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Jewish World Review June 29, 2000/26 Sivan, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

Here comes 'something old' -- A SECOND MARRIAGE, in Dr. Johnson's famous formulation, is the triumph of hope over experience. Skeptical, if not cynical to be sure, but not without the doctor's usual genius of insight.

Many men and women in my circle of friends who were divorced when that was the thing to do are still mired in single bliss. When, trying to be helpful, I search for prospective mates for them I invariably come up with a prospect with the qualities eerily similar to those of the discarded first spouse. If these friends should bump into their divorced exes for the first time they would probably marry each other.

So what happened? Nobody on the outside can ever know for sure how any couple winds up in Splitsville, but for their friends, speculating on the route they took is always irresistible.

The pressures of the modern culture are often irresistible, too. Feminism, freedom and independence become more important than interdependence, building for a future, or growing old together.

The rituals of the time just past reflected the change. Hip couples of the 60s and just after often wrote their own vows, sentimental musings that had none of the resonance of the stately language their parents and grandparents heard in the echoes of the King James version of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, or the ancient Hebraic cadences of religious tradition. Mantras replaced prayer. Many couples chose gardens of wildflowers, forests, mountain tops, and beaches (for bare feet) rather than the magisterial setting of church or synagogues for the tying of the connubial knot.

Wedding music no longer reflected the traditional sentiments of ``I love you truly,'' or ``Because.'' Instead, wedding guests heard the pop emoting of Carol King, Joan Baez or Simon and Garfunkel.

Summer weddings are back, as the hundreds of pages of brides' magazines attest, and with the return of tradition and custom is the return of ancient cultural attitudes toward matrimony: Couples are determined once more to make marriage last.

Over a hundred scholars, religious and otherwise, are meeting this month in Denver (June 29) where, they say, ``a broad-based bipartisan marriage movement is about to be born.'' This sentiment catches the crest of changing attitudes. These defenders of matrimony pledge to work ``to turn the tide on marriage and reduce divorce and unmarried childbearing, so that each year more children will grow up protected by their own two happily married parents.''

The meeting is sponsored by three groups: the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education; the Institute for American Values, and the Religion, Culture, and Family Project at the University of Chicago Divinity School. (There's even a Web site,

Together they propose ways to strengthen marriage, drawing on research from a variety of fields including law, political science, psychology and theology which testify to what works (and what doesn't), both before and after a couple says ``I do.'' They're tapping into what we've learned the hard way, that the decline of marriage weakens civil society and hurts the most vulnerable among us, the children.

We've come a long way from the sentiment of the 1967 movie ``The Graduate,'' that caught the cynicism of a generation disdainful of tradition, that looked at marriage as something that had to be wild, spontaneous and rebellious -- and probably transitory. The climactic scene takes place in a fashionable Presbyterian church where the bride is about to marry an upright (read uptight) doctor she doesn't love or even know well. Just before bride and groom take their vows, Dustin Hoffman, who looks like he's been sleeping in his clothes, swoops into the church, shouts his objections to the marriage and carries the lady off for himself. She doesn't love him or know him well, either.

The audience is clearly on the side of the impetuous couple and laughs at the satire, even though it's clear to one and all that their future will be no permanent laughing matter.

That generation lost sight of the fact that marriage is first a personal contract, a public announcement and a serious commitment to raising children with a family life of sustaining love and security. When it's encumbered with political ideology or glib cynicism it usually fails. A failed marriage is a loss not only to those in it, but to society, too, with a steep price tag.

If second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience, first marriages need all the help they can get.


06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate