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June 17, 2005

Comments

The Birdwoman

I understand why marriage is useful from a legal point of view (the right for one's partner to be considered next-of-kin, etc), but I doubt I'll ever really "get" why it's so essential otherwise. I'm in a monogamous long-term relationship. What's the difference, other than the legal stuff?

Also, I think that when relationships don't work out (and divorces happen) it's not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, relationships may end due to selfish, unfair reasons, but what if the people involved have just grown apart? I believe that we're constantly growing and changing and emphasising the need for lifelong monogamy may stifle people by trapping them in relationships that no longer work. A relationship that's ended isn't necessarily a failure, if it was good for both participants at the time.

Maybe I should write a post on why marriage makes me uncomfortable...

Mr. Bad

Hi Hugo,

I find statements like (you)"Marriage, done right, strips away a man's selfishness and self-absorption like nothing else.", (various feminists) "marriage 'civilizes' men," etc., to be astoundingly simplistic, derogatory and insulting. It's exactly analogous to telling women that they are incomplete without a husband, only worse because instead of being merely 'incomplete,' in the eyes of you and other feminists, men who do not have wives (or SSDPs) are "selfish," "self-absorbed," "uncivilized," etc. In other words, unmarried men are hopelessly 'broken' and only a woman (or another man, presumably gay) can 'fix' us.

Like I said, I find that characterization of umarried men to be thoroughly insulting, obnoxious and tremendously simplistic and shallow.

La Lubu

Wonder of all wonders, I find myself agreeing with Mr. Bad here; I don't see much difference from assuming that an unmarried adult man must have something "wrong" with him, or that he is less mature, than the flipside of "you're nothing without a man" foisted on women.

Not only that, but aren't you reading a little bit much into the marital status of adults? Especially male adults, who are still raised with the sexist notion that they are supposed to be the providers? Back in the day, it was possible for an eighteen-year-old man, fresh out of high school, to get a job with the type of pay and benefits that provided for a family. That situation doesn't exist anymore, and it is perfectly reasonable for both men and women to postpone marriage until their schooling is completed and they have gainful, steady employment.

Where I live, it's common for people to be married with three children before the age of thirty. Yes, even the men! I used to be able to count on one hand the number of my union brothers who reached the age of thirty without being married; now I don't think I can even do that, as one of our most notorious bachelors just tied the knot, and another is engaged! I can rattle off at least a couple hundred names of union brothers under thirty who are married. Most of them specifically waited until they were at least halfway through the apprenticeship program, so they were taking home a family-supporting amount of pay. A guy on the college track will be taking a little longer to get that type of pay, even though he may earn more in the long run. Sure, you can marry before you really have enough money to run a household, but it's more difficult. It's hard enough to balance work and study, without adding marriage and family into the equation. What's so bad about wanting to take a slower pace, and easing into that delicate balance?

And remember--where you live tends to be more expensive than many areas of the country, especially housing. I think that skews the stats a bit.

Keri

Some scattered thoughts:

I wonder how you can possibly claim to know what other people are "called to," especially since you seem to be drawing from anecdotal evidence gathered from the people you actually know. Just curious-- do you know anyone who's polyamorous, or in a committed long-term unmarried relationship? If you're only comparing married men to those who are heavily into casual dating, the maturity imbalance is understandable (not that everyone who dates casually is immature, but that lifestyle may have more appeal to the stereotypical commitmentphobe than other lifestyles); however, you can't generalize from them to people who choose other alternatives to marriage, because being unmarried is really all they have in common. (There may be some perception bias going on here as well-- if you interpret an unwillingness to "settle down" as immaturity and selfishness, which you admit at the beginning of this entry that you do, of course you're going to see people who aren't seeking marriage as immature and selfish.)

You also seem to be really into the "marriage as vehicle for redemption" interpretation, which is fine, but I don't think it's the only one. Certainly any relationship (monogamous or not, married or not) should be one in which the partners grow together and support each other, and healthy relationships should encourage the development of maturity and concern for others; however, I don't think everyone needs that encouragement equally, nor do I think men can't become "safe and loving" without it. (I'm also dismayed that this post has gotten me to agree with Mr. Bad about something, but yeah, he has a point in that the "men need women to 'tame' them" stereotype is annoying and insulting to men.)

Finally, I don't think you should've been so quick to dismiss that feminist perspective-- there are a lot of reasons that promoting marriage for everyone is really problematic from a feminist point of view. Your arguments in favor of marriage conspicuously lack any mention of benefits for women; it seems you think that marriage is first and foremost an opportunity for men to work the flaws out of their personalities. If that's all marriage is about, why should women sign on for the unpleasant task of whipping immature men into shape? Especially when studies support your unbalanced portrayal and suggest that marriage is statistically far more beneficial for men than women? I'm not actually against marriage, for the record, but I don't blame women who are. Saying that "everyone" is called to marriage and then going on to talk only about how great it is for men just perpetuates the idea that women are insignificant except when their presence benefits men.

