The XX Factor

Caitlin Flanagan’s Defense of Marriage Bums Me Out

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for marriage. First, Sandra Tsing Loh came out swinging against the institution in the Atlantic (and we discussed it ad nauseam ), and simultaneously Mark Sanford and John Ensign and the Gosselins paraded their broken relationships in front of the nation. In Time , Caitlin Flanagan takes up for long-lasting unions in an essay called “Why Marriage Matters .” Flanagan’s defense of marriage can be boiled down to: The reasons to get married are to raise children and not die alone.

And she doesn’t mean “dying alone” as in your husband or wife leaving you or kicking the bucket first, she means “dying alone” as in dying without someone to wheel you to the E.R. on New Year’s Eve. She implies that young folks today will leave their elderly parents to be eaten by housecats because they were the products of divorce: “[T]he current generation of children, the one watching commitments between adults snap like dry twigs and observing parents who simply can’t be bothered to marry each other and who hence drift in and out of their children’s lives-that’s the generation who will be taking care of us when we are old.”

But, the thing that all these polemics for and against marriage seem to miss when they speak in extremes and use cartoon examples ( Jon and Kate ; Tsing Loh’s sexless, miserable friends) is the quiet joy of sharing a life with someone. They miss the mystery implicit in a bond between only two people. Flanagan touches on it, almost, when she talks about what’s shared between Barack and Michelle Obama, but she uses their example to show how important sacrifice is in a lasting relationship.

I don’t expect my marriage to be perfect, or to be without sacrifice on both our parts, but you married Double X ers out there: Isn’t marriage about much more than just baby making and providing for old age?