I’m getting a divorce.I know, I know, it’s horrible, just terrible, let’s all look at the floor and tell me how sorry you are for me, while I mumble “I’m fine.The kids are doing well.I’m taking care of myself.”

Here’s the thing, though.It’s not horrible.It’s not terrible.In fact, it might actually be one of the better things that’s happened to me.I’m doing great, the kids are happier, and my new girlfriend blows my fucking mind.

There is, though, something horrible and terrible about it, and what’s horrible and terrible is that I’m supposed to hang my head, while the masses swarm around me wondering how and why my marriage “failed.”The whole notion of a marriage “failing” is culturally annoying.Did we fail to raise two beautiful children for seven years?Did we fail to run a successful business together?Did we fail to live in tight domesticity, respecting each other as best we could?

All of which gets me to the crux of this essay: Why on earth does marriage have to be forever?As I look at the wreckage of my marriage (and there is wreckage, this wasn’t peaceful), I wonder how much better things would have been if we had never expected it to last forever in the first place.I mean, what if marriage wasn’t an eternal fairyland forever, but a more reasonable length of time, like, I don’t know, seven years?What if when you got married, you signed a contract, and you said, we’ll try this out for seven years, and if it’s going well, we’ll get married again, and if it’s still going well, we’ll sign for another seven, and so on, until we’ve chosen each other forever through a series of studied choices, rather than in one fell, newlywed swoop?How much less miserable would we be now, if after seven years we could have looked at each other and the people around us, and said, “Jesus Christ that was rough, but you know what, we made it!We lasted seven years!Hi-five!Now let’s have a HUGE party and get out of each other’s hair.”

My soon-to-be ex-wife, bless her dark soul, published an essay about her feelings around our marriage in an online journal at the beginning of our separation.My friends and family were furious at her.I quote:

“I did not think of divorce. This was my family and I was in it for the long haul. (But) I… daydreamed of my husband not returning from his writing retreats. Not that he would die. Just that he would never return. And, I suppose, I finally recognized that it was an unhealthy relationship when an acquaintance lost her husband in a snowstorm and instead of feeling horror and grief for a widow and her two daughters I imagined myself in her place and the relief I would feel had I been her.”

While I appreciated my friends’ loyal reactions (not that he would die.Just that he would never return.What a bitch!), what I saw in my wife’s essay was a woman who felt caged—by me to a certain degree, but also by her own and our culture’s expectations about marriage.Would she be feeling this trapped if she wasn’t forced to be in it “for the long haul”? Was there a better, alternative way to do things?

***

Why does a marriage have to be endless for it to be deemed “successful”?I mean, think about it.What’s wrong with shorter marriage contracts?There are so many advantages to a seven-year marital contract I can’t even begin to list them. You’re in year six of your marriage, and instead of being bored of your wife’s pussy, because you’re stuck with it forever, you suddenly might lose it to her hot co-worker if she decides not to remarry you.How much better behaved are you going to be to each other if forever isn’t assumed?Or let’s say you’re seven years are almost up, and you decide you’re going to renew.You can get married AGAIN.Just think, a brand new set of dinnerware just as the original becomes outdated, and a month-long vacation in Bora Bora.And if you’re not getting along?Well that’s fine too.Nobody’s going to lay the big guilt on you.Marriage is tough and you lasted a while.Chin up and what’s next.

Clearly, there’s some gallows humor in this essay, and things aren’t as simple as I’m making them out to be.But a little less social stigma around divorce, and a little more acknowledgement for those toughing it out, might go a long way towards keeping married couples from wanting their partner to die in a snowstorm.

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JAMES BERNARD FROST is the author of the novel A Very Minor Prophet, published by indie wonder-press Hawthorne Books, reviewed here by The Oregonian, recently optioned by Rocking Stone Media, and available wherever books are sold. He is also the award-winning author of the novel World Leader Pretend, published by St. Martin's Press, and the travel guide, The Artichoke Trail. His fiction, essays, and articles have appeared in venues as diverse as Wired, SF Weekly, the San Francisco Examiner, The Official Magazine of World of Warcraft, Trachodon Magazine, and the Farallon Review. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his two children, the rain, and the trees.

79 responses to “Let’s Get Married for Seven Years, Then Break Up”

  1. Amanda says:

    Someone I dated several months ago remarked (about a previous partner of his own) that “she seemed, when we met, like someone I could absolutely see myself spending the next ten years with!” And he meant this in a really great way–like, he was super-excited to meet a woman he could’ve imagined settling down with for a long time, quite seriously and monogamously.

