Washington Post readers got quite an opinion in Sunday’s editorial section. Estate lawyer Paul Rampell recommended the creation of “wedleases.” He argues that, these days, marriages are perceived resemble lifetime estates—they are expected to last until death or else through a messy divorce. As an economical sort of chap, Rampell suggests, “Two people commit themselves to marriage for a period of years — one year, five years, 10 years, whatever term suits them. The marital lease could be renewed at the end of the term however many times a couple likes.”
Political theorists may see this as classical liberalism in full bloom: human relations have been reduced to the contractual. Nothing binds that is not consented to. For concerned social thinkers, wedleases would spell certain doom for the family in the political sphere, starting with the institution of marriage. This suggestion soars to the same radical levels as redefining marriage to allow for LGBT couples or polygamy.
Of course, for Rampell and his ilk idolize usefulness. “[W]hy doesn’t society make the legal structure of marriage more congruent to our behavior?” he wonders. While some would quibble about the didactic nature of jurisprudence, it would be better to focus on what the attorney hopes to avoid.
“People, circumstances and all sorts of other things change. The compatibility of any two people over decades may decline with these changes to the point of extinction,” Rampell concludes, “But if the relationship is bad, the couple could go their separate ways at the end of the term. The messiness of divorce is avoided and the end can be as simple as vacating a rental unit.” First of all, these statements show the rampant harm of American divorce culture. More importantly, they express a tremendous selfishness which shrinks from virtue. A “bad” relationship and “messy” divorce point to the great fear that spurs the wedlease idea. Marriage carries inconvenience and dissatisfaction. People get hurt, make mistakes, and inflict harm. The modern West has stripped away safeguards against the all-consuming self. Easy divorce, lax cultural expectations, and enshrined fulfillment pave the way for social disassociation. It is easier to run from discomfort than to endure it.
Contemporary man has developed a craven fear of pain and suffering, and thus of love.
For to love this side of heaven means sacrifice, self-giving, discipline, and a host of other uncomfortable ideals. When humans love each other in wedlock, they open themselves up—in body (especially in sex) and soul—to another in trust. To enter holy matrimony requires loyalty, perseverance, and fidelity. As one writer put it, “Loving another person is a high risk, high reward endeavor.”
Notice an early casualty of virtue failure: children. The article muses, “If the couple has a child, there could be an option to have the lease automatically continue until the child reaches the age of majority. Of course, relationships change with family additions and an extended term may not be feasible.” One cannot help sensing the attorney throwing leftover scraps to the kids to assuage the conscience. They are an afterthought for the sake of the parents’ whims and contractual obligations.
For Rampell and any other wedlease advocates, the good life looks a lot like pain-avoidance. On the other hand, there is not a lot of living in it. The wedlease way is anti-child, anti-character formation, and cut off from any sort of bond (felicitous or otherwise) that may claim the name of marriage. But, by golly, it looks a whole lot more comfy and convenient!
If the wedlease becomes standard practice, at least we can say ours was the generation that showed less commitment to a human being than to a used car.