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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Marriage-mindedness

I put up a post yesterday on marriage and contemporary young people at my personal blog. Feel free to comment in either venue.

Comments (28)

Very balanced treatment, Lydia. Thanks.

Just a few additional ideas: If a person is actually intent on marrying, it seems to me that they should be treating that vocation as - at least in SOME sense - their primary mission for this time of their life. That is to say, (1) they should be taking steps about it, being proactive, not sitting back and letting it happen. This implies:

If you have any spiritual impediments, such as habits of sin, you should be working on them actively, not just hoping they go away. For example, although marriage is a boon to regulating and thus getting better control of the sexual appetites, it won't make you chaste all by itself. You have to actively be seeking the virtues, and if you have bad habits now, you have to actively be seeking to rid yourself of them. This includes both sacrifices and positive remedies.

If you have financial impediments, (no job, huge debt), you need to take stock and consider whether your current activities plausibly will EVER get you to the point of being free of these impediments. If not, CHANGE. Look for different work, some training, education, apprenticeship, a rich uncle who needs assistants, whatever it takes. For a man, you can't marry if you have no prospect of supporting a family. If you aren't trying to change your financial state, you aren't trying to get married (this also goes for all the rest here of the points here).

Seek out honest advice about your personality failings. From siblings, and friends...not so much parents. Ask for constructive criticism, and take it to heart. You can actually change defects in your personality, with effort and time, at least some of them. And, you don't need to have completely changed to become more attractive: WORKING on the change (for real), is itself an attractor.

This also goes for looks and physique. If you are a small man, make sure you are not also weak: work out, take martial arts, and become able to be physically self-confident. Self-confidence is a huge attractor. Good hygiene, clothes, grooming, and household habits also go a long way to overcoming whatever other defects remain that you can't change. And if you really are, underneath the changeable stuff, truly homely, learn how to make fun of that so that other people laugh with you while you laugh at yourself. (Look up Cyrano and "When it bleeds, the Red Sea!") The history of the world includes lots of truly ugly people getting married, because they had other assets, including an attractive way of dealing with that ugliness. (Admittedly, for girls this is harder than for guys). Self-confidence also comes to guys who are financially solid, who know they can afford to spend money on dates and (off in the future) can afford a family. This is pretty important to a lot of women seeking not just a date for Saturday night but a potential spouse.

Pray to meet the right person. Pray to learn to appreciate the right person. Pray to meet up to HER (or his) expectations. Pray that God works in your interactions to make His intention for both of you clear. Don't leave it to natural forces, get God involved. Not to put too much emphasis on this, but you can "lean" on God by pointing out that if it's HIS will for you to be married, HE better do His part about making it happen. (God works in everyone's lives differently, but He definitely works in some people's lives by responding to this sort of prayer.)

Learn about what kind of person WOULD be the right kind of person for you, and then learn to seek out that sort. This includes seeking out spiritually decent persons, but is more than that. For example, if you are unusually risk-averse, don't seek out the James Deans of the world, look for staid workers. If you are very well educated, you can't look for a mate in construction workers, you are not likely to be satisfied with that. If you are extremely assertive, take more note of a person who can stand up to your force and resist being steamrolled, rather than a mousy sort. (And be prepared for fireworks - but that's just how some marriages work.) Stop spending all your time and effort on clearly inappropriate sorts who could never be a mate for you. Listen carefully to your long-term friends, not so much when they try to set you up with X, but for WHY they thought that would be a good idea. And definitely pay attention to them when they tell you to avoid Z because he is bad medicine; they are usually right.

(2) At the same time as all this: remain open to the possibility that God is calling you, specifically, toward celibacy of one form or another. But this means praying about it, and intentional discernment, not just letting what happens, happen. Listen with your inner ears as well as the circumstances God places you in.

(3) When you locate a plausible prospect or two, you have to actually WORK at seeing if one of these is the person God intends for you. Again, it's not just chance. This goes somewhat more for the male who is the hunter than for the female, but it's hardly all on one side: you have to be at least prepared to put yourself out of your usual routine (which, at the moment, is a "single person routine") and do something more. Thinking up things to say and do and offer with this new person is part of following your vocation, not an "optional extra". Being on your best foot forward with them is part of it, but only part. Being personally observant to learn what they like, how they respond to various things, how they think, these are all pursuing your vocation - that's just the base-line interpersonal skill-set needed for real friendship anyway, bring it to bear. That is to say: Look to form friendships as well as looking for a spouse: the part of the vocation of marriage that precedes actual marriage isn't supposed to be strewn with one after another after another of terrible heartbreaks and wrecked relationships. If that's what your past romantic life looks like, you've been making some mistakes.

