Monday, January 2, 2012

Is Singleness Really a Gift? – Part 3

1 universe, 8 planets, 204 countries, 809 islands, 7 seas, 6 billion people……and I’m still single.

The popular internet quote above always makes me chuckle but it also imaginatively describes my frustration with unrelenting singleness.  One year, after celebrating another depressing birthday, discovering another gray hair, and realizing I was facing yet another year as an unmarried woman, I decided to change my annual routine.  Instead of crying uncontrollably into my pillow screaming, “Why, Lord, why?!” I took a calm, logical assessment of my situation.   If there were 6 billion people in the world, I reasoned, then likely half of them were male (give or take a million here or there).  That meant there were approximately 3 billion males in the world.  Of those 3 billion males I estimated that half were of the age to marry.  That left me with 1.5 billion men.  Of those men, I didn’t think it far-fetched to assume that at least 65% were already married, leaving the other 35%, or 525,000,000 men, still unmarried.  Of those men, I conservatively guessed that 40% were over the age of 35.  That left me with a whopping 210,000,000 men!  Who said math wasn’t useful?

Next, I took an honest assessment of myself.  I’m no Miss America but I’m no lumbering troll either.  I feel attractive.  I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I have a beautiful smile and a very pleasant laugh.  I’m fun at parties, I can converse on an array of subjects, and I smell good.  To sum up, I don’t think it overly optimistic to expect that of the 210,000,000 marry-able men out there in the world at least 3 would enjoy having me as a wife.  Three potential husbands!  The thought was exhilarating!

I excitedly imagined who these three prospective mates were.  Maybe one was a German engineer named Gunter living in Berlin.  Perchance another was a Chinese police officer named Kai patrolling the bustling streets of Hong Kong.  And the third, perhaps, was a proud, sturdy Inuit named Nanuk hunting for game in the arctic seas.  Or possibly one was a businessman in New York, the second, a scientist in Los Angeles, and the third, an architect in Chicago.  Or maybe all 3 were living in the same trailer park in Topeka, Kansas.  Who knew where they were?

My point is this:  there is definitely not a shortage of men in the world.  Our world, composed of four oceans, three large seas, and seven continents is awash with men.  There are clearly plenty of husbands to go around – so what gives?  Why is it so hard to get married these days?!

Our planet is literally teeming with men.  Why is it so hard to find one to marry?

The Rocky Road to Marriage

The popular Rocky Road flavored ice cream, a delicious combination of rich chocolate ice cream, crunchy nuts, and sugary marshmallows (yes, I too will have to make an emergency trip to the supermarket after reading that sentence), was created in Oakland, California in 1929.  After the devastating Wall Street crash later that year that signaled the Great Depression, the ice cream was named “Rocky Road” to describe the state of things to come and to give people something to smile about during the inevitable dark times that would follow.  Pity there was not an ice cream flavor invented to indicate the difficult times ahead for marriage after 1929.  Judging by the state of things today, it might have been strawberry ice cream laced with rusty nails and broken glass shards named “Mangled Muddle.”

Never in the history of our country has the state of marriage been harder to accomplish.  Indeed, we live today in a society that is more hostile to marriage than any that preceded it.  Not only is marriage very difficult to maintain (the median length of marriages in the U.S. today is only 11 years) but it is also curiously difficult to obtain.   In Candice Watters’ book Get Married, quoting her former professor, she writes, “The culture we live in is anti-marriage.  So many of the customs and unwritten social rules that once helped to naturally bring young men and women together now seem to pull them apart.”1  What does Watters’ mean by “customs” and “social rules”?  How is our society less favorable to marriage than previous ones?

In every culture, people-group, and nation that has inhabited the earth (including our own American culture many decades ago), marriage and family were seen as such important institutions – meeting the God-given needs of the marriage partners, presenting a safe place in which to rear children, and providing the building blocks of society – that their formation was never left up to chance or kismet.  There was simply too much at stake.  For this reason, marriage was built into cultural customs and traditions, woven into the very fabric of society.  Parents, extended family, even the community as a whole were often involved in the process of courtship, betrothal, and marriage.  The fact that weddings, even to this day, are always performed in front of witnesses, giving notice that the two persons at the altar are now bound in matrimony, indicates that marriage has always been more than just a private whim.  The reasons for marrying were also fairly standard and had more to do with societal expectations and duties than with personal fancies and dreams.  As long as a person qualified to be married, specifically if the person was an adult who was sane, free from communicable and deadly diseases, and was not currently married to anyone else, they had a very good chance of marrying.  Beyond these basic qualifications, people tended to marry within their age group, religious affiliation, and economic class which created strong, lifelong bonds.  Certainly, there were always those who had chosen a celibate lifestyle and the exceptional spinster or confirmed bachelor here and there.  For the most part, however, most who wanted to marry did marry because the path to marriage was clear, well-worn, and definite.

The path to marriage was once a clear road to success.....

....but now it is a tangled path of confusion often leading nowhere.  It is little wonder so many of us aren't marrying.

Not so today.  Though we may be tempted to applaud the freedom we have in our modern culture to date a seemingly unlimited number of mates without parental or community assent, this freedom has come at a very high price.  The price is relative ease in marrying.  Dating, which took the place of the more formal and intentional courtship of yesteryear, is much more recreational and noncommittal, engaged in for its own sake and often not a direct path to marriage.  When you add to this the Sexual Revolution of the late 1960s that separated sex from marriage, the Hollywood-inspired requirement to “fall head-over-heels in love” with the person you marry (and not, as people had done for centuries, grow to love the person through shared experiences over the years), the lack of discerning involvement from parents and family, and the general transience of our communities, you have a recipe for fewer weddings.  In as little as 50 years, our culture has turned the patterns and customs of approaching marriage upside down.  Virginity, once seen as a precious commodity and the rightful ticket to sexual fulfillment in marriage, is now, as expressed in the movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin, considered an unwanted joke.  And though we now have access to potentially hundreds of marriage prospects through online dating, there is seldom a meeting of the minds that leads to a walk down the aisle, making marriage a catch-as-catch-can affair.  The path to marriage, a once straight, obvious, and comfortingly predictable path, is now a series of incomplete highways, confusing road signs, blown-out bridges, and dead-ends.

Where is God in all of this, you may be asking?  Is He still on the throne and in control of what goes on?  Or has our society rendered His interference null?  Is God a distant Deity who has left us to our own devices to get married or is He a Dictator who has willed the increasing difficulty in getting married?  Those who believe all singleness, whether wanted or unwanted, is a gift of God assigned to some would say that God has willed this change in our society.  In the final post of this series, we will examine this idea further.

1  Candice Watters, Get Married  (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Publishers, 2008), 16.

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