Vera Wang designed my marriage

July 9, 2007 | 58 comments
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Everybody’s talking about expensive weddings; let’s talk about expensive marriages.

June is gone, and so is this year’s exultation ostentation exhibition of June brides, gone to the Bahamas to recover from nuptial consumer fatigue, the honeymoon’s new raison d’etre. But back in December, the conscientious bride-to-be studying the Weddings section of the New York Times would have come across a list of fifteen questions to be asked and answered of her future spouse before the big day:

1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?

2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?

3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?

4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?

5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?

6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?

7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?

8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?

9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?

10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?

11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?

12) What does my family do that annoys you?

13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?

14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?

15) Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?

This list strikes me as an entirely reasonable set of questions for June ’07 brides to ask in the vestibule of their married lives, and when I read it I duly forwarded the item to all the brides-to-be in my address book. It occurred to me, though, that had my mother, a June bride in 1973, come across this list during her engagement, some of the questions—-say 1, 3, 9, 13, 14 and 15—would have seemed entirely unnecessary. She had no need to negotiate the whether and who of children, housework, career, religion, or divorce; when she said “yes,” she agreed not only to wed my father, but to marry him, as well—that is, to enter into a social institution the chief terms of which had already been negotiated. And to my grandmother in 1947, perhaps only five or six of the fifteen would have seemed remotely relevant—again, not because questions of children, sex, finances and housework were irrelevant to their marriage, but because the institution of marriage itself provided the answers. To be married was to put on a ready-made set of roles; before the gown ever glinted in the bride’s eye, in other words, the shared public meanings and practices of marriage performed the work of negotiation implied in the Times’ fifteen questions.

My grandmother’s generation sewed its own wedding gowns but got its marriages pret-a-porter; my own generation buys its wedding gowns off the rack at David’s Bridal but custom-makes each marriage. And as any bride’s father will tell you, custom-made is expensive: a made-to-order marriage, one in which every aspect of the deal must be offered, negotiated, and accepted, is far more expensive than a couture gown. It can only be purchased with cold hard relationship capital, with time and skilled communication, negotiation and re-negotiation, patience and persistence, and bottomless reservoirs of trust, commitment and goodwill. (Plenty of money sweetens the deal, as well: the secret to a successful 50-50 marriage after kids, more often than not, is that 50% of the household work is hired out.) Perhaps it’s fair to say that our stripped-down version of marriage has outsourced its social and ideological work, as well: whereas the public institution itself once did the work of sorting individuals into congruent pairs and organizing the domestic and financial affairs of the resulting household, that work is now left to private individuals—and an eager company cache clutch of counselors and consultants.

This emaciation of the institution has been celebrated as an emancipation for individuals, and on its face this notion is difficult to refute: individuals, particularly women, now enjoy more positive freedom to initiate, negotiate, and terminate relationships nearly at will. But given the high sociological cost of marriage, and its diminishing social utility, fewer people are able to afford marriage at all—and those who don’t marry are precisely those who lack the social and personal capital to secure the human goods of marriage by other routes. The weakening of public insitutions promotes some positive personal freedom for all, but it can simultaneously erode the negative freedoms—freedom from poverty and misery, say—that ought to protect our marginal communities.

The high sociological cost of custom-made marriage may explain some aspects of the gender gaps in marriage and divorce, as well: young, childless, professional women tend to be wealthy in the sort of relationship capital necessary to favorably negotiate the terms of a marriage—perhaps, indeed, wealthier in this way than manyof their male counterparts—and thus it’s no surprise that they look forward to marriage on their own terms. But the intractably unequal distributions of pregnancy, childbirth, and infant attachment will deplete a mother’s reservoir of capital much faster than a father’s, and thus perhaps it’s no surprise that after children arrive, marriages tend to drift back into cheaper, ready-made gender-roles or else to dissolve altogether, usually initiated by the wife, who no longer has the capital favorably to negotiate the terms of the marriage.

All this is not to say that marriage is the new iPhone, expensive and faulty. Marriage still works pretty hard for those who can afford it: it efficiently installs a bundle of legal obligations and privileges, it regulates sexual behavior, and it fosters fathers’ investment in their children. And recently marriage, together with pornography, has assumed the broader cultural task of imagining what it means to be female, a set of images and meanings to which women seem drawn despite (or because of) our hopelessly vexed ideas of gender. Bridal cheesecake, the bride’s lips parted in a rictus of consumer lust, is an important picture of femininity, whatever we may feel about the rhetoric of that picture. The honeybees that pollinate the orange blossoms in the wedding bouquet are disappearing. The bouquet, for the moment, is still here.

