By Greg Erlandson
In the good old days, Romans entertained themselves by watching people get eaten by lions. Modern day Americans entertain themselves by watching marriages fall apart and children lose their stable households. At least, so it would seem after 10 million voyeuristic viewers watched the latest chapter of "Jon & Kate Plus Eight," where the Gosselins, parents of twins and sextuplets with their own reality show, went their separate ways a few weeks ago.
Marriages have enough challenges without the examples of Jon and Kate or Gov. Mark Sanford. People looking for the excuse to pull the plugs on their marriages seem to get a lot more reinforcement for walking away from their vows and responsibilities than people who are trying their darnedest to do the right thing, to be faithful through sickness and health, in boom times or recessions.
Which is one reason I really appreciated the news that Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, go out on Date Nights.
In fact, I don't even mind the fact that the most powerful man in the world with the world's largest security detail takes her to a play in New York, or sight-seeing in Paris.
For all I know, he's appointed a Date Night Czar who scopes out options and makes reservations for him to surprise Michelle with. If so, more power to him. I just like the fact that he's made this a priority.
I can't outsource my date planning, but I am a firm believer that marriages take dates, and the longer one is married, the more important these dates become. My parents set a great example for me: No matter how much they loved their kids, they made it clear to us that they needed time for each other. They used to go out to Mexican restaurants because they were affordable, and later when we older kids could babysit the younger, they'd take the occasional weekend trip to San Diego. It was a great restorative for them, and they never apologized for spending some time on themselves.
My mom used to tell me that marriage takes work, and part of that "work" was making time to be with one's spouse, rediscovering what it was that caused them to set off on the crazy road of marriage to begin with.
Of course, in the hyper-serious times we now live in, couples are quick to protest that Obama is setting the bar too high for mere mortals, and political critics have sniped about the cost of their outings. On this issue, I suggest the critics shut up and the over-extended couples of today ask themselves if they are really busier than the president of the United States.
The New York Times sought out busy urban couples and came to the conclusion that not many of them are doing much dating (at least with each other). This might in turn explain the divorce rate among busy urban couples.
My wife, Corine, and I have been lucky. We don't get out on dates nearly enough, but we do make time for them. In the past few years, we even try to slip away mid-week -- that vast couple wasteland when work and car pools and to-do lists dominate every waking hour -- and sit at the bar sipping an adult beverage and catching up on what each other is thinking.
The Times tells me that what we have is an "individualized marriage," that is, one where "a thriving relationship is marked by love and mutual attraction, not just duty to family and social roles." If they say so. I think it sounds a lot like what my parents had: a way to stay connected and treat each other like human beings we enjoy being around.
Corine and I volunteer in the marriage prep program in our parish. Whenever we talk to couples about to get married, we try to give them a few messages they might remember 10 or 15 years down the road when all work and no play is likely to make Jack and Jill a pretty boring couple. Don't forget the dates, we tell them. They really work.
Now we've got back-up from the Obamas. This is one change we do believe in.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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