31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Marriage Is More Than A Dress Rehearsal!

Single with Children: 'Starter marriage' disappointing concept

Publication Date: 02/27/02

I was reading a review the other day about a book that was being hailed as the definitive study of people who jump into a marriage lasting five or fewer years, only to find it was a mistake and, perhaps, nothing more than a dress rehearsal for the "real" thing, which will eventually come along. You must know by now that I had to buy this book. There was no way around it. I was much too intrigued.

So now I'm halfway through this "study" and find I'm shaking my head and asking questions for which there appear to be no answers. Sometimes, I tend to extrapolate and ask questions that this book, this "study" was never intended to answer, but I have never been successful in quieting my mind and, much like my dogs or even my kids do from time to time, my mind tends to ignore me when I implore it to be still.

I have to be honest with you. The whole "starter marriage" concept disappoints me. It feels like matrimony is getting the "let's pretend this didn't happen" treatment. Sort of like when you hit a golf ball and it drifts so far into the rough that you would need the world's largest magnifying glass to have a prayer of finding it, finally realizing it's not worth the effort or trouble so you allow yourself a "mulligan" or a "do over." Hey, it's only a golf ball, right? Let's just pretend you never played that first ball and start fresh. In fact, it won't even have to count on the score card!

That might be fine for a friendly game of golf among pals, but as a person who has been through the process of divorce once, which was one time more than I ever imagined, the treatment of marriage in this study feels dangerously disposable. What I keep wondering is this; does that mean that all first marriages are excused even though the vows are the same ones that couples take who truly mean business and intend to work toward that elusive 25th or 50th wedding anniversary? Do these couples kind of wink their way through the ceremony so as not to be confused with being truly serious and quietly whisper, "you know this isn't for real, right? Remember, keep your fingers crossed. It won't really count!"

And what, pray tell, happens if a baby, who hasn't read this book, makes its appearance before the five-year cutoff date, not realizing this wasn't the "real thing?" Do these kids now become "starter kids" only to be tossed away when the divorce decree is granted? Does someone run in and tell the child, "Hey, sorry kiddo, we were just pretending. Have a great life!"

Okay, perhaps I'm a little sensitive, but when I read something that demeans or detracts from the sacredness of an institution that's taken its share of knocks throughout the years, it makes me sad. The irony of it all may be that I'm even more protective of marriage because my own didn't last for what I imagined would be forever. However, even though my marriage didn't go the distance, it wasn't the institution of matrimony that failed me at all. My marital demise was due to human errors, and the blame was not in any way one-sided. There was plenty to go around. If the truth be told, my ex-husband and I failed marriage. Marriage didn't fail us.

I guess what it all comes down to for me is that someday, when my own children are contemplating the very serious and sacred business of marriage, I would still love for them to believe deep within their own hearts that it is meant to last until "death do us part." I don't want them to believe that some lame excuse or bad patch of days means they were rehearsing for the real thing to come at some point in the future. My personal hope is that they never have to remember the day their divorce became final. I'd so much rather they just keep celebrating one wonderful anniversary after the other.

As for me, if I ever make another attempt and find myself repeating those important vows again, I will do so even more humbly. I will go into it knowing many of the pitfalls and hardships that can threaten to throw the most committed people off course and I will be resolute in doing everything possible to avoid them. Even with all of the that, there is never, ever a guarantee of success and happiness, but you can bet I will be even more determined to live up to the expectations and responsibilities marriage demands. I want to not only be up for the challenges but also prepared to overcome whatever obstacles I will inevitably encounter.

By now you've guessed that I don't believe in the concept of "starter marriages" or "starter children." I can't help but believe this is something that was dreamed up to make us feel that we didn't really fail anything. I find it absurd. I maintain my belief that people make mistakes and divorces happen, unfortunately. We need to accept the responsibility, acknowledge our errors and then move forward, hopefully with a lot more wisdom and no bitterness.

Whatever children may result from the first or even second marriage must never be thought of or looked upon as mistakes or ill-timed events. Children are neither of those things. They are incredible gifts to be cherished, nurtured and loved. A failed marriage must never mean a failed family. There's absolutely no rationalization that ever makes that OK.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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