Last week, at the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis said that the Church must extend “a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family.” His message gave me hope. The last few months I have been surprised by the negative books and news stories about modern dating culture and the supposed death of monogamy. In his book, Modern Romance, popular comedian Aziz Ansari bemoans the effect technology and dating apps have had on romantic relationships. With so many options out there, and with more people communicating by text, people quickly move from one partner to another, rarely taking time to really get to know another person. Ansari points out that dating sites such as Match.com and okCupid have helped create the illusion that there is one perfect soul mate out there for everyone. With so many options available, people seeking partners have little patience to invest in any one person if they don’t appear to fit the “perfect profile” of the imagined “One.” Similarly, the combination of the sexual revolution and apps like Tinder has made it unbelievably easy to find willing sexual partners. Not surprisingly, however, even ultra-hip Vanity Fair admits how unsatisfying these shallow relationships tend to be. In September’s issue one young man compared Tinder to porn use: “People are gorging. That’s why it’s not intimate.”
Even though his own parents remain happily married, Ansari also questions whether monogamy is realistic in today’s world, and just last week the cover of Time magazine asked, “Is Monogamy Over?” Thankfully, the lead psychologist quoted by Time said no, noting that although monogamy isn’t “natural” or easy, “it does offer the benefit of biparental care. . . . And because human children need so much parental assistance, protection and investment, humans, perhaps more than any other animal, especially benefit from monogamy.”
I understand that in today’s culture, it’s definitely harder to sell the concept of faithful, lifelong marriage. Many people have experienced the pain of divorce, or have grown up with parents who never married. The ease of casual hook-ups, combined with the fear of commitment, has caused many younger people to shy away from the altar.
To all those who see no point in getting married, I say, don’t be afraid! Most worthwhile things in life are pretty scary at the start, and take a lot of effort. If you have been lucky enough to know an older couple who made it “until death do us part” with a happy marriage, you can begin to understand the benefits. There’s nothing like a lifelong friend who loves you. Families also benefit from having a stable, loving couple as their foundation. A married couple’s lessons of perseverance, adaptation and forgiveness learned over many years together point the way for future generations and give them hope.
I hope and pray that the next generation doesn’t give up on lifelong love. To those who wonder how it can be done, I say, start with becoming the kind of person who would make an excellent husband or wife. One man I know, whose parents’ marriage did not survive, spent his entire engagement reading books about how to be a good husband, so he would be better prepared for his marriage. Seek spiritual guidance in becoming the right person as well as finding the right person. Second, spend time around older couples who have made their marriage a success, and learn from them. Finally, if you are racing from one shallow relationship to another, stop. As happily married Paul Newman once pointed out, “Why go out for hamburger when I can have steak at home?” Today’s “Tinder diet” is worse than that – it’s like living on Cheetos and ramen noodles. If you hope to find a person to share your life with, don’t fill your life with junk relationships – start exercising healthy habits now by spending time with worthwhile people and getting to know them before becoming involved. You’re much more likely to find love that way.
This summer, I was given the gift of attending a beautiful wedding. Underneath the floral arch, with rain on the windows behind them, the bride and groom said their vows to one another. The ceremony included tears and laughter, stories and promises, and timeless words from the Book of Common Prayer:
The union of husband and wife in heart, body and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given to one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.
Marriage does offer joy, help and comfort, as well as challenges, and it is worth it. Lastly, it is important to know that faithful love cannot be sustained by our own power. Along with the congregation, I bowed my head as the priest prayed for the couple:
O gracious and everliving God, you have created us male and female in your image: Look mercifully upon this man and this woman who come to you seeking your blessing, and assist them with your grace, that with true fidelity and steadfast love they may honor and keep the promises and vows they make.