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July 11, 2012

Preglimony & Sex Lead To Equal Opportunity Silliness, Part I

What is it about sex that prompts otherwise sane and sagacious writers of both sexes to heretofore unseen feats of solipsistic sophism? [Full disclosure: we tried to work a few more scintillatingly sibyllant "s" words into the preceding sentence, but our alliterative powers generally require a second cup of coffee before they reach full potency.] The sexy sex foolishness begins, as it so often does, in the Opinion section of the Paper of Record:

FOR most of human history, a woman who became pregnant after sleeping with more than one partner had no way of definitively knowing the identity of the man with whom she had conceived. Likewise, a man whose lover became pregnant had no way of knowing for sure whether his or another man’s DNA was gestating inside her.

Since the 1970s it has been possible to genetically link a father and his baby with increasing levels of accuracy.... Since a small amount of fetal DNA is present in a pregnant woman’s blood, the pregnancy can be genetically linked to her partner through a simple blood draw from the woman’s arm.

One of the potential ramifications [of this new technology] is that men might be called upon to help support their pregnant lovers before birth, even if the pregnancy is ultimately terminated or ends in miscarriage. They might be asked to chip in for medical bills, birthing classes and maternity clothes, to help to cover the loss of income that often comes with pregnancy, or to contribute to the cost of an abortion.

Of course, plenty of men already treat the costs of pregnancy as a shared responsibility. But some do not, leaving the woman to shoulder the burdens alone.

As the saying goes, hilarity ensues. First up is a response linked via Grim, who comments:

I'm willing to accept that a man who gets a woman pregnant ought to take responsibility for providing for her needs during pregnancy. That all makes sense to me, although Taranto's objections regarding incentives do seem like relevant concerns.

But there can be no accommodation on the question of forcing a man to pay for the abortion of his own child. It's hard enough that we require a man to endure the killing of a child he may want, if the woman carrying the child decides that she prefers it dead. There can be no moral argument for forcing him to pay for the poisoning of his own flesh and blood.

Grim's response makes sense as far as it goes. Last time we checked, pregnancy requires the active participation of two people, both of whom have a non-delegatable duty to use birth control if they do not wish to conceive a child.

Admittedly no method of birth control is foolproof, but then few precautions in life are designed to withstand the combined efforts of not one, but two fools. The actual failure rate for most birth control methods (which measures their effectiveness when used carelessly or inconsistently) far exceeds the "perfect use" failure rate (the chance of unplanned pregnancy when a given method is used correctly and consistently).

If both partners take the physical risks of casual sex (pregnancy and STDs) seriously, each will use birth control and take precautions against sexually transmitted diseases. Two methods offer more protection than one alone. Thus, when both partners use birth control - even badly - the chance of unintended pregnancy is vanishingly small. The actual failure rate for condoms is about 15%. For the Pill, it's about 8%. The combined failure rate using these two methods (someone please correct me if I've done this wrong) should be .15*.08=.0120, or about 1%. Keep in mind that this combined failure rate applies when both parties fail to use their respective methods correctly. If one partner uses birth control correctly, the risk will be smaller. And if they both use birth control responsibly, the combined failure rate is so small as to be insignificant.

Moreover, this particular discussion assumes two sexual partners who are unmarried and thus in many cases, not in an exclusive relationship. So in addition to the pre-existing duty of both partners to use birth control, the man has an additional incentive to use a condom: the prevention of STDs. Here, simple biology places most of the burden on the male. Female contraceptives are not designed to prevent the transmission of many STDs. The importance of these inconvenient calculations becomes clear when reading Taranto's response to the preglimony proposal. Mr. Taranto's first objection rests on ostensibly practical grounds:

Motro is vague about the details--in particular, the question of how a DNA sample would be extracted from an unwilling man. It does seem clear, however, that she means "asked" as a euphemism for "forced," as when President Obama "asks" the "rich" to "contribute" by paying higher taxes.

