CNN is reporting that as I write this. I can certainly vouch for this report as I fall into this statistic… after nearly 35 years of marriage for me. Apparently a government study has revealed that Boomer divorces are double that of previous generations. Three major reasons cited: Boomers feel more financialy independent, less affected by social pressure to stay married, and a change in how marriage is viewed, valuing indivual happiness over traditional roles. I would have to agree and I don’t think it comes at any great shock to anyone.
We were/are the “me” generation. Allegedly spoiled as kids when our Greatest Generation parents tried to give us everything they never got during the Depression. We saw what we wanted on TV and had to have it… and still do. To us sex, drugs, and rock & roll has meaning.. whether we do (or did) all that or not. When we all became of age to marry we were already changing marital traditions by writing our own wedding vows, changing the wedding music to represent more contemporary soleful expression, even dressing more individually. So I guess I find no surprise in that Boomers are divorcing after so many years of marriage.
In the past divorces were commonly suggested as being part of that “male menopause” thing… guys in their 40’s feeling like they wanted one last fling in expressing their male-ness with (younger) females before age took over. Contemporary hair styles, fast sporty cars, hip clothes… all became signs of male freedom following a divorce. Now we are getting divorced in our 50’s and 60’s; hardly anything related to male menopause (it’s not likely someone this age has a priority for engaging women of young age or wanting sports cars, much less having a lot of hair to work with for some hip hairstyle).
From my vantage point it would appear that most of these Boomer divorces are started by males. I mean, I am sure there are still women, or men, who have found their spouse having an extra-marital affair and that has become the catalyst for divorce. But I think by and large women prefer to stay married while men tend to reach a point of “diminishing returns” (to borrow an economic term) and decide it’s over. The kids are grown and left the nest. In many cases the kids are married and have their own lives to live in other areas of the country… and visiting the kids and grandkids over the various holidays are pretty much scheduled events given the distances. So many spouses find it difficult to resume a life with each other, started over three or four decades ago when they were newly married and life was full of love and optimisim. Then there’s that other thing looming over the horizon… we ain’t gonna live forever and we realize there are far less years ahead of us than behind us. Some of us Boomers.. men and women alike… are having health issues that don’t just go away with a few prescribed meds, which makes us think of our own mortality in real terms. This brings on the realization of wanting a little more out of life before life is no more (hence the proverbial “bucket list” of things to do before we die).
Speaking for myself, for varied and numerous reasons, I had reached a point where I felt that continued marriage with my existing partner was not doing me any good, and in the greater sense, given my attitude toward the marriage, I was not likely being fair to my partner in allowing myself to be less than the person she would want to be with until the “end” of time. I saw abolutely NO logic in trying to save a relationship through counseling; I mean, what is the sense of banging your head against a wall knowing that the relationship has passed on. More than ever I do not believe that the institution of marriage is more important to preserve than the two people engaged in it. But this can be interpreted so many ways by religion and I don’t dare suggest one compromise their religious beliefs without considerable personal reflection and counseling if necessary. But I do acknowledge that a close and intimate relationship with one person can indeed have an expiration date. Also, it need not mean that the separating partners be “enemies”, but rather be friends for having shared the most productive times of each other’s lives, raised children, and act as responsible grandparents when that time comes.
A by-product of this willingness on the part of Boomers to part ways is the fact that future relationships following a divorce do not always include re-marrying in a new relationship. Why? Again, in my case, I am in a close and intimate relationship with a fellow (female) divorced Boomer (of 35 years previously married) and I have little desire to be married simply because that’s what two people in love who live together do. It’s been observed that a marriage is more a contract to take your partner for granted. There’s something to that. Knowing I can walk away from my relationship at any time places the desire to be together squarely from the heart… not from moral compulsion motivated by guilt.
In the U.S. there is also a more practical side to not re-marrying following a Boomer divorce. Elements of the American economic system as it relates to retirement, taxes, healthcare, etc. can be more individually beneficial if people are not married. I am in that situation. These days my health care, funeral arrangments, will, and powers of attorney can be delegated legally to anyone of my choosing rather than surrendering it all to a next-of-kin that historically the married spouse would assume. What all this means is that if the time comes to consider marriage itself it would be soley a matter of the heart at the time, and less about the need to conform to social expectations or some practical necessity in anticipation of having kids in the future.
On a somewhat “scarier” note… as I see young people getting married these days I find myself examining them mentally to try and gauge how long their own marriages might be. So many I would not give even ten years. Being a guy I can sense the “guy signs”, a lot based on their personality. I hope I am wrong, to be sure. But the odds are against any marriage surviving.. so those that do are those that are able to hold onto some measure of a symbionic relationship.
But what’s to say that some time in the future we will accept a marriage as being a committed relationship expected to provide a sound environment for the raising of children. Then when that role is completed the parents can move on to the rest of their lives as they see fit. Well, maybe us Boomers are still setting social precedents… just as we did back in the 60’s. We ain’t done yet.