Keri

Some scattered thoughts:

I wonder how you can possibly claim to know what other people are "called to," especially since you seem to be drawing from anecdotal evidence gathered only from people you know. Just curious-- do you know anyone who's polyamorous, or in a committed long-term unmarried relationship? If you're only comparing married men to those who are heavily into casual dating, the maturity imbalance is understandable (not that everyone who dates casually is immature, but that lifestyle may have more appeal to the stereotypical commitmentphobe than other lifestyles); however, you can't generalize from them to people who choose other alternatives to marriage, because being unmarried is really all they have in common. (There may be some perception bias going on here as well-- if you interpret an unwillingness to "settle down" as immaturity and selfishness, which you admit at the beginning of this entry that you do, of course you're going to see people who aren't seeking marriage as immature and selfish.)

You also seem to be really into the "marriage as vehicle for redemption" interpretation, which is fine, but I don't think it's the only one. Certainly any relationship (monogamous or not, married or not) should be one in which the partners grow together and support each other, and healthy relationships should encourage the development of maturity and concern for others; however, I don't think everyone needs that encouragement equally, nor do I think men can't become "safe and loving" without it. (I'm also dismayed that this post has gotten me to agree with Mr. Bad about something, but yeah, he has a point in that the "men need women to 'tame' them" stereotype is annoying and insulting to men.)

Finally, I don't think you should've been so quick to dismiss that feminist perspective-- there are a lot of reasons that promoting marriage for everyone is really problematic from a feminist point of view. Your arguments in favor of marriage conspicuously lack any mention of benefits for women; it seems you think that marriage is first and foremost an opportunity for men to work the flaws out of their personalities. If that's all marriage is about, why should women sign on for the unpleasant task of whipping immature men into shape? Especially when studies support your unbalanced portrayal and suggest that marriage is statistically far more beneficial for men than women? I'm not actually against marriage, for the record, but I don't blame women who are. Saying that "everyone" is called to marriage and then going on to talk only about how great it is for men just perpetuates the idea that women are insignificant except when their presence benefits men.

Tara

Keri, I really really agree with your last paragraph, thanks!

Mr. Bad

Hi Keri,

You said: "Your arguments in favor of marriage conspicuously lack any mention of benefits for women; it seems you think that marriage is first and foremost an opportunity for men to work the flaws out of their personalities. If that's all marriage is about, why should women sign on for the unpleasant task of whipping immature men into shape? Especially when studies support your unbalanced portrayal and suggest that marriage is statistically far more beneficial for men than women?"

Perhaps, but not all studies. Some also show that it's quite beneficial for women as shown in the following excerpt from The Wall Street Journal (sorry I can't post the whole article - copyright issue forbid it):

--Begin excerpt--
The Wall Street Journal
16 June 2005

ANOTHER ARGUMENT FOR MARRIAGE

WORK & FAMILY: Another Argument for Marriage: How Divorce Can Put Your
Health at Risk

By Sue Shellenbarger

When my creaky joints ache in the morning, I blame a lot of things - too hard a workout at
the gym, drizzly weather, advancing age.

It never occurred to me to blame my divorce - until now.

The breakup of my marriage five years ago could actually be fueling my
persistent aches, new research suggests. A study to be released next week at a national
marriage conference shows that being divorced for long periods is linked to higher rates of
chronic illness and loss of mobility later in life.

Coining a new term, "marital biography," to denote your entire lifelong experience with
marriage, divorce and remarriage, the study's co-authors, University of Chicago's Linda Waite
and Duke University's Mary Elizabeth Hughes, will show how that history has a cumulative
effect on health. Indeed, your marital biography has an even bigger impact on long-term
health than whether you are married or divorced at any particular time.

The longer you spend in a divorced or widowed state, the higher the
likelihood of heart or lung disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and
difficulties with mobility, such as walking or climbing stairs, according to the 2005 study
of 8,652 people age 51 to 61. The research, funded by the National Institute on Aging, will
be presented a week from today at a Dallas conference of the Coalition for Marriage, Family
and Couples Education, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization.

People who were married at the time of the study and had never been divorced or widowed had
20% fewer chronic conditions, based on participants' reports of doctors' diagnoses, than
individuals who had been divorced, after controlling for age, gender and race. That suggests
the stresses of divorce and its aftermath have health effects that may not show up in a
person until years later.