At first, one is tempted to think he has never heard of paternity suits, but Mr. Taranto later acknowledges that legal mechanisms for holding unwed fathers financially accountable for children they choose to sire (and refusing to use birth control - or use it correctly - IS a reproductive choice) already exist and are fairly commonplace:

Motro's proposal would bring back the shotgun, but without the wedding. To some extent it would merely extend existing practice, in which courts sometimes order fathers to pay child support even when they have never been married to the mothers. But it differs in that it would make the father responsible for the mother's welfare, not just the child's.

This seems a tad misleading. Ms. Molto's suggestion doesn't make the father responsible for the mother's welfare. It merely asks him to share the costs of their joint carelessness. Oddly, Mr. Taranto seems surprised and vaguely offended at the suggestion that an adult male who could easily prevent unwanted pregnancies should be expected to suffer the predictable costs of his beautiful and natural refusal to protect himself. The myth of consequence free sex (for men, at least) dies so beautifully. Things get stranger a few paragraphs later:

Before the pill and abortion, unwanted pregnancy was a foreseeable risk of sexual intercourse, one that was equally beyond the control of both partners. Afterward, the matter was entirely under the control of the woman. It was, and is, a woman's choice whether to use the pill and, if pregnancy results anyway, whether to have an abortion.

It's hard to know what to say here. Condoms have been in existence since the year 3000 BC. Herbal contraceptives, natural abortifacients, and intrauterine devices in various forms have been around nearly as long as the condom. By 1920, well before Betty Friedan single handedly destroyed Western Civilization as we knew it, American couples, using a combination of condoms and other well known birth control methods, had already cut the U.S. birth rate in half. And that was before mandatory sex ed hit the public school system:

In the 1920s, the U.S. birth rate drops by half. Condom reliability is still terrible by modern standards, but people achieved effective birth control by combining condoms, the rhythm method, male withdrawal, diaphragms, and/or intrauterine devices.

Nowhere in Taranto's column does he mention the availability of condoms. This is not an inadvertent omission: a few paragraphs later he repeats his astounding assertion that men have no ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies, following it up with an even loopier conclusion:

Short of surgical sterilization, the only way single men could be assured of avoiding shotgun nonmarriage would be to abstain from sex. As we noted in April, there is evidence that teen boys are doing just that. But while male teen abstinence may be desirable, only female abstinence can prevent out-of-wedlock births.

Now wait just a durned minute! Doesn't it take two people - a man and a woman - to create an unwanted baby? Male abstinence is just as effective in preventing pregnancies as female abstinence. What is it about sex that causes rational adults to make such blissfully afactual arguments?

The real objection to Taranto's analysis is he proposes to replace one distasteful solution to the "problem" of asymmetrical consequences with another that's just as bad. He would counter the feminist vision of female sexual irresponsibility with an equal dose of male irresponsibility, conjuring up a brave new world in which infantilized men can't be expected to protect themselves from STDs, nor lift a fingerlike appendage to prevent a predictable consequence of casual sex: the creation of children they are unwilling to support.

It's worth noting that Molto's preglimony proposal, however impractical, does not ask men to bear ALL the responsibility for the costs of an unwanted pregnancy. Rather, it asks men to SHARE responsibility for those costs. On equitable grounds, it's hard to argue against such a proposal (with the exceptions cited by Grim: a man should never be forced to split the cost of killing a child he is willing to raise, and if he is willing to raise that child then the mother should be "forced" (!) to pay her share of the child's support). It is far from certain that the majority of unwed fathers actually desire to take on that responsibility. But where they do, it would be both cruel and unjust to force them to subsidize the ending of a life they value, even if the mother does not.

