is healthy or on life support, etc., depends on your agenda.

People still get married. They always will. Some marriages turn out to be miserable and will end in divorce. That will always happen too.

Some children will be raised in stable, loving families with a mom and dad married to each other. Some children will be raised in "stable" abusive families where they are tormented in mental, verbal, physical and sexual ways. Most child sexual abuse is perpetrated by family members, not by strangers in trenchcoats.

Interestingly the rates of divorce are higher in "red" states than in "blue" states, arguing against liberalism as an anti-marriage anti-family force.

In short, some marriages are good; some marriages suck. Marriage is not inherently a good or bad thing- whether a marriage is good or bad depends on a lot of factors. Both sides of the discussion ought to bear this in mind.

Posted by: Ilikemyprivacy | December 31, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

"123 Get Samples" is the best source for free health product samples. Find tons of great stuff.

Posted by: toniberry01 | January 1, 2011 2:56 AM | Report abuse

Approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce. Estimates are that 50% of those who don't divorce are miserable in their marriages.

If 3 out of 4 times that you went out your front door, you got hit by a bucket of sh*t, you'd probably stop doing it.

But still, I think back and wish I had married Stephanie, my high school sweetheart, instead of marrying Miss Spawnofsatan. Stephanie would have made a much better first ex-wife!

They say that re-marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. Being a Democrat, I'll take hope. I'm hoping to meet my next, future ex-wife soon.

Posted by: divtune | January 4, 2011 6:28 PM | Report abuse

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