    At first, I remember thinking, dude, what the fuck is wrong with you?! At our age (late 30s) we should be excited to meet someone to settle with for good, to build a life with, which concludes when one person dies of happy, contended advanced age, not with the ding of a bell announcing “ten years are up! next chair!” like a round of slow-speed-dating.

    Then, I cast a quick look back over my so-called “we’re in this forever” relationships, and was forced to admit that the man I married at 19 I never imagined being with forever. And the person I spent 10 years with, and became engaged to, but ultimately never married, I broke up with because one night, I was standing in the bathroom brushing my teeth and thought, “Oh my god, unless one of us travels or goes to visit family alone, I will never, ever have the bed to myself again, for the rest of my life.”

    That being said, my heart feels pinchy at the thought that the person I recently started seeing and have hit it off with spectacularly might not always be around. I guess there’s part of me, the romantic part (and a part I don’t wish to deny or smother), that gets excited by the prospect of loving someone who in turn loves me enough that we can’t imagine anyone else filling that space, never mind wanting that “anyone else” to come along.

  2. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    On the 12th of this month, I will have been with my now-wife for twenty-four years, more than half my life. I have been with her longer than without her. We have two children. I will neither confirm nor deny any details of near-breakup, abandonment and hopes that “they just don’t come back” (though it was in context of meeting someone else, not dying) on both of our parts within that time period but I will say I feel you. We’ve been very lucky in that we’ve been able to work things through but I often say 1. if I ever leave her for someone else, that someone else will be me and 2. next life, I’m coming back as a large rock somewhere in the mountains – I am not dealing with the “human relationship” crap again!

  3. I am totally with you and even proposed THIS EXACT idea to my husband. My thoughts are that it’s an AUTOMATIC divorce at year seven, everything agreed upon beforehand. Both parties have to want to renew. This way people will be on their best behavior, knowing that renewal time is coming up. Ages ago when people died at forty-five and fifty, a lifetime wasn’t that long. But now . . . well, you know how it goes.

    I’ve been divorced once, married again and it’s all good (hope we’ll be together to the end) but still, I STILL think the seven year plan is better than the very out-dated life-long one.

  4. Matt says:

    Hear, hear.

    I can think of plenty of people I know or have known who’ve remained trapped in defunct, unhappy relationships simply because society expected them to. I’ve never, ever understood this mindset. I get into relationships for the sake of my happiness and that of the person I’m with. If things degenerate to a point where neither of us are happy, what’s the point of continuing on? “For the children” is a hollow excuse at best; speaking as a child of divorce, children are far more canny than adults often give them credit for, and usually know that things aren’t right.

  5. Joe Daly says:

    >>The whole notion of a marriage “failing” is culturally annoying.<<

    This is why I love TNB- fresh perspectives, delivered with wit and insight.

    So true- why do we need to evaluate relationships as successes or failures, when they are just a period of growth? It’s like calling a vacation a success or a failure- you could do it, but no one does. You just describe the experience as interesting (good or bad), and how you’ve changed as the result of it.

    Hang in there and keep writing stuff like this. This rocks.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      “So true- why do we need to evaluate relationships as successes or failures, when they are just a period of growth?”

      Damn it, Joe! Where have you been when I needed you?

      • Joe Daly says:

        >>Damn it, Joe! Where have you been when I needed you?<<

        Simon, I’ve been caught up in long streaks of isolation, punctuated by volatile “periods of growth.”

  6. I love how we’re expected, as modern adults, to continue to change and grow and more profoundly understand ourselves and the world around us, but at the same time we assume the reasons we commit to long-term relationships will remain valid forever. I really think you’re onto something here. Except maybe the time period. I would thrown my weight behind Chairman Mao and advocate a Five Year Plan. The re-up would be the best part about it. Just think how many Seth Rogan movies could be made about that decision alone. And maybe as part of a Pre Teen Emancipation Act, kids could start re-upping with their parents in two year increments in mid-pubescence. Didn’t get that XBox you wanted for Easter? Go free agent! The applications are endless.

    • James Bernard Frost says:

      I don’t know, there’s something about the number seven in a marriage, though. I mean, I’m sure if we consulted the Mayan calendar properly we’d figure out why, but everything seems to unravel in that seventh year.

      • Greg Olear says:

        It’s Saturn square Saturn, if you’re looking for the astrological explanation.

      • Becky says:

        So common, they even made a movie about it. Starring Marilyn Monroe.

        There is also, it seems, a lesser-known cousin of the 7-year itch–the 2-year panic attack.

        Almost every married couple I know had some kind of near-miss around the second year of marriage. One couple appears to be succumbing as we speak.

        My husband and I will be married 7 years in June. I don’t feel any impending doom, but who knows?

