I have good news, everyone. Researchers have found a cure for cancer, AIDS and every other life-threatening disease known to man. And they have also developed flying cars and food pills that will sustain the starving children of the world. Not only that, they also solved the economic crisis and global warming.
At least, I’m assuming all of that happened. Otherwise, I’m not really sure why the National Institute on Aging wasted time and money paying two people to research the physical effects divorce has on middle-aged people. Furthermore, I’m not sure why CNN bothered to run the results of said research project on the front page of their website yesterday. Since both of those things happened, I can only assume all of our real problems have been fixed.
So while I wait for conformation on the disease-curing, hunger-beating, economic-stimulating, climate-fixing wonderpill that morphs into a fuel-efficient flying car when dissolved in water, let’s take a look at this “earth-shattering” report that Linda Waite, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, and
Mary Elizabeth Hughes, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (which always has amazing centerfolds).
The duo looked at the marital history and health indicators for over 8,500 middle-aged people and found differences in the overall health of those who stayed married and those who got divorced. According to CNN, their report “found that divorced or widowed people have 20 percent more chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer than married people. They also have 23 percent more mobility limitations, such as trouble climbing stairs or walking a block.” (Mobility problems, cancer and diabetes? It’s a damn good thing they will soon have those magic pills that double as flying cars.)
Waite said that divorcees “have more chronic conditions, more mobility limitations, rate their health as poorer than people like them in age, race, gender, education who’ve been married once and are still married.”
The study found that both men and women who divorce their spouse “suffer irreversible, detrimental effects on their health.” The theory is that married women have more financial security, which reduces their stress levels and gives them access to better healthcare. And married men don’t do all of the dumb things that single guys do – instead they eat better and get regular medical checkups. So single people are also less healthy than married folks, but it’s even worse for divorcees because they have the added stress of the actual divorce proceedings and the traumatic loss of their spouse. Even those who got divorced and later remarried still had worse health than those who remained in their first marriage.
So while these findings are kind of fascinating (in a really depressing way), I’m wondering what we are supposed to do with this information? Are Waite and Hughes suggesting that we force single people to get married (and stay married) so that they live healthier lives? Was this study done so that insurance companies can classify divorce as a preexisting medical condition when deciding whether or not to deny your medical claim? Are these findings supposed to be comforting to people who are trying to stick it out in shitty marriages (sure, your spouse sucks, but at least you don’t have cancer)?
Or maybe Waite and Hughes just really hate divorced people and are trying to rub some salt into their wounds. That would actually be the most logical explanation to me. Because if your marriage just collapsed and you’re feeling down in the dumps about the years of your life wasted and the fact that your storybook romance didn’t quite pan out the way you hoped it would, I’ve got to imagine that logging on to CNN.com and seeing these findings prominently placed on the front page might just be the thing that pushes you over the edge and convinces you to stick your head in the oven to end things once and for all. Sure, suicide seems drastic, but it might be preferable to years spent struggling to climb the stairs to your crappy apartment, where the only things waiting inside for you are a bland TV dinner and your nightly insulin shot.
Sadly, almost 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. It’s really disheartening to know that in addition to the mental anguish that breaking up with a spouse causes, there are also physical complications. It’s so hard to find love and it’s even harder to sustain it. Knowing all of this almost makes me want to stock up on canned goods so that I can live out my remaining days alone in an underground bunker.
But I say hang in there and keep trying to find “the one.” Maybe this report isn’t as bad as it seems. You’ve just got to try to look on the bright side. Sure, you’ve got a 50/50 chance of it all ending in pain and heartbreak, but with any luck, soon after your divorce, your body will be riddled with life-threatening diseases, making your grief short-lived.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.