A guest blog post from authors Danielle Teller, M.D. and Astro Teller, PHD of the newly published manifesto: THE SACRED COWS-The Truth About Divorce And Marriage. Authors discuss their experience of finding the right partner in life doesn’t necessarily happen the first time around. Below this article is an excerpt from their book and a quiz to test your Cows Sense. To learn more of their new book or purchase, the links are below:
Sacred Cows wesbite: http://sacredcowsthebook.com/
Oscar Wilde famously said, “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” The second (and more famous) half of the quotation implies that anyone who has been divorced should be cynical about promising “until death do us part” the second time around. On its surface, this seems logical. Failure in any endeavor should at least cause one to question the wisdom of a second attempt, and our culture certainly views divorce as a failure.
One of the manifestations of this cultural attitude is that white dresses are considered standard bridal attire for first weddings but not second weddings. Etiquette websites are full of suggestions about how second-time brides can tastefully navigate the tricky dress color choice. Since the second-time bride presumably has not slipped further down some virginity scale since her first wedding, the problem with white can’t be a lack of sexual purity.
To think about this some more, let’s consider the case of a divorced couple, Greg and Rebecca. It has been five years since they split up, and Greg is engaged to a wonderful woman he has known since high school. When he tells his friend Peter about the engagement, Peter says, “Congratulations, my friend, but I don’t know how you can go through this again. What makes you think that she won’t dump you just like Rebecca dumped you?”
Greg, who is a logical sort of guy, replies, “I don’t. I didn’t know that Rebecca was going to leave me, and I don’t know whether the same thing will happen with Anika, or whether I will fall out of love with her. All I can say is that I’m crazy about her right now, and I feel certain that we can have a great life together. The fact that Rebecca left me makes it no more or less likely that Anika will do the same, and so I don’t see why my optimism should be less (or more) the second time around. I was happy being married, and I am really looking forward to being married again.”
Wedding vows the second time around represent the triumph of hope over experience in some ways like driving a car after surviving an accident is the triumph of hope over experience. If you are a terrible driver and the accident reflects your incompetence, then you would probably be better off taking the train. However, that was equally true before your accident: you were just as foolish to drive recklessly before you crashed as you would be to drive recklessly after you crashed (although if the accident caused you to drive more carefully, just as a divorce sometimes causes spouses to behave better the second time around, the risk of crashing may actually decrease after the accident). On the other hand, if you are a pretty good driver who had bad luck, you would be irrational to reject the risk of driving after the accident when you had accepted the risk before. Assuming that you keep driving with the same caution, your risk of another smashup in the next ten years is exactly the same in two parallel universes: one where you already had an accident and one where you did not. In this way, Greg is no more or less unrealistic to promise “till death do us part” the second time around than the first.
Meanwhile, Rebecca is also planning to get remarried. While shopping for a wedding dress, Rebecca’s mother expresses her concern about a second marriage, saying, “Honey, are you sure that you want to do this? The first marriage didn’t go so well, so I don’t see why you think that this one will be any different. Isn’t the definition of insanity repeating the same mistake and expecting different results?”
Rebecca, exasperated, answers, “Mom! Just because I got divorced doesn’t mean that I’m a failure at marriage. I chose to marry the wrong person. That is my cross to bear, but don’t condescend to me by telling me that I can’t tell when I’ve found the right person to marry. Making a mistake and choosing the wrong partner is not the same thing as being lousy at marriage!”
Rebecca is in a somewhat different position from Greg, because while he experienced the divorce as something bad happening to him (like a car accident), Rebecca experienced divorce as her own choice. Rebecca’s mother sees it that way too, but she sees the choice to divorce as an admission of failure. Like many people, Rebecca’s mother believes that all marriages have more or less the same positive and negative potential. She thinks that Rebecca’s second marriage will be just as challenging and rewarding as her first, and that its “success” or “failure” will be determined by the character and skill of the participants. If Rebecca couldn’t hold it together the first time around, what makes her think that it will be different the second time?
This is the golf game model of marriage, where everyone plays on the same course and only the most talented win. Unlike the car crash model of marriage, Rebecca is in control of the outcome. Since she spent her first game of golf trying to dig herself out of sand traps, her mother predicts that she can’t possibly win the next time around. Rebecca doesn’t see it that way though; in her view, she was trying to play golf using a cantaloupe and a Wiffle ball bat in her first marriage. She does not believe that there was any way for her first marriage to have been successful, since she and Greg were simply a poor match for one another. In Rebecca’s view, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with her or with Greg, and their divorce was not a mistake or the result of mistakes made along the way. She sees divorce as the most reasonable solution to the real mistake that she and Greg made, which was getting married in the first place.
Cultural attitudes towards second marriages are an indication that our society views divorce as a shameful public admission of defeat. White wedding dresses no longer symbolize sexual purity, but they do symbolize joy, hope and the magic of true love. We expect mature and sexually experienced first-time brides to wear white without a shred of irony, but not second-time brides. By divorcing, these second-time brides have admitted that they failed to find true love the first time around, and we expect them to be cynical enough not to look for true love again. One day, maybe our society will admit that who you marry first and true love do not, sadly, always coincide, and allow for the same expressions of hope and joy at second weddings as at first.