        Of course, the 7-year contract-based marriages would give rise to whole new industries. New sections in the greeting card store. New 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th honeymoon traditions. An entire self-help section in the book store dealing exclusively with how to persuade your spouse to stay with you for another 7 years.

        I

      • Gloria says:

        This is why the term “seven year itch” is a thing.

        I actually agree with this.

  7. I knew a guy whose marriage, by most accounts (those who spoke of it, mainly), was somewhat troubled. One New Year’s Eve, I saw him for the first time in several years, and asked him how everything was going, how life was treating him. All the good stuff. He mentioned that earlier that day, his divorce had become legally official. He said it with little to no inflection, not quite comment-on-the-weather but neither enough to really reveal anything.

    I struggled with how to respond, of course. What do you say to that? Sorry to hear that (except many people had said it was troubled)? Congratulations (but just because other people said it was troubled didn’t mean it had been so bad)? After a moment of silent false starts, I finally managed:

    “How do you feel about that?”

    A comment that became a highlight of the party. Repeated numerous times with drunken chuckles.

    When you mentioned your wife had written an essay about your divorce, I thought for a moment you might have been the ex of Sandra Tsing-Loh, who wrote such an essay for The Atlantic a year ago. It was an essay lambasting marriage and complaining it was a failure as an institution because hers had been a failure as a relationship. It was, in a compound-word, a bit bone-headed. Which is, I think, part of the problem; it seems a lot of people I know forget that relationship part. Me, I tend to leave other people’s relationships to other people.

    From this side, which may be naivete, a lot of people seem to think that marriage works because it’s marriage. Like there’s some ideal marriage, some sacred institution, some final legal recognition that renders reality moot. Not saying you have or do, mind you. But there seems to be some tautology involved in it, that is, that marriage is good, so marriage must be good.

    I like the tone you managed here. The gallows humor as you put it. And hey, if you think a marriage with seven-year contract negotiations is the way to go, I say I wish you happiness. Whatever works for you, you know? Some people have long-distance marriages in which their spouses live in another state for one reason or another. Some people have marriages that don’t require monogamy so much as fidelity.

  8. Zara Potts says:

    Yep, I can attest to the seven year unravelling. The shit always hits the fan in year number two and year number seven – the relationship might not actually end at year seven, but that’s when it’s on the downward slide.
    I guess we have all been sold the dream of ‘happily ever after’ and so we feel that if we don’t get it, then we are losing out. I don’t know why I stayed in my bad relationship for so long, I think if we’d had the ‘seven year contract’ we may have actually been able to salvage some good feelings out of it, but letting it drag on for another couple of miserable years meant that by the absolute end, there was nothing but wreckage left.

    Great piece, James.

  9. lance reynald says:

    the ex and I put in our 7. the last 3 were difficult ones. 7 is fair. even a most mutual divorce of relief brings out some of the worst grievances. nothing failed, it ran a suitable course.

    glad you found an awesome girlfriend and you and the former have both started finding something to do with your next 7 years.

    great write, Frost. great write indeed.

  10. Isn’t there something about how every seven years we have totally new cells and blood
    and we’re not the same person we were physically as seven years before?
    I wonder if that’s why there’s a seven year itch.

    Well, totally killer Greg and I made it through the seven – does two years before getting married count
    cuz that would really put us in good standing. That would mean we passed it while I was pregnant with our daughter Prue – that was a really happy time.

    I have no answers – just that I know that we’re both going to die one day and never see each other
    again. And that bums me out big time, so I want to be with him as much as I can, while I can.

    Great piece, James. I wish you much love and happiness.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Oh now you’ve made me tear up.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Half of all marriages end in divorce, and of the remaining half, a significant percentage, one imagines, is not happy. The marital calculus is unkind. Your spouse is a friend, a business partner, a roommate, a lover, a therapist, and, if you have children, a co-parent. Any one of those relationships can be thorny to navigate, but when you put them all together, the odds of things going awry increase exponentially — like the Cat in the Hat juggling all those things while standing on the ball.

      So I feel truly blessed and lucky. We just passed out ten-year anniversary of being together. June 1 will mark eight years of marriage, and in August, we will have lived together for a full decade. And we spend a lot more time together than most couples do. (And Steph, if you think death can separate us, you got another thing coming. If I go before you, I’m SO haunting the house.)

      An excellent debut, James. Thanks for sharing.

      [PS: we were just talking about this in the kitchen. Steph said to our son, who is five, “Mommy and Daddy love each other very much. Did you know that?” His reply: “I did not know that. You’re always yelling at each other.”]

