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EBSTEIN: How and Why We ‘Couple’ in 2024

Thirty-six years ago when I married, I did my makeup and hair. Our chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy) was simple. The food was solid. The music was ample but allowed us to retain our hearing.

Last week, my son got married. My daughters and I had professionals do our faces and hair. The finished product had my husband wondering where I went, but I assured him the cameras would love me more. The food was epicurean quality, and the excellent band was a full seven pieces, which meant loud. I became my mother, asking if we could take a few instruments away.

My son’s wedding led me to do a deep dive into the state of coupling in 2024 — “coupling” because it’s no longer as simple as marriage. Different times call for different models. Here is what I learned.

Number one: We’re back. The marriage rate in the United States has returned to pre-pandemic levels. The Census Bureau reports that for every 1,000 unmarried adults, 34 tied the knot in 2022, an increase from 30 in 2020. Also, the divorce rates are at record lows. For every 1,000 marriages, 13.8 ended in divorce, compared to 14.9 in 2019.

Number two: The biggest factor for getting married is not love, cited only 36 percent of the time. Today, newlyweds identify companionship (39 percent) and financial security (42 percent) as their top factors. Also, Americans are not marrying “young” anymore. Pew Research reports a nearly two-thirds drop to 22 percent in married people by age 25.

We have clearly left the world of Ozzie and Harriet. Once upon a time, marriage was considered the start of adult life — get married, set up a house and have kids. We are definitely having fewer kids. Today, many view their first adult steps as “building a career” and “achieving financial stability.” This might also help explain why the percentage of those who have never been married doubled from 15 percent in 1960 to 31 percent in 2020. If financial security is paramount, other choices become less attractive.

Number three: There is a rising new alternative to both marriage and cohabitation, and it’s called “Living apart together” (LAT). It’s estimated that about 10 percent of adults in Western Europe, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia live apart from their romantic partners. Guesstimates are that the United Kingdom is significantly higher.

LAT partners explain that they are romantically committed while honoring their individuality and autonomy. The photographer at my son’s wedding lives in N.Y. and is marrying a vintner based in California. They anticipate living apart for quite some time, but she said, “We’ll figure it out.” She is not committed to LAT, but careers can alter choices.

Marriages where children from a previous marriage still live with a parent can influence the LAT decision by offering less conflict. The LAT lifestyle is also attractive to same-sex couples, especially some gay men who want to maintain privacy from their unaccepting families.

Curiously, the median age for the first-time marriage of gay men is 35, while for heterosexual men, it is 30.5. Among women, gay or hetero, there is no difference, with their median age being 28. What do we make of that?

Number four: “Gray divorce” is prominent. More than one-third of people who divorce in the United States are older than 50. The reasons are varied, but the gray demographic has a higher percentage of remarried couples, and remarried couples have higher divorce rates. Also affecting the higher incidence is the reduced social stigma of being divorced and the anticipation of living longer. People don’t want to suffer through unsatisfying marriages when the horizon feels long.

Given all these trends, what can we say to newlyweds who hope to build a long, lasting life together? Marriage is a different proposition today. Autonomy, equality and pressing financial realities have created a new gestalt. While “Ozzie and Harriet” may no longer work, the basic principles of listening, compromise and respect still do. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This explains why the words cited under my son’s chuppah of the renowned Chabad leader Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, who passed in 1994, resonate so deeply. Rabbi Schneerson counseled, “Love is not the overwhelming, blinding emotion we find in the world of fiction. It is the small, everyday acts of being together that make love flourish.”

My rephrasing this sentiment goes like this: Acts that seem as small as pebbles can feel like boulders. Be attentive.

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COLEMAN: Children Need a Father’s Love and Support

The National Institutes of Health extensively studied father absenteeism and its effects on children. It found compelling evidence that a father’s absence negatively affects children’s social-emotional development, increases adolescents’ risky behaviors, negatively affects educational attainment, and affects mental health, which often persist throughout life.

Since 2020, violence among children has increased across the nation. In the U.S., homicides committed by juveniles acting alone rose 30 percent from just a year earlier. Crimes committed by multiple youths increased by 66 percent. The number of killings committed by children under 14 was the highest in two decades. The number of juveniles killing other juveniles was the highest it has been in more than two decades. While there are certainly several factors for the previous statistics, part of the problem lies with the absence of fathers in the lives of children.

I grew up with a father whose alcoholism overwhelmed him by the time I was 12. My mother, sister, brother, and I fled the house after a particularly violent outburst from him, where he punched me in the face and left my nose bleeding. We went to live with my grandmother from that day forward. The trauma of the physical violence in our home, and later, my uncle’s betrayal of my trust in him, left me distrusting other older men who tried to mentor or become father-like figures to me. It is a distrust I have been overcoming all my life, reminding myself not to assume nefarious motives when an older man’s behavior or words remind me of my father’s or my uncles’ words and behaviors. My father was in and out of our lives from that day forward. It left me angry with him because I felt he had betrayed his family.

“Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). “Stir up anger” means to provoke, to irritate, to exasperate. Here is a summary of the California Department of Education’s page on the mindset of children ages 9-14:

“I may be eager to become an adult. But remember, I am still a child, so don’t expect me to act like an adult. I still need adult help. One day, I am as responsible and cooperative as an adult: the next day I’m more like a six-year-old. I think more like an adult, but there’s no simple answer. I like to talk about issues in the adult world. I like to think for myself, and though I often feel confused, my opinions are important to me, and I want others to respect them. But I still need reasonable rules set by adults.”

The English poet Samuel Coleridge talked with a man who did not believe children should be given any biblical or religious instruction. That man claimed a child’s mind should not be prejudiced in any direction, and when he became older, he should be permitted to choose for himself. Coleridge said nothing, but after a while, he asked the man if he would like to see his garden.

The man said he would, and Coleridge took him into the garden, where only weeds were growing. The man looked at Coleridge in surprise and said, “Why this is not a garden! There is nothing but weeds here!” “Well,” answered Coleridge, “I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden; I did not want to ‘prejudiced it in any direction,’ I just gave the garden permission to express itself in any way it saw fit, and here is the result.”

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go.” Fathers play a crucial role in children’s lives that others cannot fill. Studies show that when fathers are present and when they are affectionate and supportive, it positively affects a child’s mental, behavioral, and social development. Girls model their relationships with others and often look for husbands based on their father’s character. Boys model themselves after their father’s character and tend to be the husbands their fathers modeled.

I was determined to be the father who did not stir his children to anger. A father who would be present, supportive, affectionate, and loving to my own two girls. But also a loving and supportive husband to my wife, in part so that my girls could see what marriage is supposed to look like.

My father passed away nearly 20 years ago. I am grateful we were able to have a heart-to-heart talk a few years before he died. I learned that his mother was an alcoholic and that her father was an alcoholic. My dad’s father was in and out of his life. My father continued that tragic legacy. I am grateful that I am the one who broke it! It hurt my heart to hear my father’s story, and it made it easier for me to forgive him. I had the opportunity to take him to a Dodgers game (his favorite team), and I was the preacher when my father walked down the aisle and gave his life to Jesus Christ.

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Making Valentine’s Day Work for You: Experts Weigh In

Valentine’s Day is not all cards, candy, and flowers.

Depending on your perspective, it can be a source of joy, happiness, and satisfaction, or anguish and emotional pain. There are widely divergent views about Valentine’s Day and all the hoopla that goes with it, depending on your circumstances.

Some couples take advantage of the holiday to celebrate their relationship. Others take a matter-of-fact view, reasoning they should work to maintain their relationship every day of the year, not just on a specific date. Still others, many, but not all singles, view Valentine’s Day with disdain, perhaps feeling they are outside the mainstream because they are uncoupled.

Relationship expert and dating coach Kristi Price understands their cynicism. She is something of a cynic herself about it all. Price cites the pressure some feel to turn the day into something magical.

“I’m not in love with this holiday,” she said. “Every day of the year, you should be showing the person you love that you care about them and do nice things, not just one day a year.”

Price sees Valentine’s Day as an event fueled in large measure by greeting card companies, florists, and the like, not to mention social media.

“I think social media has blown it up,” Price said. “Before, we didn’t have all the reminders of Valentine’s Day. People are really pushing it. They want to get people in the door, and with social media and all that, there’s constant bombardment. But that’s why I call it a ‘Hallmark holiday.’”

Lauren Pilgenmayer is a life and relationship coach based in Delaware County.

“(Valentine’s Day) is a Hallmark holiday that’s kind of glamorized as this big thing with having love and flowers and chocolate,” she said. “And if you don’t have that, what does it mean? I think it’s a beautiful holiday, but it can be whatever you want it to be.”

Pilgernmayer says the holiday can be a catalyst for those seeking to make changes in their lives and perhaps find a relationship.

“It can just shine a light back to people in areas where they feel ‘Well, I don’t have someone’ or ‘I just broke open with someone’ or ‘I’m widowed,’” she said. “So, do you just survive it every year, or do you allow it to point to areas in your life where you can make a little shift? Why are you single? And what are you making it mean about yourself?”

Pilgenmayer encouraged people who are alone on Valentine’s Day not to be overly harsh on themselves.

“Maybe this is a time for me to say, ‘Why do I feel unlovable?’” she said. “’ How can I dive into myself a little bit more and have compassion?

“Because underneath a lot of everyday stuff is just wounding from our past.”

Price counsels those not in relationships to spend Valentine’s Day to set aside implied pressures of others, including greeting card companies, and spend the day engaged in activities they enjoy.

“Get together with friends and do something fun,” she advises. “If you like sporting events, or theater, or music, go to that. Have a spa day.

“Maybe just turn off your social media, stay at home and watch some movies, do some nice things for yourself, or have a party at your house.

“Anything that brings you joy or brings a smile to your face. Just try and shut your social media down. Social media tends to blow things up. Just do what feels good for you.”

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