Finally, the Brookings study Taranto cites at the beginning of his essay takes issue with his assertion that financial subsidies for unwed mothers cause more out of wedlock births:

Efforts by social scientists to explain the rise in out-of-wedlock births have so far been unconvincing, though several theories have a wide popular following. One argument that appeals to conservatives is that of Charles Murray, who attributes the increase to overly generous federal welfare benefits. But as David Ellwood and Lawrence Summers have shown, welfare benefits could not have played a major role in the rise of out-of-wedlock births because benefits rose sharply in the 1960s and then fell in the 1970s and 1980s, when out-of-wedlock births rose most. A study by Robert Moffitt in 1992 also found that welfare benefits can account for only a small fraction of the rise in the out-of-wedlock birth ratio.

Somewhat ironically, the conclusion to the Brookings study recommends the very thing Taranto fears will cause men to abstain from casual sex (a consummation devoutly to be avoided!) and drop out of the sexual marketplace: make fathers share the costs of unplanned pregnancies!

It has been suggested that measures should be taken to make fathers pay for the support of their out-of-wedlock children. While probably difficult to enforce, such measures give the correct incentives. They will make men pause before fathering such children and they will at least slightly change the terms between fathers and mothers. Such measures deserve serious consideration.

When it comes to sex, reasoned argument seems to fly right out the window. Part II will dissect a feminist response to the preglimony proposal.

Posted by Cassandra at July 11, 2012 04:16 AM

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Comments

"with the exceptions cited by Texan99: a man should never be forced to split the cost of killing a child he is willing to raise, and if he is willing to raise that child then the mother should be "forced" (!) to pay her share of the child's support"

Is this really something I said? The way I actually think about it is this:

(1) a man should never be forced to support any fraction of the cost of any abortion under any circumstances, unless the mother's life is in danger and the fetus is unlikely to survive in any event (not because he doesn't owe it to the mother but because he should not be required to condone an elective abortion), and

(2) a mother is responsible for the cost of the child's support without the slightest regard to whether the father is willing to help raise it (though if the father is willing to contribute, so much the better both for her and for the child) (and the reverse is true for a man) (i.e., the obligation is both joint and several, each being on the hook 100% whether or not the other steps up to the job).

Posted by: Texan99 at July 11, 2012 04:21 PM

First, thanks for the clarification!

That was some sloppy writing on my part. I took your comments to mean (1), mostly. I didn't know what you thought wrt to (2) but am not surprised to see that - if I understand you correctly - we're in about the same place.

What I *meant* to say (albeit in mangled form) was that if society is going to force the father to pay child support, then mothers in the same circumstances should have no special exemption.

I was somewhat annoyed by Taranto's use of the word "forced" wrt to the preglimony. I think any time the courts attempt to enforce a right or duty, the threat of force is implied. We all understand that, just as we understand that if people would just do the right thing in the first place, no one would have to go to court (or threaten the use of force/coercion/whatever we're calling it this week).

"I won't fulfill my duty to a helpless child unless the world is 100% fair to me!" doesn't strike me as a particularly admirable moral code.

Oddly enough, I find myself coming to about the same conclusion (preglimony is wrongheaded and dumb) but for very different reasons. Taranto seems to see this as a tug of war or competing rights contest between the man and the woman in which, if the woman has a choice the man doesn't have, he can just walk away from a situation he's partially responsible for and from his duty to his child.

That seems so self centered to me, but more importantly it puts the only innocent party - the child - at the very bottom of the priorities list. It's a common attitude - much more common than I had dreamed - but it's disappointing nonetheless.

Posted by: Cass at July 11, 2012 05:46 PM

When you have a triangle, it's very easy to get confused. As between the man and the woman, I may have very strong ideas about who has created an obligation to whom, depending on the circumstances. It's just that it's quite irrelevant to my ideas of who owes an obligation to the child. It's an awful thing to have a child on one's hands and the other parent shirks his/her duties, but as between us and the child, tough noogies. It's not the child's fault we chose the other parent so poorly.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 11, 2012 10:54 PM

Oddly enough, I find myself coming to about the same conclusion (preglimony is wrongheaded and dumb) but for very different reasons.

You know, I think I'm going to side with the concept that it's a good idea and reasonable. The problem is just the abortion issue, as I see it; otherwise, the existence of these duties is pretty clear. Why shouldn't the courts enforce them, since we don't really doubt them?

