The Marrying Kind

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Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross, and Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (1967)

Reading the first three of these books about marriage, you might be tempted to reflect that there’s nothing new under the sun. Books of advice about finding love and keeping it have been around, offering formulas and nostrums to readers and believers, since the beginning of print, and so have statistics about the demise of marriage. But Committed and Marry Him, the two books by Elizabeth Gilbert and Lori Gottlieb, suggest that what is new is the mindset of the intended readers. What do we take from the new sensibilities of today’s authors and readers, the thirty-somethings weighing these age-old issues? Has anything really changed?

This reviewer should probably disclose at once that there is much in the day-to-day concerns of the mate-seeking world of today completely outside her experience, which is that of someone who has been married since her teens, and has many children and zero experience of relationship coaches, Internet matchmaking, speed dating, or the worlds of office work, therapy, singles bars, and biological clocks that are the new realities. I even took the very college course (required for incoming freshmen) with the very professor derided by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique and mentioned here by Elizabeth Gilbert as epitomizing the era of unreconstructed females on the cusp of risen consciousness. (Of the class, “Marriage and the Family,” I remember only that when our group of inexperienced teenagers expressed reservations about male anatomy, Dr. Henry Bowman reassured us that, among other things, the penis was actually a lot cleaner than the vagina, being so much more often exposed to soap.)

It used to be that on a date, the boy would pay for a Pepsi and the movie; that was it. Lori Gottlieb, in Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, estimates the cost to today’s woman of four months of dating, counting therapy afterward when it doesn’t work out, to be $3,600: online dating service, clothes, including expensive underwear, haircut, hair color, cosmetics, bikini wax, entertaining him, and gifts. Things have changed.

1.

First, some statistics to frame the discussion. Marriage is a “public, formal, lifelong commitment to share your life with another person,” as Andrew J. Cherlin defines it in The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today. In the American view, marriage remains the ideal state: only 10 percent of Americans endorse the idea that the institution is outdated, compared to, say, in France, where a third of people think it is. On the contrary, America is seeing a sort of Marriage Renaissance, the impetus for which comes in part from the gay marriage movement, which in itself reflects our reverence for weddings. All the usual explanations for the marrying nature of Americans seem good enough: marriage is seen…


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