Al and Tipper’s calling it quits has, apparently, inspired a whole nation of gray-haired malcontents to finally get out of their miserable marriages as well. According to the Denver Post, which reports on this new “trend,” this is only just the beginning. Someday, it may be as big as the entire Internet!
Okay, we’ve all known for a while that the divorce rate is only getting higher. But usually, people who are going to divorce get it done early on — you know, before they’re too old and tired to hit the singles market again (think seven-year itch). Recent studies, however, show that breakups between married couples who are between the ages of 50 and 59 are on the up — “to about 40 percent for men and women,” says Erica Manfred, author of He’s History, You’re Not: Surviving Divorce After 40, and later-in-life divorcee herself.
Reasons cited for these mature divorces are “unhappiness, emotional estrangement, and drifting apart,” she says. Also, your kids go to college, leaving you to have to face each other and years of accumulated annoying habits — which, seen in light of the irritability (a/k/a, “discriminating tastes”) attained through growing older and wiser may become simply unbearable. Dating a guy who, stereotypically, leaves the toilet seat up, is annoying. Being married to a man who leaves the toilet seat up for 20 interminable years despite your pleas for reasonable conscientiousness and For the Love of God Just Put the Freakin’ Thing Down! is something else.
But we think there’s even more to it than that. Certainly, regardless of your age or duration of marriage you can feel unhappy, emotionally distanced, or incompatible — we’ve felt all that even having never been married — and since we trend toward getting married later nowadays anyway, especially in New York City, a divorce at the age of 50 may simply be the modern-day equivalent to a divorce at 35 in the 1950s. Excepting, of course, that a divorce in the 50s would have been fraught with social stigma and far greater legal difficulties than we currently face.
So why are more older people severing marital relations these days? Well, most obviously, they can. And they can find friends and social forums with which to discuss their breakups, and they can blog about them, and they can go on and even date other people, most likely, since there are so many more divorced folks running around, and since old people are hot, if Helen Mirren has anything to say about it.
Manfred says that the Gore marriage is instructive “in that people need to realize if the Gores can drift apart, so can you if you don’t do anything about it.” But anyone going into marriage thinking their relationship will stand the test of time “without them doing anything about it” is naive to the point of stupidity. Regardless of whether they’re Gores, Clintons, or Lipshitzes.
Interestingly, it’s women who tend to initiate these divorces, also because they can, what with their own careers and successes and money, and being all about owning their lives and being happy and fulfilled (good things, all). But then, that’s not so interesting at all — studies have long shown that married woman skew unhappier than their single counterparts, and that it’s men who benefit the most from being married.
If that’s to be taken at face value, is it any wonder ladies want to break the cycle, even if it means — egad — taking out the trash or occasional dead mouse, or dealing with the cable guy on their own (something New York City single women do, all the time)?
The bigger question here is, what does all this mean for marriage as an institution? Are we living too long? Living too large? Are our happiness needs circumventing our need for societal institutions like marriage … or are we simply ill-equipped for permanent relationships in this modern world?
It’s also disconcerting that as we trend toward divorces for everyone, homosexual couples are still only allowed “civil, marriage-like ceremonies” in the majority of states, including New York. So as heterosexuals devalue the institution through divorce, marriage still stays nice and exclusively their provenance. Hypocritical, much?
As New York veers toward no-fault divorce, it seems like “separated” may just become the new “single.” Well, newly divorced men and women, you will now know the joy of watching whatever the hell you want on TV by yourself every night. It’s freeing, really.