In my view, there is something fundamentally wrong with the way Christians and the greater Church approach marriage in the present age. Now, there are plenty of problems with Christian marriage as an institution these days: debates over submission/headship, the way divorce is approached, the consequences of sexual immorality, sexual denial, so on and so forth. I’ve addressed some of those before, and will address others in the future. The purpose of this post is to examine the way Christians approach marriage, in the form of the “script” or timeline which most Christians seem to follow and in many cases are expected to follow when it comes to Marriage.
The “life script” of Christians these days doesn’t appear to be much, if any different, than the life script of their secular counterparts. There seems to be a general plan:
1) Graduate from High School
2) Go to College
3a) Get a Job
3b) Continue on with Graduate school
4) Move up to a better paying, higher status job
5) Get Married
6) Have Children
There are a number of reasons why this “plan” has been adopted. One reason for this delay is the belief that a man must be able to fully support his family before he can marry. Given the current labor and job market, that can take years. And yet many parents teach their sons just this. Others teach their daughters not to marry a man who can’t immediately support her and children. Another reason for the delay is the huge emphasis much of the culture places on education and schooling. Four years at college are often followed by even more time spent in a graduate program. Parents tell their children that if they want to succeed in life, they need an education. Furthermore, everything else should, must wait until that education is finished.
All in all, by the time this script has run through its course, most of those following it are in their late twenties or early thirties. Depending on if this process was interrupted in some way, it could be mid to late thirties. Two very significant problems present themselves as a result of this life plan:
1) Fertility Problems
2) Sexual Immorality
Male fertility doesn’t decline much with age, but female fertility does. There are plenty of studies out there which show the impact of age on female fertility, enough so that it would be superfluous for me to link any. What is clear from all of them is that women who are sure they want children should start as soon as possible. However, all too many Christian women wait to marry, and then have children, until they already are running a risk of age-related fertility. Even if a Christian woman is able to get pregnant, she might not be able to have as many children as she wants, as the odds of pregnancy during each cycle have become very low. So from the perspective of fertility and family size, the current script is a bad idea, mainly for women.
There is another danger which often results from this delaying of marriage, namely sexual immorality. Humans are sexual beings, starting at puberty we experience primal urges that are amongst the most powerful of instincts. The male sex drive is especially potent, as it is always active and stays that way for decades. By encouraging a life script that delays marriage until the late twenties or thirties, the Church and Christian parents are forcing young Christians to suppress these urges for a very long period of time. In some instances this means over a decade of adulthood, or to put it in perspective, close to two decades from the start of puberty. Realistically, most individuals will not be able to resist that long. I know how difficult it has been for me to fight back and control my sex drive, especially now that women are finding me attractive. Even for those men who aren’t attractive, the Need is still there, and it is a constant struggle to live with it. Nor is it easy for women, because even a half-way decent looking female is apt to receive a fair amount of male attention which will serve as a source of temptation.
To understand the absurdity of the current paradigm, let us examine a hypothetical situation involving two young Christians, Tom and Jane.
Tom and Jane both grew up in a nice suburb, and their parents both go to the same Church. They attend the same school and have known each other for years. Somewhere along the line they “fall in love,” but being sincere Christians they refrain from the sin of fornication. Tom is very smart; he does well in school and scores well on college entrance exams. Jane is also smart, but doesn’t want to become a career woman; she wants to be a mother and homeschool her children. It has been made clear to them that they shouldn’t marry until the husband is capable of supporting his wife and their children, so they don’t marry out of High School. Tom attends a quality university where he discovers that he likes biology and medicine, and decides to become a doctor. After getting his undergraduate degree, he goes to medical school. Eventually he graduates, and after an internship and post-graduate training gets a job as a doctor at a private practice.
At this point 10 years could have passed since Tom and Jane graduated high school. He and Jane are both 28 now. Here are some of the possible ways that Tom and Jane could act based on this situation:
1) Tom and Jane both remain chaste, saving themselves until they get married after Tom finally gets his job as a doctor. Jane willingly gives up the most fertile years of her life out of love for Tom. Also, they are able to refrain from fornication for the ten years they are both adults. If anyone thinks this is likely, they should contact me because I have a couple of real estate deals that I know of in the river crossing field that might interest them.
2) Tom and Jane fail to remain chaste, and engage in premarital sex. Depending on how often and how long this goes on, Jane might become pregnant. This results in several possible outcomes, including the baby being given up for adoption, or Tom is pressured to marry Jane but to do so must leave school and take up whatever job he can find to support them. Perhaps the stress of it all is too much, and they break up at this point, leaving Jane a single mother.
3) Not wanting to wait years for Tom to graduate and get a job, Jane leaves him and finds another man, perhaps an older one, to marry. Tom is heart-broken at this, and is angry at those who kept them apart. During this period is extremely vulnerable to various temptations, whether they be drugs, alcohol or engaging in fornication with other women
4) Either Tom or Jane, or perhaps both, become sexually involved with other people. They both fornicate, although not with each other. Their budding romance probably dies. If they do marry in the end, the baggage from their sins will negatively impact their marriage.
5) Tom and Jane decide to defy their parents and marry anyways. They elope, and possibly face criticism from within their families for it.
What does it say when the best (realistic) option is one where Tom and Jane defy their parents? It says that Christians have lost their way when approaching the issue of marriage. Think of all the Christian parents out there who are supporting their unmarried adult children. Consider especially single mothers who had children out of wedlock who are being support by their parents. Then think of how many newlyweds don’t receive that same level of support from their parents.
Here is the problem: we live in a world filled with temptation, probably more than ever. For most young Christians, the only practical solution for avoiding sexual sins to to marry young. Yet the Church, and lay Christians, do a whole lot to dissuade young Christians from doing just that.
Now, I know some people will point out that the median age of marriage in the US was never that low, at least until the 50’s. This is true; in 1910 the median age of men marrying was 25.1, and for women 21.6 (source here). However, it is important for us to realize and accept that prostitution was quite common back then, especially in the cities. A lot of the men who were marrying later, and thus pushing the median age up, were likely visiting prostitutes. They weren’t “waiting for marriage.” And a lot of the women who did “save themselves for marriage” were kept far away from the wider world. They didn’t have the kind of freedom young women have today.
One of our goals as Christians should be to avoid sin. That should extend to creating a “system” for our children that helps them avoid sin. Fornication is a sin, and a serious one at that, so we should do what we can to curtail it. That means encouraging young marriage. For those who object to this, who point out the financial difficulties and such that might arise, I ask you this: which is a bigger problem: young Christians engaging in sin, or young Christians having to endure several years of financial hardship after marrying? I submit to you that fornication is the greater problem.
Rollo Tomassi often quips that he is surprised that Christians are somehow able to breed these days. Behind his barbs is a poignant observation of the reality of the situation: the current Christian “plan” for courtship and marriage is broken. In my next post on this subject (hopefully a more coherent one) I intend to go over some ideas on how to fix this problem.