    • Judy Prince says:

      Steph, yeah, I read about the 7 years physical changes, too, only it also said that every 7 years ushers in MAJOR LIFE CHANGES, so I reviewed my 7 year markers to see if it was true……and woh was it ever! Most of the changes were in establishing a new residence, and one was giving birth to my son. I’m thinking, though, that really every year has brought major life changes, or at least I could make a case for it.

      • I agree – change is all around us all the time.
        In thinking about this and Duke’s latest piece,
        I see how there’s life and death happening all around us.
        I don’t just mean in the traditional sense.
        I mean – we are in a constant state of death and renewal.
        So, odds are good that every 7 years, there’s a lot that’s probably different –
        really one would hope, right? Otherwise – boring!!

  11. Angela Tung says:

    oooh, i really like this idea! i was married for about four years when everything fell apart, and now although i love my boyfriend like no other and we plan on having kids, i don’t want to get married again.

    there’s that – not pressure, more than that – around marriage and being TOGETHER FOREVER OR ELSE!!! i think the seven year idea takes that pressure off and also, like you said, makes both partners appreciate the other more because they could be gone at the end of that time. just like now, either of us could leave, but we choose not to.

    i agree that what makes divorce so much harder is everyone’s reaction to it. while the break up of my marriage really really sucked, i was relieved to be divorced. in the meantime, i got all kinds of pity from my friends and family. i got it from my mom till i started living with someone again. i keep telling her, “i was happy before i met this person, now i’m just happier.” moms will be moms, i suppose.

  12. Kerry Cohen says:

    My favorite part is where you say your new girlfriend blows your mind 😉

  13. Dave says:

    To borrow from the world of sports: “Contract year.” I imagine the performance would elevate, but obviously, after a strong final year, there’d still be plenty of people hoping to “test free-agency.”

  14. Lorna says:

    I must be old school. I’m in for the duration, until death do us part.

    Although, this is my second marriage. The duration of my first marriage was a little over a year and that’s only because the attorney drug her feet on the annulment paperwork. I was twenty two, a single mom and thought he was my night in shining armor. He proposed to me after only 3 weeks of dating. That should have been my first clue. It was a disaster waiting to happen. I’m still afraid to visit the state of Georgia due to some threats on my life made by my ex-BIL. But that experience has most definitely made my marriage vows sacred in my current marriage. We will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary this October. There would only be a few scenarios I could think of that would send me out the door to the divorce lawyer. None of which (knock on wood) have transpired.

  15. Jordan Ancel says:

    James, this is brilliant. Thank you for writing this. Not only do I share your view 100%, I believe this is a healthy and realistic way of viewing and entering relationships.

    Too often, social standards put undue and unfair pressure on how humans “should” live their lives.

    You hit this on the head with:

    The whole notion of a marriage “failing” is culturally annoying. Did we fail to raise two beautiful children for seven years? Did we fail to run a successful business together? Did we fail to live in tight domesticity, respecting each other as best we could?

    I was married for ten years. We were both unhappy, but she ultimately had the balls to leave. We both stayed in it because neither of us wanted to feel like we failed (yes, we loved each other, as well). It took some months for me to realize that our marriage was actually a success.

    At the moment of her walking out the door, two thoughts went through my mind, almost simultaneously:

    “My life is over.”

    “Oh my God, I’M FREE!!”

    Through the tears of my shame and sadness, I saw a whole new world of possibility in front of me, as did she, and I believe we are both now living the lives we always envisioned for ourselves.

    • Stephanie says:

      You said it perfectly. We were together 10 years, married for 7. I left, and I knew he’d be a happier person for it. I don’t know about him, but I’m certainly living the life I always envisioned. I can’t imagine how miserable we’d both be if we stuck it out.

  16. Stephani Skalak says:

    Personally, I think the whole idea of leasing each other for a set period has a lot of potential. Perhaps the reality of how hard it is to remain connected over the years is why the notion of handfasting for a year or “as long as love shall last” has been so powerful as a myth.

    But I think you may be misjudging the intentions of those around you if you think that “…the masses swarm around me wondering how and why my marriage “failed.” ”

    When a person dies, we express our condolences to their family. We do this even though death is an every day occurrence and is expected. We do this even if they died from a lingering illness that caused them a tremendous amount of pain. We do this even if the bereaved had a terrible relationship with them and harbors mixed feelings at best about their demise. When my father died a significant part of me was relieved to be done with our complicated, painful relationship. That doesn’t mean I didn’t grieve. And it certainly doesn’t mean that people should have said, “You guys didn’t get on much did you? Good riddance!” or even “How do you feel about that?” which could have easily felt invasive, depending upon who was asking.