"Our marital biography writes on us and scars us," Diane Sollee, coalition director and
founder of SmartMarriages.com, a marriage-education Web site, says of the study results.
"It's a slow burn."

The researchers measured marital disruptions by calculating the percentage of the years since
first marriage that were spent in a divorced or widowed state. In my case, I married once, in
1979, and divorced in 2000. Thus I've spent 20% of the time since I was first married in a
state of marital disruption. That increases by 6% the number of chronic health problems I
might expect to develop, compared with my risk if I'd never divorced.
--end excerpt--

I also think the various benefits from marriage for men and women are highly dependent on the working definitions one uses. I just can't believe that there is such a profound differential between the benefits for men vs. women in marriage; many men would argue that marriage is much more beneficial for women than men, and they'd be right based on their working definitions of "benefit."

djw

Ugh. I disagree so much I don't know how to respond.

What happened to "becoming increasingly tolerant of radical relativism" or some such thing? :)

Amanda

You sound like my dad telling me about how much his wife has made him a better person. While I'm all for growing through relationships, I've noticed that men are the ones who get to grow and women are the vehicles of their transformation. I reject that model of a relationship--it strikes me as more "women nuture, men lead" stuff. I am not a tool; I am a woman. When my dad rhaposodizes on how women make men better, I get irritated.

I'm sure you don't mean it that way, but your focus on the male benefits of marriage strike me as close to the old, "Marriage is to civilize men, marriage is so men can grow, marriage is to create a home base for men so they can go out and fight tigers, etc." thinking. Marriage isn't for women yet, and I'm hesistant therefore to embrace it.

altmama


Here's how I ultimately probably agree with Hugo's post: I think that we are most honest about our "true" selves when we realize we won't find that self through separating ourselves from others (which you can't do really anyway) but rather through paying close attenion to the intimate bonds that make us who we are.

Marriage has been wonderful for me because of the emotional work my partner and I do; it has also been wonderful for me as a form or ritual because it helped me gain more perspective on where I am on life's long path--and that I am a part of the cycle of live and love and death that all creature's on the Earth share. (That's my secular way of putting some of the advantages that others understand religiously). To this extent, it has indeed made me more mature.

But! Here is how I disagree with Hugo's post. Marriage cannot do these things for you if you are not ready. Being ready means a lot of things: it means having trust in your practical ability to navigate the world, it probably means spending time living alone and learning some things about yourself, and it definitely means having more than one intense emotional and physical (not neccesarily sexual, I suppose) relationship.

Too many young people rush through these things. They get married because they think they should (to prove, perhaps, that they are mature). They get married because they are scared, and want to feel settled (rather than working through their fear). They take too much comfort in marriage as a ritual--and don't realize that marriage does help you along, but it can't help you if you weren't already doing the work of helping yourself.

Taking a long time to get married, I guess, is not to my mind a sign of immaturity. It is a sign of humbleness and of patience.

Hugo

As I said at the beginning, folks, this is where my faith trumps my feminism. I know that's maddening to non-believers, and ultimately, it's issues like this -- and the reasoning that we use in debating these issues -- that exposes the huge rift between the secular and the religious left.

I assure Keri, however, that I have friends who are
a. polyamorous
b. living in long-term unmarried relationships. Lord knows, my position is not based on ignorance of the diverse ways in which human beings arrange their families. (Heck, I lived in a co-op in Berkeley for three years, people!)

I find it telling that Mr. Bad has found new allies here on this issue! It's the one thing I've noticed that both the MRAs and many secular feminists agree upon: a rejection of the idea that marriage is the primary vehicle for human happiness. I don't know what to make of that unity, but there it is.

I wrote about marriage as a vehicle for growth for men. But I did not mean to imply that it cannot be that for women as well! (So often, I'm accused of being "harder" on men than on women here on this blog; you'd think my pro-feminist credentials would get me some slack.) All of us, men, women, straight, gay, lesbian, do our best growing when we -- after reaching adulthood -- begin to live our lives within the terms of serious, permanent, commitments to one other person. I believe that's true psychologically, I believe it's true Scripturally.

altmama


Also, as a postscript, I've had many conversations with my grandmother about her experience of being a WWII veteran's bride. Although she loves my grandfather, she is still angry about how much pressure she and her peers felt to, as she puts it, "Shut up and marry a veteran."

Most of her peers got married right after the war, and she says she thinks most of them have very bad, silent relationships. But she's very quick to say why she thinks (again, my GRANDMOTHER is saying this) there was so much social pressure to marry: during the war it seemed like there was going to be a lot of social change. Men travelled and were exposed to other cultures; women worked and had lives without men. But the nation needed a solid workforce. So marriage! It makes men settle down and work, and it makes women get out of the workforce to make places for men.

