According to the media, the sanctity of marriage is in flux, and depending on political background, naysayers will either blame economic pressures or the secularization and growing inclusiveness of the institution for declining marriage rates among most parts of American society.
But marriage has always been (and, I don't think it's crazy to suggest) always will be a contentious and incredibly complicated human institution. Because our culture is always growing and changing (mostly for better, I think, and sometimes for worse), so will marriage, which has never had the strict definitions that some groups suggest it did historically.
Andrew McCarthy doesn't tackle most of these ideas in his new memoir, "The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest to Find the Courage to Settle Down," but he does look closely at his own relationship and what marriage means to him. (I would wager that this is a more difficult, and certainly more personal, task). As a previously married, divorced and now-engaged man in his late 40s, he is doing the work he needs to do to make his next nuptials stick. The deep emotional stuff that he examines isn't easy to do, much less write about, and McCarthy does so in the form of a travel memoir, since he books back-to-back trips to in the months prior to his wedding.
Since his movie-star days in the '80s, when he was a part of the "brat pack" (he played large parts in perennial faves "Pretty in Pink," "St. Elmo's Fire," "Weekend at Bernie's" and "Mannequin"), McCarthy has continued acting, but these days he's more known for his award-winning travel writing; he's an editor-at-large for National Geographic Traveler. So McCarthy's prose about the places he visits pre-matrimony are vivid and beautiful as he treks through Costa Rican and Amazonian rain forests, to the peak of Kilamanjaro, and around Patagonia. He writes with the eye of both a seasoned traveler (being away from home and in new places is where he feels most authentically himself) and an accomplished travel writer. As he explains to USA Today, his is "an internal journey played out externally."
As Cheryl Strayed writes in her New York Times Book Review piece on McCarthy's book, "This isn’t a brash, boorish, 'don’t go loving me babe because the road’s my middle name' memoir of masculine bravado. It’s a good book about a good man who’s trying good and hard to figure himself out." Here is a man who is open about his fears, who looks to meet and examine his former alcoholism, the failure of his first marriage and his thus-far inability to emotionally attach to anyone completely — head on. He writes, in an excerpt of the book in the New York Times' Style Magazine, T: "Soon we are supposed to be married. But there is a lingering doubt, easy to deflect and blame on circumstances, or a partner, or on work. It is a doubt that looks for blame anywhere but where it belongs. This quiet nagging is telling me I lack the internal strength required to make this marriage work."
Marriage is, ultimately, not a political thing, but a personal commitment, something that politicians and pollsters would do well to remember, and that upon reading McCarthy's book, the reader won't forget.
Tease photo of McCarthy: John White/INF Photo