With the growing number of broken homes in Nigeria and a SIGNIFICANT increase in single parenthood
Though my critical theological mindset sometimes criticizes and tend to jigsaw around the seeming fundamentalism that characterizes Femi Awodele's intellectual and oftentimes meaningful didactics on the Christian life, I also tend to respect his efforts at publishing these series, especially the ones he titles Home Improvement Series. However, my reflection on these series and the rational question of why we get married refuses to be abated by whatever I read, watch on television, or experience in the clinical marriage therapy world. The point is not to adjudge or argue the biblical principles on marriage but to sincerely ask the rational question: Why do we get married?
Tyler Perry the popular black american Movie director has theatrically brought this comical and singular question almost to our doorsteps via television, making each viewer truly question the rationale for marriage, particularly if such a person is unhappy with their choice of a spouse. However, this digest goes deeper than Perry's moviedom to examine the true motivations that push us to believe that life is worthless without marriage. Several sub-questions then arise:
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1) Are human beings naturally engineered to be married?
2) Are married couples truly happier than unwed but committed couples?
3) Is the adult truly unfilled without marriage?
4) Doesn't official marriage seem to cause more chaos than anyone needs?
5) Why bother getting married?
6) Is it not better to have everything but the rings? This writer has been fiddling with these rational aspects of this issue and the yet burgeoning popularity of marriage.
7) Is Marriage really a CONTRACT ?
A 2009 study by the Times Magazine shows that "--- more than five million unmarried couples cohabit in the U.S., nearly eight times the number in 1970, and a record-breaking 40% of babies born in 2007 had unmarried parents (that's up by 25% from 2002)." And we are not analyzing the segments of babydaddies or babymamas, the young and the accidental but couples who take up everything and give everything but the rings. Sociologists has dubbed this phenomenon as the committed unmarried (CUs), the happily unwed (HU), the unwed committed (UC); the Brad and Angelina, the Oprah and Stedman, the Goldie and Kurts of our world. While these couples may be disparagingly described as the famous unmarried, their group extends beyond the corners of Hollywood to our local streets and neighborhoods where we now see couples who are committed to a lack of legal commitment. And they are as happy as the truly married couples society shows us.
Another study from John Hopkins University notes that unmarried parents in Europe stay together longer than married parents in the U.S. Many other researchers (Cabrera, 2008, Maryland University) have also argued that the longevity of marriages is not because the relationship is rubber stamped by the Church or the State but by the fact and presence children. Having children is "--- a decision that a couple makes to strengthen commitment and move in together"; that commitment is more important than the marital status per se. As a Catholic theologian, this writer understand the goals and purpose of marriage to be more expansive than just the procreation of children, yet ecclesiastical and biblical doctrines weave around human experience to be practical.
Street interviews on the subject bring up many conjectures, some without any line of thought processing: 'so that we can live together; so we can have children; to have a solid commitment; to make our relationship official'. "Unwed committed" can live together, have children together, have a solid commitment, and if the public official commitment is what is desired, an advertisement can be placed in the papers reading "We are now official". With such deflated arguments my church folks argue that marriage makes a relationship divine, 'that something bigger than both of you bring you together and helps you succeed in it'. This is a valid faith argument, but not an empirical and rational one. Even so, the divine transposition of human limitations in marriage does not take away mistakes, strife, chaos, stress, fights and divorce. Ask an elderly married couple if they ever thought of divorce, and they will answer: 'divorce, no; committing murder, yes, and several times'. As my unwed committed friends would ask: who gave Eve's hand to Adam in marriage?
The musical artiste, Beyoncé sang the lyrics "if you like it, then you should have to put a ring on it." Others would say "the plus sign on the pregnancy test told me it is time to marry; I fell in love because I was tired of dating jerks; I got married because I met my soul mate and we are best friends; we communicate well and we both agreed on our future and I love and respect him." What happens if you loose that pregnancy in the second trimester, or when your sweetheart turns out to be a jerk overnight, or you catch him sleeping with your best friend just before the wedding?
In the American Association of Retired Persons magazine, Modern Maturity (May/June 1995), Linda Stern describes the various socio-economic demographics: social security earning limits, capital gains limits, Medicaid eligibility limits etc. and states that some time, long married couples divorce to remain eligible for benefits or in order to avoid financial disaster. One then would question, why did this couple marry in the first place and for how long? Overall, official economic policy makes marriage a bad option for too many people.
