A couple of months ago I ran into a friend from college. We hadn’t kept in touch since then, but I was happy to see him.
“Why aren’t you married yet?” he asked me.
The occasion of our meeting was a play, and intermission was nearly over, and a couldn’t summon up any kind of answer in the time I had. I think I fairly gaped at him. You will have to deal with my reply. His question inspires in me a strong reaction, which may be best expressed: “That’s just stupid!”
Perhaps, more accurately, “That’s just STUPID!!!”
Isn’t that a good answer? If only I’d thought of it at the time I’m sure it would have cleared everything up for him.
That judgement may be a good summary of my response but it’s a terrible explanation. And quite often when you employ a lot of emotion in lieu of an obvious explanation, the answer is not obvious at all. The implication behind the question (that I either actively avoid marriage or, through notable inaction, avoid it) antagonizes me because I don’t think of myself as avoiding marriage at all. But here I am living with my parents; what more classical way of avoiding marriage could there be? (So presumes our culture.)
For someone in my condition–male, debt free, out of college, middle-class income–the obvious reasons for lack of marital attachment are:
- Irresponsible, or afraid of commitment. Not willing to make life-altering commitments. This is not true of me. Perhaps the evidence is not visible to the casual acquaintance, but I take it as nearly a moral slander.
- Selfish. I am certainly selfish, but one of the things that makes me happy is making other people happy. I am not too caught up in my career or anything to “have time” for women.
- Homosexual. I’m hyper-sensitive about this one. I live out in the country where men hunt. I don’t hunt. Men also follow at least one sport (or engage in one), have been enlisted in the military, fix cars, farm (with tractors–real farming!), ride motorcycles, or, if nothing else, at least drink and play video games. I was interested in Graphic Design before switching my college major to English, don’t own anything with a motor besides my Honda Accord, and have not engaged in any of the preceding activities beyond going along with others on occasion.
- Socially debilitated. This is about the last conclusion anyone can come to, if all of the others are ruled out. Living with my parents and not going out much generally supports this view. I make friends slowly (or add friends slowly, which may not be quite the same thing), but I have a range of normal friends. I am not, as one may think, limited to devotees of Star Trek or any other nerd refuge. I do begin to wonder if I have some particular handicap, since more of my friends are women, and most of those married and often older (I mean, in the range of a decade or two, not two or three years).
So, to conventional thinkers, if all the obvious explanations are off the table, it seems a reasonably open question. That goes to show how few close friends I have (outside of my immediate family, I mean). People who know me well should know at least the better part of the answer–the answer that I myself hardly understand.
I used to say that marriage was not the kind of thing you should seek. It’s a good thing, of itself, but seeking it for itself is a confusion of virtues. Let’s just say, for the sake of illustration, that it is like heaven; and while it is all well and good to desire heaven, it is not right to hurry there. I would try to back myself up by quoting Paul that it is better to remain unmarried; yet, granting that Paul nor any other New Testament teacher prohibits marriage, recognizing Paul’s teaching that marriage is not necessary for everyone speaks no reproach to the one who desires it.
So I’d say that if you go looking for something your are likely to find it–that is, if you go out seeking a wife you’ll probably wind up with one, because it’s not so hard for a nice young man to find a nice young lady. When I go shopping for shoes I don’t fail to find my prize for long. But a wife is not shoes; you don’t get a new one later and you haven’t got any slack for second thoughts. Undertaking such a mission invites a premature conclusion and a lifetime of regret.
But this is a spirit of fear, as a friend pointed out to me (since I was too dense to see it for myself). A lifetime is not long enough, nor the progress of our lives so assured, that by waiting a full lifetime we will at the end of it make only good choices. One can always make a mistake, at any age; and the God of your future happiness is the God of your present happiness, too, or should be. Choosing a wife does take more careful consideration than other material commitments, yes, but respecting the difference is not achieved by a special voodoo.