58 Responses to Vera Wang designed my marriage

  1. Nate Oman on July 9, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    “We may say that the movement of the progressive societies has hitherto been a movement from Status to Contract.” — Henry Maine, The Ancient Law (1861)

  2. Adam Greenwood on July 9, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    In a post full of keen insights, perhaps the keenest one is only an implication, and not an implication that arises from what is said but an implication that arises from what is not said.

    What is not said is a point for all this: a moral program, a political program, the sketching of a cultural ideal. And the implication is that life is often too big for us, too big for us to do more than just observe and describe. All kingdoms are cut without hands and roll inexorably.

  3. bbell on July 9, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    RW,

    This could be multiple posts. You made so many points…..

    One thing that makes the traditional LDS family arrangement similar to your parents and my parents (both 1973 by the way) attractive to me and all my 3 married brothers is that the childrearing, financial, etc etc decisions are already made for us. We slip into our roles in general and become one unit. Esp as you point out after the kids arrive. I am comtemplating a 5th child right now and am grateful for the stability that the “Old School” family platform provides for childrearing.

    One quick counter point:

    It seems that the highly educated women in the US are actually exp higher marriage rates and lower divorce rates then their less well of sisters. The sexual revolution and the corresponding illegitimacy boom and divorce boom seems to have hit the lower classes harder.

  4. Frank McIntyre on July 9, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Very interesting, thanks.

  5. Adam Greenwood on July 9, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    One quick counter point:

    It seems that the highly educated women in the US are actually exp higher marriage rates and lower divorce rates then their less well of sisters. The sexual revolution and the corresponding illegitimacy boom and divorce boom seems to have hit the lower classes harder.

    This is very true but it isn’t a counterpoint, BBell.

  6. ECS on July 9, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    Excellent post, Rosalynde. I read that article in the NY Times awhile back and wondered how useful these questions were in gauging compatibility and marital success. The couple’s answers would very much depend when the couple were asked the questions – it’s a lot easier to agree, while you’re happily engaged, that you’d be okay moving away from your family if your spouse’s career required this of you, but five years down the road you might be much less accommodating.

    Also, when you say that traditional marriages sorted individuals into “congruent pairs”, I’m not sure I agree. If by “congruent” you mean male/female, then sure. But congruency with respect to preferences (as reflected in the NY Times questions) had little to do with the success of the traditional marriage. Self-sacrifice, compromise, and no realistic opportunity for divorce did. (But that’s your point – no?)

  7. bbell on July 9, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Yeah,

    After re-reading your right Adam.

    Its more to the point I guess. Its one of the really unfortunate demographic changes regarding marriage of the last 50 years. Marriage seems to be more difficult and it seems to statistically take more education and $$ to pull it off. Its sad…..

    Take my grandparents. Married in 1946 at the tender age of 20. My grandfather did not graduate from HS due to being drafted into the navy in 1945. They were married for 60 years. The marriage was bolstered by the societal supports as laid out in RW’s post.

    Take 2 uneducated random 20 year olds and marry them today in 2007 and the social sciences point to a relative disaster. Most likely poor with a divorce on the horizon. One of the big reasons for the potential poor outcome is the societal loss of the pillars for marriage that RW writes about.

  8. Frank McIntyre on July 9, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    “Self-sacrifice, compromise, and no realistic opportunity for divorce did. (But that’s your point – no?)”

    In 1956 the divorce rate was very roughly 2.5 per thousand people per year. In 1998 it was roughly 4.25. This is lower than it was in 1980 when it was around 5.

  9. bbell on July 9, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    Frank,

    There is a big debate over what is causing the downtick in divorce rates/numbers. Here are some of the contenders for the reasons.

    1. Lower marriage rates in general. People may be self selecting either to get married or not based on personal preferences. There is less pressure to tie the not from society.
    2. Higher age of first marriage
    3. A backlash by the children of divorced parents not to repeat the mistakes of the last generation

    No one has really pinned down what is causing the downtick. I simply hope it keeps going down.

  10. cyril on July 9, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    Men have little incentive or desire to marry anymore because of lists like these, not to mention the ability to fulfill the single strongest thrust toward marriage in other, less constraining ways.