Yet, there is the seeming pressure from culture, emotions, social status, and religious motivations to get married. Are these pressures good enough to induce us into marriage? Why did David Letterman finally marry his partner of 23 years and the mother of their five year old son, just in the third month of this year? Was Letterman unhappy for the past 23 years, and if so why did he choose to officially marry her? Would Letterman be a happier man now, having married his previous unwed committed sweetheart? No one seems to rationally know these answers or the reason why we get married. Is it some force of nature or a divine engineering in humans that gravitates us towards marriage, if so can the human mind rationally unravel it?
No matter how the human mind works on the marriage phenomenon, the 'no spouse in the house' group have their own arguments on why they should not get married: You get the couch to yourself; you can watch whatever TV channel you like, without arguments; no one snores; you know where the bar of soap has been; smelly socks and skidding under-wears are not that big of an issue when you are only washing your own; you don't have to buy those stupid flowers; there are no curfews; if you mess up your finances you have no one to blame but yourself; Las Vegas is at back on the list of vacation considerations; you will never trade your interest in miniskirts for minivans; and without a spouse you can still have a descent social life.
Even women feel this same way. Anne Wright of the Sage Magazine (2007) interviewed 30 women on the basic question: "why get married". She found out that many women "don't buy the myth that you to be married to be happy and complete." Medical advances in fertility have extended the childbearing age range, meaning that women can put off having children later or have none. Women are earning graduate degrees, making them more self-sufficient with little or no reliance on men. The high divorce rate is a discouraging factor for others to attempt marriage, and is creating a large pool of single women who may settle down to a partner than a husband. The numbers of single women in New Mexico, 52,559 in 2004 rose to 106,622 in 2003 with the dual deduction that women are not getting married and/or are less likely to stay in troubled marriages than in previous years. Perhaps, some of these divorcees never bothered to reflect deep on the reason why they got married in the first place.
Obviously, marriage is more than a love affair, where boy meets girl and they are happy for a moment, and then go their separate ways. Marriages conjure a committed state, companionship, love, and the procreation and education of children; but are these features exclusive to the married state? Even the unwed committed do as much, do they not? The desire to entrench marital values makes us argue that marriage brings satisfaction and happiness; yet happiness is not a tangible and extrinsic value that you purchase or acquire, it comes from within. And are married folks truly happier or more satisfied than the unwed committed? The fact is, any couple can make a lifelong commitment to one another; being heterosexual and saying "I do" in the public doesn't make you more special, respectable or caring than the next person. The fact is, you don't have to do it to be happier than the rest of us. The unwed committed are not inferior to the married committed, and not committing suicide does not make you a health freak. The vanity in this argument is that unwed committed are purposively living their life as a photographic negative, defined not the persons they are but by the choices they refused to commit to.
Sitting at the feet of elderly married couples, one would hear galling counsels like: marriage is patience, endurance; marriage is a sacrifice or something you really have to work at. So if marriage is such a hellish pain, why do it? Australian is turning its head on this one, by initiating fixed-term marriages, just like mortgages and car notes; five years, 10 years, or perhaps 20 years and you are done. So why marry at all if you can survive just five year in it? When a couple stands at the front of friends and family to take the marriage vow, they inherently want to believe that their commitment is lifelong. No one takes those vows with the intention of giving it a short. Yet parts of the vow, 'till death do us part' adds to the sense of failure when we can't deliver this promise.
Comically, we are a generation of legal contracts: work contracts, internet contracts, cable contracts, cell phone contracts; and when these contracts are about to expire we shop for better deals. Marriage is also a contract, though we would add, a lifelong contract riffed with arguments, stress, fights, misunderstandings, deceits, unforgiveness, accusations, mood swings, heart-breaks, and betrayal amidst momentary satisfaction and happiness. It is becoming clearer that marriage bears a less relationship to having children. By 2026, The Australian Bureau of Statistics project that couples without children will be the commonest type of family in Australia, a 44% of all families. In the same token, married couples are not really happier than the unwed committed. Though marriage is meant to be forever, people can already live together without being married, so why is it necessary? What rational reasons push us to marriage? Why do we get married?
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