Natalie Portman, Hugh Hefner, and the wait for marriage
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.
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?
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.
| 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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