In the original post I gave Taranto's argument credit for being thoughtful -- and it is thoughtful. I respect and try to carefully consider arguments from incentives of the type that he's raising here. I do this because I know I don't really understand them: I don't operate this way, but I think it's right to say that a lot of people do. For example, there's a whole sub-genre of romance literature about trying to trap a man by getting pregnant; you can ask at your local public library, and they'll probably have a few dozen novels for you.

So I get that people do this, even though it doesn't make sense to me. I want to consider arguments like the ones he raises, because they address a known issue that I don't understand.

But ultimately, I don't get it. There's a child. There's a relationship between the parents of the child. There are things that have to be paid for. That's just how it is.

Posted by: Grim at July 11, 2012 11:52 PM

Still trying to wrap my head around Taranto's essay. Reading your post - again - on half a cup of coffee helps! ;-)

I completely agree with Grim's last line in his post. No matter what - the choices or lack thereof of the two ADULTS in question resulted in a child. And therefore both ADULTS must step up.

I all capped the word ADULTS because, in my view, when you make the choice to have sex (whether some form of birth control is used or not) then you also assume the very grown up ADULT responsibility for any consequences

Which leads me to the paragraph Taranto discusses about the lack of understanding as to why there is a rise in out of wedlock births.

From recent experiences which include hearing discussions it seems that there are a significant number of young people - girls (17-24) who believe that the role of taking care of birth control rests SOLELY in the guy's hands. And that they, the girls, shouldn't have to have a conversation with said guy well before hitting the sheets. "they should know already that they are the ones who take care of the birth control so we don't have to worry about it" Statement from one girl who entirely missed the irony of the fact that she already has a 14 month old daughter BECAUSE she didn't step up and take equal responsibility for birth control, and was talking to 5 other girls who are pregnant, had a child, or had pregnancy scares. All of whom were 20 and under. They sure didn't like hearing what I had to say when they asked for my opinion!!!

If its like that in this neck of the woods (CO Springs/Denver area) to enough of a degree . . . Makes me want to whap all those kids upside the head and knock some sense into all of them!!!

Posted by: Nina at July 12, 2012 08:09 AM

In the original post I gave Taranto's argument credit for being thoughtful -- and it is thoughtful. I respect and try to carefully consider arguments from incentives of the type that he's raising here. I do this because I know I don't really understand them: I don't operate this way, but I think it's right to say that a lot of people do. For example, there's a whole sub-genre of romance literature about trying to trap a man by getting pregnant; you can ask at your local public library, and they'll probably have a few dozen novels for you.

Ever since I took my first Econ class, I've been fascinated by the notion of incentives and how they shape behavior. So I agree - it's a good thing to think about incentives and how they affect the choices we make.

The problem is that people tend to overestimate the rationality of human behavior. Men, in particular, seem to want to "systemize" human behavior by reducing an incredible complex mix of rational and irrational behavior to a few, iron clad predictable rules. The PUA/Game crew are a prime example of this.

When I see people constructing a narrative that distorts the incentives and choices that actually exist in the real world(for instance, by leaving condoms completely out of the analysis, or claiming that "only female abstinence can prevent out-of-wedlock births"), I have to question the thoughtfulness of the analysis and their grasp of the actual incentives involved. There are multiple incentives involved with human sexuality.

Let's examine the abstinence assertion. It could be interpreted at the individual couple level:

"John and Jane are contemplating having sex. Only Jane's abstinence can prevent them from conceiving an out-of-wedlock child".

Clearly that fails the common sense test. So let's try it at the aggregate level:

"Millions of unwed men and women are contemplating having sex. Only female abstinence can prevent out-of-wedlock births".

Holy crap. I don't even know what that means. Here are a few possible interpretations:

1. If every female is abstinent, there will be no out of wedlock births. TRUE. But it's also true that "if every male is abstinent, there will be no out of wedlock births" :p So this fails because the original claim was: ONLY female abstinence....

