Let’s Get Back to Traditional Marriage

In the lead up to Valentine’s day on Irrelevant radio, Drew Mariani had a special guest on his show, Brian Barcaro, co-founder of CatholicMatch.com.  I found this interesting, as Mr. Mariani bills himself as a journalist, but in this case you have to wonder.  CatholicMatch.com is quite a prominent sponsor of Relevant Radio and Mr. Mariani himself does many commercials for the service.  In fact, he implores his listeners to check out the “special offer” that can be found at a subsection of the site which can be found using his name.  So not only does Catholic Match keep Irrelevant Radio afloat (in part) but they also presumably pay Mr. Mariani directly for his services.

Most news organizations would consider this a serious violation of journalistic ethics, giving someone a platform that you are making money from.  Making your show no longer any kind of “news” but rather a long commercial announcement.  Brian Williams was taken off the air for a much less serious breech of trust than this.  But never mind that.

What they talked about was how to reverse the slide in the number of people getting married.   To be honest, I didn’t listen to them, but I do know that Catholic Match itself is a clear symptom (and by no means a cure!) of what is “wrong” with marriage.

Turning to Catholic Match means that people feel that there is “no one” to marry in their home parish, their workplace, school or anywhere else they frequent.  No one who meets their criteria in their home parish, diocese or even their state.  So, they have to search the whole world.  You could say they are too picky, but the real reason is that yes, marriage has changed from the “good old days.”

Over and over again you will hear hosts on Irrelevant Radio pining for the good old days of marriage.  I guess what they mean is back when women were pretty much forced to get married because they no economic rights of their own.  In the good old days, your family dictated pretty much who you would marry.  In the good old days, shotgun marriages were common.  In the 1950s, between a quarter and a third of brides were already pregnant.

But now, pregnancy is not necessarily a reason to get married.  People are putting off the age of first marriage, and one reason is that wanting (and needing) fewer children people can get established in their career, save up for a house and of course, keep up the search for the “perfect” mate.  This is part of a trend that has been happening for some three hundred years now, the romantization of marriage.

I don’t want to get into the argument about how long people have felt romantic love (perhaps always) but it is true that in Western society, for a very long time, marriage was more about cementing family and economic opportunities than about love.  When parent and families didn’t flat out arrange marriages, the exercised very strong influence.  Stepanie Coontz points out that while such marriages might not have been “happy” they were stable in that the extended family and community were involved in keeping them together.

As marriage became more romanticized, it also became more unstable, according to Coontz.  And it is not hard to see why.  If marriage is supposed to make you happy, when you are unhappy (as often happens) perhaps you need a new marriage.  And so we saw in the 20th century.  When the divorce laws were liberalized in the 50s and 60s, there was a spike in divorces, which have since leveled out.  But still many marriages end in divorce.

At first glance, something like Catholic Match might seem to be a solution to the “problems” of marriage, but I would argue it is not.

First it raises even higher the idea of romantic marriage.  I don’t think it is any accident that the idea of a “soulmate” is becoming even more entrenched in our society.  One perfect creature with whom you will have a perfect relationship with, forever.  Online dating gives the illusion that you can find that one person in the world.  And what could possibly go wrong with that?

In addition to the over romantization of marriage, too many choices itself brings its own set of problems.  Studies have shown that when consumers have to make too many choices they “having to make too many decisions can leave people tired, mentally drained and more dissatisfied with their purchases. It also leads people to make poorer choices — sometimes at a time when the choice really matters.”  This probably applies to online dating as well.

And finally, online dating may be destabilizing from a community standpoint as well.  Since you are not meeting the person through any of your existing communities, that means you know much less about them, which can be its own problem (con artists, rapists, etc.)  But even if things work out, you may have people from different areas of the country getting together and the result ultimately destabilizing.  I had a friend who met his wife online, she was from Oklahoma and he from Wisconsin.  She moved up here for a couple of years, then they moved to Oklahoma.  Maybe this will last with one of them being away from their culture of origin, but one would think maybe not.

Maybe the cure for the marriage drought is to truly go back to the “good old days.”  For over a thousand years the Catholic Church™, Inc. basically was not involved in marriages.  There was no “sacrament of marriage.”  People got together in front of family and friends and said, “Let’s get it on.”  Or something like that.  England didn’t even start issuing marriage licenses until the late 1700s.

Contrary to what you might think, church and state were not that involved with marriage for over a thousand years in the west.  Maybe we should go back to that and let the people themselves decide when they are married and when they aren’t.

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