The point of all this is not to treat marriage as an IDOL, but as a _vocation_. Which is, when you think about it properly, more important than your profession. We don't call it "idolizing your profession" if you spend 4 years as an undergraduate and 5 years getting a PhD or MD tag, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, we call it proper and reasonable investment in your future. Well, at least that much effort should go into pursuing your vocation, which is much more central to God's will for you than your profession. If you think that God intends for you to marry, then doing all that stuff I mentioned above is just carrying out what God is expecting of you, no more and no less, and doing THAT cannot possibly be making an idol out of anything. For example: in the long run God intends for you to overcome ALL of your vices and moral faults, not just the ones that make it difficult for you to attract a good spouse. But you have to prioritize: you don't address ALL of them all at once. All other things being equal, you can absolutely elect to prioritize the ones that make you less attractive to others first off, and put some others lower on the list. This is no different, prudentially speaking, than putting your college education first before some other goods to pursue; there is a time for each thing. Being the right person for your future spouse to get interested in and then get to love is a leading priority. Follow God by pursuing your vocation for His sake, not just for your own.

I think that when it is pursued this way (for God’s sake primarily, and secondarily for the satisfaction of your perfectly wholesome and natural desires for spouse and family), this automatically insulates you from some of the heartache of having years of “nobody wants me” and “everyone has that ‘someone special’ but me”. Not all of it, not by any means. But the bitterness of it, I think, drains out to some extent as you go about doing things, and making things, the way God wants you to: making yourself a better potential spouse will , all by itself, make you a better person than you used to be, and THAT will make you happier in some senses if not all. As for the “doing things”: one of the ways of building yourself a portfolio that is a testament to your being worth dating and maybe marrying is getting involved in one or two things that are worthwhile in themselves and pursuing them with a view to the long term. Become a volunteer at a charity that strikes your heart. Start a study club (or just pitch in seriously to one that exists). Take up some sort of hobby or avocation that actually MATTERS in the real world – even just an art form that you like. If, after 2 or 4 or 8 years of seeking a spouse, you still haven’t found him or her, what you have been doing otherwise will be a real accomplishment, worthy of respect and honor and making you satisfied with your time as “well spent”. This too drains out some of the sadness of being “left behind” while all your friends seem to go off into marriage (it is rarely ALL of them, but it can seem that way). And, on the purely human plane, it also builds up new friendships and connections with others that will – at least to some extent – replace what is missing in your friendships with the pals that have gotten married and no longer have as much time for you. This is nothing to sneeze at, even it is only a distant second choice to actually finding your own spouse.

Tony, this comment rocks. Great advice.

It's so important that single people be willing to talk and think in that way, with that sort of intentionality.

I think another thing is taking a positive and natural approach to treating marriage as a telos or expected outcome. For example, a man or woman who isn't currently dating can have the confidence to say, cheerfully, "I'd like to read that book someday to my children."

Having daughters, I've debated in the past on what to tell a young lady who is currently in a job or pursuing training for a career about what she should or should not say. The dilemma is how to make it known that you are not a "career woman" (if you aren't) while not sounding "weird." But after consulting with a number of friends, I have in the end decided that if such a young lady is asked outright, "What would you like to do after you get your degree?" or words to that effect, even if by a young man (or especially?) she should very seriously consider saying outright, "Well, ultimately I'd like to get married and have a family, but if that doesn't happen, then ______." If that is the truth, of course. But not to be shy about coming out and saying it.


Seek out honest advice about your personality failings. From siblings, and friends...not so much parents.

Is this because you think parents will be too nice or too mean? :-)

I'm pretty brutal as a parent, myself.

Is this because you think parents will be too nice or too mean? :-)

I suspect many parents will be unable to have the objectivity to identify correctly what a child needs to work on, and even if they do, I am not confident that most kids will be able to take the advice from a parent. The relationship of parent-to-child runs on so many levels of emotion and historical back-log that it may be unrealistic to think that a child will emotionally be open to this sort of critical analysis from a parent. Especially if a child is only used to the parent being a cheerleader for them, i.e. an uncritical supporter. And, ultimately, for some kids that may be a more important role anyway - to have one person in the world (until they find a spouse) who mainly just sees the good side of him or her.

But hey, if a parent and a child have a really well-developed relationship where the parent can reach for some objectivity and can be constructively critical without doing emotional damage to the kid, then great, they can probably give advice and have it do some good. It's not at all impossible; but it may well be that you have that kind of relationship with one kid and not another.

