Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The 50-year itch?

A piece by Politico's Eamon Javers caught my eye: "Consumers, voters, change their minds fast and often."

Javers' key anecdote cites a "veteran divorce attorney" who is finding more couples divorcing at a later age, even after fifty years of marriage. Midwestern gal that I am, I noticed the vantage point for that divorce attorney, Linda Lea Viken: Manhattan? Boston? LA? Not likely, you'd have to find fifty-year marriages there first, yes? No, we're talking heartland: Rapid City, South Dakota.

Which may surprise you, but they get Desperate Housewives, too, by which I mean that the culture of disposability is not foreign, it's our culture. And, while Javers finds this development to be something to deplore, surely he finds some of the underlying factors to be beneficial, like the longer and healthier lives that are presupposed -- even the Viagra he cites (easy scapegoat) has surely been of real value to some (old goat) somewhere.

Nonetheless, I understand why this would drive a political consultant crazy. People are more fickle, but their lives are more fickle. I'm less likely to be there for our lunch next week, not because I'm on a moral slippery slope, but because I'm part of a culture that demands instant response and moment-by-moment flexibility. And because I know that your presence depends on whether your mom is up to driving herself to the dentist that day.

Want real heartburn? Get a job as an admissions officer at a private college, where potential students say yea or nay based on the school colors, the dress of the 10:30 am tour guide, or whether that kid with the funny hair says hi or just pushes past as the tour pauses in the student center. Superficial teenagers? To some extent, yes. But they're also judging a number of variables based on what they recognize as a snapshot of campus life. Because that's all they get -- a glossy viewbook, a website, a tour -- to become someone they can't imagine in a world that hasn't been created. We love to tell students that they are preparing for jobs that don't exist yet (as if we tenured faculty have the inside track). And we wonder why they lack focus.

So the students come -- how many? We don't know till they get here (sort of like how your 16 year old didn't know where she'd be last night until plans firmed up around 9:30, and changed mid-flight at 11 because Sam couldn't get the car after all). We can't predict how many students will accept the offer of admission, or how many first year students will come in fall, spend three months texting their friends, and decide to go to St. Somewhere Else in spring.

Why does this blog care? Because this is the culture that we're expecting to produce the Catholics of tomorrow, a culture mostly populated by Catholics who stayed in CCD till eighth grade because their mom bribed them, then disappeared till the Baccalaureate mass, then disappeared till...when? Marriage? The rate of Catholics marrying in the Church continues to drop. Baptism of their children? Maybe.

What is new is that they may not come back, they are already not coming back. If the parents' formation is slight (how do you go to confession?), and the barriers seem high (paperwork in place?), and the news is off-putting (didn't you say that sex abuse thing was over?), the "rebound effect" that has kept the young family population strong in many parish churches may no longer "bounce." It will hold steady in some places, like my aspirational middle-class enclave where we tend to have our papers in order, or in newly immigrant communities (not so sure about the third generation). But that leaves a lot of marginal Catholics on the outside, with little inner pull toward the center. This is a loss.

UPDATE: Speaking of ephemeral ... you'll recall that, two entries ago, I raved about the famous wedding entrance video. So ... it had to happen ... The JK Divorce Dance.

Better dancers, yes. But the whole thing's kind of flat.