    A relationship between two people–married or not–takes on a life and character of its own. When it dies, compassionate people express their condolences. I don’t think that implies a judgement of failure. I think that implies an understanding that change is painful.

    I suspect that your friends and acquaintances (no doubt myself included) are more clumsy than judgmental. But if all of the sympathy is off-putting, perhaps you should start responding with, “Thanks. Our marriage is in a better place now.”

    That’ll give them pause.

    • Lorna says:

      Stephani,
      This comment is profound on so many levels. Thank you.

    • James Bernard Frost says:

      But that’s precisely my point: it’s not death. Why equate it with death? It’s two people evolving, maybe even growing and gaining something.

      A person at a party asked me, in front of my new interest, if I’d taken the time to mourn the loss of my marriage. We were all having a good time, drinking wine, and suddenly I felt I had to make excuses for not behaving bereaved enough.

      I get not knowing what’s appropriate to say, and bumbling through that. And on a personal level, I appreciate that from you because I know you and observe you doing that. But I like what a previous commenter asked a friend when he was going through a divorce, “So how do you feel?”

      Why the assumption of failure? I mean, I feel the failure, and my soon-to-be ex-wife feels the failure, and we hang our heads because of it, but should we be?

      • Stephani Skalak says:

        No one in their right mind would defend someone asking you that in front of your girlfriend, or frankly asking you that at all. That just plain impudent.

        There have been countless times in my life when I found myself engaged in a debate, often heated, that essentially boils down to an argument over what should be and what is. Usually, the debate looks something like this:

        Me: “It makes me crazy that x is the way of things! We would all be so much healthier and happier if we just agreed to do y instead.”

        Other (usually my mother or my spouse): “But that’s not the way people are. They do x because they it’s what they blah blah blah.”

        Me: “Yes, but it is absurd and sad that things are that way! It doesn’t need to be that way!”
        Other: “That isn’t the way things work. Blah blah blahdity blah.”

        I am amused to find myself on the “blah blah blah” side of this debate with you.

        It seems to me that the main upside of the lifetime commitment is that a normal marriage doesn’t just have a bad week or a bad month from time to time. It has a bad year now and then. If you give up during the bad year, you miss out on the following five and a half great years. And, speaking as someone who was a serial monogamist for twelve years before I met my spouse, all relationships take work and compromise, etc., etc. So those crushes that come along from time to time aren’t necessarily going to make life all better.

        Some things, however, would definitely be improved by serial marriage with an option to renew. In particular, I like the intentionality of it. Because as we get older David Byrne’s words in Once in a Lifetime take on more poignancy. How did I get here? I like the idea of taking stock, of having that built into the plan. I think that most of us would value our partners more if we took time periodically to step back for perspective. And others of us would shrug off our inertia, make a more fulfilling life for ourselves.

        But I’m afraid I can’t stop there. Because, truly, the best part of this fantasy is that no matter what we decide no one gets hurt. We all respect each other’s decisions and are grateful for the time we spent together. We exchange good-bye hugs, maybe get lucky with some break-up sex and move on. And we have society’s approval, no less. Not that we care about that kind of thing. But still, our friends are all shouting, “Mazeltov!”

        It’d be kind of like the farewell party that your co-workers throw for you when you get a new job. You’ve been there for seven years or so. You’ve had some great growth and experience without which the new job wouldn’t even be a possibility. You are fond of your co-workers. Well, most of them. But you’ve outgrown the job. You are ready for new challenges. It’s nothing personal. Everyone admires your decision to try something new. In fact, maybe they even secretly envy your initiative.

        Right?

        Marriage is freakin’ hard work, but it is not a job. It is definitely personal. You sleep together every night. You enter and are entered emotionally and physically. You see and accept each other at your worst, hold each other when you cry. Your eyes meet over your child’s head, a child that both of you–and possibly only both of you–really do see as a miracle (an occasionally exasperating one, but a miracle nonetheless). What does a legal contract have to do with that? What do societal expectations have to do with that? You think this last year would have been easy if everyone was slapping you on the back? Saying,… what? “Best of luck!” “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

        There was some appalling reality TV show a couple of years ago where couples went on dates and then at the end they had to reveal whether they wanted to break up or make up. The drama the show fed on was how often the two responded differently. How often would that happen in the seven year plan? And there would still be tensions over divvying up possessions, custody agreements, etc. Furthermore, different social mores would bring with them new forms of tactlessness. Imagine announcing to your friends that you’ve decided–after much soul searching–not to re-up your marriage contract and they say “Oh, thank God!” or “I really think that is a wise decision.” Because you know some of them would.

