Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Good News From the Invitation Box

There’s a box in the closet in my study that has the invitations or bulletins from most of the weddings I went to during the 1980s.

I keep this box for reference purposes. And last week I checked it to see what time my sister-in-law got married. Since it was a Sunday wedding, it had to have been in the afternoon, after the regular service, and finding the invitation would tell me for sure. I didn’t find the invitation, but while I was looking, I decided to do a little counting. Of all the weddings I had documentation for, how many of those marriages were still intact?

There were 17 marriages documented in that box, mine included, and of those, 10 are still going strong, one ended with the untimely death of one of the partners after almost 20 years, three ended in divorce, and three are couples that I’ve totally lost track of over the years.

If I get rid of the couples I’ve lost track of and count the one death among the success stories, we get a score of 11 to 3. Put into percentages, that’s a 79% success rate for marriage among my friends – at least the friends whose documentation I still had.

Let me say that again: 79% of the marriages I had documentation for are still intact. And these are all first marriages.

There’s an old saying that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics; and some of you may want to consider this as one of the third, after all “everyone knows” that half of all marriages end in divorce.

But that’s one of those statistics too, and it’s not one to be trusted. Here’s why. The figures that “everyone knows” about marriage and divorce are taken by comparing the number of people who got married in year x with the number of people who got divorced in year x. These two numbers have nothing to do with each other – at all. The people who got divorced in 2008 may have gotten married as far back as 1958, and spread equally along the 50 years between the two. For the figures to be meaningful, you have to track a group of people who got married in 1958 and see what percentage of them are still married to each other 20, 30, 40 years later.

That’s what my invitation box did, and studies that use this method tend to come up with a 60% to 70% success rate.

There’s one more thing, though. At about the same time that I got the good news from my invitation box, Larry King got divorced for the 7th time. While it’s true that most first marriages tend to go the distance, if you’re counting the sheer number of marriages and divorces, people like Larry King, Elizabeth Taylor, and  Mickey Rooney skew the figures.

But what about the weddings I went to during the 80s that I didn’t have documentation for in my invitation box? Ah…I knew someone had to ask about those. As I thought carefully and tried to remember all of them, the figures came closer to 68% and 32%. But that’s still pretty darned good!

And finally, a word for my friend whose documentation never made it into my box, but is one of the 32% of divorces. I do not in any way mean to imply that people in the 32% didn’t work hard enough, didn’t love each other enough, or weren’t committed enough. By no means! Sometimes things just don’t work out no matter how hard you try, and you sadly have to walk away from it.

But this same friend has since remarried and speaks of the joy of second chances. I firmly agree there. I know many people who found success the second time around.

And having just celebrated her 18th anniversary, I’m counting her as being in the 68% success rate for second marriages!

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