The success of television shows like “Sex in the City,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Wife Swap,” and “Trading Spouses” suggests that we are fascinated with marriage. We can’t get enough of peering into and speculating about what goes on behind closed doors between a woman and her husband. The drama playing out on our television screens, like the greater ongoing cultural debate on marriage, demonstrates that we are caught up in a clash between the myth of marriage and the reality of marriage.
It’s been over a month since the story of Juanita Bynum and Thomas Weeks’ marital woes hit the news, and there’s no sign of the public losing interest in the drama. Every day a new video clip, another news link, finds its way into my box. The details slowly emerging suggest that the marriage between Bynum and Weeks was anything but story book. Which only proves that marriage may be made in heaven, but it’s left to couples here on earth to work out the details.
With so many marriages ending (often in scandal and sometimes with violence) in divorce, and with those who remain married at a loss to be able to explain how they manage to hold it together, it’s a wonder anyone still dreams of getting married. But plenty women still envision themselves someday as a bride. After all, Mother Nature doesn’t give a twit about the divorce rate, or about domestic violence, or about marital drama. Mating is a powerful biological instinct. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated flees do it. It’s just that humans call it “falling in love.” And when we fall in love, we prefer to mate for life. Too bad Mother Nature didn’t equip us with a gene that could make the more likely task of “un-mating” simple and painless. That’s where birds, bees, and other creatures have one over on us. When humans fall out of love, break up, or divorce, there’s bound to be lots of finger pointing. We’ve got to come up with a moral behind our break-ups to make them make sense to us.
Now that Weeks’ rage has subsided and Bynum’s physical bruises have begun to heal, both parties are doing what they do best as televangelists which is to use the camera to paint themselves in a positive light. My friends who have never been married are eager to assign blame. Weeks makes that easy to do since he’s the one who threw the punches, and no thinking woman can overlook that fact. But those of us who have been married know that what makes or breaks a marriage is a much more complicated truth. Weeks insinuated at his latest news conference that marriage to an ambitious woman like Bynum was no stroll in the park. He’s probably right.
Marriage has changed drastically more in the last 30 years than in the last 3,000. Part of the drastic ways marriage has changed are embodied in the Bynum-Weeks marriage (um, divorce), which is why we can’t help picking over what we think we see.
It’s the story of a story book wedding that was supposed to be the story book reward to a woman who swore off her earlier promiscuous lifestyle and resolved to wait on God for her soulmate. Is God to blame? It’s the story of a marriage of a wife and husband who share the same profession in a culture accustomed to men selecting women of lower social rank than themselves to marry. Here the wife is an internationally known evangelist. How does a man raised in a tradition which teaches that women are subordinate to men pair up (mate) with a woman who is better known and more financially successful than himself?; and how does an ambitious, driven woman who claims to believe the same negotiate the delicate topography of the male ego? And finally, in recent days, it’s the story of the battered evangelist-wife sitting poised and well-coiffed before the camera, talking about God, resolved about ending her marriage, convinced that she’s found the springboard to launch the next phase of her career. Meanwhile on another side of town, the bishop-husband appears before the camera contrite, talking about God, looking somewhat befuddled by all that’s happened, confessing his love for his wife, and admitting that he wants his marriage and doesn’t want to divorce.
We’ve come a long way, baby. I think.
Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated flees do it. It’s just that humans call it falling in and out of love.