Kim Kardashian filed for divorce from Kris Humphries, her husband of 72 days, adding her marriage to a long list of “shockingly short celebrity marriages.” Reality TV and marriage are a toxic mix, as the marriage of Jon & Kate Gosselin demonstrated.
Kardashian explained in her public statement that she reached the decision “after careful consideration.”
She “had hoped this marriage was forever, but sometimes things don’t work out as planned,” although they “remain friends and wish each other the best.”
Although the cost of her engagement and wedding ceremony paled in comparison to the royal wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William, the couple spent more than most of their celebrity peers. Kris Humphries had given Kim a $2 million, 20.5 carat engagement ring, and the couple celebrated their wedding with a $10 million bash.
Why all the attention on another celebrity flameout? Perhaps the reaction to Kardashian’s announcement is simple schadenfreude, the enjoyment of others’ misfortunes. Certainly, many people struggling right now might justifiably be envious of such wealth and extravagant expense.
Yet there may be something deeper here, deeper than mere pleasure at seeing successful people stumble.
Trying to understand her choices in life, Kate Bolick in The Atlantic Monthly argued that the bad marriage market for women has provided an opportunity to reorganize romance and family life and pronounced the death of traditional marriage. She and her friends thought they would “save marriage for after we’d finished graduate school and launched our careers, which of course would happen at the magical age of 30.”
Bolick defines a marriageable man as one who is better educated and earns more. She bemoans the lack of marriage-minded men, and yet through the stories of her relationships, she shows herself to be a “non-committer.” She admits that she was searching for both autonomy and intimacy.
Paul Hollander details these conflicting desires in Extravagant Expectations: New Ways to Find Romantic Love in America . Hollander explores “the conflict between illusion and reality, the apparent and the real” in the ways of modern romantic love based on dating-advice books, printed personal ads, and Match.com profiles.
Romantic relationships, Hollander argues, promise a powerful double-whammy: “the dramatic alleviation of loneliness while gratifying the individualistic desire for self-fulfillment.”
Yet romance did not drive traditional marriage, according to Hollander. Instead, culture, family, community, financial status, children, and property propelled the marriage paradigm.
In today’s culture, with so much freedom of selection and the “abundance of potential partners,” Hollander observes that: “people are tempted to look for marginal advantages.” Once they have made a choice, they never know “for sure if those selected are the optimal choice in what appears to be an endless supply of prospects.”
Our reality TV and celebrity culture create extravagant expectations and romantic illusions. They can set us up for failure at marriage. How many men can present a woman with a $2 million engagement ring? How many women can compete with Kim Kardashian’s finest assets?
Researchers at Brigham Young University and William Paterson University recently found that “materialism had a negative association with marital quality, even when spouses were unified in their materialistic values.”
Where is love in all of these calculations? “Love as distinct from ‘being in love’ is not merely a feeling,” C.S. Lewis argued. “It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God.”
This “quieter love,” Lewis said, is what runs the engine of marriage, and “being in love was the explosion that started it.”
So many of us keep chasing the excitement of that explosion, time and time again. But our mates cannot possibly live up to our extravagant expectations.
“I believe that much of the dissatisfaction we experience in marriage comes from expecting too much from it,” Gary Thomas argues in Sacred Marriage. Christian marriage is a call to holiness, more than happiness, Thomas says.
Catholics believe that marriage is one of the seven sacraments, or an outward sign instituted by Christ that confers grace. The church teaches that Christ must give Christian spouses the strength “to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love.”
The reaction to Kim Kardashian’s recent split from Kris Humphries deserves our cheers, not our jeers. The fact that such a breakup raises eyebrows despite our culture’s generally complacent response to divorce is a good sign. Kardashian’s fast-forward relationship life cycle exhibits the happiness model of marriage rather than the holiness model.
“Sometimes things don’t work out as planned” is her quick reaction to a mere 72 days of marriage. Of course they do not, and her split reminds us that the planning of a wedding is not the same as the planning of a life together.