  11. Naismith on July 9, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    “It occurred to me, though, that had my mother, a June bride in 1973, come across this list during her engagement, some of the questions—-say 1, 3, 9, 13, 14 and 15—would have seemed entirely unnecessary. She had no need to negotiate the whether and who of children, housework, career, religion, or divorce; when she said “yes,” she agreed not only to wed my father, but to marry him, as well…”

    Um, Rosalynde, have you actually talked to your mom about those issues? Because while you may be correct about expectations during the 1950s and earlier, 1973 was after the social upheaval of the 60′s and introduction of the birth control pill.

    I was married in the temple in 1978, just five years after your parents, and we did spend a lot of time negotiating such issues prior to marriage. We did plan to have children, that’s true, but how many and how far apart was a subject of much discussion. And even back then, we had always had planned that I would return to the workplace when the children were in school, and that we would have paid household cleaning help when that occured. I had little interest in marriage (wasn’t raised LDS) and wouldn’t have married a guy who wasn’t willing to negotiate those items.

    Plus, we had a lot of religious differences to work out. I was a convert and my husband from a crossed-the-plains family and he ridiculed my “new convert idealism” because I actually thought we should be holding family scripture study, etc.

  12. Adam Greenwood on July 9, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    Naismith,
    Mormons tend to lag the main culture by decades.

  13. John Mansfield on July 9, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    A number of the questions on that list aren’t meant to have multiple valid responses. “Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?” “No, thankfully, or there would be no end to the dreamy nonsense and bellyaching we would be expecting one another to actually pay attention to.”

  14. Ray on July 9, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Adam (#12), That is both a good and bad thing, which I think fits very well into the original post.

  15. bbell on July 9, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Ray #14.

    What is good and bad? Lay it out for us???? I mostly see good but that is my orthodox leanings coming out….

  16. Rosalynde Welch on July 9, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Thanks for commenting, all.

    ECS, by “congruency” I meant, yes, heterosexual pairs—and also pairs sorted by race, geographical location, class, and religion; in short, marriage tended to pair up individuals who could be expected to share the same local variant of the public institution. It didn’t always match people up according to compatible personality types; the institution of dating tried to do that, with some success, I guess. While I am ABSOLUTELY IN FAVOR of individuals’ right to marry across these demographic boundaries, I think it must also be acknowledged that decreasing the institution’s sorting power has also decreased its social utility.

  17. Adam Greenwood on July 9, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    What is good and bad?

    For one thing, the fact that we only lag the culture is a real problem.

  18. ECS on July 9, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    But why should we be absolutely in favor of crossing demographic boundaries if this weakens the institution of marriage?

  19. Rosalynde Welch on July 9, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    Naismith, that’s a fair point. I think most of the questions would have been relevant to my mother and father in 1973, but the big ones—about religion, children and childcare, career, and possibility of divorce—would not, because of their shared religious subculture.

  20. Rosalynde Welch on July 9, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    ECS, I’m in favor of the *right* to marry across categories; I’m not advocating that kind of marriage, necessarily. (In any case, most people self-select within categories based on private preference.)

  21. bbell on July 9, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    #19,

    RW.

    I believe based on anecdotal evidence that there is still a large group of LDS adults who when getting married in their early to mid 20′s that are still like your parents. Those big issues: about religion, children and childcare, career, and possibility of divorce— are still being framed by an LDS centric worldview that has not seen to much change since 1973 (big exception is BC and family size, but still less BC and more kids then the average US Couple)

  22. Rosalynde Welch on July 9, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    bbell, I share your hunch and your anecdotal observation. The Times’ question #7—about the television in the bedroom—suggests a new challenge that traditional marriage hasn’t had to cope with: consumer preferences. Marriage has no real mechanism for reconciling or organizing spouses’ divergent consumer identities and choices, and these choices are becoming ever more central to our senses of self and affiliation—-as the wedding registry (and the baby registry, and the amazon wishlist, etc etc etc) demonstrates.

  23. Ray on July 9, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    #15 – I would rather we err as a collective body on the side of caution, so I also agree that it is a “good” thing overall. “Bad” – the time it takes to change entrenched practices based on fallible opinions of past leaders – Blacks and the Priesthood, for example. (That shows my interpretation, but the overall point holds, I believe.)

  24. Naomi Frandsen on July 9, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Rosalynde, strangely enough I just finished putting a bunch of the new “Celebrate Pollinators” stamps onto one of the last batch of wedding invitations. Bees and butterflies and bats zooming their way across the country to inform people about our marriage.