My students sometimes speak with me about this issue. One thing that disturbs me is when I ask a young lady what she *really* wants to do with her life and she drops her eyes, lowers her voice to barely a whisper, as though confessing some shameful secret, and finally says, "I really just want to be a wife and a mother." At which point I say, "Fantastic! You should shout it from the rooftops! You have exactly the most wonderful desire any woman can have!" It grieves me that our culture, including many in the church, has made this most natural desire seem petty and unworthy. Even some of my colleagues will comment that a woman who gets married right out of college and doesn't go on to grad school or med school or a career-type job is "wasting her education." Which she's not -- education can give us many, many advantages as wives and mothers. And so many of my teacher ed students say that they are "called" to teach and therefore either don't want to marry soon or plan to (and then do) put their future children into day care from a few months old -- I try to get them to see that it just might be satisfying to teach their *own* children before teaching *other people's* children . . . They can always do that later on when their own are older. But to stay home and teach their own is somehow unworthy of respect. (The greatest sorrow of my own life has been having this opportunity taken from me.)

For those who come to me feeling anxious about finding a good man or good woman, I have found a way to startle them into the kind of thinking Tony mentions above, working on your own character. I ask them to describe their ideal spouse, which they are able to do in great detail as to all of the perfect attributes he or she will have. Then I just say, "So are you the kind of person your ideal spouse would *want* to marry?" Usually this genuinely shocks them, as they've never thought of it that way, and it gives me the opportunity to suggest that they now make a new list -- what *they* need to become to attract the kind of person they want to marry -- and to focus on developing their own character instead of hunting for the perfect other. And of course we talk about how they will never find that perfect other, but only another sinner like themselves -- so they need to learn how to look for someone who is growing instead of already "there", and how they can develop that kind of discernment.

I have been encouraged at seeing many of our grads marrying pretty soon after college and having multiple children right away, and demonstrating their love of family life publicly. Many of the young women have chosen to be stay-at-home moms for the time being as well, some with from-home work they do and some not. So they are good "advertisements" for early marriage, having children, and loving this very natural order of things.

The good thing about both your advice and Tony's, Beth, is that working on one's own character and even sprucing up one's own physical appearance and fitness are profitable activities in themselves and never "wasted" regardless of whether they have the desired effect in the world of romance and marriage.

One thing I puzzle about sometimes is how to help young people with the issue of unrealistic physical appearance expectations. There is a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, it's not as though a young person can *force* himself (or herself--I add these extra pronouns in this context only to make it explicit that I am looking at both the male and female side of these issues) to find another person attractive. Nor is it *illegitimate* to desire some sort of attraction or "spark" between two people as part of godly romance. On the other hand, I do think that some young people (and, rightly or wrongly, I'm inclined to attribute this attitude even more to young men) are looking for any person they are interested in *at all* as a possible spouse to be *extraordinarily* good-looking, which is deemed merely adequate according to television and film-informed contemporary cultural norms. This seems to me to be a bad idea. After all, not everybody can be above average in the looks department! Moreover, there are all sorts of different ways of being pretty (if a woman) or handsome (if a man). There seems, if I'm not mistaken, to be a kind of rigidity about looks and a difficulty seeing attractiveness in the opposite sex. But I don't know how to get past that. After all, people have the tastes that they have. I once read quite a good blog post on this advising young men to stop watching television! Not pornography but just television. The author stated that their idea of physical beauty was being warped and made artificial by women who always looked exceptionally beautiful and who didn't look like what a real woman looked like. The author also talked about the way that loving a *person* changes your perception, so that appearance is not separated out as a completely different category from overall attractiveness. (This seems to me to be good advice to women as well.)

I suppose the best that I can do is to say this: If someone who claims that he wants to get married finds himself saying what I mention in the post, that all the godly people he meets are "unattractive" and all the attractive people he meets are "not godly" (or the same mutatis mutandis for a woman), there should probably be a certain amount of soul-searching going on as to what notion of "attractiveness" is in play here and whether it is physically unrealistic and overly rigid. And then, at a minimum, if self-honesty requires admitting that something like that is going on, pray for a change in that department. And start thinking more about *romance* and the intersection of personality and interpersonal compatibility with appearance and less about bare appearance. Perhaps that will help.

I add these extra pronouns in this context only to make it explicit that I am looking at both the male and female side of these issues

No question: men are more driven by looks than women. Part of this is probably driven by pure biology (hormones, etc), but whether it is or not, it's there. It is on a sort of parallel or analogy to women who seek for "good providers" or for "strong leader types".

after all, not everybody can be above average in the looks department!

Except in Lake Woebegon! :-)

I once read quite a good blog post on this advising young men to stop watching television! Not pornography but just television. The author stated that their idea of physical beauty was being warped and made artificial by women who always looked exceptionally beautiful and who didn't look like what a real woman looked like.

Heh, that was going to be MY first suggestion. Stop having your sensibilities being strained through a filter where the vast majority of people are "the beautify people". That's not real life. If you only watch a smattering of TV, it is easier to take normal people as normal. And to see the vast range of people between the extremes as acceptable: if 95% of the people you see on TV would rate from 8 to 10 on some cultural beauty scale, and you spend 50% of your time watching TV, then your consciousness of where the NORM of beauty lands will be up around 8, instead of 5 or 6. You won't see normal people at 6 as normal, you will see them as far below acceptable. You will see a person with just-barely sub-par looks of 4 as some kind of freak.