        And divorce when there are children involved is not ever going to be painless. My own parents got divorced when I was three. Over the following seven years they each got remarried and divorced a second time. My father got divorced again when I was in my twenties. Do you know how that felt to my brother and me, each and every time? Like a death in the family. And, yes, I completely agree with everyone above who said that it is better to divorce than to remain in a toxic relationship “for the kids.” But when you are in the thick of it, it rocks a child’s world. Would it have been better if it had been a normal occurrence per contract? Would it have been better if my parents had thrown a party to celebrate their time together, given each other a high-five with no hard feelings, and if no one had ever uttered the words “broken home” because there wasn’t any stigma attached to divorce? Sure! But I think it just as likely that I would still have been envious of the kids whose parents decided to re-up.

        It’s worth a try though. What’s to stop you guys from throwing a party to celebrate your time together, your beautiful children, and to raise a toast to your respective futures? Because the only way you are going to stop feeling like a failure is–and really, Jim, you know this already–if you stop feeling like a failure.

  17. MDM says:

    Just celebrated 20 years – with a FAMILY vacation that included a trip to…. LEGOland. Love idea of getting new towels, sheets and dishes after 7 or 15 years; most of ours went quickly threadbare with kids and SO out of style from 1990. I had to shop on my own and, good lord, if I picked a floral because it was on sale, as opposed to beige or tan, you would think I had stuck a maxi pad sticky-side up to his nether regions.
    On the flip side, he’s not romantic – I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve received flowers, jewelry or candy in 20 years (not even after hatching two boys); but he comes home from work daily (+), makes dinner for our family (+) and helps the kids with math and complex logic homework (+). The reliability of a Labrador is worth his weight in gold. He’s as perfect as I am (neither of us score 100%). We’d rather plug along with the monster we know than retrain a new one – not enough charge in the stun gun.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Forgive me but I am going to steal “not enough charge in the stun gun” and misuse it with as much varied context as I can muster. Ha!

    • Judy Prince says:

      Wait—am I on Irene’s dog page or Jessica’s No 7 Breast Cream page?! MDM, you are a raucous kick! Thanks for the laffs!

  18. Richard Cox says:

    This is a brave and fantastic piece. Thanks, James, for posting it.

    I find it interesting that in a forum like this, where the average intelligence level is likely to be higher than of, say, a comment board on FOX network news, both women and men alike claim to be on board with the idea. Maybe your piece was intended to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, maybe not, but no doubt if you went over to FOX and posted the same opinion, you’d likely be run out of Dodge by those who would sanctimoniously berate you for trying to undermine the idea of lifelong marriage, which after all is the “bedrock of our family values-based culture.”

    I would love to be married to the same woman for the rest of my life, but I’m willing to accept other options. A few seven-year relationships might work. Or maybe it should be an organic thing, heavily dependent on context. One year, two years, three, five, seven, whatever works. Renew the vows every year or two and retain intensity. Don’t just get hitched and then immediately settle into your post-marriage laziness. Don’t put on forty pounds because you have landed a man or woman for the long term. Live your relationship to the fullest, and then either renew or move on, no hard feelings. It seems like a perfect plan to me.

    Should I talk to my state senator about this?

    • Richard, I think your comment and my comment should get married.

      • Richard Cox says:

        Whoa, that was fast! Shouldn’t they go on a date first? Or at least some cyber?

        • Why wait? I think they have what it takes to live happily ever after.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Maybe that’s what’s wrong with modern day marriage. When you take away the necessity, as noted by Judy below, the way it should hopefully work is two people who are really compatible can’t imagine ever not being together, so they get married. But too often we rush into it, pushed by our partner or family or societal pressures or whatever to make the relationship you’re in be “the one.” Or you think you have to hurry to find someone and get married because you’re not getting any younger.

          I think we can meet people who actually do complete us and complement each other in ways that make lifetime partnership possible. But I think those occasions are rare and people don’t wait for it to happen. We often assign special feelings to someone who isn’t really a match because we think they are good enough or we’re tired of being single or whatever. And then five years later we’re desperate to get out and we wonder why.

          I don’t believe there is one perfect person out there for each of us. But I don’t think there are very many true matches, either, and probability says you’re not going to meet one very often. When you do, you better hold on to her.

    • Becky says:

      I’m not totally on board with it, really.

      I like the idea, within reason, of being able to rely on one person person forever, having and giving a guarantee of partnership, companionship, etc., that is secure and not “allowed,” in a way, to be subject to the temperamental tides of life. An anchor.

      If that’s not too sappy.

      I mean, I think that if my husband and I didn’t share this notion, and feel strongly about it, we probably would have said “fuck it” at some point during a rough patch already. I’m glad we didn’t. And maybe at some point, I’ll wish we would have, and then later, yet again, feel happy that we didn’t.

