Ross Douthat, over at the NY Times has an interesting article on the state of marriage in the modern American cultural context. I have seen this before, in other places, and I've been thinking about it for a while. It may strike some people as odd that today's college educated adults are increasingly conservative about marriage (not "gay-marriage" mind you, but the, you know, normal kind). It seems that today's college grads are more serious about marriage, think divorce should be harder to obtain, and generally believe that marriage is the bed rock of American political society and tend to favor a more traditional approach.
So, in all of these studies the burning question is "Why the shift?"
In my opinion, this one is something of a no-brainer, but it still requires some thought, some reflection, some judgment. We are the generation of adults whose parents have put us through separations, divorces, re-marriages, visitation weekends, arguments over visits, emotional manipulations aimed at forcing us to choose between parents, bystanders to verbal attacks on the other parent, lies, heart-break, abandonment issues, loneliness, lack of direction, and fear about marriage itself. Is it any wonder that when we do get married we want to try to avoid these things?
Recently I was going through my Facebook and looking at the lives of my former classmates from high school. It's not something I do very often, since, quite honestly, I don't really talk to anyone from high school much (this is partly regrettable with respect to my real friends from high school) and so it's of very little relevance to me what they're up to. However, I had been thinking about the marriage question from another article I read and decided to do a little anecdotal research. What did I find?
It's quite odd really. My "Facebook friends" from high school are overwhelmingly not married (this writer included). Many have kids, many have been married (usually briefly and right after high school), but it's probably less than 20% those who are married right now. It could be the nature of the Facebook beast (I mean, it's conceivable that they're all on Facebook trying to re-connect with people in order to get married, right?) which skews this statistic, but the same isn't true of my friends from college. Mind you, I have many more college Facebook friends than high school friends, but still, from college it's something like 60%. At least among my sample, those who went to college with me (a top 20 university) are three times more likely to be in a "stable" marriage. We're all the same age, but many of the people I'm connected with from high school are not college grads, or at least, didn't take the traditional 4-year approach (is that even traditional anymore?).
What does all of this tell me? Nothing really concrete . . .
What is marriage after all? Marriage was once ideally understood as a covenant between a man and woman and God. It was a means of living the Christian life with a partner, one with whom you could dedicate your life in pursuit of each other's Destiny. Sure, few managed to live the ideal well, but none the less, people generally agreed that this whole partnership had something to do with Eternity. As our vision has grown more near-sited (in the temporal sense), the vision of marriage has grown more short-sighted as well. There's more to it then begetting and companionship, but few could, I think, articulate what the "more" really is.
We Need Witnesses
As we go forward in this mired and confusing age, what young people need more than anything are witnesses. We're sort of demanding that the "law" be our strength (hence the general mood that divorce should be harder to obtain). Unfortunately, the law has never been able to "stem the tide" of the culture.
So what has? Witnesses. We need men and women who are living marriage well to be willing to share the mysterious and provocative sign of their unity with us. We need married couples who desire to be a little less bourgeois, and a little more missionary. It's advent, and so we're waiting. Waiting on witnesses.