But there is another antidote as well (as you implied): seek out people to become _friends_ with, both male and female, and then reflect back on what a year or 2 of friendship does to your perception of their looks. Probably, for most people, you will perceive them as at least OK, and for many it will be just fine - their looks would cease to be a barrier to romantic interest. Then try to internalize that realization by consciously looking past outward physical beauty more of the time. Try consciously to look at by people by saying "what does God see in them" or even "what do their friends see in them, do their friends consider this person ugly?". Even though you won't get past looks entirely, you will quell the worst of the bad lens-filtering.

If someone who claims that he wants to get married finds himself saying what I mention in the post, that all the godly people he meets are "unattractive" and all the attractive people he meets are "not godly"

One of the first times I realized that my parents had managed to do something fundamentally RIGHT with helping me form my perceptions of reality was when I went from a solidly and intensely Christian college campus (undergrad) to a run-of-the mill university campus (for grad school) - and I felt that the girls at the second school didn't do well in the comparison. It wasn't that they were physically all that different (not in photographs), it was that they TO ME, they came off as unattractive (more often) than the girls at my first campus. I am sure that a large part of it had to the external effects of their interior orientations to (or not to) God and wholesomely right things. A girl who is (at least largely) chaste and finds that a satisfying way of being for her station in life, who lets that chastity exude her self-consciousness of her own worth to God and others, has a real advantage in attractiveness. She may not feel a need to have on a pound of make-up on every single day of her life - and "naturalness" about her looks, again, brings its own level of attraction. This is in contrast to a lot of young women at college who have grown up in public schools where this attitude was not at a premium: a friend of our family recounts growing up in public schools, where from 8th grade straight through college the attitude was that to be "dating" a guy was to be sleeping with him, she had "no right" to hold back from sex. It wasn't even a part of her mental picture that this state of affairs was an issue, it was just the landscape of reality to her - she didn't even know she was wearing shackles. Well, that affects (and damages) every conversation with a guy that might advance from casual discussion to potential date.

So, I have to agree: if you are constantly finding that to you, girls who are right-thinking and wholesome are unattractive, the problem is more in you than in them.

Even some of my colleagues will comment that a woman who gets married right out of college and doesn't go on to grad school or med school or a career-type job is "wasting her education." Which she's not -- education can give us many, many advantages as wives and mothers.

Beth, that is so right. Here's one thing to tell them: They probably want to marry someone who has a good college education - at least many do, and college is for many guys the right path to a profession that can support a family. Well, by and large a woman won't be a good spouse, won't be an adequate help-meet, for a man with so much more general education than she has. They need to be able to communicate on so many things with something like equality, something like seeing eye-to-eye on a vast range of important things. This doesn't happen all that well if one spouse has a great education that spans literature, history, philosophy, arts, and sciences, and the other does not. To even aspire to being the worthy wife of a solid, educated man, is to be educated too. And, as a mother, you have to plan to develop the minds and hearts and souls of brand new human beings, and this means knowing something about the teleology of human nature. It means being thoughtful about where those children are headed in the long run.

That, of course, is all even aside from the FIRST reason to become an educated person: it is worthwhile in its own right. At least, for the right kind of education. I am not talking about mere job training, but actual development of the mind, stretching its capabilities and grounding its efforts in solid foundations: what used to be understood as "liberal education" when that meant "the education of a free man", the education suited to man as man. And, naturally, a woman who takes seriously the good of being a truly educated person is, ipso facto, a woman who has something that should be attractive to men.

Amen to all that, Tony. We will appreciate prayers that Bryan can continue to offer that kind of education well and from a Christian perspective. We are trying!

Women are shy about mentioning wanting to be solely a wife and mother not least because male provision is no longer guaranteed or deemed very important even among conservative Christians. They are also shy about it because you don't have to go very far to see a worn-out, possibly overweight woman with messy children, herself dressed in ill-fitting and possibly stained clothes as a completely typical SAHM.

They have a pretty fantasy (one which is also pretty historically inaccurate), but the reality is less pretty and more visible rather than less visible among conservative Christians. There's a lot more isolation and absence of other women compared to what even SAHMs of the 1990s, a mere twenty years ago, could take for granted. And that was peak career-gal, with the lowest number of SAHMs recorded IIRC.

But having said all that, there are plenty of marriages among evangelical Christians, they just tend to contracept until they can afford children and then have them from 25-40, mostly between 28-35. The spiritual aspects are important to consider in marriage, of course, but the profound blindness to how anti-marriage, anti-motherhood and anti-family even most conservative Christian Americans are is itself a deep spiritual problem and obstacle to successful, Godly marriages. There are real, practical, logistical obstacles to the type of marriage model suggested by the comments here and dismissing those obstacles as mere selfishness or failure to discern sufficiently is rather callous and unloving.

