Finding Meaning

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Reinventing Marriage

By Skip Hellewell

The Beautiful Wife and I are back in Midway, Utah. It’s a picturesque village high in the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains, settled by Swiss Immigrants in the mid-1800s. The BW, you’ll recall, is half-Swiss. Though the family was Swiss, the town architect was English, so the ancestral home is a Victorian of the farmhouse genre. I was out in the yard enjoying the morning when a couple of middle-aged women out for a bike ride stopped to chat.

One, it turned out, had ties to Laguna Beach, so I felt obliged to offer a tour of the home. This caused some quick action by the BW who was enjoying the morning in her bathrobe. During the tour, the ladies stopped at a portrait of the family that lived here—elderly parents with the many children typical of farming families. It came out in the ensuing conversation that our guests, women of considerable charm, were both divorced. Though hopeful of remarriage, they were unsure of their chances. Shortage of good men inclined to marriage, they reported.

The visit left me pondering our society’s ongoing experiment with marriage. A century ago, people of all social levels married, usually for life. Marriage was the common equalizer of society, its benefits equally available to the least of us. Divorce began to increase after WWI and surged in the post-WWII era, peaking around 1990. Perhaps there were unforeseen consequences to making war, but many lost the will or the skill to sustain love.

One result was the following generations, not unreasonably, became wary of marriage. The average age of marriage rose from the early to the late twenties and the considerable benefits of marriage and parenthood in those years were lost. Cohabitation, more convenient but less protective, replaced marriage as the common first relationship. These experimental changes weren’t planned, they just happened.

An interesting study by Philip Cohen, recently updated, forecasts a significant decline in divorce, but it’s not good news. Those who marry now are older, more educated, wealthier, and thus less likely to separate. The bad news is that the bottom half are losing out on the many benefits of marriage. These include greater lifetime happiness, better physical and mental health, more stable relationships, and stronger finances. Matrimony is the greatest anti-poverty system ever devised, even better than a college education. Marriage is also better for those with no voice in this relationship experiment—our children. The accumulated loss of marriage’s benefits by so many is incomprehensible.

What will be the end result of our society’s marriage experiment? No one can say for sure, but whatever we learn we better treasure it—for we’ve paid a terrible, terrible price to acquire it. My two guests from this morning, their names were Erin and Karen, understand this. They’ve lived without the benefits of marriage and for all its challenges, they clearly thought life to be better with it. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]


Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 7 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, Sunday 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish). Saturday: 4 pm Reconciliation, 5:30 Mass.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.


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