      At least part of arriving in the black when it comes to happiness in marriage, I think, has to do with having a manageable expectation about what happiness is. Is it NEVER feeling like you wish he’d run away from home? Is it NEVER questioning your compatibility or the health of the relationship? Is it NEVER wondering “what if” about somebody else? Realistically speaking, these are things couples are going to encounter in a lifetime. How much is too much? When is it happening too often? It comes down to what you value, too. And the dynamics of any given relationship. Popular attitudes tell us that if we are not thrilled and totally in love with our spouse all the time, then something is wrong. And we worry about it and we fret and wonder why we’re not happy like our friends the so-and-sos or the couple on TV or whoever, and these comparisons end up accounting for a solid 80% of our unhappiness. We are unhappy because we are not as happy as the Joneses.

      Wow. Off on a tangent here.

      I’m not enamored of the notion of ejection-seat marriages, really. Deep down, I think people should be able to count on each other in a long-term way and even when things aren’t going so hot, not just with regard to marriages, but with regard to family and friends, too. Nevertheless, some damage is irreparable. This much is not in question. Sometimes it just doesn’t work.

  19. This was awesome. And I think it’s an idea whose time has come. Didn’t some other writer recently suggest a 4-year cycle?

    On June 1 I’ll be married 5 years, and I’ve already been through more cyclone cycles of feeling about the state of the union than I would have thought possible, considering what an even-keeled person I normally am.

    At the moment, I feel like I’d gladly sign the contract for the second 7 years. But, you know. Ask me again in two …

    Also, I clicked over and read your wife’s piece, and it’s really interesting to me that your loved ones were so furious about it. It seemed quite even-keeled and fair to me, just as your own piece is.

    And honest. Are there really people who’ve never fantasized about someone not coming home? Whose imaginations have never expressed a need to escape using that particular construct?

    Curious.

    I’ll knock on doors to get this bill passed.

    • James Bernard Frost says:

      That’s why I linked to it, to be fair.

      There’s a lot going on underneath, of course, stuff that’s inappropriate to present publicly–I’m sure friends of hers will read this and think, “he’s so full of shit.” And that’s really what friends are for, to be loyal to you.

  20. Judy Prince says:

    I wonder in what ways and to what extent the prevalence and social “acceptability” of divorces in the USA affects how we deal with our marriages. Do we expect less of our marriages than our parents/grandparents expected of theirs, or vice versa?

    Do we have the slightest subconscious thought that “Oh well, if it doesn’t work out, I can at least get divorced”? For our parents and/or grandparents, divorce was virtually not an option. It was a social stigma—-as was sex outside of marriage. For better or for worse (kind of a pun, so it’ll stay), folks had one option: If you wanted sex, you got married. With no or few contraceptives available, married couples had kids—and lots of single females got pregnant.

    Now that women can easily avoid getting pregnant, and many of them can support themselves financially, one has to wonder why so many choose to marry. One wonders why so many men choose to marry.

    Most of us mimic marriage by “living together”. It seems the perfect solution to the impossible: having intimacy at the same time as having a measure of independence. That’s what everyone wants: the simultaneity of being “close” and being “alone”.

    It’s not a unique situation. For example, most young adults would not choose to live with their parents. And most parents would not especially like to live with their grown children.

  21. Simon Smithson says:

    James! Welcome to TNB – a fantastic piece to breach the water with.

    I think it’s difficult to make a blanket statement and say ‘This is how it is for all people, everywhere.’ Humans are too damn varied. Our drives and interpretations are too differentiated for so many reasons, whether that’s in terms of culture, or psychology, or emotions, or what have you. Far better to leave it protean – but that hardly appeals to our love of institutions.

  22. Brian Eckert says:

    I just got out of a 3+ year relationship…things had been a bit rough for the final year of it and she had the guts to pull the trigger and end the thing.

    When it was over, there was the idea of how I thought I should feel…which was sad, hopeless, regretful, etc.

    Then there was how I actually felt…which was slightly apathetic…relieved….and excited to be single. I said to myself “you monster. Why don’t you feel worse? You should feel bad.” And I did, of course, feel a little bad. But in general I was shocked to find how not-devastated I was.

    I think a lot of people spend time worrying about how they should feel in a given situation instead of focusing on the reality of their innermost thoughts. You say your wife wished you would never come home…I think that is hilarious! (no offense) A bit cruel perhaps…but bloody honest. It’s tough to be honest in situations where so many feelings are involved but at the end of the day I think we are all best served by following the voice of reason that dwells deep inside of us.

