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Ownership vs Undependent Living (continued)

Posted on February 18, 2014 at 8:57 PM Comments comments (556)
February 19, 2014
 
In my last post, I started a discussion contrasting “ownership” of our partners, with “undependent living.”  (See Open Marriage, in my list of references.) Since this can be a challenging idea to embrace, I wanted to expand on it a little. 
 
When we talk about ownership, we don’t mean it literally, of course.  But in our marriages and other long-term relationships, we often behave in ways that look a little bit like ownership. 
 
Free time is a great example.  Let’s say you’re a woman in a heterosexual relationship, and you’re planning next weekend’s activities.  You get an email from your friend Donna, asking if you and Bob want to have dinner next Friday night with her and her husband, Jack.  You email her back immediately, saying, “We’d love to!  How ‘bout Thai?” 
 
If this sounds like you…oops!  You’ve assumed that Bob’s free time is yours, to do with as you like.  Naturally, you hope he will enjoy the dinner, but if you didn’t take the time and effort to ask what he had in mind for next Friday, then you’ve assumed control – which is one aspect of ownership. It sounds like a very small thing, and to some degree it is, but when you “take it for granted,” rather than actually having it granted, you’ve assumed ownership.  If you think this is a bunch of hogwash, reverse the example, and let me know how you think things would go if Bob made plans for the two of you to go bowling…without asking you first! 
 
Aside from ownership, the above example also touches on one of the central problems I discussed at the very beginning of this blog – being a role instead of a person. In the old paradigm “Closed Contract,” the roles of husband and wife have specific jobs associated with them, and making social plans falls to the role of wife, along with grocery shopping, meal preparation, laundry, vacuuming, child care, supporting her husband’s career (and ego), as well as a general expectation that she will be the one to put home and family first, when "compromise” is called for. 
 
Husbands don’t fare any better.  According to the Closed Contract, husbands must be the primary income-earner, pay all the bills, do the yard work, take out the garbage, make all home repairs, and be the main decision-maker, all while remaining the “emotional rock” of the family (never show vulnerability). 
 
No wonder marriages are failing!  But don’t lose hope.  In the Undependent Living of the Open Contract, partners are responsible for themselves.  Housework – indoor and outdoor – is just work. It’s home maintenance that all members of the family engage in, according to their ability and inclination.  I loaded the dishwasher this time, and my partner will do it next time. If his back is aching from shoveling snow, I’ll take an extra turn…AND rub his back!  Why?  Because during the last snowstorm, he did most of the shoveling, and cleaned off my car when he cleaned off his own…not because I expected it, just to be nice! 
 
Like what you’re hearing? Stay tuned for more!

_______________________________________________________
References:
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Finkel, Eli J. (2014) The All-or-Nothing Marriage.  Retrieved on 2/17/2014 from www.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/opinion/sunday/the-all-or-nothing-marriage.html
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Hendricks, Harville (1988, 2008) Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1972, 1984) Open Marriage
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 

Ownership vs Undependent Living

Posted on January 21, 2014 at 3:49 PM Comments comments (399)

January 13, 2014
 
Good relationships aren’t easy.  Good long-term relationships (whether marriage or something less formal) are especially difficult, because we demand so much from them over such a long period of time.  Paradoxically, researchers have found that good relationships, including marriages, do best when expectations are high, not when they’re low.  But if that’s true, why is marriage, as an institution, floundering?
 
Two reasons: first, we expect way too much; but perhaps more importantly, we’re expecting the wrong things
 
Movies, romance novels, TV shows, and other media lead us to believe that each of us is destined to find a “one-and-only,” get married, and live “happily ever after.”  Our rational minds may warn us that life isn’t that simple, but we really, truly, deep down, want to believe in the fairy tale, so we do.  Whether we intend to or not, we bring these unrealistic expectations into our marriages, and most of us end up very disappointed – in ourselves, our partners, and most of all in marriage itself.
 
As I’ve said in previous posts, marriage wasn’t always based on romantic love; in fact, quite the opposite. But marriage and romantic love have become so intertwined that I’m not sure we could completely separate the two, even if we wanted to.  But we absolutely can, and should, take a closer look at what we want from our most important relationships. 
 
