As I was picking up the dental floss picks that my husband leaves on the bathroom floor, I had a thought the other morning: What if marriage had an expiration date?
Is any relationship meant to last forever? I mean, if Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins can't make it work after 23 years and two kids, can any of us?
There was a lot of discussion in 2009 about who should and shouldn't be married. But, gay or straight, the real question for me is whether any of us should be walking down the aisle for infinity and beyond.
Yeah, yeah, I know, what about the kids … But let's consider the body count in the past year alone. Among the high-profile, very diverse unions that publicly dissolved: Karl and Darby Rove, Rosie O'Donnell and Kelly Carpenter, Shaquille and Shaunie O'Neal (for a second time), LeAnn Rimes and Dean Sheremet, Avril Lavigne and Deryck Whibley, Adam Lambert and Drake LaBry, and Jamie Lynn Sigler and Jerry Ferrara.
We pretty much have an expiration date on everything else important in our lives – food, driver licenses, car tags, coupons, bottled water, apartment rentals, car leases, GMAT scores – why shouldn't our relationships be like milk cartons and have a consume-by date before going sour? After all, very few animals mate for life on this planet. (Black vultures are among the few exceptions, but what would you expect from creatures that prey on the dead?)
It's true that one person may not be the best partner for all phases of life. The guy you want in your 20s -- when you're backpacking the world and need someone to hold your hair while you're puking after partying all night -- is probably not the fella you want to help you raise kids in your 30s and 40s, or the bloke you want to re-discover the world with in your empty-nester years, or the gentleman you want to sit by the fire and gum down oatmeal with in your 90s.
The idea isn't original. Three years ago, a flamboyant German politician, as part of her campaign platform, suggested that marriage should last just seven years. In Iran, "temporary" marriages allow people to be married for a fixed period of time, ranging from an hour to a century.
A renew-or-exit plan would give couples a reason to reassess why they want to be together, and it might lead to fewer people taking their spouses for granted. Other than messy finances, the only drawback would be that, for procrastinators like me, the renewal slip would disappear under all the other papers on my desk until the absolute last, nail-biting minute. Then there would be a real dilemma: pay the water and sewer bill or keep my marriage alive?
Disclaimer: The facts and people in this column in no way reflect my beloved, charming, well-flossed husband of 12 years.