Yep, that's us. Callous and unloving. We also see all difficulties with finding a spouse (or even obstacles to at-home motherhood, which was not a major emphasis of the main post) as "mere selfishness or failure to discern sufficiently." You sure smoked us out.

They are also shy about it because you don't have to go very far to see a worn-out, possibly overweight woman with messy children, herself dressed in ill-fitting and possibly stained clothes as a completely typical SAHM.

shxxxnnhhhhahahahahaha snortttchchchahaha! That's a good one! Boy, oh boy, you're on a roll.

Here's the tit-for-tat answer: In reactionary circles, you also don't have to go very far to find the overbearing, God-made-me-first male who thinks that handing the "little woman" one half of his paycheck from the dock job satisfies his obligation in marriage, that she is now required to feed and clothe the large and still growing brood with this, put them in some perfect school (which doesn't exist), and then have time, energy, and money to make herself as pretty as the day she was married, while he drinks himself a beer gut and watches TV before falling asleep.

See? It's easy to do that.

not least because male provision is no longer guaranteed or deemed very important even among conservative Christians

It's an obvious truth of modern marriage that the family has more problems to deal with than before, not fewer. As a result, children need MORE help and protection from their parents in their most formative years, not less. The wife staying home at least part-time to raise the babies and toddlers should be, if not an ABSOLUTE sine-qua-non of marriage, then at the very least an overriding goal and concrete intention. I see way too many young couples making difficult sacrifices to achieve this to believe that MOST of the time, it is impossible and should not even be considered a goal.

And to the extent that society has changed to make it so much more difficult than it used to be, there needs to be push-back on society to reverse gears. That push-back consists not a little in young people making these needs known and demanding some attention to them. Society changed from child labor being a norm to being outlawed to being unthinkable; it is possible for society to change to thinking mothers belong at home with their children. You know, in Scandanavia it is common for mothers to get long "maternity leave", such as a year in Denmark. Let's push the concept out further: 6 to 18 years - but unpaid.

There are real, practical, logistical obstacles to the type of marriage model suggested by the comments here and dismissing those obstacles as mere selfishness or failure to discern sufficiently is rather callous and unloving.

The primary "marriage model" we are discussing is the model that God had in mind when He "created them male and female". Given that, marriage has its own nature and consequently its own requirements. For the woman to be the "helpmeet" of a man is for her to be on some levels his co-equal. For the "be fruitful and multiply" blessing (and command) God gave for marriage, SOMEBODY has to provide, but the details are subject to minor variation. Because "in the beginning it was not so," and "whoever lusts after a woman commits adultery in his heart", marriage must include the intention and a REAL prospect of chastity, of a man exercising oversight over his own senses and imagination and will.

Any guy trying to say that the obstacles to THIS much expectation for marriage are insurmountable is running a con game.

Women are shy about mentioning wanting to be solely a wife and mother not least because male provision is no longer guaranteed or deemed very important even among conservative Christians.

I don't know what you mean by "conservative Christians", or what circles of them you frequent, but this simply isn't true in the circles I inhabit. I would have to stretch really hard to even try to include a man who didn't even CARE whether his wife had to work in "conservative".

I think a lot of good guys are confused about whether they are supposed to articulate that they have a primary responsibility to provide for the family or whether they are supposed to tell a girl they are dating that they fully support her career goals. Unless they have pre-screened one another through questions on a dating site (which actually can be helpful, as it provides for asking exactly these kinds of otherwise embarrassing questions early in a friendship), they may have no idea whether a girl, Christian or otherwise, is *hoping* for a career that is valued as much as her husband's or whether she is *hoping* to be a stay-at-home mom. Similarly, without such screening questions, a young woman may have no idea whether a man she's somewhat interested in (including Christians) is a complementarian at all or whether he will think that she *should* work. Or something in between, such as that she "should" work part-time but not full-time. Many different varieties. Then there are the circumstances (a recent case I know of) where the husband is allegedly supportive of the wife's staying at home but gradually becomes resentful over the course of twenty years of marriage and eventually makes it a huge bone of contention. But *that* is quite difficult to screen against except in terms of general stability, kindness, maturity, etc.

So there is definitely more of a "dancing around the issue" period between men and women these days, because no one knows what to expect the other person to think, even in Christian circles. I think some guys decide to say that they are "happy with whatever their wife wants to do" in order to try to avoid conflict.

Money is certainly an issue in planning and hoping for marriage. In fact, it's a huge issue, and our bad economy right now is a big problem. I acknowledge all of that heartily and with concern. That's why I even said in the main post that I would *prefer* that a young man *bring up* the economy and his job woes (if he has job woes) as an obstacle to marriage and discuss that with someone who can advise him. What I was chiefly writing against is not aiming for marriage in an intentional way, just drifting where the wind blows.

