At Large : Learning marriage
Without examining the history of the training regimen that was instituted early in our marriage, I can report that the keys to its ultimate success were patience, firmness, repetition, repeated demonstrations, and pop quizzes, both multiple choice and essay type. That's what did the trick. Plus, you need a good teacher, and in that way, I've been blessed. Educators of all sorts will appreciate what such an effort requires and sympathize with my mate.
I suspect that the demands of marriage, and especially the educational duties incumbent on the female partner, may explain some of the mildly discouraging news we've heard about marriage, the institution, recently. You may remember that the Census Bureau has found that married couples account for slightly less that half the total of American households. That's more married couples, but a smaller percentage of the total number of households, more than 111 million, than was the case years ago, when the total population was 288.4 million, 51 percent of whom were females, the teaching half of the demographic.
Marriage - I mean marriage as the manacling of two humans together for the long haul - has been regarded as the backbone of American households, but it has been in a slow but steady decline, as a percentage of total American households, for several years. That doesn't mean that Americans have turned their backs on this noble team sport, but there are alternatives, apparently more acceptable now than they were a few years ago. Plus, divorce and the overall aging of the population and the fetter-free sexual exuberance of the young contribute to this sad trend.
Now, although the population has reached 300 million, we can safely assume that the male-female breakdown has endured and that the total share of households featuring a married, live man-woman couple - or any other type of long-term partnership of two humans - is about what it was a year ago. So, those of us who've invested so much time in marriage and the instructional rewards that go with it may rest easy, knowing that while we may not be making much headway against the current trend, we're not falling behind at an increasing rate.
About three-quarters of Americans are at or beyond the household forming age in 2005. That means the potential number of households might have been 216 million, instead of 111 million, a deficit in speculative terms of almost half. In light of the training available in most married relationships, why haven't these shirkers stepped up?
Lots of reasons, one supposes, most of them perfectly understandable. For example, for those between 18 and 29, members of both sexes may cling to the busy bee hypothesis, buzzing here, buzzing there, sipping here, sipping there, in the sunny springtime of discovery. You know what I mean.
If you are, like me, a member of the married household population, with kids in the 19-29 cohort, you may be cheering the youngsters on in their reluctance to launch their married lives. The most sensible of this cohort's members are in school, beginning careers, in the military, moving around, looking for a foothold on the future, and they understand that the time has not arrived for household establishment.
From 30 to 50, there may be a sizable group whose members form, then deconstruct a household. It seemed like a good thing at the time, but it didn't work out. Maybe they'll join the married household ranks again, but not right away. After all, statistics be damned, most Americans do marry, and many do so several times. Most have children, and increasingly, most of these offspring, based on their experiences as the children of married parents, delay into their middle age the onset of marriage. The teacher-student model followed by wives and husbands generally has an unplanned educational correlative - a dividend, you might say - in which the parents serve as the teachers and the children the students, learning from their experience to delay, delay, delay. This may be characterized as a perverse as well as an unintended consequence of childhood.
Now, of course, another reason why the number of married households has shrunk a bit is that the population as a whole is getting older, which means that one or the other half of the couple at the head of a married household dies. As the population of married couples ages, death visits more often than it does a younger cohort, and the consequence is a household led by a widow or widower, and consequently, no longer one of us. Actually, it's usually the husband who departs first, a testimony to the fact that the teacher in the wife-husband pair learned a lot more over time than her student.
Yet another reason for the decline in the married share of American households could be exasperation. In my experience, no matter the diligence of the teacher, she can experience terminal exasperation. Often, it's towel trouble. For instance, it's one of the mysteries of cohabitation that towels require such diligent management. I mean, you take a shower, you grab a towel. You dry off, you throw the towel on the floor. Next day, you shower, you pick up the towel from the floor, you dry off, you throw the towel on the floor. After several days, you shower, you reach for the towel on the floor where it should be. It isn't there. You take another, you dry off, you throw the towel on the floor. It's a time-honored system. I have skills, I can do this.
But, I've learned my system is all wrong. First of all, this towel belongs to a certain person, that towel belongs to me. They are both white, I object. How do I know which is whose? Yours is wet, smelly, and dirty. It doesn't look that dirty. Trust me, it's filthy.
Why can't I have a blue towel?
It doesn't go with the room.
And there you have it, the key to the trends we've been discussing, as documented by the Census Bureau. I suspect it is towel trouble or some similar educational standoff - mono-sockism, for instance - that accounts, perhaps all by itself, for the national decline in the formation and endurance of married households. Perhaps the bureau could modify its survey instruments to confirm the hypothesis.