I don't know why I read the news report that US news anchor Larry King had died, at age 87 from COVID complications a month ago, because I wouldn't know him from any of the other Americans who can talk the leg off a chair, which seems to be all Americans.
Deep in the news report, almost as an aside, I was told that Mr King married eight times. I found that amazing.
What was he thinking as he took the oath each time? Did he think "this time it will be different"? What did she think? Did she think "this time it will be different"?
He married and divorced the same woman twice, his third and fifth wife, both bouts lasting just a couple of years. Did he and she think both times that she was the one?
A fixed-term marriage will go a long way to ridding us of this notion of failure in relationships, because a marriage that ends in divorce will be seen as merely arriving at its destination early. Maybe marriage could have variable terms ... A couple might, for example, choose the five-year stretch because they want to be still fresh and bushy tailed when they return to the market.
We can't know but I do believe there is a difference between Mr King's marriages and my own and probably yours. Mr King, and celebrities throughout the world, seem to marry not so much a person as a state of excitement, while most of us ordinary people marry someone to grow old with.
You know, the flush of courtship, the rush of romance, so much to be discovered about each other, then the whirlwind of wedding preparations, the world's beaming congratulations, the glow of the honeymoon, and the pride of ownership. Celebrities and their sycophantic media would describe that as falling in love.
Then something changes. In the mornings she's no longer cute and he's no longer charming, and the glow switch clicks off. Since both believed the glow was love, they have fallen out of love. They're both back on the market for glow, and that itself seems to be exhilarating.
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Except for the arranged marriages dismissed unfairly as ridiculous by Australians of British background, the great majority of decisions to marry in Australia are made in the glow, in the rush of romance, and the expectation seems to be that marriage is forever.
It may be that the silliness of this expectation is why so many young people now shack up in de facto marriages, and if they do formally marry later the oath "'til death do us part" seems to have been tested, as best it can be. Perhaps it is because their marriages often make the news that I think of it as the footballers' marriage: shack up, have kids, get married.
But maybe Larry King and the seven women he married have it right. I mean, it is idiocy to commit to love someone forever, for all of life, when we cannot know whether we will. To promise to love someone forever is as senseless as promising them the moon.
So marrying 'til death do us part must be a meaningless commitment, and I expect that as a contract a court would find that because it is foolishly forever it is unconscionable. And the de facto alternative is without even meaningless commitment, which must be a disappointment for those who want some structure in their life.
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So, I propose we take a leaf from Larry King's book on marriage and that we marry for the short term. My short term proposal is not as short as Mr King's, who liked to keep his wife for just one, two or three years; I see seven years as reasonable, if only because it is long enough to create shared equity in the mortgaged house.
The property division at the conclusion of the marriage would remove the uncertainty of assessing future earnings of either partner, because with a set term there can be no expectation of sharing anything beyond that term. Except children, of course.
Instead of broken homes there will be marriages that have been completed, and it has been recognised for some years that children are better off in a happy home with one parent than in an unhappy home with two parents.
If marriage is a wonderful thing, divorce must be even better. Ending a marriage that is no longer a happy union has to be the wisest course in every case yet divorce is seen as failure, fault or no fault. A fixed-term marriage will go a long way to ridding us of this notion of failure in relationships, because a marriage that ends in divorce will be seen as merely arriving at its destination early. Maybe marriage could have variable terms, as in five or seven or indeed any number of years. A couple might, for example, choose the five-year stretch because they want to be still fresh and bushy tailed when they return to the market.
In my proposal the marriage should end rather than come up for renewal at the end of its term, because a system of marriage renewal could create obligation and expectation and therefore disappointment if it isn't renewed or misery if it is. After the set number of years a couple could marry again, or indeed they may choose to stay together on a "play it by ear" basis, as in a de facto marriage. I may even suggest to my wife that we play it by ear when we complete our sixth seven-year marriage in three months. I may not, too.
Jeff Corbett contributes regular opinion columns to the pages of the Herald each week on Saturday.