Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Case Against Marriage

Once upon a time, marriage made sense. It was how women ensured their financial security, got the fathers of their children to stick around, and gained access to a host of legal rights. But 40 years after the feminist movement established our rights in the workplace, a generation after the divorce rate peaked, and a decade after Sex and the City made singledom chic, marriage is—from a legal and practical standpoint, anyway—no longer necessary.

So state Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison in the June 11th Newsweek article, "I Don't: The Case Against Marriage." They go on to state, quite eloquently, that today's woman is no longer bound my the identity-shifting bonds of marriage. A woman can be completely satisfied with pouring herself into her career, her friendships (most likely with other single women), and her casual relationships. She doesn't need a man to make her complete.

Of course, the statistics are on their side. Americans have the highest divorce rate of any Western country (I looked up the highest rates in the world - Belarus is slightly higher, and Maldives doubles the US rate). On top of that, and perhaps as a precursor to this statistic, over half of all spouses will cheat on their significant others during the course of their marriage. Over half.

With that in mind, and – according to Bennett and Ellison – with the stigma of premarital sex disappearing as quickly as corsets and debutante balls, there is no real reason to marry. Women can have children, careers, and friendships without a husband. In fact, they can continue to engage in meaningful, albeit temporary, relationships with men without feeling the ramifications of marital life: increased health insurance rates, increased taxes, decreased government childcare benefits, etc.

The article continues with evidence from noted feminist Gloria Steinem, studies from marriage counselors, and demographical data pulled from both the 1950s and today. All of this carefully pulls together the idea that marriage, for women at least, is not advantageous. But here's the thing: life is not about what's advantageous. Life is about making others feel loved. In the book Feminine Appeal by Carolyn Mahaney, the author outlines the importance of leading a selfless life that ultimately fills us with a contentment and joy that is utterly immeasurable. She doesn't deny, or even minimize the frustrations and heartaches that come with marrying an imperfect man (since they, just like us, are imperfect), but she does gently remind us that life is about more than constant contentment. She asks us to “consider the loveliness of a woman who passionately adores her husband, who tenderly cherishes her children, who creates a warm and peaceful home, who exemplifies purity, self-control, and kindness in her character...”

I admit, these are not the qualities that most women desire – they feel jaded and subordinated by the standards of traditional marriage roles. And unless one is focused on the connection between service and spiritual growth, such qualities can appear demeaning. (I mean, who would see folding a husband's laundry day after day after day as fulfilling? Who would prefer cleaning up after someone else to taking a nice hot bath?) But with the appropriate focus, I believe marriage can be one of the most fulfilling experiences imaginable. In fact, marriage teaches us more about who we really are than any job, friendship, or casual relationship ever could. It shows us that, if we continually focus on how to make our spouse's life better, our own life is enhanced as well. Why? Because, as a Christian, I do these things as a sign of my love for Christ and, as an extension of that, my love for my husband (he is pretty awesome...).

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