Which is fine, but it's not emotional or spiritual maturity. And I know that's not an original point, but it's one that my grandmother feels very personally and very keenly.

And lets remember that another one of those brides from the 40's and 50's was Betty Friedan! She might have some idea about whether that mode of marriage was great for women...or, by extension, for men.

Hugo

Altmama, I'm not advocating folks rush into marriage willy-nilly at 18! I am suggesting that far too many people put it off for far too long.

Since we're quoting grandparents, let's quote one of mine: "Having the same experiences with different people does not lead to growth. Having different experiences with the same person does."

altmama


:)

Yeah, my parents say that too. I think they are right in most ways.

I guess part of the confusion grows from mixing up theory and practice, or ideal and example.

What I mean is: marriage, clearly, is great.

Except for all the people who think marriage will be more or different than what it is, in which case it usually stunts growth rather than aids it.

So then the interesting question becomes, how do we all, as friends and mentors, praise the importance of marriage while also making our listeners feel content to wait, wait, wait? That becomes hard to do (and here I'm just nitpicking with your rhetoric, not with your ideas) when we start speaking nostalgicly of the "emotionally mature" WWII era marriages, or talking about marriage in context of 21 year old women who want to "settle down." (I don't actually usually think that the 17-21 years are as emotionally important as the post-college years, but maybe that's just me).

Anyway, sorry to jump on examples rather than ideas. That's not very helpful of me!

Tripp

Yeah...um...not so much.

I think that we become more who we already are through marriage because we are primarily relational beings. This is not an issue of extro/introversion. It is an issue of being in relationship. Think of it in terms of the Trinity and God being God's self in relationship.

So, I am not a different person now that I am married, more complete. But I am more myself...I am more myself in the same sense as I am when I take any relationship seriously.

I think that you might want to speak to intentionality of relationship than marriage per se. A successful marriage is an intentional relationship bent on the growth and happiness of those involved. It is not an accident. It is not to be culturally de facto.

And if intentionality is the issue, than such growth could be found in many other relationships as well.

I don't wanna diss what you are getting at Hugo. I just think your focus is too narrow.

Hugo

Tripp, I'm curious to know what other relationships, besides marriage, provide an opportunity for comparable sacrifice, discovery, and above all, comparable growth? I can certainly think of certain kinds of cohabiting relationships (such as those where marriage is not possible or inadvisable due to Social Security issues) that can lead to this kind of growth, this "becoming more who we already are" as you nicely put it.

Keri

I didn't mean to imply that you were ignorant, Hugo; I just wasn't sure exactly what you meant when you talked about men who are "blissful in being neither married nor chaste." Admittedly, I also find it very hard to believe that you don't know a single unmarried man who isn't "self-absorbed," particularly if you have as much diversity among your unmarried friends as you claim. Even one example would be enough to poke holes in your assertion that everyone is better off married, wouldn't it? (And to echo what The Birdwoman said way up there, what's so different psychologically about a long-term committed relationship and a long-term committed relationship that's been state-sanctioned? Particularly among secular folks, I just don't see how the marriage certificate changes anything, and I certainly don't see why a couple can't begin down the path to wisdom and maturity without it.)

As for MRAs and feminists, I think we find common ground in our misgivings about marriage because both groups are highly aware of the possible disadvantages involved in heterosexual relationships. Of course, we're approaching it from drastically different perspectives-- I disagree with most MRA critiques of marriage (which tend to portray it as a vehicle for women to manipulate and take advantage of men), just as I'm sure MRAs disagree with most feminist arguments against it (which focus on the historical implication of women as property, sexist traditions like name-changing, husbands expecting wives to work as unpaid maids, etc). But despite our huge difference of opinion about what the disadvantages are and who bears the lion's share of them, both groups recognize that gender relations being what they are, relationships between men and women can be painful and damaging to either or both parties; in that light, it makes sense for us to at least agree that opting out of marriage is the best choice for some people.

Hugo

I've never suggested, Keri, that everyone is better off married. Again, I really do believe that some folks are called to celibacy! As far as long-term commitments short of marriage, I suppose it depends on the reason. Is it fear? An unwillingness to say "forever"? Then, IMHO, that falls short of the mark. Is the reason financial? Is it -- like a couple I know in Washington -- out of solidarity with gays and lesbians who cannot marry? Those are different concerns, and there I would see no block to "wisdom and maturity".