    I think that Mormons tend to avoid really expensive weddings–a point that could probably go unsaid here. For a standard temple marriage, we don’t have to rent a venue for the ceremony, we don’t have to buy a lot of expensive wine, and I think that a lot of couples are content with cutting costs on bridesmaid dresses, hand-crafted pewter heirloom ornaments, etc. Rachel asked a couple of months ago what the average LDS wedding cost, and while I never heard a final number from among the answers she got, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s around $5,000, if that. And as long as Latter-day Saint families tend to be large and supporting missionaries, etc., these contained costs are probably good. But it does make me wonder–is there a correlation between a lower-cost wedding and a more institutionally traditional marriage? If the wedding’s not custom-made, does that mean that the marriage isn’t likely to be either?

    On a different matter, I sometimes worry that all of this wedding planning can undermine the future marriage–if all you’re talking about with your intended is plans and numbers and registries, etc., etc., it seems like you could run the risk of forgetting how to talk about real things.

  25. Naismith on July 9, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    “…the big ones—about religion, children and childcare, career, and possibility of divorce—would not, because of their shared religious subculture.”

    What religious subculture was that? I was at BYU when such things were being discussed in the 1970s.

  26. Kaimi Wenger on July 9, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    Good questions, Naomi. And if your comment means what I think it means, congratulations as well.

  27. Stephanie on July 9, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    My husband and I were going through this list from a recent Women\’s Health magazine article:

    -Going to college ups your chances of marrying and reduces your risk of divorce or separation by 13 percent. Fewer money woes and a better ability to negotiate help the relationship work.

    -Wait until you\’re over 25 to marry and you\’ll cut your chances of splitting by 24 percent. With a few extra years to explore the world and the people in it, you\’re better prepped to choose the right mate.

    -Women who have poor relationships with their fathers are more likely to divorce.Being close to Dad helps you understand men better. If yours is out of the picture, your marriage isn\’t doomed. Studies show that a good relationship with your husband\’s father can fill the void.

    -Having a religious affiliation decreases your odds of divorce by up to 19 percent — though it\’s likely because most religions frown on divorce, not because married believers are necessarily happier.

    -Couples who earn at least $50,000 a year reduce their chances of divorce by up to 34 percent. Experts believe (duh) it\’s because they\’re less likely to argue over money.

    -Having a baby — after you\’ve been married at least 7 months — lowers risk of divorce by 24 percent. Couples who wed after procreating often marry because of the kid, not because the relationship is strong.

    -Marriages in which the bride is older than the groom are up to 5 percent less likely to dissolve. Experts aren\’t exactly sure why, but we\’re willing to follow Demi Moore\’s lead on faith alone.

    Some of those things seem obvious, but I was surprised about the college thing. I never imagined that investing in my education also means investing in my marriage!

  28. Kristine on July 9, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    Stephanie, thanks for posting those. I think it’s interesting (and a little scary) that what the sociologists tell us works and what Church leaders have traditionally taught don’t necessarily line up. (Mostly on the age of marriage and having enough money issues).

  29. Ray on July 9, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    I don’t see it that way, Kristine. Even slanting it to the Church’s greatest disadvantage: [-13 + -24 + 19 + some positive number + 34 + 24 - 5 = at least 35% in favor of prophetic counsel. Even if you zero the income factor, it's still at least 1% in favor of the Church - and that doesn't factor the extra boost of a temple marriage, which is not insignificant.] I know it’s trickier than that, but all I have are the numbers as listed.

  30. FoxyJ on July 9, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    Hey Naomi–

    Congratulations Naomi! (I’m an old friend from years ago, but I haven’t seen you in forever). I think these are excellent questions, but I also agree with what ECS pointed out, that your ability to answer them might or might not be the same early in marriage as it would be later. My husband and I took a marriage preparation class while we were dating, and I remember that many of our discussions of things would end up with us quickly agreeing with each other. Now five years or so down the road we are realizing that we have many things to think about and talk about and that we have changed. For example, we always wanted to do some sort of thing where we both worked part-time. Now that I’ve just finished my master’s degree, I’m tired of juggling school and kids and I’m realizing that I want to just be the stay-at-home parent. We’re having to readjust things and make changes.

    For what it’s worth, I think these kinds of questions are good and need to be asked. Engaged couples should have some kind of preparation class or something like that. It can help you figure out some compatiblity issues that might interfere too much with future happiness.

