Monday, March 8, 2010

Waiting to marry

In this day when the sanctity of marriage is debated, in many cases attacked, and in other instances considered an option, Mark Regnerus speaks to why some are waiting to get married?

Audio Friday Five: Marriage Analyst Mark Regnerus

by Nima Reza, managing editor

Mark Regnerus is associate professor of sociology and religious studies in the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, where he lives with his wife, Deeann, and their three child

The interview

1. Why are people not getting married earlier these days?

A fair number of people seem to be entering marriage-like relationships, and wanted to be married. I would ask them, So, why aren’t you married? They have responded, with some bewilderment, how could I possibly propose such a crazy idea at this point in their young lives?

These are young adults typically between 19 and 21. I just came to the conclusion that these people are ready, mature enough. They seem to be in love. Why the wait?

Some of them told me, too, that getting married before they had finished college, or before they had had a few years under their belt outside of college, was morally questionable. They didn’t want to settle so early and wanted to see what else was out there.

I felt that I needed to push back a little on the norm that you just have to have all this experience, and first loves can’t last. Some of this came as I reflected on my own marriage. My wife and I met when we were 18. We married when we were 22. If we can make it starting that young, then other people can make it, too.

2. What can parents do to prepare their children for marriage?

That starts at a young age when you try to model a good marriage – not that couples never have fights, but instead, show children how to solve conflicts. You train kids for marriage by embodying good marital habits and practices – things you do to maintain a good marriage. It’s not some exceptional formula people need to figure out.

Some of it is just common sense. However, we don’t teach them about marriage very well. We don’t say, This is going to be an important part of your life some day.’

Also, a lot of parents punt on sex and instructing men and women on what sex is about, the emotions involved and the physical mechanics of it. You don’t get married, get in bed together and then just all of a sudden talk about sex.

3. What would you want our listeners and readers to know about your new book?

The book is intended to be a definitive map of the land of premarital sex among young adults. So, some Christians will say, Why did you write a book on premarital sex? Well, because it needed to be written and we need to know what’s going on.

So, one of the gifts I think I have is telling the story of what’s going on out there – whether it’s teenagers or young adults. I want to tell stories that are reliable and true and accurate. I’m not an ethicist. I’m not here to tell you how things always ought to be. There are plenty of people who are happy to step in and give color commentary. I’m going to give them the data and the statistics with which to work and to tell them what the terrain of life is for 18-to-23-year-olds. I’m hoping it will provoke thought. I’m hoping it will provoke a lot of conversations.

4. So, what is the terrain like out there for 18-to-23-year-olds?

It’s challenging for the conduct of relationships – chaste and unchaste. Relationships face an uphill battle. They tend not to last long. They tend to become sexual fairly promptly; within three to six months on average. Even evangelical relationships, four out of five, tend to involve some sort of sexual component.

The story may not be what we would want it to be, but sex is probably more quickly a component of relationships than it used to be – certainly in the social expectations. I talk a bit about why that is and about the nature of what has changed between men and women. I talk about the economics of relationships; about shifting sources of power within relationships and why women have trouble pulling off relationships the way they would like them to go.

The book is empathetic both to men and to women’s hopes, and yet, they’re misfiring. The relationships that are happening, on average, are not making people happy, fulfilled, more mature and moving them forward into adulthood. There’s a lot of pain, a lot of dashed hopes.

5. What can the church do to encourage a marriage culture in the congregation?

It used to be that sex and marriage were linked mentally in the church’s mind. We’ve almost decoupled them. We’ve said, ‘Don’t have sex! Stay tuned for the lesson on marriage. It’ll come in a few years.’

We’ve tacked on all sorts of expectations for people prior to marriage. Marriage is something that you do after you’ve had your fun, experienced your life, your education; that you can’t really do these things together. That’s an idea from hell in some ways. Where did this idea come from that marriage is something you settle down for after life is done? That resonates more with men than women in general, which is why women still marry younger than men. It sends a bad message about marriage. Do we really want to send that message?

I recognize churches – in a fairly divorcing culture – are reticent to give a strong message on marriage to 20-somethings. Sometimes, premarital counseling amounts to the pastor deciding in his head whether this marriage is going to last or not. That’s a problem. So, I think in a culture that doesn’t expect a lot out of people, and yet expects a ton from marriage in terms of satisfaction, we’ve got things reversed. We should expect a lot of people to keep a marriage covenant and lower our expectations a little bit about the pleasure and satisfactions that marriage is supposed to give us.

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