"Right," said one buddy. "Do you do the marriage vows in reverse? 'With this ring I promise never to love thee, neither in sickness nor in health, etc. etc.'"
Life is better than parody. For I watched in awe as CBS ran a film clip from the former Mr. and Mrs. Penningroth's divorce ceremony, including a heartbreaking marital highlights reel and yes, an exchange of nonwedding rings. "With this ring I release you as my husband," said a grainy Barbara.
On the CBS set, Barbara spoke first. She was at first "devastated," she said, when her husband wanted a divorce after 25 years of marriage, but the divorce ceremony was a way of living in "forgiveness." Philip, a child of divorce himself, got in his 2 cents' worth: It's the "way we do divorce" in this culture that causes all the acrimony.
Then it was my turn. I said our high rates of divorce are hurting children, adults and society. Divorce is an inherently difficult and potentially damaging event. Children whose parents divorce are at higher risk of school failure, suicide, mental illness, premature death, child abuse, physical illness, juvenile delinquency, adult crime, poverty, premature sexuality and substance abuse.
Case in point: A new paper from the Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis (available online at www.heritage.org/library/cda/cda01-04.html) on the marriage gap facing African-American children confirms that, while children of unwed moms face the greatest risks, children whose parents divorce were four times more likely to depend on AFDC than children whose parents stay married.
How can a few words mumbled over a candle, earlier vows having proved ineffectual, somehow massage away the sting of divorce? Sure, we have rituals for other painful life transitions, such as, say, funerals. Here's the stubborn difference: That death is inevitable, while the death of love is a choice.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.