Falling in love and sprinting down the aisle is the easy part.  The better question is, how do we go about the work of creating marriages that include companionship, deep intimacy, effective communication, egalitarian power-sharing, equal personhood, privacy, and trust?
 
Nena and George O’Neill, in their book, “Open Marriage,” say we need to understand that we’re marrying people– not roles – and learn to look at our relationships in a new way.  They describe, at length, the “Closed Contract” (what many people would describe as “traditional” marriage), and contrast it with the “Open Contract,” one which embraces the individuality and constant evolution of both partners as people, rather than forcing them into narrowly defined roles that stifle growth and ignore uniqueness.
 
The first of these Closed Contract rules is Ownership of the Partner.  Now, of course, I don’t mean we must abandon saying things like “my wife,” or “my boyfriend;” what I’m talking about is an attitude of ownership or possession that undermines individuality and takes away control over one’s own life.  Here are some examples:
 
Ownership of the partner is reflected in…
 
  • Assuming that our partner’s “free time” is always available as “couple time”
  • Exercising “veto” power over our partner’s clothes, job, hobbies, etc.
  • Expecting to be “everything” to each other
  • Discouraging our partner’s friendships with people we don’t like or approve of
  • Confining “our” friendships to “mutual friends only” (mostly other couples)
  • No friends of the opposite sex allowed
 
If you think you’re not guilty of any of these outdated notions, check to see if you’ve ever said anything like this:
 
  • “You’re not wearing that, are you?”
  • “Oh, I forgot to tell you…we’re having dinner with Don and Sandy on Saturday.”
  • “You complete me.” (or referring to your partner as your “other half”)
  • “Joe's kind of a jerk; I don't know why you still hang out with him.”
 
 Contrast this with examples from the “Undependent Living” of the Open Contract:
 
  • We check with our partner before making plans, to see if he/she is available
  • Each partner is a whole person, with her/his own identity
  • Partners belong with each other, not to each other
  • Both partners are committed to a strong sense of self, as well as self-growth, so there is no need to control our partner’s friends, clothing, job, or leisure activities
  • Partners make friends together and/or separately, based on shared points of interest
 
 The O’Neills go on to say that marriage doesn’t provide love, material stability, emotional security, meaning, affection, social status, happiness, or caretaking.  Good relationships – including marriage – offer partners a chance to create these things.  We must be prepared to bring to the relationship those qualities we want to see.  To paraphrase Gandhi, you must be the partner you want to have in your relationship.
 
Your partner fell in love with a person – YOU!  If you continue to grow as you, then you become more of who you truly are, and your partner’s love for you grows.  If you collapse yourself into a role, you have to stop being you.  Not only is this boring (a role is only two-dimensional, while a person is totally 3-D), but it’s also a love-killer.  We fall in love with people, not roles.
 
That’s why I started this blog; because I believe that the best way to be a good partner is by being a good person.  Commit to your own growth, AND to the growth of your partner.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.  You won’t be sorry.
 
Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

____________________________________________________________

References:
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Hendricks, Harville (1988, 2008) Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1972, 1984) Open Marriage: A New Lifestyle for Couples
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 

Love & marriage - strange bedfellows

Posted on December 17, 2013 at 5:32 PM Comments comments (161)

December 17, 2013

Last post, we all had a good little laugh about the rules of courtly love.  But as silly as they look to us, they were taken very seriously at the time (the time, of course, being the Middle Ages).  However, we must remember that these were the rules of a game – albeit a very elaborate one – that was designed to NOT interfere with the sanctity of marriage. 
 
How’s that again? Asking and giving of ladies’ “tokens” (usually a scarf or handkerchief), singing of love songs, and outrageous flirting…all with someone else’s spouse?!  Our modern sensibilities go “tilt” at the very thought! 
 
