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Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Moral Pitt

What depths has my philosophy blog now sunk to, that I would write about Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston's marriage breaking up? There are plenty of articles out there bashing celebrities for their inability to stay committed to a long term relationship, so I'll not concern myself with that. How can we really know what happened between them, and with 50% of marriages in the United States ending in divorce, the American public is hardly in a position to lecture celebrities.

But there is something Brad Pitt said about marriage not long ago in a GQ interview. He wondered why the marriage was considered "a failure" because it didn't last forever. He said "The idea that marriage has to be for all time - that I don't understand".

Now, certainly, if two adults wish to be together for some undefined time that is their right. If they want to hold a ceremony that's their right too. If they want to call it marriage that is also their right. But I'm guessing that in that ceremony Brad Pitt made a vow of "until death do we part" or something to that effect. And even if not, I would also guess that Jennifer Anniston didn't realize that the marriage was "until we get tired of each other or encounter some tough issues do we part". But, if I'm wrong and these were the vows, and Jennifer Aniston did realize that the marriage was 'for a while' and not 'until death', then Brad Pitt has done nothing wrong, and the "marriage" was not a failure after all.

I know a woman who is getting a divorce. I said, "sorry to hear that" and she said, "I'm not. It was the marriage that was a problem, not the divorce - I'm happy!" Now, I'm pretty sure that her vows weren't of the Pitt variety. I can certainly understand that people should not stay in marriages that are completely unworkable. They should be free to divorce when serious issues cannot be worked out. But, at the same time, barring special sorts of "celebrity-style" temporary marriage agreements, the marriage should be looked at as a failure when this happens.

When most people get married, it isn't "until we get tired of one another", "until someone more beautiful comes along", or "until someone more my type comes along" and so on. The marriage commitment is made "until death do we part" and it is made in this way for a reason.

When we grow to adults and leave our biological families, we naturally seek out a partner to form a new family. Even in cases where we are not having children, it is important to many that they have that family of two. Not only someone to share life with, but also someone to help in times of need. But the security of family is not possible without a lifetime unconditional commitment. I guaranty that eventually, someone will come along that is more beautiful than your spouse. I guaranty that someone will come along who has more in common. I guaranty that there will be times where the excitement of someone new will seem greater than the familiar. All of these things are inevitable - you can count on them happening after you get married. There are simply too many people in the world of too many varieties. So, if your standard is that you will be committed only as long as "the flame is burning hot" and only as long as no one more exciting comes along, then you have made a decision that your marriage will be temporary, and probably not longer than five years or so.

This is not the sort of relationship that one can depend on as family. This is not the sort of partner that one can count on in times of need or in old age. And, if a couple does plan to have children, this is not the sort of relationship that provides a mother, father, aunts, uncles, grandfathers, and grandmothers - the sort of family bonds and support that is most beneficial to children. This is why such a commitment is especially essential when children are involved - because they certainly didn't make any provisional Pitt-style agreements. It is therefore ethically necessary to have such a structure around children in place, which holds the commitment of family. If that means two married people, then that means their marriage must be more than simply an agreement to stay together until it gets tough.

If some adults want to have temporary-marriages and both partners know this ahead of time, and no children are involved, then there's no problem. But calling this marriage, and taking vows to the contrary, and then trying to promote the idea that "that's how marriage is" and the separation isn't a failure, is unacceptable behavior. It spreads the wrong message about marriage. It would have been better if Brad Pitt said that he was "going steady" instead of getting married. Then it would have been more clear to everyone that they were just boyfriend and girlfriend pretending to be married.

1 comment:

  1. You are certainly right, DT. What most people don't understand about marriage is: it's not about sex, it's not about love, even. It's not about companionship or even security. It's about a commitment being so sacred that two people become connected in such a way that they grow more and more together (even alike) as time goes by. Using the example of the Christian Bible, when God is speaking of marriage He says "and they SHALL BECOME one flesh". Meaning, it takes time. The problem we see today is that too many people expect it to happen over-night or in a few weeks or months. The process takes time. Couples who have been married for many, many years will tell us that it's more than just some kind of a sexual or civil union. It's a life. The two become one - and they share one life. It's a beautiful thing to see and a beautiful thing to share with your spouse.