The pronouncement came from actress Cameron Diaz and psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow last week: marriage is a dying institution. It is an old tradition that has now overstayed its welcome and should be thrown out the back door. It doesn’t suit us or our world any longer. So they say.
Dr. Ablow gave a detailed analysis of the reality of marriage and the reasons why it should and will soon disappear from society. His eulogy for the cornerstone of civilization as we know it was depressing to say the least. (I could envision him walking up to the casket in order to smack the dead body upside the head and say, “Good riddance, ya lousy thief. You shoulda died a long time ago.”) He suspects the reason marriage doesn’t suit us now is because it never has.
Marriage, he says, takes so much from us. It is “a source of real suffering for the vast majority of married people.” “As a healer, I can’t help looking askance at anything that depletes energy, optimism, mood and passion to the extent that marriage does. It is, without a doubt, one of the leading causes of major depression in the nation.”
Yikes. When and how did marriage become such a terrible thing?
First he calls the government’s involvement in marriage a “colossal mistake.” He insists government “should have no role in marriage, whatsoever.” “Laws should exist, instead, that simply commit parents to financially support their biological children.” Forget about parents making a home for their kids; forget about forging a family for them; forget about showing them what it means to keep promises and put someone else first. Forget about commitment, fidelity, honor, security, and all those other foundational virtues. All that’s necessary is financial support, and I guess you’re off the hook entirely if your kids are adopted.
Surprisingly, Dr. Ablow agrees (unintentionally, I think) with the Catholic Church regarding his second reason marriage is dying: oral contraception. Whether he meant to or not, he illustrated that the Church has been right all along: contraception corrodes marriage. Sex is meant to be both procreative and unitive and when you separate the two, disaster ensues. Of course, Dr. Ablow put it differently: “Once human beings understood that they could express themselves emotionally, romantically and sexually without necessarily creating multiple families and perilously diving their assets, the psychological pain of living without sexual passion (even by choice) was significantly intensified.”
I’ll rephrase: Once people realized they could have sex with a different person every night with much less “risk” of making a baby, therefore less “risk” of disrupting their life and losing their assets, they soon found no reason at all to remain faithful to anyone, including their child. All that mattered was lessening their “psychological pain” and increasing their sexual passion. Pleasure trumps everything.
What a pile of sand. No wonder the foundation of the family – marriage – is crumbling.
Conspicuously absent from Dr. Ablow’s bruising verdict that marriage is passé was even the slightest mention of love. He speaks passionately about passion, sex, good feelings, physical attraction, freedom, the hassle and expense of divorce, but has nothing whatever to say about love. So it’s no surprise he comes to the same self-serving conclusions as Ms. Diaz and every other prognosticator spreading doom and gloom about marriage. Marriage surely is doomed to failure without love.
I’m not talking about being “in love.” I’m talking about Love. And guess what? Love is hard work. And that’s good! We self-absorbed humans need daily, plentiful opportunities to look beyond ourselves and stretch our sacrifice muscles so that, with time, we learn how to love. We have to learn how to love when the good feelings have vanished. We have to learn how to love when the passion has chilled. We have to learn how to love when there doesn’t seem to be anything in it for us.
We have to be reminded what love actually is: Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
Did you see where it said love is passion, or love is easy, or love is physical attraction? Me neither. Did it say love is a good feeling? Nope.
That doesn’t mean that the love of a husband and wife should be devoid of good feelings, or that the spousal relationship should be tepid and boring. Emotional barrenness is not inevitable and certainly not God’s plan for spouses. But like all of life there are changing seasons; there are highs and lows; there are easy times and trying times; there is happiness and sadness – you get the idea. Those who head for the door when they aren’t feeling it anymore will never reap the rewards of love.
Dr. Ablow says, “The third reason marriage is a dying institution is because it inherently deprives men and women of the joy of being ‘chosen’ on a daily basis.” (Here again, marriage is a thief stealing something precious from us. Sheesh.) Well, boo hoo. So none of us should have to feel obligated to stay if we don’t want to anymore? If we don’t feel especially “chosen” this week, we should be able to leave in search of someone who will stroke our ego?
I don’t want the guy who won’t hang around through the tough times. I don’t want the guy who’s going to split when someone prettier and more tingly with excitement over his greatness comes along. I want the guy who has the steel to stand by me, keep his vows, and honor his commitment particularly when it doesn’t feel good. I want the guy I chose when I promised to forsake all others.
And by the same token, I want to be the woman who does the same for her man. That means I’m gonna have to learn how to love, and it’ll be painful at times, because Love will entreat me down off my throne and smash my selfishness to bits. But only little by little, day by day.
I also want the guy who will choose to love me when I’m not very lovable. I want the guy who will keep walking with me through the hard times, being faithful through the empty times because he believes that Love will breathe on us again and the delights of passion will warm us again, even if more mellow than when we first began. (Like a good wine, Love ages sweetly.)
I want the guy who wants to learn to love, because he values Love and knows that Love is the reason for living. If that sounds like a greeting card cliché to you, too bad. Love is the end-all and be-all.
The sad state of marriage today has nothing to do with it being outdated or confining or passion-killing. It has everything to do with people who are no longer willing to love each other because they no longer understand what Love is, nor do they know Who Love is. It has everything to do with people being slaves to sexual desire and desecrating the beautiful gift of sexual love that brings forth new life.
No, Dr. Ablow, marriage is not a dying institution. What’s dying is our respect for each other and our reverence for human life. What’s dying is our willingness to sacrifice, to serve, to remain steadfast, to keep our vows. We are weak with self-gratification and a toddler’s attention span. We have no faith that deserts can bloom, ice can melt, storms will pass, and wounds can heal. What’s dying is our love.
Dr. Ablow concludes, “It’s only a matter of time now. Marriage will fade away. We should be thinking about what might replace it.” Marriage is in serious jeopardy, no doubt. If it dies, it will not be due to any inherent defect of its own but because we have ceased to try to conquer our defects. It will be because we gave up the struggle of love.
With what, exactly, shall we replace Love?