So as best as I can figure out, to the question “Why aren’t you married yet?” my answer is “I don’t know, I give up. Go ahead and tell me.” So far in my life I’ve only heard two answers; one, “Because you don’t go to bars,” and two, “Because you don’t go to church.” There are some variations on either of these; you can substitute ‘professional conventions’ for ‘bars,’ or ‘homeschooling conventions’ for church, and so forth, but it all comes down to one of the two.
Both places make me uncomfortable. It’s kind of amazing how similar the two are in my estimation. I could become comfortable in either environment, but to do so would compromise values very important to me. I like to be the center of attention; I can be funny; I can certainly be ribald; and I am passionate and easily overcome with emotion. These things do not mix well with alcohol. That is to say, they mix very well with alcohol and some work associates have been keenly interested in observing the combination; but I would not be pleased with the results.
In more genteel professional circles, where ribaldry is at least somewhat constrained, everyone is occupied acting professional. We are all trying to project that ideal professional image. Although we are all failing in our own unique ways (and thus personality is in evidence), there is a layer of charade that unsettles me. On the one hand I want to believe that everyone really is my friend, and we all have so much in common. On the other hand I realize there is an element of politeness in the mix, and the common interests are not always each person’s driving interests. I alternate between feeling pleased with my own popularity and paranoid that it is all a sham. I can keep this bipolar tendency in check well enough to get along, but I can’t really enjoy myself.
Further, the kind of family I want to have won’t accommodate two careers. A lot of people would be offended to hear me state this so plainly, but it’s true and it’s based on pretty deep convictions about God and love and the meaning of life. I don’t begrudge a woman who’s decided she’ll have a career and I have at least as many friendships with professional woman as men; but when it comes to the union of two lives that’s just not compatible with me. It makes the professional circuit pretty barren.
But I don’t get into too many conversations about life and love with professional acquaintances anyway; at least not long conversations. It’s usually only a grandmother who knows me so well, and yet so little, as to suggest finding a wife out the the business world.
Some of my acquaintances from the business world would probably regard what I’ve already said as sufficient answer to the question already. If you want to live like it’s 1950, or even further back in the dark ages of history, you shouldn’t be surprised modern women will have nothing to do with you. Ironically, though, this conclusion would be quite wrong. That is, there are plenty of young women out there who want nothing more from life than marriage and a family. In fact, large homeschooling families are rapidly developing into a subculture significant from a political, fiscal and demographic point of view.
Doubly ironic, this subculture makes me even more uncomfortable than the business & booze mainstream scene. Women in this subculture are quite commonly convinced that they belong to their father or husband. I am antiquated and radical enough to believe that my life belongs to God; and it makes sense that a potential wife would need to believe the same. But I do not think that my life belongs to anyone else; not my boss at the Company, not the President of the United States, and not my dear old dad. In this respect a woman who thinks her father owns her life (or, as she might say, her heart) is no different to me than the one pledged to her career. Such a person has made a life commitment I cannot agree with. I don’t think I have the right or duty to change anyone’s mind on the matter but I can’t in good faith go along with it.
People are not homogenous, of course, and I can’t lump everyone going to church into this patriocentric philosophy. But if people trying to project the corporate ideal are hard for me to get along with, you can imagine how much trouble I have in churches. Again, I can play along. I behave nicely and I can talk about God; in fact, I can do God-talk better than most, so I am a high-value asset in religious societies. I am okay with being a business asset but I really don’t like being a religious asset. Churches are in the business of creating a cultural piety I see as far different than dependence upon God, and people typically behave differently around their church friends than they do around their friends in general. ‘Fake’ and ‘God’ do not belong together. It’s a dangerous combination in several ways and I don’t want to become comfortable with it.
These flaws in the trite formulas do not amount to a fixed quandary. I do not mean to present a hopeless case. But if you know me much at all you should know already that I have not been living my life by a formula. It should come as no surprise to anyone that this latest chapter in my life doesn’t fit their script. But it is provoking and not at all comforting to be quizzed as though I had somehow arranged to be without a well-desired companion. If I cannot answer a fool in his folly, I will fire my volley at the internets.