Having briefly perused our commentator's blog, I get the feeling that perhaps she (?) thinks that we are a bunch of hard-line (but impractical), narrow patriarchialists or something of that sort. But that is not the case.

Lydia, Tony and Beth -- really great comments.

(indeed, Tony's comment to start out this thread is simply magnificent. I'd suggest he revise it into a standalone post so it's easier to find for reference.)

I love the point about physical improvement. Unless there is a serious disability or extraordinary work that precludes it, young people should be in good shape. If you're not in good shape and you wonder why dating is difficult -- why, start by getting in shape.

From the male side, this is an amazingly easy thing accomplish. Easy because, as several have said, even if it yields no immediate "marriage fruit," in terms of attracting a spouse, it's still makes you feel better, live better, and have more confidence. It can be as simple as getting off the computer and knocking out 20 push-ups or squats. That every day for a month is a huge improvement from a sedentary life. Buy a pull-up bar and put it in the doorframe of your office. Make a rule that you can't look at social media until you'be done ten minutes of activity. Even walking laps at the office is good: I know a guy who lost nearly 100 pounds by taking a few laps every hour when work permitted. Easy.

Another thing, from the male side: the "spark" of romance is a pretty darn low bar. I mean, let's face it, men: most guys will discover a spark of romance with any pretty girl who shows genuine interest in them. (I do understand that this is more complicated from the female side.) But once a young man realizes that he can find real, lasting attraction to a very wide range of females, most of whom are way below the Hollywood level, he can start to focus more wisely on the moral, spiritual and intellectual qualities that usually sustain successful marriages anyway.

Finally, on the matter of financial standing, men need to keep in mind that any paying job is income; and when you add to a paying job (of almost any kind) virtue, reliability, cordiality, attentiveness, etc, you'll find that even grunt-work jobs can turn into gainful employment over time. Heck, hard physical labor, when you're young, can easily double as getting in shape. In the end, employers are looking for a lot of the same things that wives are. Your hard work for one may pay-off with the other.

I'm an unhappily single 29 year old who's spent a lot of time in Evangelical churches. There is definitely a concern, perhaps too much of a concern, for "idolizing" marriage among them, but they can be pretty inconsistent on the matter. On one hand, when I express sorrow about my singleness, I'm told that I'm "idolizing" marriage and even told that God won't let me have something that I idolize. This kind of response is incredibly invalidating. On the other hand, the church thinks there's something wrong if you are still single past your mid-20's and people think you're downright weird if you are an older single and perfectly *happy* with it. Responses like those can make it difficult to be open about one's desires for marriage and struggles with singleness.

the church thinks there's something wrong if you are still single past your mid-20's

depending on the circumstances, they may be right about that, though the "something wrong" may lie in the larger societal circumstances rather than in the individual

people think you're downright weird if you are an older single and perfectly *happy* with it

The "happy bachelor" or "happy spinster" is a real phenomenon but is and should be rare. Such a person may indeed be the perfect person "called to singleness," as I discussed in the main post. Or it may be a non-spiritual phenomenon of being asexual or of finding that those desires for making a family, etc., just are not very strong in oneself. "Weird" as in "rightly unusual" is probably accurate. "Weird" as in "perverse, bad, maybe morally bad" is an overcall. Of course, that may seem like a fine-grained distinction. Casual conversation and vague impressions about what people think of you are not always the best places to figure out if people are making such fine distinctions.

An elephant in the room here is the homosexuality issue. If someone is just quietly single, never dates, shows no interest, seems like a "contented bachelor," given the sad prevalence of homosexuality in our society, that question may pop into people's minds. On the other hand, given how socially acceptable it now is to "come out," even among Christians, if a person does not do so, that is some evidence in itself that that is not the explanation.

On one hand, when I express sorrow about my singleness, I'm told that I'm "idolizing" marriage and even told that God won't let me have something that I idolize.

KH, this is a good place to exercise some strong (and hopefully effective) pushback: there is NOTHING WRONG with being not-yet-satisfied with not yet having achieved the vocation to which God is calling you. If you think God is calling you to marriage, and you haven't found the right person, then you SHOULD be in an unsettled state, it SHOULD cause you some degree of sorrow. (Or, at least, one should expect it to cause sorrow to the extent that you are not yet absolutely perfect. I suppose that the absolutely perfect person would in some sense be content with moving toward marriage at the pace God intends for them...but for the rest of us, we who are not perfect, it's quite natural to want to get on with starting your major life role, and that wanting, until satisfied, simply IS a kind of ache or pang.) It is certainly LESS disordered to feel distress at not finding a spouse than at not finding a job, and nobody tells you that your desire for a job is "idolizing" a job.

