I breathed a sigh of relief upon finding out the rumors of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's separation were false.
In Touch magazine first reported the couple's split, after 13 years of marriage. Rumors of infidelity quickly followed, and later it seems Pinkett Smith was spotted without her wedding ring. It seems that was all it took.
Not them too! I thought, genuinely upset, when I first read the headline.
Why is that?
There's something about a capsized marriage that bothers people who are on the outside looking in. These days, after all, it starts to seem like every marriage is just a divorce waiting to happen. We live in a culture that is in perpetual doubt about marriage. How can we not be? The national divorce rate, according to the Census Bureau, is 9.2 for men and 9.7 for women.
In response to our poor marriage rates, some have glorified divorce—"it's not so bad, kids!"—while others have embraced the idea of avoiding marriage all together, settling instead for serial monogamy or cohabitation.
The church has not escaped these signs of doom. People doubting the possibility of the lifelong covenant that is marriage, though, are better off looking to couples in their midst rather than celebrity pairs.
I am fortunate to know a few couples whose marriages make me wonder nothing so much as, "How do they do that?" At the same time, I kind of don't want to know the day-to-day mechanics of how they pull off a happy marriage; it's enough to know that they do. I suspect that's due to our cultural conditioning: We have been taught, through movies and books, that happy endings come when someone says "I do." After that, it's all downhill.
I don't mean to advocate a more mundane perspective on marriage (though the romanticism of marriage hasn't done many of us much good), but isn't there something refreshing about the response of the Smiths' publicist in the face of hyped divorce rumors? Apparently, when TMZ called Pinkett Smith's spokeswoman for a response, she simply said, "I know nothing about this … I'm going back to bed." (The couple was later forced to respond to a public hungry for reassurance.)
Sure, celebrity gossip is a quagmire, but the cultural furor over divorce rumors, and the apparent responsibility that accompanies a healthy, high-profile marriage, indicate our society's deeper fear about the lasting significance of marriage, and a strong need for assurance that somebody out there can make a commitment and stick with it.
From experience, I know that spending time with married couples—the kind of couples who have settled into the day-to-day reality of being married, to the point of taking marriage for granted—is reassuring.
Although pop culture might have us believe differently—a la the pox on Bridget Jones when hanging out with her married acquaintances—it is possible to fellowship with folks post-marriage vows, and I think that kind of communion can benefit both sides. That's something we as communities of believers, groups of friends composed of singles and marrieds alike, can work to cultivate. We can't count on celebrity couples, or In Touch magazine, to do the heavy lifting for us.
True, there are plenty of arguments made by smart Christians to take care in relationships with the opposite sex. I believe this is one of the main reasons why in Christian communities, wives might be friends with single women and husbands with single men. But it still seems rare and fragile for husbands and wives to share single friends. Single friends, in fact, seem to be "phased out" following many a marriage.
Ultimately, and probably unintentionally, the belief that the sexes need to be kept separate seems to have inspired a fear of men and women keeping company. Certainly, there are plenty of cases where cross-gender friendships led to sexual sin … much as marriage has typically preceded divorce. (You see where I'm going with this.)
Much like Pinkett Smith's publicist, I don't have a lot of patience when obstacles seem like a lot of talk. In this case, barriers created between members of the church community are made of fear and envy. Fear that a man and woman might be consumed by temptation, and envy of one another's marital status. I don't mean to preach condemnation, and can share only my own experience, but from that experience I know how very much I would not want to miss out on friendships with married couples because of some rumor of disaster.
I would feel the same way about marriage, by the way. Should married Christians fear divorce? Should they hold themselves accountable to a society built solely of other married couples? I am not married, so cannot answer these questions. I can only say to the married couples in my acquaintance: Your marital status doesn't frighten me, but rumors of your divorce hurt me. I want to help avoid them.
How have the marriages of couples around you affected you?
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