When Arnold Schwartzenegger and Maria Shriver announced that they were separating after 25 years of marriage, my mother commented that Maria was probably unclenching her teeth for the first time in 25 years. Arnold, based on the rumors of philandering and allegations of unwanted groping, didn’t seem like any great prize in the husband lottery. That suspicion was confirmed this morning when I heard that Arnold fathered a child with one of his household staff ten years ago and Maria just found out recently.
Well. Ain’t he a class act?
Everything about this story is basically gross. I can’t conceive of wanting to sleep with Arnold, first of all. I’ve never found him all that attractive so that alone is puzzling to me. Then there’s the shady bit about the woman being an employee. Employer/employee affairs are frequently not a good combo act. Was she 100% down with getting busy with the Terminator? Or was she worried about getting terminated? And how the hell did she go to work every day and deal with Maria? What did she say about the pregnancy? It’s all just so sordid.
But the bigger question here is the same question I asked about Tiger Wood, Jesse James, Bill Clinton, John Ensign, hell, even JFK: why did these guys get married at all?
What is the personality disorder that drives a man whose apparent principal pleasure in life is fucking the multitudes down the aisle with promises to fuck one, and only one, woman for the rest of his time on earth? Do these men just have a staggering lack of self-awareness and don’t realize that 15 minutes in a tux in front of a clergyman isn’t going to wipe away their lifetime desire to stick it in, to borrow a phrase from Maragaret Cho? Or do they know that their dick is going to keep making guest appearances all over town but they assume that they’re smart enough to not get caught?
Or do we have a screwed up fetish about marriage in this country that causes people to enter into the institution regardless of whether or not it’s a good idea?
I’m probably not the first person to draw some bright lines between philandering husbands – especially those in public life – the bridal-industrial complex that peddles fairy-tale weddings, and everyone whose ever said that marriage is the foundation for civilization. It’s all part and parcel of the same thing.
Hear me out here. I’m not totally nuts. See, marriage is treated like the finish line of life. If you get down the aisle and across that line, you’ve won! Yay you! Friends could end after Monica married Chandler and Rachel got back with Ross. Carrie Bradshaw’s wedding got its own movie. Television shows profiling weddings are rampant. Wedding dress shopping is an activity worthy of reality tv. Hell, wedding cakes have their own reality show. Fictional tv is about relationships – the single pursue them and the attached work to preserve them. There is very little in our popular culture that glorifies the unattached. You never see a reality show about a single 30 year old happily pursuing a graduate degree and not thinking about her love life. No, instead we are presented with the married or the wanting-to-be-married. There are not a lot of other categories to pick from.
Aside from the Hollywood image of life in pursuit of a trip to matrimony, we have the religious right feeding us messaging about marriage as the bedrock of society. They want to withhold sex from those who do not marry. They talk about programs to encourage and strengthen marriage. I’m not sure what those programs actually do, for the most part. The only evidence I’ve seen of them is some signs that appeared on bus shelters a couple years ago giving some statistic about married couples earning more money. They deny the rights of gay people to marry on the grounds that their unions are not holy enough whereas straight marriages are all that is good and right under heaven.
Even the state gets in on the act of making marriage special by creating a contract between two people that includes myriad protections and rights not otherwise granted to unrelated adults. Saying “I do” is the quickest path to a ratified contract that I know of. Just ask any gay couple who’s had to spend hours online or with a lawyer trying to create backdoor access to all the rights and privileges straight married people get just by virtue of being married.
All in all, we do a good job of glorifying marriage and encouraging everyone to dive right in – unless they’re gay, of course. Straight people are expected to marry, are assumed to be interestested in marrying, and are pitied if they do not marry.
But is marriage always a good idea? Are there some people who would be better off never being married? Are there some people who cannot handle the commitment and should be discouraged from trying?
Why did Tiger Woods get married? No one would have been upset if he was a single guy playing the field. Did his agent say he needed a wife for image sake? Did his friends say he needed to settle down? Did Elin want a dream wedding and picket-fence life and he capitulated?
Why did Bill Clinton marry? Was it true love? A strange agreement between two ambitious people to partner up? Or did he feel that being single was a political liability that would thwart his dreams because Americans trust married politicians more than unmarried ones?
Why did Newt Gingrich marry over and over again? Why did an ex-boyfriend of mine who cheated on every girlfriend he ever had marry, not once but a Newt-like three times? Why did people who have proved that marriage is the wrong path for them keep marrying? What pressure was brought to bear that drove them into an institution that was so fundamentally antithetical to their nature?
Not everyone is meant to marry. Just ask George Clooney. Maybe it’s time we stopped pretending that marriage is a one size fits all proposition and stop treating it as the culmination of personal achievment. We need to withdraw pity from those who do not marry. We need to stop regarding being unmarried or exiting marriage when it doesn’t work as failure, We need to set people free to not marry so that they are not in the position of making promises that they, as individuals, cannot keep.
I’m sure Arnold and Maria don’t regret their years together or their children and I would never expect them to say otherwise. But would each of them have been happier in an alternate reality where Maria found a man suited to marriage and Arnold had been free to pursue his preferred type of relationship? I don’t know and neither will they. But maybe someone else will take their example to heart and make their marriage decisions not based on what Hollywood, church, or state say they should do but on what their own heart tells them is their own right path.