new couple siting on stairs
People’s views of marriage and its permanence are constantly changing. It can make people lose hope, but it’s actually quite healthy for a society.
I wasn’t shocked to see a recent issue of Time magazine’s cover story on marriage in America. In recent weeks, two famous lawmakers admitted to cheating on their spouses. Jon and Kate Gosselin’s marital problems had become a national topic of discussion. It can really make someone doubt their hope.
Caitlin Flanagan, a Time writer, examined these events in her essay “Is There Hope for American Marriage?” But I was pleased to see that she used them as a springboard for a spirited defense of marriage. She wrote can be either “a lasting covenant between a man and a woman can be a vehicle for the nurture and protection of each other, the one reliable shelter in an uncaring world” or “a matchless tool for the infliction of suffering on the people you supposedly love above all others, most of whom are children.”
The piece was chock-full of realities that you wouldn’t typically see in a major magazine like Time. That gave me some hope:
- “The intact, two-parent family remains our cultural ideal, but it is always under attack.” Affairs and boredom buffet it. Getting married for life— this is still the way most Americans live their adult lives. But, the number of people who are heading in a different path is growing.
- “There is no other single cause in our nation that is producing as much measured pain and human sorrow as the breakdown of the marriage. It harms children…and has wreaked the most havoc on those who can withstand it the least: the nation’s underclass.”
- “America’s preoccupation with high-profile marriage flameouts… shows a national ambivalence about the institution: our desire to be in a long-term relationship, combined with a sense of vindication, or even relief, when a standard-bearer for the “traditional family” fails to pull it off. This is ultimately counterproductive.”
What’s the purpose of hope?
Flanagan observes that, in the end, we must ask ourselves, “What is marriage all about?” Is it, as she puts it, “merely an institution with the ability to improve the pleasure of the adults who enter it”? If that’s the case, it won’t last long. A marriage based only on pleasure will perish when the pleasure is no longer available.
Or, as she puts it, is marriage about “protecting and teaching the next generation, instilling in it the habits of behavior and character that will secure the generation’s safe passage into adulthood”?
And that’s the only place I found myself disagreeing with Flanagan. The vision she casts about the purpose of marriage feels incomplete and a bit useful. Yes, marriage is about raising the next generation, but it’s also about instilling hope. Companionship, support, and shared love.