Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The "m" word

I'm not sure how it happens, but over the past couple of weeks I have found myself smack in the middle of marriage conversations with a surprising array of parents (including my own). It has been enlightening to hear parents' perspectives on why we young people aren't getting married as early or at all. Some ideas are backed by research, some are just musings, but all are fascinating to me, because they provide context for viewing my generation's desires and sacrifices. I think a few of their reasons are just off-track entirely. Others are viable reasons, but, based on my experience, are insufficient to explain a complete phenomenon.

And so I sit here stumped, trying to explain what seems to be inexplicable. I just don't get it. I often hear that young people just don't want to get married. That, to me, is glib and unrepresentative. Everything I have seen tells me that desire is there. In fact, it is so much there that anxiety and bitterness can start to run the show. In my experience, and we're talking Mormons and non-Mormons alike, I have been hard pressed to find somebody lacking the desire for marriage. That sentiment is definitely out there, but has been rare enough for me to discount it as a reason for explaining a broad phenomenon.

I have also heard that my generation just isn't willing to make the sacrifices that are necessary to commit to and maintain a marriage. Again, I think that may be true to a certain extent, but that aversion to sacrifices is not widespread enough to be a significant reason. Perhaps others have found it otherwise, and I would love to hear about it. Perhaps I associate with such high quality people (true!) that I miss the reality of the situation.

Other reasons for delayed and absent marriage include addiction to video games, pornography, increasing education levels among women, ease of materialism, selfishness, pride, lack of understanding about marriage, fear of failure, unrealistic expectations, negative feedback from friends and family, and on and on. The reasons behind this complexity surely cannot be explained by one reason, or even two. Even so, I feel consistently baffled by the fact that so many wonderful people who intensely desire to get married, are still single.

It makes me wonder whether it's not the marriage part that people have a problem with, but what leads up to a marriage: in a word, courtship. Is courtship a dying art? Is courtship still necessary in these times? Do we have unrealistic expectations when it comes to dating and courting? Do we shrug people off too early in the game? Are we too set on what we think we want and need, that we don't open ourselves to new possibilities? Are people getting asked out? I think it's pretty clear that our perception of love has been completely skewed by the media. We often believe that is not affecting us, but I think it may have more impact than we want to admit. Do we secretly hope and believe that love will be like in the movies? Do we not appreciate the work that goes into any relationship? Do we over-emphasize a first date? Are we too prideful to take a chance on somebody if we don't immediately feel something for them?

I am really grappling with this. If anybody is still reading this blog (since I never post...), PLEASE let me know what you think.