Why I’m Not Married Yet by James Russell Lingerfelt
(The target audience in this note are single people who have never been married.)
Every time this article runs, I get a message from one of two people: The first agrees with me, adds their thoughts from their own life experiences, and then thanks me for what I've written. The second writes in CAPS with bitter tones, and/or makes a snide remark about me being arrogant.
But, I can only point to my own life experiences and observations as reasons as to why I'm approaching life with this frame of reference and point of view.
By the time I was a freshman in college, one of the questions that bothered me was, "How is it that two people can be so in love, and after just two years of marriage, hate each other's guts and want a divorce?"
I went to Auburn University and received a BA in Marriage and Family Counseling. And the main lesson I took was, "The root of marital problems is selfishness. If both partners place each other's desires and needs above their own, understand the give and take of a relationship, their marriage will work."
As I attended graduate school and furthered my studies, marriage, where two people live under the same roof, are dedicated to each other, and practice monogamy toward each other for the rest of their lives, it just didn't seem realistic. And I read a quote in Gabriel García Márquez's novel, Love In A Time Of Cholera. A romantic woman was talking about marriage, and the grandfather said, "We don't marry for love. We marry for stability."
And I never forgot that because in all my years of study in the field of marital counseling, I had never heard that before. In my life, up to that point, I thought you meet someone, you "fall in love" (a state of firing brain chemicals some label "infatuation") you get married, and you're dedicated to each other forever. That's what my grandparents and parents did. And that's what people do in all the best romantic movies, right?
Meanwhile, I was catching a lot of flack from friends and family. "James Russell, when will you settle down and get married?" and "You're not going to get married if you don't date" and "How can you have such a vast education in Marriage and Family Counseling, and be single?" My response was that it's because of my education that I'm single. Besides, it sounds like marriage is believed to be a default life for me and people in general. But is it?
I wrote some Marriage and Family Therapy professors and asked them what the go–to book was on the origin of marriage. And they all recommended Stephanie Coontz's book, Marriage, A History. I ordered it, and read it. And I will cover some of the lessons very soon.
For now, let me ask you a question. To commit yourself for the rest of your life to someone you've probably known less than three years (typical in today's western culture), leaving family and friends who you've known your entire life, and move into a single unit (a house or apt) where it's just you and your spouse, where you both are separated from all your families... why do we believe this is a good idea?
As I read Ms. Coontz's book, and researched other materials dealing with the history of marriage across cultures and time, I learned that before 1750 CE, people across cultures married for one reason alone: Economic stability. You can scream, "Politics too!" but even the root of politics is economics. No, it wasn't for child raising. The villages raised the children together. Marriage for child raising came much later.
Also, during this time period, up until the late 1700s, most people had grown up knowing their spouses. Farm life and small communities were more prevalent than cities. You and your spouse's grandparents had grown up knowing each other. You and your spouse's parents knew each other. The families could vouch for the other family's characters.
Around 1750 CE, societies began seeing trends where people began marrying for romantic purposes. "I'm in love." People theorize that this was due to:
1) People moving from the farms to the cities and meeting people of the opposite sex for the first time.
2) The Enlightenment Period when the popular philosophy was independence in life and thought. The time's began changing. No more marrying to satisfy the opinions of others – especially family and friends. Financial independence was also growing. No longer did people have to work for the family business or live as an apprentice in a master's home for a number of years before marrying. Women could now earn their own dowry rather than create a burden on the cost from the family. Both genders could get a job, move away, marry early, and marry who they wanted. Marriage wasn't for economics or politics anymore, but meeting the emotional needs of the individual. Love, rather than economic stability, became the new motive for marrying. This led to...
3) Society introducing the writing and selling of romance novels.
(Research notes quoted will come from: Marriage, A History by Stephanie Coontz.) Here's a quote I've underlined during some recent studies: "During the American and French revolutions of 1776 and 1789, many individuals dared draw conclusions that anticipated feminist demands for marital reform and women's rights of the early 20th century. And even before that, skeptics warned that making love and companionship the core of marriage would open a Pandora's box."
Most marriages I know today are not the result of families having known each other for multiple generations. Instead it's this scenario: Boy meets girl through mutual friends or at a pub. They date. Before three years, they get engaged, and a lot of times this happens during the infatuation stage. Then, they meet each other's families for the first time... Maybe this is a very, very bad idea.
Dr. John Van Epp, a best-selling marriage and family therapist author said it takes a good two years just to get to know someone. Wow.
In The Journey of Man, anthropologist Spencer Wells said that after examining DNA, he believes all humanity came from an East African female human (not a monkey) 65,000 years ago. Let's just say Mr. Wells is correct. That humans have been on the earth for 65,000 years. If that's true, then our concept and way of marrying (and I'm speaking to a western audience here) is very, very new. A fad, if you will.
So let's think on this whole before-1750-people-married-for-economic-stability stuff. Are you financially stable? Do you need help from a spouse to become financially stable? Before 1750 CE, this was the common question people were asking. If you do not need help becoming financially stable, and you do not plan to have kids... I believe people before 1750 CE would say to us, "Don't get married!"
