Hi Coke, as I edge closer to 30 and more of my friends are starting to settle down, I’m starting to notice a weird pattern among some. There’s been quite a few instances where friends who have been in serious relationships with their partners for 5+ years, many for a decade, seem to part ways shortly after getting hitched. They are happy, in love, dedicated, super enthusiastic about their wedding and then they get married and suddenly something seems to crack and they split up very shortly thereafter. In most cases it’s happened in much less than a year after the wedding. It’s so weird. They’ve all lived together for multiple years, had pets together for years, and all that grown up shit but somehow signing a piece of paper changes things? I don’t understand. What’s different? Thanks in advance for your insight!
You’re looking at it all wrong. It’s not the piece of paper that changes things. The piece of paper and the marriage that it represents are merely symptoms of the larger problem, which is that by and large, human beings are terrible at making rational decisions where emotions are involved, and people rarely have the self-discipline to cut their losses and walk away.
The phenomenon that you’ve observed is a prime example of something called the “sunk-cost fallacy” applied to relationships. The sunk-cost fallacy is faulty reasoning that further investment (i.e. marriage) is warranted on the fact that the resources already invested (i.e. time, energy, and a sizable chunk of their youth) will be lost otherwise, not taking into consideration the overall losses involved in further investment (i.e. the emotional and financial misery of the inevitable divorce.)
People in their late twenties who’ve spent years in long-term relationships are faced with increasing pressure from social systems to conform to the proper stage of life transitions. Everyone and everything (often times even their own biology) are constantly nagging them to settle down, get married, start breeding, etc., and so they fall prey to this faulty reasoning and decide to plow through to the next stage of life regardless of whether their relationship is healthy.
You’ve got a shit-ton of aging Millennials limping along in stale relationships who don’t know any better because they’ve spent the last half-decade having the same arguments in the same restaurants and then going home and having the same sex with the same person, and rather than disappoint their parents by going through the temporary pain of a much needed break-up, they throw a Hail Mary pass with the mother of all major life decisions and decide to get married. Fuck it. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen? So they forge ahead with big smiles.
Of course they’re super enthusiastic about getting married — they have to be. They’re on a year long roller-coaster ride of planning a wedding. Sure, they’re secretly terrified of their relationship’s mediocrity, but all that existential angst gets hurled to the edges as they start doing loops. With a little denial and a decent bachelorette party, they can almost convince themselves that everything is going to be all right. For a good long while they get to soak up all that positive reinforcement from friends and family. They get to be the center of attention, and they get to feel all grown-up. Eventually the big day comes. They say a few magic words, they cut a cake, and then suddenly all the fun stuff stops.
I don’t have to tell you what happens next. You’ve seen it. Within a few months the reality of “til death do us part” comes along and slaps them in the face like a big wet dick. They realize they’re actually pretty miserable, and then it finally dawns on them that they don’t actually have to be together.
Basically, the marriage itself is just an extended director’s cut of their break-up. It’s gross, I know, but we’re flawed creatures in a flawed system. This is just one of those things that happens.