  31. Hanna Tycc on July 9, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Naomi, in my Stake in the south end of Salt Lake County in Utah, I don’t know any family who has recently spent less than 6500.00 for a nice wedding. This would include reception venue, not the cultural hall, and modest food, inexpensive photographer and dress. I am in the thick of my daughter’s wedding now and we are looking at 8,000 -10,000. And I don\’t feel we have been extravagent. Of course, it\’s all relative isn\’t it?

  32. FoxyJ on July 9, 2007 at 11:24 pm

    I’m not sure how much we spent on the wedding, but it was probably only around 2000 (including 600 for a dress). Our family members didn’t contribute much and we were poor college students. And I didn’t care that much about any sort of wedding stuff, so it was a pretty low-key affair. Sometimes when I look at other people’s nice wedding photos I do wish I’d had a bouquet or more flowers at my reception or that kind of stuff. Consumerism is still creeping in several years down the road..

  33. queuno on July 9, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    #12 -

    Adam –

    I know you used the all-important word “tend”, but I think the number of decades is dependent on the age of the Mormon, the number of years in the Church, and where they were raised.

    I would submit that the average 30-something 5-year convert living in Detroit (for instance) is not that far off the world.

  34. Rosalynde Welch on July 9, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    Naismith, if you and your husband-to-be seriously negotiated whether to have children, who would be the primary caregiver and who the primary provider, and whether the children would be raised Mormon, then it is my strong hunch that you were in a minority of engaged couples at BYU in the late 1970s. The rather scant sociological data we have suggests (surprise!) that Mormon families are and have been organized around traditional marriage to a somewhat greater extent than the general population. However, neither of us has empirical knowledge of the local trends at BYU in the 1970s, so I am happy to take your point that my mother and father may have been unusually traditional in relation to the larger culture in 1973 and leave it at that.

  35. Jim F. on July 10, 2007 at 12:12 am

    Rosalynde, my experience (married in 1970) was similar to Naismith’s: religion wasn’t an issue because we were both LDS, but we discussed birth control, whether to have children, her education and career choices as well as mine (we decided that I would drop out of school so she could finish her MS, then we would renegotiate), our finances (that was easy–we were dead broke but didn’t owe anything), and I don’t think we were particularly unusual. Our friends were doing the same thing. We knew people who seemed to be doing things “the old way,” but there were enough people like us that we weren’t particularly unusual.

    I think that the past is almost always more complicated than we imagine it to have been.

  36. paul f on July 10, 2007 at 12:27 am

    Naomi: Planning a wedding certainly felt surreal to me and left me wishing for more substance during particularly long planning sessions. I am working on getting a day or two off to celebrate this traditional celebration you are putting together. Congratulations!

    Your description of the stamps was idyllic until you mentioned bats. Rather than pollen, rabies is what comes to mind when I think of bats spreading good news…

    Rosalynde: The tenor of your post is ultimately gloomy. Is there no hope for the bouquet? The rich-poor divide has been increasing in the last decade or so. I wonder what percentage of the problem could be rectified with more fair wealth distribution in the country as a whole. You have certainly hinted here and in other venues recently that breaking down larger societal norms has contributed to an unfortunate shaking of the bouquet as previously known…

  37. Sarah on July 10, 2007 at 12:42 am

    My parents didn’t discuss any of those issues before any of their marriages, as far as I can tell, except perhaps in the case of my father’s second marriage (which is approaching its twentieth anniversary.) Question numbers 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, and 15 would have been answered with the “wrong” answer (or “I dunno…”) in the case of my parents’ marriage to one another. Along with a “umm, heh, that’s a good one…” for good old number 16 — “so why do you want to get married, anyway?” At the very least, they were both getting married for unbelievably crummy (and very different) reasons. Small wonder the marriage only lasted as long as it did because they were waiting for my grandfather to pass on peacefully before filing the papers.

    I’d rather have a high-cost marriage in which both parties are aware of how hard the whole thing is, than a seemingly low-cost marriage in which both parties are utterly clueless. I’ve only just passed one of my two psychological barriers to marriage-creating actions (which are, incidentally, “graduate from college” and “be older than Mom was when she had me;”) I’ve thought so much about the mistakes made by my parents’ generation (the kind that allow me to talk coherently about my stepbrother’s ex-stepfather, and how my life’s goal is to get all my step- and half-siblings to stand in one room at the same time) that I’ve hardly allowed myself to make my own.

