6 Marriage Myths Shattered: How Barack and Michelle Shun Fairy Tale Romance
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How much romance did early American farmers expect? After they'd milked the cows and tilled the fields and put the kids to bed, did they hope to exchange a few pleasant words from time to time, have sex once in a while, and occasionally stay up to watch the embers fade to black before falling asleep? Did they expect much more than a colleague with benefits?
Or did they believe, that "Love is a magical journey," and that getting married meant they were "about to embark on a wonderful voyage," as Disney promises on its wedding site.
Did they expect that love would fulfill their every need, that they would never again be lonely, that if they found someone who was compatible that their every dream would come true, effort-free?
I didn't live 200 years ago, but I venture they didn't. And though I can't prove it, I venture most were happier as a result. The cultural machine that pumps out stories about love and relationships, that raises our hopes and expectations beyond what is humanly possible, creates little other than heartbreak.
Love and marriage stories, "true" or not, are largely fiction. But they're so compelling, and so commonplace, and, to quote the X-Files, people "want to believe" that they seem true. Or at least possible.
Reality shows often depict the systematic hunt for the perfect mate who is 100 percent scientifically compatible. Romance novels, which still hold the largest share of the consumer book market, are pumped full of entertaining but formulaic fantasy – usually about the dopamine-fueled days of falling in love with no mention of what it looks like to drag yourself out of bed when you both have the flu but someone has to feed the kid who is crying.
And magazine and newspaper stories about "real" peoples' "real" love, which tend to be the most-read stories in any issue (like this week in the New York Times), tend to bear a striking resemblance to all other fairy tales with very little resemblance to reality.
First comes love, then comes marriage. And a giant, booming wedding industry exists to sell the perfect wedding, one that all but offers a lifetime guarantee.
Go figure that there will be an estimated 2,326,485 weddings this year, at an average cost of $30,860, (which is up despite the recession) with a total market value of $71,795,327.
There are almost half as many divorces, meaning the divorce rate is between 40 percent and 49 percent (maybe a higher than average rate when you're taken to your wedding in Cinderella's carriage and Mickey Mouse marries you. But I digress).
These stories are powerful. I'm taken in by them myself, despite my best efforts at critical thinking. Although I know they're pumped full of hype and lies and silicone, and I put my best filters on, I can't help but absorb tiny morsels of mistruth from "true" love stories about "real" people. I find myself comparing my own relationship to the fiction, mulling over the differences and similarities.
So even though I'm sure the profile of the first marriage in this weekend's NYT Magazine"The Obamas' Marriage" is PR-spun, prepped, practiced and signed-off on, it's as fictional as any other celebrity love story -- be it the Jolie-Pitt's or the Bushes' -- I found myself devouring the whole thing and feeling a little less bloated by the junk-food feeling than usual.
I don't know how much of it is an unfiltered view into the living room of another couple's (white) house, and it's still an example of a now idealized relationship that's already become part of the story, but this portrait is more flawed than the usual tale.