THE ECONOMIES OF MARRIAGE
"Well, now the divorces start." I overheard that little gem as I passed a woman on the street, right after Lehman Brothers collapsed and people with their belongings in cardboard boxes became a familiar sight. What she said to her friend made me feel sad. But the tone she used was what actually offended me. Partly because it sounded like she was wishing it on people, and partly because she was assuming that money alone was the foundation of all New York marriages. Maybe it is for some. I was reminded of a colleague from about 20 years ago who announced, "It's just as easy to love a rich man as a poor man." She claimed that those were her grandmother's words of wisdom to her, right before she moved to New York from Ohio hoping to find a job and a husband. It's been about 15 years since I've seen her. I hope she found her rich man before the crash and that he put his money under the mattress instead of in stocks. I also hope she started to like him for himself and not just his bank account. Cause all the rich guys are gone for a while. For those of us who remember the "for richer or poorer" part of the vows, why would anyone let the stock market determine the fate of their marriage? I have lived here all my life, so I am well aware of our reputation as the place where money is power; where it makes the world go 'round; where it "talks" and is "no object." I also found the research that says disagreements over finances are one of the top reasons why people get divorced. Yes, a big debt run up by one or both partners; a partner whose needs/wants exceed the couple's income or lack thereof; or having a difference of opinion about how to spend the money you do have; these can certainly put stress on a marriage. But plummeting stocks and our country's economic woes are not the fault of either partner. I just do not comprehend what benefit a divorce would have on remedying this problem. I would think the expense of dissolving your marriage would make things worse by propelling you further into debt. Besides, one of the reasons why you get married is so that you don't have to go through the inevitable bad times alone, right? Isn't it better to have someone to hold on to when you're rocking back and forth worrying how you'll pay the rent? Or how you should start to downsize? Or how fast you can transfer the kids into public school? I was wondering how I was going to shake off what I'd overheard on the street, since simply putting it out of my mind was not working. When I got home, a woman whose husband lost his job was on television. She said she broke out the champagne. (If I hadn't heard her with my own ears, I wouldn't have believed it either.) She was happy, it seems, because she always thought her husband should've moved on and was underappreciated where he worked. She considered this a new beginning-not just for him but also for their family. She said staying positive was keeping him motivated. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But it was actually refreshing to witness someone being supportive and optimistic, as well as putting effort into their marriage. If more people thought like her, rather than Ms. Downer from the street, maybe the divorces won't start-at least not over the stock market. Lorraine Duffy Merkl is an Upper East Sider. Her column appears every other week.
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