If you took people (before 1750 CE) aside and told them that after 1920 CE, most people will have known their spouse for less than three years, their parents may have never met each other, and the married couples are living alone in a unit, both separated from the village they grew up in... the people before 1750 CE would scream, "Are you nuts?! That's ridiculous! It'll never work!" We have at least a 50% divorce rate and that just counts the couples who decided to get the divorce. What about those who wanted to but didn't for various reasons we'll never know about?
What if the reasons people marry is no longer just for economic stability or to raise kids, but to express love and receive love? I think we can all agree that this is what's happening today. So, let's address that, here.
It appears that not understanding that marriage is now about love, is what's wrecking our family structure and therefore our society. People can blame the destruction of family structure on Hollywood, politicians, religious leaders, gay people, and on and on, but they miss the fact that what wrecks marriages and families is selfishness.
If the priority for today's marriages is to exercise love toward another and wake every morning with the mindset, "Today, how may I place my spouses desires and needs above my own?" that's quite a responsibility. It's perhaps one of the greatest responsibilities on the planet.
Marriage is a reciprocating relationship, of course. There is giving and receiving. But this willingness to be self-sacrificial at all times isn't for everyone. I mean, in my observations and experiences, it looks as though very few people can actually do it. That over half of society's marriages end for a reason. What if it's not realistic for the majority of people?
Now, let's look at 3 common misconceptions about marriage I've noticed in a lot of the studies and the conversations I've had with people, when they believe we should be marrying for love alone:
1. Do Not Be Fooled: Marriage Isn't For You To Find Life Fulfillment
We encounter people all the time who are unsatisfied and unhappy and think it's because they're not married. All their life they've heard, “Get married and be happy.”
If I'm single and my life is unhappy or unsatisfactory, it's not because I'm not married or because I don't have a dating partner to love on. It's because I'm simply unhappy and unsatisfied. The fault is mine. It's all in my mind.
If we enter marriage because we think being married will fill those holes, we need to stay single because we have the wrong impression as to what marriage is. Marrying in hopes that our spouse will fix our issues isn't fair to him or her. (I am not implying we must be perfect or fully mature before marrying).
Could you imagine what the world would look like if we married with the mindset, "I want to marry in order to offer a retreat to my spouse! Help them enjoy life, accomplish their goals, make their life richer." And I believe that's really the attitude we should have. And I think if people knew this, fewer of them would be getting married.
But this mindset of "marriage = happiness" had to come from somewhere, right? By the end of the 1950s western society (in general) came to believe (and the depression had a lot to do with this) that marriage should be led by a male "breadwinner."
In Canada, one of the historians (Doug Owram) wrote that "every advertisement, magazine, and marriage manual assumed the family was based on the male wage–earner and the child–rearing, home–managing housewife."
Meanwhile, in the USA, marriage came to be viewed as the only cultural acceptable route to adulthood and independence. "Men who chose to remain bachelors were branded narcissistic, deviant, infantile, or pathological."
A family advice counselor in that day named Paul Landes argued that everyone "except for the sick, the badly crippled, the deformed, the emotionally warped and the mentally defective ought to marry." Any other form of lifestyle, "whether it was late marriage, nonmarriage, divorce, single motherhood, or even delayed childbearing – was considered deviant."
"Everywhere psychiatrists agreed and the mass media affirmed that if a woman did not find her ultimate fulfillment in homemaking, it was sign of serious psychological problems."
A 1957 survey in the USA reported that 4 out of 5 people believed that anyone who preferred to remain single was "sick," neurotic," or "immoral."
2. Marriage Isn't To Marry The Perfect Person
I hear comments such as, "I might not like my partner, but when we're married, I'll change him or her."
I thought we enter marriage so we can express love toward another human being, as they are and not as we want them to be? So why want to change them if they're loved as they are?
Also, our wants and desires change daily. And then we want or expect our partner to live up to our new wants and desires? How self-centered can I be?
3. Marriage Isn't To Cure Our Loneliness
If we marry to love, we do not marry to cure our loneliness, because marriage doesn't cure loneliness. Though all relationships take time to build, the only answer to curing loneliness is our developing community with others and pouring our love and service into their lives. After all, I've never heard someone in the many third-world villages I've worked in say they were lonely.
There's ecological issues, economical, social, political, and religious issues. We are surrounded by needs and movements, problems and solutions to implement, surrounded by people who love us and would die for us. And then I meet people who don’t believe they're needed in the world and even mope around because they haven’t found someone to marry.
What's wrong with finding people already in our lives, who we already love, and just pour more of our love and attention into them? We will then stop dwelling on our losses or what we don't have, see we're making a difference, and that helps us be happy.
We can google topics we're passionate about and find crossroads where our passion and a world's deep hunger intersect. What's wrong with choosing not to marry, and instead, pursuing passionate vocations and dreams?
Marriage is a marital commitment; a union that demands the utmost seriousness, dedication, work, attention, and utter selflessness toward our spouse. And that attitude must be reciprocated. I'm not suggesting my readers not marry. But before we marry, we need to be aware of what marriage is, it's history, and how it has evolved.
So, why am I not married yet? I'm simply not ready... if I ever will be.
Read another popular post: Don’t Ever Apologize For Loving Someone – Not Ever!
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