    Oh! And at the very least, questions 1 & 13 were inadequately explored in my grandmother’s marriage — her having to give up college at 19 because she was pregnant (in 1952) left her more or less permanently bitter towards her eldest child. And after about 11 months of living across the country from where she’d grown up (due to Grandpa’s job), she put her foot down and made the family move back, taking years to recover financially (the moving back and forth also messed with her children’s high school and college educations.) Just because there were general, stereotypical ideas afloat about how things were supposed to work, doesn’t mean it was any easier for the individuals in question. Oddly, my super-progressive, modern, and very liberal pair of grandparents worked the whole thing out between themselves nicely (they married in 1942,) and never seemed bitter or upset about even the stuff that would drive (I think) anyone crazy, like having to give up driving at the age of 45. My mother and stepfather are a bit like that: they’re also quite close in personality and have known each other since high school, so it could just be pure familiarity that makes that one work.

  38. Rosalynde Welch on July 10, 2007 at 12:46 am

    Naomi, Rebecca Mead, author of “One Perfect Day,” the book that sparked the recent round of articles I linked above, ascribes the growth of the wedding industry and big-budget wedding extravaganzas to feminism, rather ironically: as women have entered the workforce, they have less time to do things themselves and more money to pay somebody else to do it. I dunno, though, since it’s my understanding that parents still generally pay for the wedding. Caitlin Flanagan, I think, has suggested, in her own impressionistic way, that the the big weddings compensate for the fact that marriage no longer initiates one’s sexual life—-you have to make the fireworks some other way, in effect. Possible, I guess. My favorite explanation is the one I suggested above: the big weddings are working more on gender than on marriage, per se. And women are willing to spend a lot of money to feel like women, it appears.

  39. Rosalynde Welch on July 10, 2007 at 12:51 am

    Jim, thanks for your comment; I always value your perspective. But if you think I’m suggesting that the traditional institution of marriage was not complicated, then you’ve misread me (or I’ve miscommunicated, more likely).

  40. Kaimi Wenger on July 10, 2007 at 1:27 am

    Kristine,

    You’re right that they don’t line up perfectly. Some very good marriage preservation factors — wait till after you’re 25 — are really not emphasized at all, and church culture cuts against them.

    The obvious reason, I think, is because the church really isn’t interested in preserving marital stability as a stand-alone virtue. Rather, marital stability is part of a morality package. Encouraging later marriage might increase marital stability, but it would also increase the incidence of premarital sex. So the church does not advocate later marriage — even though that would lead to more stable marriages — because that would create other costs.

  41. Rosalynde Welch on July 10, 2007 at 1:47 am

    It looks to me like most of the items in #27 are reducible to class, not causes of marital stability in themselves.

  42. Ray on July 10, 2007 at 2:37 am

    I was struck by the only contradicting disclaimer in the list – that attached to religious affiliation. Not one of the other indicators addressed “marital happiness” – just marital stability. Why did the compilers feel compelled to create a caveat for religion when they did not feel compelled to create that same caveat for the others?

    I just searched divorce stats by denomination: almost any category of Christian and Jew = between 24-30%; atheists and agnostics = 20-24%; Mormons marrying non-Mormons = 40%; Mormons marrying Mormons = 13%; Mormons marrying in the temple = 6%. How can we square that with #27 & #28? Perhaps, if you really try to follow the advice and counsel of the prophets fully in your life and marry someone else who also tries to do so (which, in reality, is what they encourage when it comes to marriage), then the world’s suggestions for “marital stability” will fade significantly. Maybe the prophets really do see the bigger picture and know what they are talking about in this regard.

  43. Naismith on July 10, 2007 at 7:21 am

    “The rather scant sociological data we have suggests (surprise!) that Mormon families are and have been organized around traditional marriage to a somewhat greater extent than the general population. ”

    And my family looked pretty traditional from the outside as well. But just because we ended up choosing a path that looks traditional does not mean that we did not DISCUSS those issues.

    We discussed the alternatives and actively chose to have mom at home with little ones. We actively chose to have dinner as a family every night. And so on.

    We didn’t just mindlessly follow a prescribed path nor think we had no other choices.

    And I certainly wasn’t the only young mother in my Wymount Terrace quad to leave a child in daycare with a neighbor mom in order to finish off a degree.

