Last week a friend from church emailed me a question that seemed simple at first, yet had some profound implications. Here’s a portion of her email to me:
“I have had a question stated to me in conversation with a coworker. It was really meant more as a statement, not as a question to be answered. But it has come up several times, and I’ve been thinking next time it comes up I’d like to have a good answer. I wondered what you think of this question?
Why do people get married anymore? – here’s the back story – coworker divorced after a 25 year relationship. Her daughter was 12 at the time and asked this question of her mom. Of course several people in the community that they are acquaintances with have also divorced recently, and now the mom is asking the same question.”
As a good pastor, my first impulse was to write back a quick reply that definitively answered why people get married nowadays. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the innocent inquiry of a 12-year-old had accurately exposed the rapidly eroding institution of marriage in society today.
So, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you my reasons why people should still marry today . . . next week. That serves as a tease (and gives me another week to succinctly organize my thoughts). Today, I want to explain the thought process behind the 12-year-old, and why she has every right to ask this question, “Why do people get married anymore?”
Historically, there have been five major reasons why people got married in the past. In recent years, all five reasons have become null and void, giving 12-year-olds the right to ask this basic question.
1. Procreation - For most people, this is the most assumed reason people get married: to make babies. And yes, it still takes one man and one woman to make a child, but marriage is becoming more and more an optional accessory to the parents. While marriage is advantageous to parents (more on that next week), it’s not necessary. The social stigma attached to illegitimate children has dissipated, making marriage optional.
2. Protection - In ancient societies, might made right. Many women chose marriage simply to be protected from harmful elements in society. The husband was required to protect the honor of his wife. The husband still does that today, but with the advancement of law enforcement over the years, women can better protect themselves. They don’t need to depend on a man, if they choose not to.
3. Companionship - Companionship has been and will always be a critical part of marriage. With the advancement of technology and social media, companionship (or a form of it) can be found online between people who have never actually met. With so many opportunities to form friendships and communities, the monopoly that marriage had on companionship has been irrevocably broken.
4. Economic Advantage - In difficult economic times, humans needed to join together in marriage (if nothing else) for economic reasons. Little money going around meant people depended on each other more. As we well know, we live in the most prosperous society in human history. Even in a recession, we have the ability to live with someone else or on our own if we choose. That choice makes the economic drive behind marriage optional.
5. Tradition - People have gotten married because people have always gotten married. When traditions are honored, it provides a strong societal impetus to continue the traditions of the past. Our society today thrives on change. Our presidential election in 2008 was decided on the theme of “hope and change.” Being traditional isn’t valued anymore in society. In many ways, it’s seen as a detriment.
If an observant 12-year-old girl grew up in the midst of this culture, it doesn’t surprise me that she would question one of humanity’s oldest institutions. She’s a product of her environment. Even with all the cultural currents pushing against it, I still believe marriage is a good and godly option for most people. Next week, I’ll share my thoughts why.
QUESTION: What other factors would you add to this list that make people question the institution of marriage today?