Laura Ingalls Wilder Didn't Get Divorced

The other day my sister Amy said, “If you’re still together in the pandemic, you’re doing great.” Our relationship standards are lower for sure. Hot sex? Probably not. The pandemic isn’t hot. Date night? If you can find the energy to get out of your sweats, maybe. Couples are just getting through this thing. Hopefully, people are also being a little bit more generous and kind with each other knowing that we’re in this for the long haul. But honestly, if couples are still civil with one another, that’s an accomplishment.

Thinking about how couples are fairing these days made me think about pioneer times. I have a small obsession with the pioneers. I love Willa Cather and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I watched Little House on the Prairie religiously. I thought Ma and Pa were the perfect parents and I felt that Laura was a true kindred spirit (it helped that we had the same name.) Life was hard then, but simple. Once the land was settled, they needed to build a temporary structure and barn for the horses to get through the first long winter. When the weather warmed enough, work began to build a real house that everyone could live in. Then it was time to clear the fields for planting.

Building a permanent barn and fencing for the crops would have to wait until the following spring. Things moved slowly because each little settling family was on their own. They had to make do with what they had. Families were stuck together in pioneer times. Their survival depended on it. Ma and Pa were always loving and supportive of each other, and Mary, Laura, and Carrie helped out as much as they could.

In some ways, we’re like pioneers these days, except we have a lot of technology and creature comforts. We’re little isolated units surviving on our own. We have to depend on the people in our homestead, just like in Little House on the Prairie. Back then, if Ma was tired of Pa complaining about her cooking she’d never ask for a divorce. Where would she go?

According to one study, divorce rates during the pandemic have actually gone down 34%. Our economy is in the toilet and many people, especially women, have lost their jobs. Looking for a new place to live, much less afford one, when there is a lockdown, is next to impossible. Getting a divorce right now simply isn’t realistic from a practical standpoint. But I wonder if there’s something else happening.

I know a lot of couples who are climbing the walls, some even contemplating divorce, but because splitting up is not easy right now people are trying everything else first. Times were really hard for Laura Ingalls when she first married Almanzo Wilder. They moved around the midwest — South Dakota, Wisconsin, Missouri. Almanzo got diphtheria and became partially paralyzed. They lost a son and both their barn and house burned down. They struggled with issues we cannot imagine in our comfortable, modernized lives.