But remember…for most of history, husbands and wives were not brought together by love, but by the desire to consolidate power, money, and influence (unless you were poor, in which case, marriage was about making a living).  Of course, if love (or, more properly, respectful affection) were to “grow” between partners, that was considered a good thing…as long as it didn’t get out of hand.  (And adultery was no joke – a cheating queen could lose her head…for treason!)  But what we would consider love – that heart-racing, appetite-suppressing, sleep-depriving state of romantic intoxication – that was something our ancestors thought of as a kind of madness; certainly far too volatile and capricious an emotion upon which to base something as important as marriage. 
 
But the geography of marriage did change over time, influenced not only by the rules of courtly love, but also by the invention of the plow, the Protestant Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, the women’s rights movement, and myriad other social changes. 
 
Fast-forward to more-or-less present day. 
 
The divorce rate has been falling steadily for about the past 40 years…but so has the marriage rate.  Part of the reason for this has been the acceptance of new relationship options.  Non-marital cohabitation has been rising since the 1970s, and has now hit historic highs.  Births outside marriage are more numerous – and less stigmatized – than ever before. More people are staying single, and staying single longer before marrying.  And yet, most people say they want to marry at some point in their lives.  So why is marriage, as an institution, on the rocks? 
 
Because we want more. We expect more from marriage, and we’re pretty disappointed when it doesn’t deliver, so a lot of us bail. 
 
For thousands of years, the basis of marriage has been livelihood, procreation, and survival.  But these days, that just isn’t good enough.  We may still want livelihood, procreation, and survival, but we also want love, intimacy, trust, and good communication. We want our spouse to be our best friend.  The problem is, as we shall see, that the old “rules of the game” could never foster the kind of intimate sharing and mutual growth we’re looking for in marriage today. 
 
Tune in next week for:
The Closed Contract – Clause 1: Possession/Ownership of your Mate 
 
Credit where credit is due: The basis of my discussion of the “Closed Contract” and the “Open Contract” of marriage comes from a ground-breaking book called Open Marriage, by Nena and George O’Neill.  Originally written in 1972 (updated in 1984), it does come off a bit dated in some spots, but the concepts and observations are surprisingly timely.  Despite its title, the book is not primarily about polyamory, spouse-swapping, or “swinging.”  It’s about how partners relate to each other within a marital relationship.  It’s a fun read, and one of the best guides to a healthy relationship of ANY kind I’ve ever read.  I highly recommend it!

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Resources:
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1972, 1984) Open Marriage
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 

 

 

Marriage madness from the Middle Ages

Posted on December 9, 2013 at 7:07 PM Comments comments (104)

December 9, 2013

So, here we are, trying to figure out the rules for modern marriage…but where to start? 

Well, before we start making up new rules, let’s take a look at the source of some of the old ones. To do that, we have to go back to the Middle Ages.  Yep. I’m serious.  The Middle Ages.

In the Middle Ages, the ruling classes spent a lot of time “at court,” that is, staying in and around the palace of the king.  And with not a lot to do (especially during the winter), the nobles made up the game of “Courtly Love” to keep themselves amused. 

Now, this game was very elaborate, and had to do with identifying a “beloved” (usually another person’s spouse) to whom to devote oneself in an exaggerated way.  Poems were written, songs were sung, tokens exchanged…however, such relationships were never, EVER to be consummated, as adultery was taken very seriously. 

Of course, a game of such complexity must have rules, so in the late 12th century, Andreas Capellanus drew up a list of the "Rules of Courtly Love.”  Below are a few (I’ve combined some here and there).  The sarcastic comments, are, of course, my own.

  • He who is not jealous cannot love.
  • Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved.
    • You are mine-mine-MINE!   And lack of trust is GOOD for love!

  • A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved.
    • I simply must have your approval in all things!

  • A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved.
  • A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved.
    • We should always be together, but if we’re not, you should think about nothing but ME until we’re together again.

  • It is well-known that love is always increasing or decreasing.
    • The love of your beloved can’t be depended upon.

  • A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved.
    • We can simply turn off our loving sexual selves at inconvenient moments.

  • The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized.
    • Don’t tell him how you really feel – make him work for it!

  • Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
  • When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved, his heart palpitates.
    • We’ll ALWAYS feel the way we did when we first fell in love.

  • A new love puts to flight an old one.
    • No one can EVER love more than one person at a time.

