Karen Swallow Prior has a terrific article posted at The Atlantic titled “The Case for Getting Married Young.” She cites statistics that singles report less satisfaction with their lives than married people. Obviously, this doesn’t square with the silly notion of married people being “tied down” while singles pursue the good life, unencumbered by the deepest of long-term commitments.
Insofar as that notion is true, singles pursue pleasure, not to be confused with happiness. It is, in fact, the long-term commitments that increase our quality of life. This is Charles Murray’s thrust in Coming Apart and his other works: The things worth living for, the “stuff of life”—faith, family, vocation, and community—require we sacrifice our nervous pleasure-seeking and submit ourselves to higher, greater goods.
Singles say they’re not “ready” for marriage, which means they haven’t met someone with whom marriage unlocks benefits that today are too freely granted in casual relationships. If everyone waited until they were “ready” to be married, no one would be married. Marriage, more than most things, requires faith, a promise to stick through the rough patches, however interminably they stretch. Life is a struggle, and those who live full lives struggle more than they let on and more than we suspect.
Prior quotes a study released by Knot Yet:
Young adults are taking longer to finish their education and stabilize their work lives. Culturally, young adults have increasingly come to see marriage as a “capstone” rather than a “cornerstone”—that is, something they do after they have all their other ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for launching into adulthood and parenthood.
I don’t understand. Do people really think, once they have themselves figured out, that marriage will come easy? Or that their circumstances won’t change? Or that everything about them won’t change?
Collin Garbarino reacts to Prior’s article at First Things:
Most importantly Prior and her husband became adults in the context of marriage, instead of coming into the marriage as fully formed individuals. Prior sees this as a distinct advantage of the marrying-young model. Marriage becomes more than just the sum of two parts. Marriage becomes a transformative institution that benefits the spouses, their children, and society as a whole.
Growing up within marriage seems to me the natural and best course. I haven’t dated since I started going to church. (That’s not the church’s fault. I just don’t date much.) I wonder how a woman I’m seeing would react if I told her I was undergoing a personal transformation through the saving grace of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Would she take it as a sign of instability and scare off? Her reaction would depend on her own faith, and on whether she’s looking for someone to grow with, or someone to settle with. It is a subtle distinction captured by the cornerstone/capstone analogy Knot Yet used.
To me, “settling” means one has exhausted other means of striving for happiness, namely pursuit of selfish, fleeting gratification. Then, what begins as a negative affirmation of marriage (e.g., Nothing else has worked for me) grows into a positive affirmation (e.g., I am certain I must do this) as the truth of life settles deeper. What is seen initially as the end of a long struggle transforms in the mind to a new beginning, a rebirth.
I see my deepening relationship to God as courtship before marriage, the covenant God made with me. I’m convinced this will prepare me for the selfless devotion to wife that marriage calls for.
R. R. Reno concurs:
Our sexual difference gives rise to the complementarity that uniquely suits us to reproduce. Together we’re capable of the miracle of new life. The same holds for the relational bond between a man and woman. The intensity of our sexual desires, which are mixed with strong impulses toward emotional union, bind us together, and this in spite of the deep, permanent, and often disturbing emotional differences between men and women. In that sense there’s something miraculous about the bond of marriage. Men and women are not suited for companionship—and yet in marriage they become “one flesh.”
It’s these miraculous qualities of marriage that lead St. Paul to draw an analogy between marriage and our salvation in Christ: “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” Just as men and women are separated by a chasm of differences, all the more so is the eternally begotten Son of God from finite creatures, to say nothing of creatures fallen into sin. The coming of the Righteous Judge into our sinful world? What could be more unfruitful, for the natural assumption to make is that the Judge will condemn and destroy. The Crucified Savior? Haven’t we rejected and denied him, making union with him impossible?
But it is not so. Just as the mystery of marital union overcomes the male/female difference, so does the mystery of Christ’s love of his Church overcome the difference between God and creature. The Righteous Judge is judged in our place. As we die in his death by way of baptism, we participate in his resurrection, the fullness of life toward which the natural fertility of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman points. And though we may stumble again and again, though we may deny him, opening up a chasm infinitely greater than the differences between men and women, Christ’s love is strong enough to secure our union with him. Though we may be unable to cleave to him, he cleaves to us.