Friday, May 18, 2007

I Do vs. Why Do

Time Magazine recently published an article by John Cloud entitled “Americans Love Marriage. But Why?” Citing and debunking a bunch of statistics, the author’s conclusion was “we feel worse, mentally and physically, when we can’t find a mate or when we are trapped by a bad one. There is good evidence that it is freedom that makes us healthy and happy, not the bonds of marriage.”

Uh. Okay. Try telling that to romance writers when their every book ends with the promise of marriage, if not the actual ceremony. And I’m a sucker for those epilogues that let us peek at the blissfully happy future and bouncing babies, too.

But Cloud has a point. 51 percent of American women are now living without a spouse, including widows and those whose jobs necessitate residing in a different city, state, or continent. I can’t believe more than half of my sisters are miserable, stroking their cats and watching Mary Tyler Moore re-runs for pointers.

Before America was really America, marriage was considered a desirable, even necessary state. Women were lured to Virginia by this advertisement:

If any Maid or single Woman have a desire to go over, they will think themselves in the Golden Age, when Men paid a Dowry for their Wives; for if they be but civil, and under 50 years of age, some honest Man or other will purchase them for their Wives.

So even then guys were looking for grateful young things who weren’t mouthy.

90 percent of American women marry at least once in their lifetime. But we all know there is no guarantee of happily ever after. The trend to test drive before buying---living together---is, I think, a wise decision for many couples. Though I bet they, like Brad and Angelina, get sick of hearing, “So, when are you kids gonna get married?”

Romance novels don’t portray real life accurately ---that’s why we love them. I believe marriage is the required outcome for historical romances in order to stay true to the mores of the time, but what about contemporary romantic fiction? Lots of people don’t get married now, but just “live in sin.” How would you feel about a book not ending in the obligatory marriage? Can you think of any you’ve read that reflect Kurt and Goldie’s choice? Is that gold band the gold standard for writing THE END?

Love: a temporary insanity, curable by marriage. ~ Ambrose Bierce

Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. ~Oscar Wilde

Marriage is not a word; it is a sentence. ~ King Vidor

Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards. ~ Benjamin Franklin

Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside equally desperate to get out. ~ Michel de Montaigne

My maternal grandparents Franziska and Stefan Maniero on their wedding day. Don’t you love his mustache?


Beverley Kendall said...

Even though I have a failed marriage in my past, I love a happy ending (even for contemporaries). But, even if they didn't marry, just as long as I knew they would be together until the end, would be sufficient for me.

lacey kaye said...

Oh, my. I haven't seen too many people come out in support of my personal preference. I suppose as I get older, more and more people will feel similiarly, though. (I'm with those who don't feel the need to "ruin" a good thing. And I feel comfortable enough in my relationship to literally move out into my own place, so I mean, I'm pretty weird all over!)

lacey kaye said...

OH in case you couldn't tell, I loved this blog!

Erica Ridley said...

Bwa, great quotes! =)

Janga said...

I admit that I want the conventional version of the HEA in the books I read. As for Kurt and Goldie, in the truest sense they are married, aren't they? I even heard her say to a reporter, "We are married really." And do all states recognize common law status?

I read something recently--sorry I don't remember the source-- that said marriage, as Churchill said of democracy, was the worst system, except for all the others. I have seen friends and family members go through some hellish situations, but I also have seen friends and family members in marriages that after fifty or sixty years together still have something pretty special. I don't look for gritty realism in my romance novels. I like thinking all my favorite couples can anticipate that 50-60 years of married bliss. :)

AprilsMom said...

I believe marriage should be the required outcome of romance novels, whether historical or contemporary. You're right, Maggie, that romance novels are not real life--real life is way too complicated! But regarding the h/h, they are the one-and-only for each other, the love of each other's lives. For them,"freedom" from each other would not bring happiness but pain.

No offense to Kurt and Goldie. I'm happy for anyone who finds love and makes it work for them--in any form! But I'm reminded of a story my dad told me. He's a retired physician, and one of his patients had just delivered her seventh child by her live-in boyfriend. My dad asked her, "You've lived with this man for over 20 years, you have seven children together, why not get married?" She replied, "Well, I'm just not sure I love him enough to marry him."

BernardL said...

Marriage is a compact against adversity in life. To share hard times no one else fathoms creates a bond of iron. With patience, and the will power to endure the nightfall into morning’s light, marriage will lay the groundwork for bliss when love’s white hot coals cool.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Wow! Bernard, that's absolutely beautiful and should get tucked into somebody's marriage ceremony!

I sometimes wonder if reading romances doesn't set us up for inevitable disappointment. I respect every individual's decision to do what's right for him/herself...however, I'm old-fashioned enough to think if you bring kids into the mix, you probably should be married...even if you don't stay that way. :)

I knew a couple who rekindled their romance after meeting again at their 50th high school reunion! They lived together for several years before the guy died. You're never too old for love, I guess.

irisheyes said...

I’m afraid I’m in the camp that wants the HEA and marriage to go hand in hand in my romances. I know that may not be very realistic these days, but I’m not looking for realism in my romance novels.

