Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

One of my favorite things to do is hang out in bookstores. While I was in New York I managed to squeeze in some downtime between visits and events. I had heard about this term “starter marriages” in the media and as chance would have it, I came upon a book by the same name. It’s an interesting phenomenon that I do believe is an increasingly prevalent trend. I was curious about what insight the author had to offer so I flipped through the book one afternoon. I'll attempt to summarize some of the key points from memory:

Basically a “starter marriage” is the term for a troubling trend among Generation Xers. I think that most fellow Gen Xers can think of a few friends or acquaintances who have had “starter marriages.” A starter marriage is defined as a marriage between two people under the age of 30 that lasts for less than 5 years and does not produce any children. The author herself had had a starter marriage and the book was not so much about her personal experiences or insights, but she had included some interesting statistics and had conducted interviews with couples of varying professional backgrounds (though not an ethnically diverse sample) who fit the “starter marriage” definition. And of course the book was written in a perspective sympathetic to “starter marriage” victims, handling this discussion with sensitivity so as not to dismiss the people involved as simply reckless examples of degenerating family values or morals. These people entered marriages believing that this would be “the one and only” i.e. they had exceptionally high traditional values ideals, and didn’t necessarily have a history of irrational decision making.

The author also offered some explanations as why people enter into marriages which become "starter marriages." I offer you my paraphrased highlights:

Seeking one’s identity

In some cases, marriage gave a person who was searching for his or her identity an instant sense of purpose or identity. Marriage instantly gave him or her a role, it made her a wife, a Mrs., or it made him a husband. Message: a person should have a clear sense of his/her own identity before entering into a marriage.

Overachievers

Some the individuals interviewed were in fact highly successful overachievers, who were always one step ahead- they had graduate degrees, a promising career, and felt that the next logical step was marriage. Marriage is often seen as a rite of passage into the “grown up” adult world, also known as the real world, and a marker of when life begins.

Idealized concept of marriage/family values

Many of the couples interviewed had very high ideals about marriage. These convictions were influenced by a generation heavily influenced by divorce and the radicalism of the baby boomer generation. Gen Xers are subconsciously rebelling against the radicalism of the baby boomers, who went through the sexual revolution, experienced free love and experimented with drugs. Many Gen Xers are also children of divorce and look to emulate the idealized strong family values of the 50’s. As a result the Gen Xers may have very idealized concepts of marriage and family. They strongly believed that they would marry once in their lifetime. But perhaps the expectations that they had for marriage were too unrealistic. They thought that marriage would be a guaranteed ticket to happiness. Once they married, they were disappointed when reality struck and they discovered their differences and that marriage often requires great effort and compromise to work. A mutual understanding and compatibility of values are important to a successful marriage.

Path of least resistance

In the end since there were no children involved, it was often easier to simply end the suffering by divorcing than to persist and repair the damage or heartache already done by enduring years of counseling in marriage therapy. Many individuals realized that they were not ready to deal with their differences, didn’t want to compromise or to take the time to painfully understand their partner and took away their own lessons from the experience.

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