  44. bbell on July 10, 2007 at 10:20 am

    What the church teaches about marriage clearly does work. Take a look at the Temple Divorce rates from the links.

    The temple divorce rate is the lowest in the US. Substantially lower then anybody else.

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/lds_divo.htm

    http://www.adherents.com/largecom/lds_dem.html

    http://fhss.byu.edu/adm/hickman_lecture.htm

  45. Adam Greenwood on July 10, 2007 at 10:38 am

    Naismith, I’m sure that many families *decide* to do the traditional things and I’m equally sure that many families see or have seen it as more or less a default and any decision or discussion is desultory. I’m aware of people fitting this description. It doesn’t mean that they are “mindless.”

  46. Robert C. on July 10, 2007 at 10:50 am

    Fascinating post and discussion. I esp. like the part about increasing customization “costing more.” In general, it seems the more we are empowered, the more picky we are apt to become. The trick, it seems, is to become empowered without becoming prideful, in marriage as in society and culture and life more generally….

  47. Naomi Frandsen on July 10, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Hi, FoxyJ (#30)–I couldn’t discern your identity from your user-name, but thanks for the shout-out!

    And Hanna Tycc (#31), after reading your comment, I realized rather sheepishly that since my parents have been paying for most of the expenses thus far, I probably shouldn’t make bold statements about the total cost :). You’re certainly right about the expense of a non-cultural hall venue and all of the various accessories to a wedding.

    Paul F!!! I assume that you’re the Paul F that I’m related to, and I certainly hope that I’ll see you at that certain traditional event taking place in August.

    Apropos to nothing, the most stripped-down, least expensive wedding that I’ve ever seen BY FAR (the bride wore her temple dress for pictures and to the reception, a family member snapped photos, the Relief Society brought lemon bars, etc.) is also the most non-traditional but very faithful Mormon marriage I’ve seen thus far–at least among my contemporaries. Without any sort of driving life plan, this couple has done everything from teaching in China to working in Alaska, and now the husband is house-husband while the wife is studying to be a mid-wife. So perhaps my inverse correlation between cost and traditionalism is not valid. In which case, thank you to everyone for not pointing that out already.

  48. Rosalynde Welch on July 10, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    You know, I’ve been watching Michael Apted’s “Seven Up” documentary series, in which he takes a group of seven-year-olds from across the British social spectrum in the early sixties, and then interviews them every seven years to document their lives. (The series so far—I’ve seen the first three installments—has been utterly captivating, and I give it my highest recommendation.) It has been so very interesting to watch the subjects, as teenagers and young adults, strenuously resist in their comments the very premise of the series, namely that their lives are shaped largely by social institutions. Again and again the rich and the poor chidlren deny the effects that wealth or poverty, education or work, marriage or divorce have had on their lives; their sense of autonomously making their own lives is evidently so compelling that they seem unable to recognize the ways in which insitutions and culture interrupt and invade personal subjectivity. To the viewer, of course, the effects are unmistakable, and often heartbreaking. (The undisputed star of the show, a young man named Neil, began as an unspeakable adorable boy who stole the first episode entirely, clever and bright and funny and happy, the son of middle-class teachers. By the time he’s twenty-one, he’s been rejected from Oxford, dropped out of Abderdeen University, and living as a vagrant day-laborer in London—utterly destroyed by the heartless gears of middle-class meritocracy.)

    Paul, I really don’t know what can be done. For all my socially conservative instincts, I also recognize that humans and human societies are adaptable (not infinitely so, of course), and life will go on even without marriage. I don’t know whether simple wealth redistribution would help much with marriage rates, since class is so much more than money. Perhaps some pro-marriage attitudes could be transmitted in college, if we can get more poor kids there, but since college doesn’t start until 18, it’s too late for a lot of these girls, who already have babies and have basically determined their ultimate family structure. Religion could make a comeback and do more, maybe. I dunno.

  49. Adam Greenwood on July 10, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    I don’t know whether simple wealth redistribution would help much with marriage rates, since class is so much more than money.

    In fact, both money and class are increasingly just proxies for IQ (interestingly, I’m told that the tendency for people to marry in the same IQ band is higher than it has ever been). A lot of what Rosalynde W. is chronicling here is characterizable as a revolt of the cognitive elites, who are no longer willing to accept institutional expectations that benefit the poor but constrain their own choices. A greater sense of noblesse oblige would help, but it isn’t going to happen.