2. If more females are abstinent, there will be fewer out of wedlock births. PROBABLY TRUE. On average, if the supply of women who will have sex out of wedlock declines, we would expect fewer out of wedlock births.

Of course it's also possible that the remaining women will take up the slack, or that the men will have the same amount of sex with a smaller pool of women. I don't think either of these is terribly likely, but it's possible.

3. If more MALES are abstinent, there will be fewer out of wedlock births. PROBABLY TRUE.

Of course, the same possible exceptions apply: it's possible that the remaining men will take up the slack, or that women will have the same amount of sex with a smaller pool of men.

I don't think any of these statements equates to "ONLY female abstinence can prevent out-of-wedlock births".

It's quite possible that I am missing something here, which is one reason I chose to write about this.

Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2012 12:18 PM

It's my understanding that male birth control (we really mean condoms, for now) is highly unreliable compared to other forms. So if the argument is not "female abstinence" but "female use of birth control," the argument probably works better. Even then there's not a guarantee, but this argument makes more sense:

"John and Jane are having sex. Only Jane's use of birth control can prevent pregnancy."

There's a rather obvious second way to prevent "out of wedlock births," of course. They could get married, in which case the problem does not appear. I took this to be a point Taranto was raising in his comment about 'shotguns without weddings.' The problem isn't the shotgun, it's the lack of a wedding. The best reason I can think of to oppose 'preglimony' is that it might undermine the probability of the marriage of the parents, which is preferable for the child (and was once the ordinary response to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy).

It ought to be alarming when we find ourselves starting from the assumption that the desirable outcome of sex is infertility. That's so obviously out of order that we ought to scratch our heads and say, "You know, we must have missed a step somewhere. Let's go back and redo the math on this."

Posted by: Grim at July 12, 2012 12:35 PM

It's my understanding that male birth control (we really mean condoms, for now) is highly unreliable compared to other forms.

Men like to say that, but it actually depends on whether you're talking about the typical failure rate and the rate if used properly. How many folks do you imagine actually do the research? I did.

Typical failure rates for condoms are comparable to female barrier methods (sponge, cervical shield, etc). Perfect use failure rates, condoms are actually 3 times more effective than comparable female barrier methods.

So we're kind of back to carelessness.

I'm going to post a resource I used in writing the post - you'll find it interesting, I think.

The problem isn't the shotgun, it's the lack of a wedding. The best reason I can think of to oppose 'preglimony' is that it might undermine the probability of the marriage of the parents, which is preferable for the child (and was once the ordinary response to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy).

I rather doubt that. If the guy loves the woman and is going to do the right thing, he's going to propose long before anyone gets to the point of arguing over preglimony or medical bills. Unless, of course, you're saying that an otherwise honorable man who loves the woman and was predisposed to do the right thing, won't because of some arcane law?

Either way, I don't think much of that whole shotgun wedding argument, Grim. That's why I didn't even mention it in my post - it strikes me as rather strained and afactual.

First of all, if the couple love each other, you don't need a shotgun. So shotgun weddings happen when the groom is reluctant. Getting married b/c someone intimidates you into it isn't a good recipe for happy, functional homes or involved parents. Even couples who start off happy these days can't seem to stay married. What do you suppose the success rate would be for weddings where the groom had to be forced down the aisle?

What kind of husband and father will he be, on average?

Taranto and the "study" he quotes (which really didn't impress me, by the way) don't ever tell us what percentage of marriage were "shotgun" in the past. Without that information, how can we possibly evaluate their claim that it was shotgun marriages (and not societal shaming of unwed mothers or some other factor like the sexual revolution and the decline of standards) that is driving the rise in illegitimate births?

When I was a girl there were still lots of homes for unwed mothers... which tends to indicate that shotgun weddings were nowhere near as frequent or customary as they suggest! I doubt they ever comprised a large number of marriages.