Given the number of grave disorders our society has swallowed whole, it is less and less surprising for a young man or woman to be unable to find a good spouse by the time they are 30, without any fault of their own. From pornography, to feminazis, to hooking up, to homosexuality, along with other problems such a severe mental illness, the percentage of young adults actually fit for marriage is drooping. One thing that a young person can throw back at an older generation who are being critical is "just look at the problems your generation has foisted off on us: look at the broken families making it so that young people don't even know what a REAL commitment in marriage even looks like."

Still, that's not constructive in the long run. What is? Well, short of turning society around, there is no doubt that you are going to have to rely on God - so pray. One of the great ways to pray - and this should almost completely discard the worry about "God won't let me have... - is to pray by including in your intention that you learn to want a spouse so far as God's wants that, and that you come to desire a spouse first so that you can be pleasing to God and following His will. So, even if your desires are NOT YET that whole and pure, you are submitting that area of your life to God and asking Him to correct you. You can't MAKE yourself desire entirely normal goods in an absolutely perfect manner just by wishing to be perfect, but you can progress toward it by asking for help.

And, as Lydia indicated above: if young men are having trouble locating good women, so too are young women having trouble finding suitable young men. Use modern conveniences to attack the problem: dating services are filling a niche that our broken families and alienated neighbors can no longer provide, and it becomes possible to search through a much more extended group to locate a match for you. They are not by any means perfect, but so what? Nothing is.

On the other hand, the church thinks there's something wrong if you are still single past your mid-20's and people think you're downright weird if you are an older single and perfectly *happy* with it.

Naturally speaking, no society should be so disordered that a large proportion of young people who are actually fit for marriage cannot find a spouse by their late 20's or age 30 or so. This is so for many reasons, not least because raising babies is a young person's game: you have to have the energy for it, and 40-year olds don't really (not for the first babies, anyway; it's a lot different if you already have some kids and have the last one or two in your 40s.).

That said, there are so many MORE reasons to anticipate having a smaller family today than there was 100 years ago, that getting started at 30 (and only having a few kids) is not quite the same level of encroachment on "standard" family that it would have been then. Also, it has always been the case that it is quite fair for a young man to look around for a women a few to several years younger than him - in some ways men simply don't mature as early as women and need more years under the belt to be ready for marriage. So the people who seem to think that a guy is a "weird" old geezer bachelor by 30 are perhaps not entirely perceptive of reality here.

I'm male, by the way, so I mostly speak from a male perspective.

Yes, Tony, I think you're right about the pushback. If marriage, sex, and family are good things, we are naturally made to have desires for those things, yet we lack those good things we desire, then sorrow is an understandable and even appropriate response. If a guy is told that he is "idolizing" marriage simply for feeling sad about its absence, that just brings shame and makes it more difficult to share that experience.

I'm curious, though: I'm gonna guess that the people making the "idolizing" claim are by and large under 40 years old, and some much younger than that. That's not to say that people of my age (I'm 51) couldn't buy into trendy slogans of this kind. And some do. But I'm sort of getting the impression that this claim that "we Christians idolize marriage" is a slogan of the 20-35 set.

Lydia, are you thinking that maybe this is some bit of unconscious "those grapes were sour anyway" reaction by some who feel that they have no prospect of marriage?

I am having trouble imagining a person of 23 newly married feeling that "young people are idolizing marriage". And I am having trouble imagining a man of 25 who is successfully dating young women who are really eligible, but has just not clicked with one yet, saying that. Same with a man of 30 saying it who only just recently found a spouse after a decade of searching. So, I am guessing that maybe the only people saying it are those who have turned sour on the prospect, or who have been married for quite a length of time (and perhaps for whom the bloom is no longer on the rose), frown on the way our culture has romanticized weddings and the beginnings of marriage.

It is true that there has been a lot of romanticized nonsense about marriage in our culture, but we are now well into the post-modern era - surely we are getting past the worst of it by now? Surely people have figured out how to communicate to young people more clearly than before that getting married doesn't solve personality defects that you bring to marriage? That it doesn't solve financial woes all by itself? And so on.

I guess I am skeptical: is someone bad-mouthing marriage because they have a bad marriage? Because it isn't everything they thought it would be? Because they can't find a spouse? I.E. for all the wrong reasons?

Here's what I think was going on in my community where I had this experience. My old church in Missouri was quite fond of Tim Keller. They often taught similar things about idolatry that Keller teaches. This is that good things like food, career, children, and marriage can all become idols, things that we put "above" God in our list of loves or priorities. If I'm remembering correctly, an idol is something that, if someone never gets it, would make the person miserable and life would lose all hope and meaning. Marriage is one of those things one could feel that way towards.