  50. Adam Greenwood on July 10, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    “Perhaps my inverse correlation between cost and traditionalism is not valid.” I suspect that the real but still imperfect correlation is to the total present and expected disposable incomes of the parents and the bride and groom. Since non-traditionalists are more likely to get married later and to expect to have both spouses continue to work; and since their parents may be less burdened with children; and since the spouses also on average may expect to be less burdened with children; I would expect them to be willing to spend more on the wedding. But I bet its the income, not the non-traditionalism per se, that’s driving it. I would expect that children with wealthy traditionalist parents would also be likely to have a big blow-out wedding.

  51. Ray on July 10, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    Amen, Adam. I think sometimes we (including I) make things more complicated than they really are.

  52. FoxyJ on July 10, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    Sorry Naomi. I went back and checked and I apparently did not include my real name in the comment (I was interrupted while commenting). My name is Jessie. We had mutual friends our freshman year at BYU and we were in the MTC at the same time. Now I will stop making this thread into my own personal reunion with long-lost friends.

    For what it’s worth, I think the comments about income/class are right on.

  53. cchrissyy on July 10, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    wow Rosalynd, that series looks fascinating, and my library has it on hand. fabulous!

  54. Jim F. on July 10, 2007 at 11:58 pm

    Rosalynde (#39): I didn’t think that you took traditional marriage to be utterly uncomplicated. My point was that there were a good many LDS couples in 1970 asking the questions that you think would have been unnecessary. It is the past–in which there were lots of things happening that we think unique to our own time–that I think was more complicated than you take it to be, not traditional marriage.

    Along these lines and thanks to John Dulin, let me quote something from the Juvenile Instructor that took me by surprise this week, hoping that this isn’t too much of a thread jack:

    But the whole matter is this, if a girl, aided and encouraged by wise parents, will develop to their fullest extent every gift and grace she possesses, she will in the future find the man whom God designs for he rto have, who will in truth be her exact compliment.

    If a father should find one of those abnomally strong-minded, strong-willed, thoroughly independent natures among his girls, for pity’s sake don’t ruin her disposition with sneers, rebuffs, or grave misapprehension; but lead her gently along the same path her other sisters tread, giving her strong gifts as much chance to develop as her weaker sister’s gifts. “Work for Girls,” Juvenile Instructor 15 January 1891, pages 52-52.

    That isn’t the 21st century, but it certainly isn’t what we usually ascribe to the 19th.

  55. Melissa on July 11, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    I’m coming to this several days too late, and I can’t take the time right now to read through all the comments, but your observations, Rosalynd, reminded me of a book I just finished: The Redemption of Love (Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a Fallen World), by Carrie A. Miles. It’s by no means a perfect book, but it is an interesting look at the history of marriage and relationships from a Christian perspective. One of the central tenets of the book is that marriage, now as opposed to historically, is a luxury, so we can afford to do things like negotiate how many children and whether or not to follow our husbands places. The solution to a “better” marriage is, interestingly enough according to the author, is found in the Adam/Eve story pre-Fall. It’s found, basically, in submitting (not negatively) and cleaving to each other, and not by negotiating and demanding.

    Anyway. Sorry for the rambling comment. Your post reminded me of that.

  56. Russell Arben Fox on July 11, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Here is Melissa’s review of The Redemption of Love, if anyone is interested.

  57. dkl on July 16, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Interesting post. I disagree with two of your primary points:

    First, I don’t think that there is quite as much negotiation involved as the set of questions implies. Perhaps I’m out of touch with Mormons who contemplate these questions, since I lived with my wife for some time before we were married, but in practice the answers to these questions are arrived at in a much more fluid fashion than you imply. It’s no surprise that the newspaper ends up being much less insightful than it gives itself credit for being. But it is a bit surprising that you seem to fall into the trap of believing that things were so much simpler once upon a time in the distant past — as though navigating the post-nuptial waters in a pre-no-fault-divorce era were all that much easier just because the published questions for engaged couples of those times seem so primitive from our vastly superior vantage point of the 21st century.

    Second, the iPhone may be expense, but it ain’t flawed — not by a long shot.

    (Also, I’m guessing that you meant to say that your mother was a June bride in 1963.)

  58. dkl on July 16, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    Just a brief response to Naomi’s point about cheap LDS weddings: One thing that makes Mormon weddings cheaper (almost by definition) is the absence of an open bar — a very expensive item even when it just uses rail brands of alcohol.

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