  23. […] Holy Hell. Yes. Yes. Yes: Let’s Get Married for Seven Years, Then Break Up […]

  24. James, if the Seven Year Contract of Marriage that you propose becomes legal, I’m totally registering at Home Depot this go round. I really need a good ladder. I let my wife assume the registering-at-various-stores role after our engagement, and you know, Target’s cool and all, Crate & Barrel, yeah, but there are only so many Pyrex bowls one household can fit in their kitchen.

  25. Anne Walls says:

    I love the honesty and raw emotion you just laid out, James. I’m 31, haven’t been married but am just out of an almost 3-year relationship (long, for me) and am now seriously wondering if it is possible. I love the contract idea. We do it with jobs, apartment leases, car leases, etc. Why not with life as a whole?

    Friendships last longer than marriages because they don’t have the weight of the paperwork on them. They are less pressure and are allowed to blossom, change, and sometimes end without people saying: “Oh, you and Jody aren’t friends anymore? That’s terrible.” People understand…because they have people they aren’t friends with anymore either.

    I’m not trying to be callous about love and long-term relationships because- believe me- they’re out there. I just don’t like the pressure and would prefer to be surprised by life, which has proved time and time again that it’s nothing if not infinitely surprising.

  26. Uche Ogbuji says:

    I think that if marriages are to be emphatically about romance, then there is little option but the 7 year timer that seems so popular around these parts. I personally think that romance can be a very poor foundation for marriage. A marriage that lasts the long term (by which I mean at least long enough for children to reach majority) requires both parties to see themselves clearly, and to see each other clearly. From my personal observation (at Nth hand, because I am certainly no romantic) as well as my cross-cultural understandings, and admissions of innumerable people, that clarity of vision simply does not happen in a romantic welter.

    I’ve been very happily married for 14 years, and I just came back from a trip for my parents’ 40th anniversary. My parents’ marriage has been a rocky one, and I’ve often wished they’d pack it in, but I’m also very grateful that they lasted so long on behalf of their children. I’d have 26 more years to go to reach that milestone, but I don’t really think about it as a slog. Each day brings what it will. It probably helps that we arrange to spend a fair amount apart (around 6 weeks of each year, on average).

    I suppose it’s possible that because I’m so utterly unconventional in what I want from the marriage, it’s easier to be superficially conventional in my expectation that it should last.

  27. Carl D'Agostino says:

    My parents will be married 65 years this September! It didn’t rub off though. The best I could do was about 65 days.

  28. […] I posted earlier this month, I’m going through a divorce. One of the interesting corollaries to my divorce is that, in general, […]

  29. Dana says:

    I’m so late to this party, but as a terminally happy married person (29 years in September!) the 7 year contract would have been a total pain in the ass. All those negotiations over and over again. If we want to dissolve the contract, we still can– as many have pointed out 50% of marriages end in divorce. (Is that really true anymore?) So really, while I get that you’re trying to be a bit light hearted about your situation, I think it’s ridiculous to think that people are judging you about getting a divorce. They might feel sadness that your partnership didn’t work out and that you’ll have all these extra issues to deal with regarding the children now. But there is no stigma in our society about it anymore.

    And honestly if you’re not totally out of control in love with someone and can not imagine the rest of your life without them, why would you bother getting married in the first place?

  30. You need to write a counter to my Al & Tipper piece, just posted.

  31. Mary says:

    Hit 20 years last June and had enough of what began to feel like pretending. Papers nearly done 2 kids in the crossfire. This hit quite close to home. Courageous piece and the comments rounded it out. Yeah. There is a stigma– hard to redefine that many years worth of relationships without some bias. Wish it were less so for the kids, but grown ups carry the issues around and the kids have no choice. You just do the best you can to insulate them. I’d like to reclaim my idealism, but I can’t remember quite where I left it… I have this fricking annoying voice in my head…I think it’s Steve Burns from Blues Clues… “GO back, go back, go back, go back to where you were (when you’ve lost something episode). When I find my idealism I hope my adult brain cells are somewhere nearby.

  32. Rachel Pollon says:

    I don’t know if this is the Simon Smithson Effect or what but I was just reading Justin Daugherty’s piece, which led me to this piece, and then I clicked on an email that told me copies of my marriage certificate had arrived so I could go ahead with my official name change and, gulp, what kind of crazy timing is that?!

    I’ve never thought people should characterize the end of relationships as a “failure.” That would imply we have more control over people and things than we do. And I understand being happy after a divorce. Maybe not thoroughly and only happy, but happy. As a generation who is well acquainted with divorce (being a child of divorce) we know sometimes it’s way better for everyone involved. Here’s to love and happiness.

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