Thursday, August 8, 2013

Be perfect...then marry?

I was reading an editorial in the morning paper written by Tom Purcell about the rapid decline in the marriage rate in America when compared to marriage rates in 1960.  The statistics should be alarming as we seem intent on breeding ourselves out of existence.  The usual reasons are stated for this decline, e.g. economy, concentration on careers, personal fulfillment and happiness, fear of loss of freedom.  But here's what caught me:

And then there is the “soul mate” factor, a modern construct.

 But nowadays, many single people are holding out for the perfect person — perfect looks and personality — and the good-hearted CPA isn’t likely to make the cut.

The fact is, no one person can ever live up to our high soul-mate ideals — so many people remain single.
Marriage is on the decline because people and circumstances aren't perfect (people are not far enough in career, no house, too much debt, etc.) and because the person they would marry isn't perfect (not funny enough, not good-looking, not financially independent enough, etc.).  Since when did marriage require perfection as a must before going through with it?  Apparently in this current generation.

If people were to be really honest, there are no perfect set of circumstances anymore.  The economy is not what it was and is still in a very tenuous position for a lot of people.  There are no perfect people.  That's a no-brainer.  Yet, shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette  and commercials like those for e-Harmony, and constantly peddle the idea that there is a perfect person for you, that there is a soul mate for you.  Don't settle.  There's someone better.  It's no longer "Love the one your with;" it's now "love [only] the one you want."  What's worse is that finding a marriage partner and then planning for marriage has been reduced to a
checklist with objectives that need to be reached before saying the "I do."

For the Christian who believes that marriage is a sacrament, a union of man and woman in one flesh, Christ uniting with His Church, marriage is not the end, but the beginning of perfection.  We marry because we want to strive for perfection with Christ as our guide.  Marriage is an ascetic struggle, a death of self to our spouse (as Christ died for the Church and as the martyrs died for Christ; hence why we sing hymns to the martyrs on weddings in the Orthodox Church) so that we may become more like Christ and hence, become perfect.  Marriage is no different from monasticism in that respect.

If perfection were required before any participation in the mysteries/sacraments of the Church, then no one would receive the Eucharist, no one would be baptized, no  one would be ordained, no one would be married, no one would be given holy unction and monasteries would be completely empty.  The perfect have no need of the sacraments.  They are for imperfect people who desire that perfection.  

I certainly grant that secularists would not subscribe to marriage as a death of one's self for the sake of Christ, but they need not have to.  As long as it is taught to our children (i.e. those of us having children) that marriage is a means, not an end (whatever that end may be), perhaps a reversal of the decline may occur. 

However, I suspect that as long as happiness is defined strictly as having no cares and no responsibilities beyond those which give one personal fulfillment and landing only the perfect person, the marriage rate will continue on its current trajectory.

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