Mickey Rooney, deceased as of this week, was known as much for being a serial husband (eight marriages) as he was for his long, legendary career as an actor.
Rooney’s death got Life in the Boomer Lane to put down her can of salted cashew nuts and start thinking. How was it possibly that he was able to be a leading man both on and off-screen on spite of being only five feet tall? And why do we make fun of people who can fill a suitcase with their marriages (Rooney, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Liz Taylor, Now Husband’s grandfather), but we don’t make fun of people who have serious serial relationships that don’t end in marriage (George Clooney, Warren Beatty, Genghis Khan)?
During the time that LBL, in her fifties, was a frolicking single, she would have run in the opposite direction from any man who would have said he had been married several times. But she wouldn’t have thought anything about a man who declared that he had had several non-marital relationships in his life. Why? Is it because the failure of a marriage involves a more profound level of failure than a non-marital relationship? Or because chances are that his alimony and child support would have exceeded the GNP?
The fact is that more and more people are opting to live together in an unmarried state. There are some outstanding reasons why people shouldn’t get married (aside from having just prepaid an entire year of match.com):
First is the demise of the health and well-being argument: Previous research has linked marriage to happiness and health, arguing that couples who wed tend to live longer, more contented lives. But these studies largely focused on comparisons with being single, or relied on ‘snapshots’ of how people fared at specific points in time. In new research, conducted in 2012, US experts analyzed data from the National Survey of Families and Households that followed the long-term progress of people’s relationships. The findings were that people in committed relationships fared just as well as people who were married.
Next is the fear of emotional fallout from a divorce. This implies that the dissolution of a committed relationship in which people are living together will be less stressful than that in which people are married. It shouldn’t be that way, but people who split can say “Oh, yeah, it just didn’t work, so I moved on and am trying Plenty of Fish” with a casual, breezy expression on their faces, as opposed to “I got a DIVORCE. I am a TOTAL LOSER and I had to spend months signing papers and going to court and getting my name changed and all my kids now have different last names than me and then I was at the airport several years later and was told that my old name was still on my passport and I had to pay $50 to get a stamp that said ‘Not That Person.’” (The last sentence, in addition to being overly long and completely unwieldy should, in no way, be associated with the writer.)
Lastly, there is the age-related financial thing. In 2002, seven percent of boomers were living together without the benefit of marriage. In 2006, 1.8 million Americans aged 50 and above lived in heterosexual “unmarried-partner households,” a 50% increase from 2000 (Bowling Green State University demographer Susan Brown.) By 2010, that figure had risen to 2.75 million, about 12 percent of unmarried adults ages 50 through 64. About a third of Baby Boomers are unmarried today (covering everything from those not in any relationship to those in a committed, non-married relationship), compared to just 20 percent of people who were their age in 1980.
Just last week, Now Husband told LBL that they should divorce because, in the event of a catastrophic medical event on NH’s part, he didn’t want LBL’s finances to be at risk. He didn’t care about his own finances, because he has no heirs. He was only concerned about hers. LBL was flattered. Then she remembered that she had just told Now Husband that she volunteered to take care of the neighbor’s dog for a week when the family would be out-of-town.
Now Husband will go to any lengths to avoid taking care of a dog.