Throwing away the key

Popular culture would have us believe that modern-day men and women are promiscuous bed-hoppers.

Popular culture would have us believe that modern-day men and women are promiscuous bed-hoppers. But when Time magazine investigated the myth, it discovered faithfulness — and happiness — in marriage is a lot more prominent.

Wedlock does mean throwing away the key.

Surveyors on two continents discovered the average American woman has no more than two sex partners in her lifetime, while American men have six — in each case counting their current spouse.

Whatever their previous sexual experience, men and women, once married, are typically faithful to each other.

Economists Andrew Oswald of Warwick University and David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College have studied more than 50,000 men and women in Great Britain plus tens of thousands in the United States.

They have established “that greatest satisfaction comes from a monogamous relationship, but for those who sleep around, sex is literally devalued.”

Because of their profession, Oswald and Blanchflower were curious about quantifying the value of contentment in marriage. They calculated that a loving marriage makes a person as content as would an extra $100,000 a year in income. Moreover, they reveal that, on average, married couples are happier than singles or the divorced, and that first marriages are happier than second ones.

Blanchflower’s conclusion: “The optimum number of sex partners that give the greatest happiness is one.”

Parents perennially advise their sons and daughters to date an array of potential partners. The idea is to first make friends with the opposite sex, dispensing with any notion that there is something mysterious about gender.

Marriage is like no other relationship. It is total, permanent and exclusive.

Over the years, I have encountered hip-but-bored couples who flirted with “open marriage,” removing their wedding bands on weekends to seek brief encounters with strangers. To the best of my knowledge, they are no longer couples. Marriage cannot be compromised and still be marriage. Wedlock is aptly named. It literally means throwing away the key.

Catholics, who are not permitted to remarry in their faith after divorce, nevertheless can request an annulment, arguing that one or both of the spouses entered wedlock with reservations that, ipso facto, invalidated the marriage.

Two common so-called “defects” are that either husband or wife entered marriage refusing to have children, or that one or both spouses had no intention of remaining faithful.

Most unhappy married couples opt for civil divorces, but the notion of Catholic annulments underscores how demanding, total and exclusive the marriage bond is. Marriage is not just a wager that love will last. Wedlock requires that a man and a woman forsake all others.

David Yount’s 14th book, Making a Success of Marriage (Rowman and Littlefield), has just been published.

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