The Marriage-Go-Round by Andrew J. Cherlin | Author Interview:I don't want to air dirty laundry here, so I'll limit my comments to: yeah, that sounds pretty much right.
Q: One of the main trends THE MARRIAGE-GO-ROUND discusses is that Americans have more long-term partners than the rest of the western world. Why do you think this is?
A: I think the reason is the nature of American culture, which is unlike the culture of any other country when it comes to marriage and personal life. Americans believe in two contradictory ideals. The first is the importance of marriage: we are more marriage-oriented than most other Western countries. The second is the importance of living a personally fulfilling life that allows us to grow and develop as individuals—call it individualism. Now, you can find other countries that place a high value on marriage, such as Italy where most children are born to married couples and there are fewer cohabiting relationships. And you can find countries that place a high value on individualism, such as Sweden. But only in the United States do you find both. So we marry in large numbers—we have a higher marriage rate than most countries. But we evaluate our marriages according to how personally fulfilling we find them. And if we find them lacking, we are more likely to end them. [...] It’s not as though some Americans value marriage and others value individualism. Rather, we carry both ideals in our heads and switch between them without even realizing it.
On a related matter, we need another word for individualism. I've gotten mired in a dozen or so discussions when one party is using it to mean "putting your own needs first" and the other is using it to mean "relying on yourself for your own needs." This leads us to two apparently contradictory theses, one which sees all the "I'm a beautiful snowflake who bowls alone" behavior and calls it a surplus of individualism, and one which sees all the "I want my private costs socialized with a bailout" behavior and calls it a poverty of individualism, and they're both sort of right.
(Via Jacob Grier)