The shotgun marriage argument is right up there with the men who point to a few sensational anecdotes where men lose custody in divorce court as "proof" that there's a problem of "epidemic" proportions. Tellingly, these folks never mention that fewer than 4% of custody disputes ever make it to court and of those, only 1.5% complete the litigation.

So we're talking about an epidemic that is actually a tiny, tiny minority of the cases out there....which would be my wholly unscientific estimate of the number of shotgun weddings in the past :p

Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2012 01:25 PM

If you mean actual shotguns, that's probably true. I think, though, that it used to be quite common here in the South for people to find themselves "needing" to get married, without having really considered it up until the baby forced the issue.

In that case, though, I don't see why he wouldn't make a reasonably good husband and father. A young man is often thoughtless about the future, but it doesn't mean he's a bad man. He may just have walked into responsibilities he hadn't planned for or much thought about, but if society is clear on his need to uphold those duties, he may well grow into them.

But, failing that, I don't have a problem with the idea of 'preglimony,' aside from the abortion issue, and the need for a less ridiculous name.

Posted by: Grim at July 12, 2012 04:51 PM

Well, for that matter it's pretty accurate to say that we "needed" to get married, in the sense that our own values (and no one else's, really) dictated that that's what should happen :p

Other people had opinions, of course. But had we chosen not to get married, there would have been no lasting repercussions.

That's a lot different from this:

I come from down in the valley where mister when you're young
They bring you up to do like your daddy done
Me and mary we met in high school when she was just seventeen
We'd ride out of that valley down to where the fields were green

Wed go down to the river
And into the river we'd dive
Oh down to the river we'd ride

Then I got mary pregnant and man that was all she wrote
And for my nineteen birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse and the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle
No flowers no wedding dress
That night we went down to the river
And into the river we'd dive
On down to the river we did ride

I got a job working construction for the johnstown company
But lately there aint been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don't remember,
mary acts like she don't care

But I remember us riding in my brothers car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I'd lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she'd take

Now those memories come back to haunt me,
they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true?
Or is it something worse that sends me
Down to the river though I know the river is dry
Down to the river, my baby and i
Oh down to the river we ride

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAB4vOkL6cE

******************

Saddest and most haunting song I think I've ever heard. Makes me cry like a baby every time I hear it, even after all these years.

That's what I think of when someone talks of shotgun weddings. I know things can work out. They did for us, but we loved each other and that got us through a lot of tough times.


Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2012 05:25 PM

That is a sad song.

If I may take the hazardous risk of analyzing the poetry of one of your favorite songs, though, the real problem in the story seems to arise with the economic downturn. It sounds like it would have been nice to have a proper wedding, but as soon as the courthouse thing was over they went right back to swim in the river and be in love.

It was at this point that life got hard:

But lately there aint been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don't remember,
mary acts like she don't care

If he got married and didn't divorce (as apparently is the case), the only other thing you usually have to do to avoid poverty is work continually. It wasn't when he married her that they quit going down to the river and holding each other close; it was when the jobs went away that the river dried up.

Posted by: Grim at July 12, 2012 06:24 PM

Grim, I think you're skipping over this part:

Then I got mary pregnant and man that was all she wrote
And for my nineteen birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse and the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle
No flowers no wedding dress

They lyrics are written as though everything good in life ended when she got pregnant. You can have smiles, even at a civil marriage ceremony if you're happy about it.

I always interpreted the lyrics (and especially the refrain about the river) as sort of dual metaphor: the river represents his memories of being young and carefree and in love with all the future stretched out before them.

I see a guy who feels trapped by life: the narrowness of a small town where you're expected to "do what your Daddy done", regardless of what it is that you want, not being ready for the responsibilities of adulthood (for my 19th birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat), and love being too fragile to survive the stresses and strains of every day life - especially a life that didn't turn out like you hoped it would when you were young.

Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2012 07:00 PM

Well I'll be darned. I never thought to Google this before, but according to this link, the song is about Springsteen's sister and brother in law (and a shotgun wedding):

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=997

Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2012 07:03 PM

Something I don't think I ever fully saw before in it: I always thought he was mostly mourning the loss of his youth and freedom.

But I think he's also blaming himself because he grieves for the loss of his wife's dreams, too.

That's something I never fully appreciated until recently: how much men take on themselves, and how willing they are to blame themselves for things that aren't their fault. Just one more reason we ladies love you big lugs so much :p

Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2012 07:06 PM

I agree -- that song cheats by essentially blaming mean old Reagan for why the couple ended up unhappy. (Though I still love the song and always have; it's heartbreaking as a picture of how people can remember the lost dream of youth and freedom without ever really having learned or benefited from the lessons of adulthood.)

My nephew-in-law is a picture of the modern approach to pregnancy. Not that he knocks women up and leaves them, but he and his circle seem almost completely to have separated the notion of marriage from fertility. He started producing children when he was 16 but didn't marry their mother until about kid #3, as I recall. After three kids, the marriage was on the rocks, or you could say it started and ended there. They started divorcing, but he hooked up with a new partner before the divorce was even final. There was a little ruckus over how unreasonably mother #1 was delaying things so that he and mother #2 couldn't quite get married before child #4 was born (not counting the two she already had from a prior liaison). Then, even after the divorce was final, it appeared that mother #2 wasn't that determined to marry; she wants a big wedding, but can't afford it now, so what's the rush? Maybe next year. Today's news is that she's pregnant again.

My nephew used to tell me seriously that he just wasn't sure he loved wife #1 enough to marry her. I'd say, hey, did it ever occur to you to work out your feelings on that subject before you knocked her up? You know, like, for the second or third time? That approach makes absolutely no sense to him. It's alien. He's Catholic, sort of, which apparently gives him strong views against birth control, and I must say he is devoted to his kids. But he's kind of missing important parts of the Catholic message.

We even offered to adopt that first child, when he was 16. He was almost outraged. Of course he wouldn't consider giving up the baby. He didn't think of it as a problem pregnancy at all. Which it wasn't, from the point of view of his commitment to his son, but sheesh, on the marriage front . . . .

Posted by: Texan99 at July 12, 2012 07:08 PM

I think he's also blaming himself because he grieves for the loss of his wife's dreams, too.

I think that's right. I don't read the song as regretting the marriage at all (though perhaps the need for a union card, i.e., to take a hard job and work at it constantly). Right after that stanza, they go right back to the river -- which is, even in the late verses, the symbol of what he remembers happiness and hope to be like.

I worry about my wife's dreams a lot. I worry about them more than I do my own, most of which have already died. It really matters to me, though, that hers don't.

Posted by: Grim at July 12, 2012 07:32 PM

Tex:

I share the concern. It's alarming to me how many people don't seem to connect marriage with children at all.

There remains a tenuous connection between marriage and sex -- not that being unmarried should be a bar to sex, but that being married should be. The one old value about marriage that seems to hold is that married people shouldn't have sex with anyone else. Marriage used to convey the advantage that it allowed you to have sex with social approval; that was a big part of the appeal. Now, getting married raises a bar to sex instead of permitting it.

And as you say, some generally good people are living this way. My son's best friend comes from a family that has a passel of children from I'm not quite sure how many previous marriages and not-quite-marriages. The current not-quite-husband works very hard. He's a nice guy, good with the kids, kind to his not-quite-wife.

Posted by: Grim at July 12, 2012 08:28 PM

Contraception for men has already been trialled successfully but not rolled out. It has been proven to be fully effective, last nearly a decade and the single injection costs less than the syringe cost.

It can be easily flushed out as well, enabling couples engaged in unprotected sex to have more options than they currently have.

I believe that contraception should be an equal duty and men need more choice, that is why I urge everyone to please sign this petition:

https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/nhs-government-allow-male-contraceptives-equal-responsibility-for-both-genders

Posted by: Will at August 18, 2012 12:54 PM

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