Even though we can see at a glance how silly and impractical these “rules” are, upon deeper consideration, we can identify the roots of some of the more destructive ideas on which we’ve been trying to build our most important relationships. 

Next post, I’ll talk in more detail about how courtly love has left its mark on our attitudes and expectations about marriage, and what we can do about it.

________________________________________________
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1984, 2000) Open Marriage
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 

 

What is "traditional" marriage?

Posted on November 25, 2013 at 6:04 PM Comments comments (120)
 
November 25, 2013
 
As I said at the end of my last post, traditionally, marriage was more about what you do than who you are
 
It may sound a bit strange to us, but for many hundreds of years, husbands and wives were partners in a professional and financial sense, rather than in the romantic sense.  And because they knew their survival depended upon each other in a very literal way, they had to make sure that each of them had the necessary skills to make their partnership work – and I do mean work.
 
Before child labor laws, girls as young as five or six might be tending to the younger children, feeding chickens, or gathering eggs, while their brothers mucked out the stalls or learned to milk the cows.  By age eight or ten, a child was often sent to work in a more affluent home, where he or she would begin to learn a trade (boys) or more advanced home-making (girls). By the time they were old enough to marry (and had enough money to start their business), men and women were looking for someone who had the skills to make the family a success.  (And bear in mind that “success” meant everyone got to eat on a regular basis!)  If he made shoes, she cut the leather.  If he farmed, she made butter, cheese, and beer.  Anything extra was sold or bartered to supplement the family income. The bottom line at that time was, if you didn’t have any real work skills, you just weren’t a “catch.”
 
These days, work skills are still important, but most of us grow up assuming that we’ll need to make our own living, whether we marry or not.  The skills we’re looking for in a partner now include relationship skills.  We want someone who can not only make a living, but someone with whom we can create intimacy.
 
Intimacy was not originally part of the marriage “deal.”  Traditionally, marriage was (depending upon one’s level of affluence) a way to consolidate or expand political or financial power, seal alliances, prevent war, protect property or bloodlines, and ensure legitimate heirs.  Love and intimacy?  Not so much.
 
Marriage has changed considerably over the last several thousand years.  Most of those changes have been for the better.  Women are now permitted to own and manage their own property, sign contracts, open bank accounts in their own names, and vote. Children are now sent to school instead of work.  But as our expectations of marriage change, the skills we bring to it must change as well. Few men today would expect that their prospective wives know how to make cheese.  Similarly, women are not bound by law and custom to live in their fathers’ households until they marry.  But both men and women do seem to want marriages based on honesty, intimacy, and friendship.
 
The problem is, we’re trying to play a new game by old rules.  Next week, I’ll start talking about what some of the new “rules”look like.
 
_________________________________________
 
Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
 
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
 
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
 
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
 
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
 
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
 
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1984) Open Marriage
 
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
 
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage
 
 
 

Beliefs about marriage

Posted on October 28, 2013 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (194)
 
October 28, 2013
 
What are your beliefs about marriage?  It’s a big question – and one that many people fail to ask themselves before taking the plunge.  But our beliefs about what marriage is, what it’s for, and our part in it, form the basis of our expectations of what a successful marriage should be, and how ours measures up.
 
Our beliefs about marriage come from several sources.  The first is our family of origin.  What family structure did you grow up with?  Was there an intact nuclear family– mom, dad and kids all living together – or was there some other arrangement?  Were you raised by close relatives, adoptive parents, or a foster family?  Did your parents divorce while you were growing up?  Was infidelity or substance abuse a factor?  How was the household labor divided?  Was there enough money?
 
The situation in which we are raised has a huge impact on the assumptions we make about what married life will look like.  Some researchers say that we are drawn to relationships that are similar to ones we had with our family of origin – and not always a parent.  I believe there’s some truth to this, for the simple reason that whatever situation a child grows up in, they learn to think of as normal.  And once we’ve established “normal,” we tend to go looking for it.  But since our relationships – like ourselves – are imperfect, we keep trying to resolve the same old conflicts over and over again.
 
