Tyler Smith asked a great question on Google+ about whether people were concerned about the waning influence of the traditional family in American Society. I answered with a resounding “yes” but I think the topic deserves more attention. I’d like to address this in two parts. First, the conversation cycled around the issues of how and when we do or should make the decision to get married in modern western culture. In a separate post I will directly address my perspective on the question that sparked the original discussion.
As a starting point, here was my initial response (early in the discussion but not the first response):
Based on my observation – “haven’t met the right person yet” is usually a cover for “it really isn’t a high priority for me yet.”
I spent a few years “not meeting the right person yet” and then I realized that it was time for me to be really serious about it. I “met the right person” within 2 months and was married within a year.
In hindsight (based on the experience of more than a decade of marriage) I realize that some of those I had spent my time with during those years of “not meeting the right person” would have been pretty good for me (no better for me than my wife, but no reason not to get married). The difference was that I wasn’t prepared in those earlier years and the difference in my preparation was almost entirely an outgrowth of my recognition that it was time to get serious about moving forward with marriage.
I’m not trying to put pressure on +Tyler Smith or +Ryan Bickmore‘s brother but I do hope that those who are still looking for the right person will stop and consider if they are really not finding mr/ms right or if it is simply not yet their priority.
As to Tyler’s original question: Yes, I am concerned that the influence of the traditional family is waning in our society. The alternative lifestyles (meaning all the lifestyles that take the place of traditional families) are not conducive to the long term stability of society when practiced on a wide scale for a sustained period of time.
The discussion that followed his post had participants representing a number of fairly typical perspectives. I apologize in advance if any of them feels that I misrepresent them or oversimplify their perspective. I have no intention of doing either of those things. I will be presenting their perspectives in boxes that I find to be fairly consistent but I understand that their personal perspectives are almost certainly more nuanced than I make them out to be and hope others assume that as well. Also, I will not be including myself or my perspective in the list of characters & perspectives not because I think I have some more grand, overarching perspective to offer, but because as the author of this article I expect to display my perspective writ large. (Besides, I fully expect that readers will find at least one character in the list that they associate with my perspective.)
The Characters – Their Perspectives (in order of appearance) and My Takeaway
Tyler Smith – Single, college graduate who believes in the importance of marriage but has passed what might be considered a traditional age for a first marriage. Naturally he is keenly aware of this subject and its implications on those who appear to have delayed marriage (whether or not they actually have). Tyler reminds me of the many singles who are prepared/preparing for marriage and the fact that this is not a simple step in life. Many if not most of us have grown up in a culture that emphasizes love and marriage but we now live in a culture that downplays marriage. This makes the process of finding a spouse and embarking into a new life together all the more challenging.
Ryan Bickmore – Married, believes in the importance of marriage. Also believes in personal agency and individual adaptation. Ryan reminds me that it is easy for married people to forget how challenging this decision/step is or to underestimate how much it has changed since they were in the situation of making that decision themselves.
Paul Jewkes – Believes in the importance of marriage and is concerned about the societal shifts towards delayed marriage and perpetual singleness. A strong proponent of personal accountability. Paul reminds me of how important it is to be direct, even bold, in supporting that which we know is right. He also reminds me of how important this particular issue is beyond just the single people making the decisions personally and how pervasive and often subtle the social pressures are that are working against marriage.
Michael Anderson – Divorced, believes that marriage is not universally desireable. (Please don’t mistake this as being hostile to marriage generally.) He is concerned with the propensity of marriage proponents to push singles toward marriage too hard and with too little regard for individual situations and tastes. Michael reminds me that we don’t all see things from the same vantage point and that there is not a universal right answer to this important issue for every individual. While I do think that marriage is generally desirable it is important to recognize that it is not the right situation for everyone.
Jonathan Walton – Believes in the importance of marriage but is cautious against the possibility of someone entering marriage prematurely simply to put an end to their singlehood or because “they’re supposed to get married.” Jonathan reminds me how potent the influence of others can be for good or ill. Proponents of marriage can damage marriage and society by putting pressure on the ill-prepared just as surely as opponents of marriage (or proponents for delayed marriage) can damage society by their influence.
Tevya Washburn – Believes in the importance of marriage but reminds us that deciding to get married is a joint decision. One person cannot independently choose marriage. Also concerned with the pressure felt by singles in the face of marriage proponents. Tevya reminds me that because of the joint nature of a marriage decision, nothing we do with an individual can answer the full scope of factors influencing a particular situation. Also, that there is a gap between the theory of marriage desirability in general and the reality of marriage desirability and availability in individual circumstances.
Cindy Siebert – Another proponent of personal agency and individual adaptation. Sensitive to absolutist perspectives. Cindy reminds me of the need to be open to possibilities we might not have considered and to be careful about painting anyone into a predefined box.
Adam Kenigsberg – Proponent of marriage and advocate of the primacy of personal preparation prior to marriage. Comes from an orthodox background with regard to the process of courtship and interpersonal relationships outside of marriage. Adam reminds me that the key for individuals to be able to make wise decisions regarding marriage is to engage in serious personal preparation and that the popular notions today regarding the courtship process have little bearing on those aspects of preparation that are most important to the founding and maintaining of a healthy marriage.
As a side note, I chose order of appearance because I think it is worth considering that the perspectives displayed by any one character are influenced by the perspectives already displayed prior to their entry into the discussion. Also, I did not include all the participants because there were a few participants whose contribution wasn’t sufficient that I could assign them to any particular perspective. That being said, I think the conversation had a healthy cross-section of perspectives outside of that minority of the population that is actively in favor of marriage postponement.
This is an important and intensely personal issue in a person’s life which also has massive implications on our society as a whole. Certainly it isn’t the only issue that can be described in those terms but no such issue should ever be considered independently of its gravity both individually and more broadly.
When we talk about the importance of marriage and how people should approach the issue we need to be very conscious of the difference between the broad issue and the individual issue. As much as possible we should make that difference clear in our discussions. Those who feel pressured based on the declarations of what should broadly happen should be reassured that marriage proponents understand the need for individual adaptation.
When we talk about specific individual situations marriage proponents should be careful to avoid blithely prescribing their general perspective as unfailingly applicable to the particular situation. The emphasis should clearly be focused on personal preparation and personal growth coupled with a healthy acceptance of personal preference, individual adaptation, and universal agency.