As for my views on marriage versus living together, I believe in marriage. I like the idea of the life-long commitment, especially if children are involved. I think the family unit as a whole is a pretty awesome thing when it’s working and, as Janga stated, a lot better than the alternatives. The problems come in when it’s not working as it should. But I guess I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to stop trying.

I don’t see the situation as being as black and white as a lot of people want to make it out to be. Like most people these days I’ve had my share of exposure to some really bad marriages and wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. So, as much as I believe in marriage and think it’s the way to go, I don’t believe it’s for everyone. I believe in the permanence of the commitment made in marriage, but I also believe bad marriages need to be avoided at all costs and dissolved if the avoiding thing didn’t work for you.

I’m not sure if I believe that romance novels set us up for disappointment. I tend to look at them a different way – perhaps giving women hope and helping them not to settle for less than they deserve. My relationship could have read like a romance novel and I’m living my HEA. I’m in a marriage and it’s a pretty good one, if I do say so myself. It’s by no means an easy one, but I like being a married woman and working to make it a success. I also happen to have a husband who feels the same way, though. That makes a world of difference. This could be a completely different blog – Do romance novels help or hinder women’s relationships these days?

Terri Osburn said...

Love the picture, Maggie. It always cracks me up that people never seem to be smiling in older pictures like that.

I'm torn on this one. I lived in sin before getting married and still married the wrong person so that didn't work for me. I didn't like my ex at all by the time I left him but that divorce still damn near killed me.

So, I figure I just don't want to chance it again. If I find someone I would rather just commit to each other without the legal piece of paper. My dilemma comes when I realize I want more children. I just can't bring myself to have them without the piece of paper.

The odds are I'll stay single so this will probably never come up but it's something I think about from time to time. I don't have to have a wedding at the end of the book to feel like I got a HEA. As long as the couple realizes they are in love and say they can't live without each other, I'm good.

Tiffany Clare said...

I too love those pics... You've got quite the collection.

I like my books to end in marriage with the HEA. I think people prefer this type of ending because a book usually covers a short period of time, we cannot read about the trials and tribulations after the couple get together to figure it all out. So readers want the characters to have something that says, HEA...

Terri Osburn said...

Tiff's post reminded me of something. There is a series of books by Dorothy Garlock and in the second to last, the h/h get their HEA with wedding and all. But then the next book is about them as well and they almost get divorced. I think that second book was even more powerful than the first because we had already been through so much with these characters and to watch them break each other's hearts and then heal them all over again was incredible.

The books in the series are With Hope, With Song, With Heart and After the Parade. They are set in depression era OK and they are beyond wonderful.

Hellie Sinclair said...

I'm now officially depressed I fall into the 10 percent category. I almost want to give someone a green card just so I can go into the 90 percent range.

But here's a quote for you:

Bishop Jeremy Taylor, "Marriage hath in it less of beauty but more of safety, than the single life; it hath more care, but less danger, it is more merry, and more sad; it is fuller of sorrows, and fuller of joys; it lies under more burdens, but it is supported by all the strengths of love and charity, and those burdens are delightful."

Ericka Scott said...

I'm in the camp of marriage = HEA in my romance novels. . . I have one failed marriage in my past and am now married again. This time I hope it's for good.

RevMelinda said...

Hi Maggie and friends,
As a representative of an organized religion I suppose I officially have to say I favor marriage. . .I've been very happy married and my husband, children and marriage have brought so much to my life. . .and if I had to do it again, I'd do it. . .BUT.
To be completely frank, if for some reason I lost my husband, I'm not sure I would be in a big hurry to get married again. There is a loss of independence and choices (and selfhood) that happens in a marriage. I'm not saying that's the way it should be, but I think that's the way it is.
Like everything, marriage has its good side and its down side.
So--in a historical, yes, marriage is required for the HEA. Maybe even for the "young" romance couple who want to have a family. But for an older couple--maybe living in sin would be more fun!
(And by the way, statistically, those who live together before marriage have a HIGHER rate of divorce than those who don't. . .weird, huh?)

Elyssa Papa said...

I'm in favor of the HEAs of marriages and fast forward to babies, etc. I love SEP's Natural Born Charmer ending. It was beyond beautiful. And EJ's ending to PFP was so worth the wait.

I love the picture, Maggie!

Tessa Dare said...

At the end of the romance, I want to believe that the h/h are together for the long haul, and that they could never love anyone they way they love each other. If the author can get me to believe that without marriage, more power to her - but I'll admit engagement/marriage is the most effective way to signal True Luv, IMO.

Carey Baldwin said...

Love the photo!

Kurt and Goldie: I've heard her say more than once (on talk shows)that she wants to marry Kurt. I believe he has a terminal case of FOC. However, I'm all for any arrangment where both parties are happy. Naturally, I have no inside scoop on this celeb couple.

Marriage in general: I'm a huge fan of happy marriages. I've lived through an unhappy one and chose not to continue it because I really believe in happily ever after...not just "ever after".

But alas, I'm both old and mouthy.

Sara Lindsey said...

Maggie, that picture is great!

I like weddings for my HEAs, but I'm a wedding fanatic - I've got three new wedding magazines on my nightstand and I love watching TLC's A Wedding Story... so bring on the brides!