The Government Wants You To Get Married

A contemporary white wedding cake decorated wi...
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I saw the huge color poster recently at Grand Central Station, the Manhattan hub for millions of daily train commuters from suburban Connecticut and New York, pushing the federal government’s assertion — radical! — that getting and staying married is a great idea. Given how many of those commuters already have a spouse/kids/mortgage/college payments, this seemed an odd location to send that message. Even with a tanking real estate market, it’s still tough to find a decent house anywhere within commuting distance of GCT for less than $400,000, with an additional $12,000 a year in taxes.

So, my guess is that few readers of this advertisement for connubial bliss are actually single in suburbia, certainly those still pining for their first wedding ring. Most can’t afford the northern ‘burbs, or it’s just too lonely and boring out there in picket-fenceville. Those suburbanites already divorced-with-kids aren’t likely in a big rush back to the altar.  And those whose marriages are already in trouble will just have to make nice for a while, because, in this market, that shared marital asset isn’t going to sell any time soon.

Even odder, turns out, is who sent and paid for that message. The website for, complete with cool turquoise graphics and a faux-1960s look, is that of the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, with an Oklahoma City address. What’s really behind it is the federal government, the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, who want more Americans, ages 18 to 30 especially, to get and stay married. Marriage, it’s assumed,  keeps them off the welfare rolls. So the government is spending $150 million a year, distributed to community groups, to help Americans get and stay married.

Does this strike you as weird?  Decades ago, Canada’s coolest Prime Minister (really the only cool PM), Pierre Elliott Trudeau, famously said the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. I agree.

Today, less than 49 percent of U.S. households are married. Do we care? Should we?

As someone whose maternal grandmother divorced six times, whose parents divorced, (and, eventually, as did I), I never grew up fetishizing marriage as my primary life goal or dream. Dreams break every day, as the high rate of divorce makes pretty clear. I do sincerely applaud the larger goal of helping everyone, male or female, straight or gay, who wants to make a longterm commitment to their partner, legally sanctioned or not. Intimacy sustained over decades is rarely easy.

And many of us lack the skills — whether maturity, money management, role models, patience or long-married parents or friends to turn to for advice or insight — to do it well. It sucks when s/he snores or s/he gains 25 pounds or you both lose your jobs at the same time. Maybe you just assumed that crap only happened to other people. 

Ever try to find an affordable marital therapist? In my costly neck of the woods, they charge $175/hour or more and they don’t take insurance. And that’s a 50-minute hour. Trying to save your relationship or marriage by paying an expert can cost as much as hiring a divorce attorney. If money is already really tight in this interminable recession, (and money fights are a classic dealbreaker for many marriages and relationships), that’s not going to work either. Talk about a Catch-22.

Who are you going to turn to for help?

Writer Sandra Tsing Loh, as she writes in the curent issue of The Atlantic , is heading for the door, fed up with her marriage. Bailing.

Here’s a great article that examines why marriage, and re-marriage, isn’t always the right answer.

3 thoughts on “The Government Wants You To Get Married

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