By Lee Downen
Christine Freeman wrote last week, “Nearly a quarter of us [millennials] will still be living the single life by 2030,” suggesting that we see marriage differently than our parents and grandparents.
Many of us probably do. We have seen our parents go through messy divorces, women advance in male-dominated fields, and more people accept cohabitation, all leading some to conclude that “marriage [is] obsolete.”
The American Psychological Association reports that the current divorce rate is around 40 percent, which is in part due to broad cultural forces in America, the decline of Christendom, the feminist movement of the 1960s (as noted by the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers), and the redefinition of marriage, among others.
So we might be “a progressive bunch,” but what are we progressing toward? We might have “eschewed the constraints of tradition for the freedom of following our dreams,” but what if we get to Oz, only to realize that behind the curtain our dreams aren’t all that we thought they were?
Lady Gaga says that “a career will never wake up and tell you it doesn’t love you anymore,” but it also will never wake up and tell you it does love you, making it a shaky foundation to build one’s happiness upon—as if happiness were the highest aim of life.
Qoheleth writes, “I considered all that my hands had done…and behold, all was vanity and a striving after the wind.” Few say at the end of their lives, “I wish that I would’ve worked more.”
I’m suspicious of—or at least hesitant to join—twenty-year old progressives who claim to have found a better way of structuring society than those of the past few millennia, urging us to jettison traditional notions of marriage for arbitrary ones of progress. An idea isn’t better simply because it’s newer.
What if marriage doesn’t constrain joy, but rather compounds it?
Consider the oft-repeated marriage vow—the vow of covenant, not of contract, of “for better or for worse.” There exists in it the potential for deep, abiding intimacy.
Cohabitation and marriage might look functionally similar, but there’s something qualitatively different about saying, “I’m here while the passion is here,” and, “I’m here for life, regardless of the ebb and flow of my feelings.”
When a marriage rests upon an objective promise rather than subjective feelings, a husband and wife are able to grow in oneness. They work through the hard, painful times because they both know that walking away isn’t an option.
Paradoxically, there is often freedom in constraint. When marriage, as in the rest of life, isn’t about our inner experiences, but rather about something outside of us; there’s freedom.
And love, too. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down one’s life for another.”
I hope one day to lay down my life, mutually submitting to a wife and counting it all joy.
I hope to say, “I do.”