If you grew up with caregivers who were abusive, addicted, adulterous, bad with money, critical, depressed, helpless, incarcerated (etc., I think you get my drift), you had better believe that it left an impression on you that will impact your relationships.
 
That’s why your relationship with yourself is so important.  If you don’t know who you are, how can you share yourself intimately with your partner or spouse?  But more about the sharing later; we’re still figuring out where we get our ideas about marriage.
 
We also get our beliefs about marriage from our culture, which is often a mix of social influences (advertising, entertainment, social trends, etc.), and family influences, such as ethnicity, spiritual or religious values, language, and traditions.  This mix of social and family influences is unique for each of us, but there are also elements we share in common.  The larger history of marriage has had its influence, too.
 
We didn’t always marry for love.  In fact, until the last two hundred years or so, marriage was considered far too important a decision to be influenced by an emotion as fragile and transient as love. For many thousands of years, marriages were arranged.  No dating.  No falling in love.  When you got to the proper age, your parents (or other family members) picked out an “appropriate” person, someone of the same ethnicity, religion, and social status, and you got married.  Marriages were for protecting or expanding bloodlines, property, and other assets; cementing alliances or preventing war; and providing a stable environment for the next generation.
 
Although we can all agree that providing a stable environment for our children is an important function of marriage, we generally don’t marry for reasons of property or dynasty anymore…or do we?
 
To be continued…
 

Be a good partner -- AND a whole person!

Posted on October 21, 2013 at 3:09 PM Comments comments (218)
 
This blog is dedicated to the topic of how to be a good partner, while remaining a whole person. 
 
I think about relationships a lot.  I think about how they work, and about how they fall apart.  I think about the expectations and assumptions that society places on men and women, and how those expectations and assumptions can undermine our best efforts at forming and maintaining relationships that actually work
 
Who we are in relationship with our partner becomes, in a way, an aspect of our identity.  To some extent, the same could be said of all our important relationships.  Before we become partners or spouses, we are siblings,friends, employees, etc., and each of those relationships is unique; each of them intersects our core identity – who we are in relationship to ourselves – in a particular way, and reflects a particular combination of our interests, talents, and other aspects of our identity.  Simply put: we relate to different people, and to different categories of people, in different ways, and the relationships we have with important others have an impact on how our core identity  -- and our ability to have relationships -- develops. 
 
Pair-bonds – whether by marriage, civil union, or some other form of partnership – are complicated.  By definition, when we are building a life with someone, we each bring with us a lifetime’s worth of who we are: our quirks of personality, our preferences, friendships and family experiences, as well as our values and hopes and dreams for the future.  We are taking two whole lives that were previously separate, and merging them into a coherent whole.  This is where self-knowledge (understanding our core identity) becomes crucial.  If we don’t stay in touch with who we are at our core, we run the risk of collapsing ourselves into the role we play in relationship to our partner.  The core identity becomes overshadowed, and we lose touch with who we are as people
 
Think I’m over-dramatizing? How many women have you heard say something like, “Once I got married, and especially after we had kids, I just fell into the “mommy” thing, and sort of lost myself.  I don’t really know who I am anymore.”  Such a loss of contact with our identity can be reflected in something as simple and straightforward as how we dress and present ourselves, or something as subtle as the life goals we think are attainable.  And men are not immune! 
 
Having a relationship with yourself isn’t as straightforward as you might think.  Of course, you know the easy stuff, like your favorite color, the kinds of foods you like or dislike, or the leisure activities you enjoy; but what about the tough stuff, like values, beliefs, fears, insecurities, and secret dreams?  How compassionate are you?  Are you resilient?  How do you communicate about sensitive or difficult topics?  How do you respond when you’re in emotional pain?  What are your basic beliefs about sex, love, children, money, and how good relationships work? 
 
In short, how has your core identity been shaped by the relationship experiences you’ve had with friends, family, and romantic partners?  How will you incorporate who you are, and who you most want to become, into a relationship with someone else?  (Someone, by the way, who's trying to do the same thing!)
 
Next week, I’ll start talking about the social legacy of marriage, and how it has undermined the kind of marriages most of us say we actually want.