Beauty and the Beast

This week I find myself thinking and writing once more about my late colleague Norval Glenn, a versatile and thorough scholar whose work will long outlive his physical presence. Norval held that the family was, and remains, a cornerstone of the social order and a central element in fostering the common good. Unlike many, he felt no particular compulsion to bow down to emerging sacred cows.

In preparing remarks for his memorial service several months ago, I stumbled across an article he wrote for SmartMarriages, an organization long popular among marital and family therapists. It was the kind of piece he wouldn’t get much credit for professionally, and yet it’s one of those contributions that tend to far outweigh a dry, academic journal article in its reach, impact, and importance. It was on “exogenous match quality,” or rather finding the right match in a potential spouse.

Ever the sociologist, Norval focused on the social stuff at stake when someone looks for a mate: the shifting market dynamics, the optimal settings for circulation of possible partners (in other words, where you’re most likely to meet the widest variety of people), and the risk of premature entanglements (that is, going too far too fast). One of his conclusions made me smile: “The most stable and successful marriages are likely to be those in which the spouses are substantially more desirable to each other than they are to most other people.” That’s a nice way of saying that [Read more...]

Here’s to Bad Divorces?

Now that I have your attention (or not), this subject has been on my mind of late. If divorce is going to happen—and I’m not crazy about the passive tone but they do happen out there—just how “good” should a divorce be? Is amicable an aim? I have a friend—and no, that’s not code for me—who appears to be facing one soon, against his will and despite his willingness to work at his marriage. My late UT colleague Norval Glenn was quoted several years back as saying that “good” divorces can have surprisingly negative consequences, over and above the simple fact that divorcing can cause problems. He noted, “If the parents whose marriage failed are obviously good people who could cooperate and avoid destructive behaviors after the divorce, their offspring may be more inclined to lose confidence in the institution of marriage itself.” In other words, a good divorce can be confusing to children, who are more apt to thereafter wonder if marriage is a feasible thing at all, apart from some spectacular soul-mate connection that few ever realize. There are, of course, lots of other variables to consider when evaluating the consequences of divorce on the participants themselves and their children. This one—the children’s own perceptions about marriage and sense of the institution—is only one of them.

But it reminded me of a piece of data I share with my Intro-to-Sociology course: the probability of getting a divorce in the year after you married is already doubled for [Read more...]

Shifting evangelical ideas about sex

Clearly the Atlantic Monthly is onto something in its coverage of men, women, and relationships. First it was “The End of Men,” the provocative cover-story article by Hanna Rosin back in July 2010. And now it’s “All the Single Ladies,” the November cover splash by Kate Bolick that’s gone stratospheric in reader attention before we’re even halfway through October. I argued last February in a Slate article that if the former title holds true, the second one will no doubt follow in its footsteps.

Basically, floundering men enable the flourishing men around them to become pickier about their romantic relationships and how they transpire, all the more in a world wherein women don’t really even need men anymore in order to live fruitful, satisfying, economically-secure lives. (But they still want men, which is always nice to hear.) Ergo, we should see less marrying going on, and at later ages. And voila, that is what we have.

We could argue the wisdom of this till we’re hoarse, but a piece of new research I saw recently reinforced the idea that marriage can shape how or what religious people think. In a fascinating article in the September issue [Read more...]