Monday, July 24, 2017

The problem with marriages. . .

The current practice of middle-class American marriage, with its atomized nuclear families, sparse and carefully spaced offspring, and long empty-nesting period before grandchildren arrive, is a recipe for dissatisfaction.  In case you were thinking that this statement was written by someone who is not in favor of marriage or perhaps in favor of an open marriage against a more traditional shape of marriage, you would be wrong.  Those lines we
re written by Alexi Sargeant of First Things and in favor of supplementing marriage with extended and deep friendships and adding to the number of children usually deemed acceptable by modern society (in other words, more than 1 or 2).

Yes, marriage is vast becoming a luxury or a preference either for those who can afford it or those who desire it while the rest of America is content either with singleness that is not so chaste or a more open version of marriage in which the spouse does not have to shoulder the full burden of friendship and love.  But the problem does not lie in marriage become economically inaccessible or socially unattainable.  The problem lies with the shackles that we have placed upon marriage itself.  Marriage has labored under the impossible burden of meeting and choosing a soulmate who fulfills any and all aspects of friendship among its many other responsibilities.  Truly this is a problem.  Friendship is suffering greatly in American culture.  When we can replace real friendship with the social media kind, we should recognize that we are in trouble.  The sad reality is that many among us are genuinely lonely -- whether married or single.  When we deposit the whole burden of our social lives upon our spouse alone or when await the special magic of a soulmate before we enjoy the non-erotic intimacy of friendship, we create a recipe for disappointment.

Add to this the narrowing of the family down to the barest bones of the nuclear family, without the association and support of extended family, and we place marriage on an even more precarious spot.  But if this were not enough, we have reduced children to the one child who may or may not be supplemented with a brother or sister, all because we find children too taxing upon our wallets and our self-interests.  Families were once large entities.  Perhaps it was out of economic need but in any case children once counted their several or more siblings as their primary playmates and friends.  Now it is likely that they encounter more adults than children and preschools and day cares have arisen to fill in the socialization gaps living as a single child.  I wonder if some of this is not displayed in the temper tantrums, rants, and lack of civility displayed on the social media outlets.  We don't know how to do things together (except perhaps at work) and this solitary nature of life has cost us something -- the ability to get along with people we may not like or have much in common with and yet are connected together by blood.  Lets face it, most family reunions today could take place around a single table and would probably be served with fast food so that everyone could get back to doing what they really wanted to do!

Friendship is a crucial part of a flourishing life, but we make friendships harder to form, sustain, or even imagine, when all intimacy is eroticized.  The best benefits of friendship are not enjoyed in the bedroom and the lack of such deep, abiding, and changing patterns of friendship has left us with relationships that are nearly always defined in sexual terms.  I have often opined about the difference between the friends my parents knew throughout their entire lives and the ones I have enjoyed.  Because of our mobility, it is less likely than ever that our childhood friends remain with us throughout our lives.  Yet that does not diminish the need to find friendships where are.  I am not unfriendly with the children of my youth but I now have other friendships to add to those.  And this is from someone who does not believe he has enough friends! 

The problems with marriage are many, to be true, but many of them are created by our own attempts to insulate ourselves and to create an impossible expectation of those whom we wed, coupled with the mistaken idea that the fewer children the better.  In the end, we have more money to spend on ourselves and more time to spend by ourselves but our hearts are emptier and our joys fewer.  Perhaps we are our own worst enemies.


Anonymous said...

If it is wrong to have an open marriage in which the spouse does not have to shoulder the full burden of friendship and love, then why is it also wrong to deposit the whole burden of our social lives upon our spouse alone? Put another way, open marriage may relieve the spouse of responsibility for my happiness but it is also immoral as understood in its common parlance. My expectations of my spouse may be unrealistic but they are tempered with time. All expectations in marriage are tempered over time but husband and wife should not turn to others for significant non-erotic intimacy because, as we all know, Storge and Philia can cross over into Eros. I’m trying to reconcile the point that is made to not encumber your spouse with “suffocating” expectations, on the one hand, and attaining extramarital emotional sustenance, on the other.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I do not understand why so many people today, young couples as well as older ones, have rejected marriage and prefer to just live together? What is wrong with getting married? I have been with my wife for almost 47 years. I never desired to live with a woman outside of Christian marriage. It is immoral. But we live in an era when much of the population believe in moral relativism, a product of our liberal education and a result of changing popular cultural values. We can now use the biblical expression, "the people did what was right in their own eyes."