- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2004

Growing up in the 1970s, one of my favorite sitcoms was “Green Acres,” starring Eddie Albert and the glamorous Eva Gabor. In episode one, we were introduced to the newlywed couple who lived on Park Avenue. Despite the prestige of being an attorney and living in an expensive penthouse, Oliver, yearned for the simple life.

In the memorable theme song, he sings, “Green acres is the place to be; farm living is the life for me; land spreading out so far and wide; keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.” Meanwhile, his wife Lisa is perfectly happy where she is, “New York is where I’d rather stay; I get allergic smelling hay; I just adore a penthouse view; Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue.” In the end, she loses the battle and dutifully moves with her husband to Hooterville.

As a young girl, I never quite understood why this woman would leave her marvelous life to follow her husband to a farm and raise chickens. In fact, I struggled with that conundrum for years. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve begun to understand her reasoning.

Last month, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion on why so many attractive, successful women are still single. Being an expert on the subject, I accepted. “Let’s face it — none of us want to die alone,” I plainly told them. “None of us want to spend the rest of our lives coming home to an empty house, and waking up with only our pillows to hug. And hopefully by now, we’ve learned that one-night stands don’t get us any closer to that goal.

“Sure, single life is great, but all of us eventually want to find someone to spend the rest of our lives with — ‘for better, for worse, for rich or for poor, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.’ Denying that as a way to protect ourselves from being hurt doesn’t change the fact that we were all created with a desire to love and be loved.”

Strong marriages are the backbone of any society. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen over the last 30 years in the United States, as marriages have disintegrated, so have families. Marriage was once held in high esteem — a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman. Today, marriage has been reduced to little more than a social experiment.

So how did we get here? One thing that led us down this path was the sexual revolution of the 1970s. While stripping away the traditional value of abstinence until marriage, it also gave rise to no-fault divorce, weakening the bonds of matrimony and making it easier to untie the knot.

And we certainly can’t forget the charge led by bra-burning feminists. Although I disagree with much of their agenda, they did empower women to make the most of their lives. For some, this was healthy. For others, it was a free ticket out of a marriage that failed to live up to their expectations or out of a role they felt kept them repressed.

As parents were enjoying their newfound freedoms, their children reaped the consequences of being the first generation to experience the untying of marriage and the destruction of families. As this group has matured into adulthood, the effects are worth analyzing.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the proportion of unmarried women of child-bearing age (15-44) is at the highest level ever — 49 percent. Why so high?

For many women, and men alike, it’s simply a fear of failure. For those who experienced their parents divorce, and who may be seeing the crumbling of marriages of their own peers, they don’t know what a healthy, life-long marriage looks like and don’t have a clue how to make one work.

Another reason is the lack of community. Years ago, family played a significant role in the match-making process. Church and various social clubs also created safe atmospheres to meet people and share similar interests. Today, many young professionals are on their own. After working 50-hour weeks, there may be time for happy hour or a trip to the gym, but there’s very little time left for real investing.

Finally, since many women spent their early 20s concentrating on their education, and the rest of their 20s establishing a career, they are generally in good financial shape, and don’t feel the need to marry. Unlike our mothers who likely got hitched for financial security, most single women today already live independently of their families and are investing in their retirement.

The good news for men is that this relieves them of many of their “traditional” responsibilities. But, guys, don’t start celebrating yet — the pressure still remains as women now place higher expectations on you to connect with them emotionally and intellectually.

The needs of men and women may have changed over the last 30 years, but one thing that hasn’t is our desire to share life with another person. Deep down, we all long for someone to share our deepest secrets, our wildest hopes and dreams, and yes, our future. Marriage, I’ve learned, is the only institution that can create that safe and permanent bond.

Although in real life Eva Gabor married and divorced five times, she — at least on television — understood that, and now I do too.

ANGELA J. PHELPS

Washington, D.C.

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