Perhaps Keller is correct, but when my peers (I was early to mid 20's at this time) heard this, they took this to mean that if someone really strongly desires something and is sad that he doesn't have it, then it must be an idol for that person. This may not be what my church leaders or Keller intended for people to think, because wanting something badly and being sad about its absence isn't really enough evidence that idolatry is going on, especially, as we all agreed, we are talking about something as valuable as marriage, but this is the way the my peers reacted to it. Lydia's suspicion that it's mostly the younger folk who cry "idolatry" at the desire for marriage seems mostly true in my old community.

I'm not sure where it comes from in other parts of the Evangelical church. The vast majority of my peers back at my old church in Missouri are long married (most in their early 20's), so they must not have been too paralyzed by the "idolatry" slogan, or they were just able to do something right that I wasn't able to achieve yet.

Lydia, are you thinking that maybe this is some bit of unconscious "those grapes were sour anyway" reaction by some who feel that they have no prospect of marriage?

KH's explanation is a pretty good one.

But my own slight experience is this: Not so much that the grapes are sour as that *whatever* is preventing more marriages in the cohort is unchangeable and that one wants to "minister" to the people in the cohort in a way that seems really Christian and spiritual. Since idolatry is a big cry generally in the Protestant evangelical world, it's not a surprising thing to be reached for. Making a virtue out of (what is perceived as) necessity is also a common human tendency, so these all come together. Having young, unmarried men minister to high school youth groups is also not all that uncommon, and if the young man in question *for whatever reason* is not pursuing marriage very actively (maybe just because he's a millenial), he himself might be all the more prone to latch onto this notion that he needs to help his young charges to avoid the pain and suffering of wanting marriage "too much" by teaching them this idolatry thing.

Also, younger people in the evangelical world seem quite prone to ideological fads, especially those that criticize the older generation, and this definitely qualifies. Since there are still parents, grandparents, older friends, etc., who push marriage-mindedness, it feels pretty virtuous to be able to characterize *them* as "idolizing" marriage, hurting the young people they are talking to, being insensitive and mean, etc. A very millenial evangelical tendency. (One sees the same, "The church, by which I mean the older members of the church who haven't seen the light, is mean and needs to repent of wrong attitudes" mantra in the younger evangelical attitudes on homosexuality. Not to say that everybody who says this about marriage and idolatry is also squishy on homosexuality, but the overall, "Don't be mean by applying norms of roles to people, because you'll hurt them" idea is an umbrella that could be thought of as covering both traditional views of the goodness of marriage and traditional views of homosexuality.)

When I say "feels pretty virtuous," I don't mean that it's insincere. I think these ideas are really sincerely believed.

Y'all are describing a significant number of my students and recent grads exactly.

(One sees the same, "The church, by which I mean the older members of the church who haven't seen the light, is mean and needs to repent of wrong attitudes" mantra in the younger evangelical attitudes on homosexuality. Not to say that everybody who says this about marriage and idolatry is also squishy on homosexuality, but the overall, "Don't be mean by applying norms of roles to people, because you'll hurt them" idea is an umbrella that could be thought of as covering both traditional views of the goodness of marriage and traditional views of homosexuality.)

So, PC invades evangelicalism? I'm a little curious: how far does it get before it no longer qualifies as evangelicalism?

The world must be peopled! (Act 2, Scene 3)

how far does it get before it no longer qualifies as evangelicalism?

Depends on whom you ask.

The world must be peopled! (Act 2, Scene 3)

Roger makes a good point. Having children and making families is good; we shouldn't fall prey to thinking it's some kind of selfishness.

I would extend the point further: in a world that dis-values family so much as ours does (by which I mean, family as the natural law and as revelation enlighten us about family), young people cannot realistically hope to make a GOOD family unless they intentionally set out to resist the prevalent culture's deformities. That is, there won't be many "just going with the flow" accidentally good marriages these days. And if you are going to go about marriage with intention and forethought resisting secular humanism and all the other pathologies running around, you better start that even while seeking a spouse, not after. And so, seeking a spouse in a godly manner does involve treating it (the seeking) as involving an important portion of your capacities and resources.

I was thinking something to the effect that an unmarried person will naturally (if things are going well) be close to his own parents and will think of "my family" as the family he grew up in. This is a good and healthy thing. But as the single person gets older, if he does not make a family of his own, then he isn't continuing the chain of families. The only "my family" is his parents and/or siblings, cousins, etc. He isn't, as it were, adding to the stock of families in the world or making sure that the next generation (his own generation) has families. Of course there are instances where this is fine. I would never blame a priest whose mother attends his ordination because, "What's the matter with you? Your mother is the only family you have?"

When this extends, however, to the point that a large proportion of men and women in a society have only their parents and siblings as "my family," then we start to have a pervasive problem of living on the "family capital" of the past, which obviously can't continue indefinitely. Every generation needs to make new families.

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