….one of my buddies said that one, or something closely approximating it, the other day. We were working out with a few other guys, and the topic somehow got on marriage. Being a young guy in his early 20′s (23, I think), he expressed that he just wanted to chill out for a while. This sentiment is incredibly common, I’ve found, both inside and outside Christian circles.
Now, those of you who know me can probably predict how I responded. Even though I married in my 30′s (well, 2 days before my 30th birthday), I’m a big fan of not waiting around. Being marriage minded but not meeting your wife until later is one thing; purposely putting it off simply because you don’t want that responsibility (“I just want to have fun”) when you’re young is another.
I mentioned a few things about data (23-27 seems to be a sweet spot for first marriages, satisfaction-wise), and briefly noted that there’s a downside to purposely marrying late, but I have a feeling it fell on deaf ears. He just kinda nodded blankly, muttered a few “oh…yeah’s” and walked off, acting busy.
That all got me thinking later: why am I a big fan of marriage, and why am I such a campaigner about not putting it off? I mean, geez, I coulda just smiled and nodded “yeah, have fun while you can” and engaged in typical gym-guy talk. Why’d I feel compelled to say something?
The first reason are the studies and data I’ve seen, but I’d be lying if I said that was the main thing. That does give justification to my views, IMO, but I have the feeling that the real culprits are more personal–though, I argue, still completely valid–reasons.
Sure, the whole “having fun, relishing independence” thing is an advantage of singleness. Go where you want, do what you want, when you want to do it, blah blah blah. I get it, I get it. But it’s almost as if that’s become a mindless mantra among the young and single. So many just say it as a knee jerk reaction against the word “marriage,” seems to me without thinking about it much. Yeah, the independence that comes with singleness is an advantage of sorts, but you gotta ask a further question: “in comparison to what?” If the other side is, really, greener, then it doesn’t mean much to blather on about how independence and fun is great.
So this begs a further question: is marriage really the greener of two pastures? If you’re married to a shrew, I guess not…but that doesn’t mean that singleness is better on the whole; it just means you were stupid because you married a shrew. While sometimes life really does throw you a curve ball, more often than not these shrew-ish characteristics are evident before the alter beckons…you’re just blind to them.
Some, despite this caveat, will still insist that singleness is better, and they’ll marshall the Apostle Paul in support. While I can’t go into the details of his thought on marriage now, I will say I don’t think those who use Paul’s thought in that manner are really seeing the big picture of his thought on marriage accurately.
I will die on the following hill, though: singleness is better only if you a) assume your own personal happiness is the goal of life, and b) assume a very superficial definition of “happiness.”
Let me explain.
When happiness is seen as a subjective feeling that you get, and when life is looked at through the lens of your own personal happiness, then all sorts of things–most of them quite sheisty–are “greater goods.” That affair, cheating on that exam to get ahead, lying to get that job, etc..but while you gain a whole world of warm fuzzies, you forfeit your soul.
That’s not the point of life, and that’s not what happiness is. The definition of happiness that is currently en vogue–the “subjective feeling” definition–is a modern invention of the last 40-50 years or so. It’s no coincidence that depression and all sorts of psychological ailments have skyrocketed in the same time span. The ancients (Aristotle, Moses, all those guys) had a better take on it. They saw happiness not as a subjective feeling, but as a well-ordered, integrated life of character…life well lived. In other words, they saw it as wisdom and knowledge applied to actual life.
Similarly, the writer’s of the Westminster Catechism were onto something when they declared that the chief end of life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. They saw the point of life as others-centered, not as “my-own-subjective-happiness” centered (though the two coincide in a way in their declaration). The two chief commandments uttered by Jesus in Matthew 23 is another way of stating that.
When examined with this lens, then it’s a no-brainer. Marriage is the better of the two (excepting those who forego marriage purposefully as a life calling in order to serve God…this is something worthy of the highest honor. The overwhelming majority of those in their 20′s who put off marriage temporarily do not have this in mind.). Yes, there are moments when you want to tear your hair out. Yes, there are moments when you have to put what you want to do (ie, hang out with the guys at the local watering hole) to the side and attend to the “honey-do” list. Yes, there are moments when you gotta put the video game controller down and go serve your wife.
I could go on, though you get the point. But…therein lies the rub. Therein lies the reason why marriage is better than protracted singleness: you pledge yourself and intimately bind yourself to a worthy, meaningful, and eternally consequential duty, a duty that, if attended to, is incredibly satisfying in the robust definition of happiness…to love another person as yourself. It is an incredible responsibility, and that is good. That responsibility brings about, not the thin version of happiness–though it does at times–but the thick version.
Have you ever attended to a very tough, ardous, and heavy task, and felt incredibly satisfied at the end of it, like building a house or starting a business? Perhaps you were cursing yourself while in the midst of it, but at the end, the satisfaction you felt made it all worthwhile precisely because you gave all you had towards meeting a high goal. That is analagous to marriage. It is hard work…and that’s good. You give yourself…all of yourself…towards shaping and raising up the character of a man/woman you love deeply, and the joy of that responsibility overshadows any temporary loss of subjective happiness.
That brings true happiness and true joy. Of course, you don’t need to be married to do that. You can “die to self” and serve others any time. However, it happens in marriage in an incredibly intense, intimate, and unique way. And again, that’s good.
You get that? Responsibility is good.