Getting to know the Sacred Cows of Marriage and Divorce
Most of us in the Western world do not think of actual cows as holy, and so it may seem quaint or a little eccentric to us that cows are allowed to wander free and wreak havoc in some cities in India. The treatment of cows in India is complex, however. India is a nation made up of multiple religions, and even people belonging to the same religion do not necessarily agree about whether or how cows are to be revered. For some, the sacredness of cows is a deadly serious issue. Gandhi said, “The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection.” For others, cows are just a convenient and delicious source of dinner.
The attitudes surrounding marriage and divorce in America today are not so different from attitudes about cows in modern India. A significant number of Americans believe divorce to be a violation of religious dictates. Many other Americans do not oppose divorce on religious grounds but still feel queasy about its morality. Still others take an entirely utilitarian view and pass no moral judgment whatsoever, only weighing the potential good and bad of each separate case. These various attitudes can prevent individuals in our society from communicating clearly with one another about marriage and divorce. Moreover, the combination of these attitudes in any one person’s mind can give rise to contradictory and sometimes irrational convictions.
People who believe that marriage contracts should never be broken deserve as much respect as the people who disagree with them. Our goal is not to try to change anybody’s mind about whether divorce is moral or ethical. Religious beliefs about divorce are not what we are calling “Sacred Cows.” In fact, anyone who believes that marriage vows are inviolable can come right out and say, “Divorce is wrong!” as a matter of faith, without needing to hide behind a bunch of Sacred Cows. As you will soon understand, the Sacred Cows rear their heads when people are not being sincere about their objections to divorce, or when they employ a double standard on the subject. The lack of sincerity may not be intentional; often, people are simply not clear with themselves about what they think and feel. Whether intentional or not, however, bringing Sacred Cows to the conversation always adds confusion.
The Sacred Cows we address in this book are false cultural assumptions that raise the emotional cost of divorce or cause unnecessary fear and shame about the consequences of divorce. These Sacred Cows have infiltrated our societal subconscious, and many of us are unaware of the influence these assumptions have over our thoughts and words. If you have ever counseled an unhappy friend to stay married, however, you have probably trotted out a few of these Cows yourself. Here is a list of the Cows and the beliefs they represent:
The Holy Cow: Marriage is always good and divorce is always bad (absent faith-based arguments).
The Expert Cow: All marital problems can be fixed with the right self-help book or marriage counselor.
The Selfish Cow: Everyone who gets divorced is selfish, and everyone who stays married is selfless.
The Defective Cow: If you cannot make your marriage happy, or if you choose to divorce, you must be defective in some way.
The Innocent Victim Cow: Children’s lives are ruined by divorce.
The One True Cow: Finding true love should be your highest goal in life unless you are married, in which case you should stop believing in true love.
The Other Cow: Nobody should be allowed to leave a marriage in order to be with a new partner.
You have probably noticed that all of the above statements are oversimplified generalizations. That is the nature of a Sacred Cow. Sacred Cows don’t make allowances for individual circumstances, nuances or relativism. These Cows are absolutely convinced that they know best, and they think the whole world looks like a lovely Holstein dairy cow: black and white. Any time you introduce a word like “sometimes” or “uncertain” into your statements about marriage and divorce, the Sacred Cows become irritated and skulk away. We hope that this book will introduce plenty of uncertainty in your mind when it comes to pronouncements by our society, because that uncertainty will protect you and the people you care about from getting trampled by Sacred Cows.
Testing Your Cow Sense
For each question below, circle the answer that you think best completes the sentence.
Question 1: People who get divorced are:
A) sexually repressed
B) bad people
C) incapable of intimacy
D) people who probably shouldn’t be married to each other
Question 2: Sexual desire derives from:
B) Barry Manilow
D) I don’t know, but I know it when I feel it
Question 3: The job of a marriage counselor should be:
A) to save the marriage
B) to tell your spouse what a jerk he/she is
C) to improve communication
D) to help you and your spouse become happier people
Question 4: After a divorce:
A) financial problems arise
B) all children become criminals
C) hard feelings are normal
D) sometimes everyone ends up happier
Question 5: True Love:
A) is a cruel myth created by Disney
B) cannot survive contact with the toothpaste test
C) is hard to find
D) is what most people want
Question 6: Typically, extramarital affairs end in:
B) someone crushed under a train
D) it depends
Question 7: Morality in marriage requires you to:
A) keep calm and carry on
B) close your eyes and think of the Queen
C) put your spouse’s best interest before your own
D) find a respectful solution to your marital problems
Scoring Your Cow Sense
Give yourself one point for each question to which you answered D (D is always sufficiently vague that it could be right).
Give yourself a half a point for answers A or C. These might all be correct under the right circumstances
Give yourself zero points for each question to which you answered B. Those answers are just silly.
0 to 3 points: You skipped to the back to take this quiz, didn’t you?
4 to 5 points: We are guessing that you are an Anglophile who reads a lot of Tolstoy.
6 points: Fair enough; some people have a thing for Barry Manilow.
7 points: You are officially Cow-proof!
You may have found this quiz irritating, because it did not serve up a simple, correct answer for any of the questions. Life is like that, too. Sadly, you cannot pick up a self-help book to receive a simple, straightforward, correct answer to your questions. Marriage and divorce are complicated, and just like the quiz, there are not a lot of clear-cut right answers. There are some answers that don’t make sense, however, and those are the ones we have tried dig up. You may not have agreed with us on every point, but we hope that you have gained some new perspectives about our society’s attitudes towards marriage and divorce.