A very nice analysis, Keri, of why MRAs and feminists might both be leery of marriage. Well put.

djw

Hugo, stop taunting us about our convergence of opinion with MRAs. It's not nice.

a rejection of the idea that marriage is the primary vehicle for human happiness.

I suppose I am doing that, yes. But the word that does that sentence in isn't marriage, of which I very much see a great deal of value and strong appeal. If you think we're denigrating or disrespecting marriage, I think you're wrong, at least in my case. The word that puts me off is "primary."

There is an interesting divergence between us that probably has a lot to do with secular/religious split (although, for the record, I don't much care for the label "secular" for reasons similar to those in William Connolly's marvelous book _Why I am not a Secularist_, but I don't have a better label, so...). I am more than willing to entertain lots of relativism about "the good" but I have a very hard time swallowing relativism about "the right" whereas you tend in the opposite direction. My way makes so much more sense to me it's really hard to wrap my mind around the reverse angle. Liberalism (of the philosophical variety, to which I really don't think you subscribe) requires faith too, we just don't care to admit it.

mythago

I know that's maddening to non-believers

There you go with "non-believers" again. And it's not "maddening." It's disappointing that you can't manage to square your faith and your feminism. Do you really think there are topics where God says "No feminism here, Hugo"?

Correct me if I am wrong, but Paul thought marriage was a poor second choice compared to celibacy; marriage was certainly better than eternal damnation, if you just couldn't keep it in your pants like you ought.

And there is a big, big difference between believing God wants us to marry, and spewing sexist garbage about how marriage creates maturity and (as Amanda said) women are just the vehicles for men's transformation.

Mr. Bad

First, to Keri. You said in regards to the downside of marriage for women: "...which focus on the historical implication of women as property, sexist traditions like name-changing, husbands expecting wives to work as unpaid maids, etc."

The first two can indeed be seen as sexist using contemporary standards, but you need to remember that they were the customs back then and there were definitely just as many sexist disadvantages from marriage for men back then too. For example, men were held solely responsible for their wives behavior, debts, crimes, etc. However, re. the allegation that husbands expected their "wives to work as unpaid maids, etc.," I say bullshit. You're ignoring all the perks that the wives got, e.g., a roof over their heads, food on the table, access to the bank accounts, etc. If the maid model were really true, then the wives would have had to pay the husband for their room and board, would not have had access to the family funds, etc. Sorry, but in the past women were treated just as well in the institute of marriage as men were.

Now to Hugo: The more I read this and other posts and your responses in the various threads on your blog, the more I'm coming to the understanding that you have absolutely no clue about what constitutes healthy masculinity and what the vast majority of normal, oridinary men are like. For example, you continually characterize men as "immature, self-absorbed, narcissistic, adolescent, irresponsible," etc. But frankly, you're not describing average, normal, ordinary healthy men at all; fact is, I think you're indulging in transference and/or projection.

Just look at your blog: Almost every day you post something about yourself, often times shallow and/or silly, and usually relating to your body with a healthy dose of your feelings thrown in. For this reader, you come across on this blog as having a very strong "mirror, mirror on the wall..." princess approach to your life. So, considering that your professinal focus has been on women and homosexuals, I humbly suggest that perhaps that's the basis for the model you're projecting as the "typical" male you keep trying to offer up. And because of this, you're missing the mark vis-a-vis typical men by miles and miles.

Amanda Marcotte

Oh, I thought the huge benefit of being permitted to sleep inside was the "payment" for the sex and the child-bearing, Mr. Bad.

Chip

Hugo,

You make some points that are very similar to those espoused by Gary Thomas in his book Sacred Marriage.

I've been at all ends of the map in almost 39 years, Hugo: single and wanting to get married for many years, then single and satisfied to the point of believing that I probably had the gift of celibacy. But surprising turns happen, and I got engaged last week. I don't know for sure about the truth of your comments, Hugo, but I suspect they're close to the mark, and I'm about to find out.

Peace of Christ,
Chip

mythago

I think you're indulging in transference and/or projection

Dagnabit, I *just* got this irony detector re-calibrated!

Hugo

Well, good. The temporary rapprochement between feminists and MRAs has come to a spectacular end.

There's so much I could say to Mr. Bad -- but it's Saturday, the day is beautiful, and I'm tired from an eleven mile run (on no carbs and about 800-1000 calories a day the past ten days) with two other triathlete/ultrarunner guys. Of course, filled with self-loathing as we are, we bemoaned our external appearance and our inner superficiality as we made our way up and down the White Saddle trail above Monrovia. Now, a brief rest before sallying forth to plot ways to cast aspersions on my brothers.

Oh, and Chip: congrats, brother!

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