Since 1990, the divorce rate for Americans over the age of 50 has doubled, and more-than-doubled for those over the age of 65. Over half of all grey divorces are to people in their first marriages, who have been married at least twenty years. This can either be interpreted as an attempt to avoid costly, and completely unnecessary, 50th wedding anniversary parties, or it can be something else.
Part of the rise in grey divorce is due to there being so many darn boomers. They are everywhere. It’s impossible to go through one’s day without seeing at least on of them out in public. And those infomercials that sell music from the 60’s and 70’s are mind-numbing. Just thinking about all those people calling in to order Sly and the Family Stone CDs is enough to give one the willies. But the bottom line is, more boomers means more of everything, including divorce.
So, what’s the deal here? Few young people glare at each other during their wedding ceremonies. Most are, if not completely besotted with each other, at least pretty amiable. What happens in the next twenty or thirty (or forty) years to change that and have people racing to the nearest divorce attorney?
Surprisingly enough, it’s not what you might think. Susan Brown, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University, found that many of the marriages that had dissolved were not marked by severe discord. Rather, the couples had simply grown apart. Much like Al and Tipper Gore, who shocked the world – and their friends – when they announced they were separating in 2010 after four kids and 40 years of marriage.
“It’s not as if marital quality has suddenly declined. Instead, I think we have higher expectations now for what constitutes a successful marriage. We expect spouses to be best friends and marriage a source of happiness and fulfillment,” Brown said.
Expectations, apparently, drive pretty much everything. We are a society of bulging expectations. And delayed gratification is an endangered species. The combination doesn’t speak well for long-term marriages.
Longevity plays a part. When people used to say “till death do us part,” that usually meant another twenty years or so. Nowadays, it’s more like fifty or sixty or even seventy years. People reach age 50 or 60, look at the person next to them, banging the steering wheel and honking, and think, “Do I really want another twenty years of this?”
More and more people are arguing that human beings were never meant to be committed to each other for seventy years. They argue for twenty-year cycles, in which people could, at the end of each cycle, either choose to re-up or to move on. LBL is personally aware of people who have had 10 or 12 year cycles. Clearly, they are ahead of the curve.
Now that we have disposed of that pesky first marriage, let’s look at what happens next. There is a sharp disparity in the way men and women view marriage: Most men are eager to marry a second time, while most women say one time was enough. To put it more graphically, most men eagerly look forward once again to home-cooked meals and having clean underwear magically appear in their drawers. Most women are loath to once again provide such meals and to wash such unsavory underwear.
Cohabitation is on the rise, especially among the greys. One could argue that co-habitation gives one the same perks as a marriage, while still enabling one to have one foot out the door. Or maybe it just seems sexier, being able to frolic in bed with someone you aren’t married to. LBL and Now Husband were married in Greece and have yet to make the marriage official in the US. As far as the IRS is concerned, they are married, with all the tax benefits that are attached. In bed, it’s another story entirely.
For those greys who choose to remarry, a word of caution. Don’t delete the phone number of your divorce attorney, just yet. Second marriages have a higher divorce rate than first marriages. And the later in life you end that second marriage, the fewer choices you have on Match.com. On the other hand, marriage in your 80s or 90s does give you a shot at going the distance. For some people, that might be the only way they can be successful at this relationship thing.