Monday, September 23, 2013

Inidividualistic Marriage: The Result of a Self-Centric Culture on Other-Centric Marriage

Rachel Lu in her article “Millennials and Marriage” very well captures the sentiment many young adults have towards marriage.  I, being a “millennial” myself, and having attended a small liberal arts college in Minnesota similar to St. Thomas, where Lu teaches, have felt the same sentiment from my peers.

One experience keeps resonating in my mind where my friend was talking about her roommate who had come to college with the purpose of finding her future husband.  She was severely disappointed after many heart breaks and the reality that most of the guys at our college weren’t even close to looking for a spouse.  She came to our college to find a husband because 20 years or even 10 years prior, most that attended our small college left married or at least with a ring on their finger.  Why have things changed?  Why are we so afraid to get married?

The problem is that no one taught us about marriage; no one in our schools, our parents, or even our Universities all failed to prepare us for one of the most drastic changes that most of us will experience.  Lu discovered this when her students expressed their wishes that they were taught more about marriage.  The truth is 70% of young adults still desire to get married, so it is something important to us and we want to be prepared.  If marriage is still desired by young people why aren’t we getting married?

Lu explains how while marriage is still important to us, it is now a lesser priority.  Marriage is something to accomplish after an education and career are established.  Lu alludes to the marriage problem we have, but doesn’t go into much detail.  We obviously have a problem with marriage, but why?

One thing that contributes is the dissonance between the picture perfect feelings-based romance the media has sold us and reality.  All of us have witnessed the pain of divorce; if not in our own families, in the families of those close to us.  Growing up we saw our parents or friends’ parents fall out of love and break apart their families.  Our friends cried to us and expressed how they felt their parents’ divorce was their fault.  We put our arm around our friend, reassuring them that it wasn’t their fault and wonder, “Is marriage worth the heart ache?”  No wonder why we are so hesitant to make a commitment that is so often broken.  

The problem with society’s view of marriage is that we tend to put ourselves first.  This is becoming even more so as we are shifting from a religious, family-based economy to a secular, individualistic one (Potrykus & Fagan, 2011).  We have always been a country where we value hard work and individual achievement, but it has been falling into the extreme.  

The negative effects of an extreme value system have been experienced throughout history.  In World War II, an extreme value of one’s national identity led to the death of hundreds of thousands who differed.  Our own history has even shown our own weakness as our individual selfish desires for wealth led to the African Slave Trade and the most bloody war in our history.  I’ve spent some time in Uganda where the value of relationship can go too far and turn into a poor work ethic because conversations are more important than work.  All our cultures have their strengths and weaknesses that we need to be aware of.

You’d think we’d be keenly aware of our weakness to make individual wealth a priority after it has caused the pain of many, but sometimes we fail to learn from history.  Our blindness to our cultural weakness is one major piece of the puzzle when trying to grapple with the crumbling state of marriage in the United States. 

Our self-centric weakness is evident in Lu’s article.  The students express that they want to be successful before marriage.  Really what I know many of us feel deep down is, “I can be successful on my own.  I don’t need anyone to take my focus off my career.  A spouse would definitely hinder my ability to be successful.”  And let’s be honest success in the United States equals material wealth.  Why do we put so much value in something that is fleeting?  As Lu points out, careers are not so stable anymore.  We need something that is attainable and purpose filled.  A career can’t promise this, especially in a time when careers are more difficult to secure.  As Lu writes, “The unemployed young, in particular, will end up rootless, purposeless, and lacking the stability that marriage and commitment can provide.”  Our priorities are skewed.  We put something that is fleeting above something that can last, bring purpose to our lives, and has so many benefits.

Doesn’t this point us back to our Creator who created marriage for a purpose?  God created marriage to reflect His covenant with us; a covenant that never breaks and is loving above anything else.  Is love easy?  No, out of love Christ died for us.  Love requires sacrifice and maybe marriages wouldn’t break apart so easily if we’d put the same type of work ethic into our marriages as our careers.  When we are willing to sacrifice our selfish desires for the good of our families something quite miraculous happens; it works.  What is even more astonishing is how sacrificial love draws out the love and respect of others.  God’s design is good and perfect.  Soli Deo Gloria!

This post is in response Rachel Lu’s article entitled, “Millennials and Marriage” in The Public Discourse.  To read the full article click here

To read more about the benefits of marriage please read “Marriage One Foundation”, a paper by North Dakota Family Alliance.


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