When we devalue marriage

"Angelina Speaks" might have been the title of the Vogue magazine’s Angelina Joie interview, which hits newsstands with a splash Friday. I previewed a copy of the January piece, "The Bold and the Beautiful," by Jonathan Van Meter, photos by Annie Leibovitz.

For the first time, Jolie spoke openly about her relationship with Brad Pitt, whom she met in 2004 on the set of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," when he was married to Jennifer Aniston. Jolie tells Vogue of their growing friendship and the "joy" they found in working together and that, by the end of the movie shoot, "we just became kind of a pair. And it took until, really, the end of the shoot for us, I think, to realize that it might mean something more than we’d earlier allowed ourselves to believe."

We know the rest of the story — or a lot of it anyway. By January of 2005, Pitt and Aniston were separated, in April Pitt and Jolie were an "item" enjoying the sands of Africa together. Late that year Pitt and Aniston were officially divorced, and Jolie was pregnant with Pitt’s child.

Cut!! Let’s review. This is not about Jolie and Pitt and whatever demons they did — or did not — struggle with, or whether or not they considered how they were impacting others.

This is about how we as a culture have come to value or devalue marriage.

That’s what has struck me most in the ongoing fascination over the Pitt/Jolie/Aniston business. It’s not the players themselves — they aren’t really the issue here. The issue is how we as a culture have responded to them. And. boy!. have we responded! Whatever the actual details of the break-up, by and large there has either been:

a) fawning over the notion that Brad and Angelina are in love, so all is well and everybody ended up where they should be or;

b) the lesser-heard view, that Jennifer Anniston was really better for Pitt and too bad Brad can’t see that.

What I have yet to hear is:

c) Pitt was married to Aniston, so "a" and "b" aren’t relevant and that’s true even if, as Pitt says, Jolie was not a factor in the ending of his marriage.

What a concept.

Now forget these Hollywood players altogether. Just consider what the "players" have revealed about our culture’s view of marriage: marriage has largely become an "as long as I’m happy in the moment" idea. One wonders then, what’s the point of making the promise "to love and to cherish as long as we both shall live?" One can’t promise how one will feel. One can only promise what one will do.

If keeping our spouse relies on his or her always "wanting" us, that’s pretty unnerving! Let’s face it — there are times in all of our lives when we’re not exactly "wantable." Being free to be ourselves, which means even being free to fail, and knowing that our spouse is committed to us anyway, is the glory of a faithful marriage. But when that faithfulness to the marriage (ital) itself (end ital) is lost, everything and anything becomes an excuse to leave.

What a tragedy.

Contrary to what our culture has come to believe, a marriage is, thankfully, about something much bigger than just the two people involved. And a right view of marriage allows us to grow in character and wholeness and humanity as we learn that in marriage we are all given imperfect people to love and care for. The promises we make in marriage vows are especially for the times when that is not easy or, well, fun. For those times when we are not "happy" in the moment.

The famous (anti-Nazi) theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught the truths that "it’s not love that makes the marriage, it’s marriage that makes the love," and even more beautifully, "marriage isn’t about making us happy — it’s about making us holy."

And how incredibly wonderful that by pursuing the latter we so often find the former.

I don’t really know anything about Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston. I don’t much want to. They just aren’t my focus. But I do know there has been a general and overwhelming response to the unfolding of events involving them that speaks to the way in which our culture both misunderstands and devalues the glory of marriage.

Like I said. What a tragedy.

(Betsy Hart is the author of the forthcoming "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting Is Hurting Our Kids — and What to Do About It." E-mail her at letterstohart(at)comcast.net.)