For Oklahoma college seniors, marriage proposals seem to spread like a virus, and this spring a frightening number of them have caught the bug. Girls “ooh” and “ahh” at their friends’ new diamond rings, telling them how happy they are for them as they secretly want to rip the ring off their finger and make off with the rock themselves. There seems to be some unwritten rule that if you haven’t found your future spouse by the end of your college career, you are doomed to spend the rest of your life with nine cats.
This unhealthy mentality may be driving some grave consequences upon our state. Blaine Harden of The New York Times tells the heartrending story of a preacher’s daughter from Tulsa named Cathryn Hinderliter, raised to believe that God, her parents, and the State of Oklahoma wanted her married. Subsequently, she didn’t have to think twice about her response when the first man asked for her hand. “I had this vision that this is just what people do: Get married, have kids and Christ comes back,” she said. Unfortunately the marriage ended five years later when she ran off to California to have an affair, leaving a wounded husband and one child in the wreckage. Cathryn’s story, along with the stories of so many others, contributes to Oklahoma’s place in the top five ranked states of residence for divorce. In 2001, for every 100 marriage licenses issued in 2001, the state granted 76 divorce petitions, and the numbers haven’t changed much since. Moreover, a 2001 statewide survey revealed that 39% of Oklahoma adults, who have ever been married, have also been divorced.
The increasingly popular use for divorce as quick-fix for relationships that have gone sour is not just a social problem, and it is more than an embarrassment to our state. The high divorce rates in Oklahoma have demonstrated daunting implications for our economy. A joint study by the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University found that several social indicators, including divorce, were a large part of the cause of state-wide poverty. Dr. Steve Nock, a family demographer and professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, reports that for every three divorces, one family ends up below the poverty line. He further explains that the average woman with dependent children who goes into poverty remains there for eight months. While the federal government pays for some of these families’ needs, the state is responsible for tying up all the loose ends.
Both the pressures to marry young and the alleged ease of getting out of a marriage if it fails act to sway naïve couples into seeking a marriage, in hopes that they will find their flawless fairytale ending. Is there any way to reverse this tragic social trend? The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative is one organization that aims to provide Oklahomans with access to marriage education services as one aspect of a comprehensive prevention strategy, but perhaps there needs to be more focus on such educational programs. People need to understand that marriage requires a good deal of work and communication skills. A growth in organizations like OMI could give Oklahomans the tools necessary to combat the negative situations that lead to divorce. Without awareness, however, the divorce crisis will progress, and the state’s welfare will undoubtedly take the fall in the end.