Last week I read a report about philosophy professors who believe the debate about marriage is over. For many (perhaps most) of them, the question has been settled. There is no rational basis to privilege the union of one man and one woman in our laws and culture. To do so is the equivalent of bigotry. Or so these professors believe. And that is why many of them are no longer treating it as a matter up for debate. Conversation over.
It struck me that while many people in our culture will evade this discussion in a similar way, that doesn’t close the issue. Why? Because an ostrich with his head in the dirt doesn’t actually make the sun disappear. The sun shines as ever, no matter how much one closes his eyes to it. Likewise, marriage really is the covenanted union of one man and one woman with a unique connection to procreation and child-rearing. That truth about marriage remains the truth, no matter how much people try to pretend that it is not. The evidence of that truth will persist and will explain—perhaps better than anything else—the pain of brokenness of those who deny it.
Even the atheist is God’s atheist. His life and being are no less defined by creational realities than anyone else’s. He might try to evade those realities, but he can never escape them. As Kipling has it, the gods of the copybook headings will have the last word.
Recently, a friend of mine was travelling abroad and had a conversation about marriage that says it all. He is an evangelical Christian, and he shared the following anecdote with several of us who are as well. At his request, I’ve changed some of the incidentals to preserve the anonymity of the author. This is worth your time to read as it allows us to glimpse what is really going on inside our neighbors who have supposedly given up on marriage. Read on.
When I travel, one of my favorite activities is to find the city’s most quintessential barber shop for a hair cut and beard trim. Today, I did just that in Shanghai, where my family is stationed for seven weeks.
I sat next to a Brit in his mid-30s. Like most of his countrymen, he was a big talker. And as I relaxed into my chair quietly, he didn’t give me much of a choice but to listen to his conversation with his barber.
He described his life stage candidly: Like many in this city, he is a workaholic. He recognizes it, acknowledging to his barber that he works obscene hours for his tech startup. He’s hoping his hard work will propel him into a leadership role in the company. In describing his work obsession, he noted that he actually missed his sister’s wedding because of a work engagement.
His barber–a mid-30s single female–gave him a hard time for missing her wedding. He acknowledged he should have made it, but also noted that the marriage likely wouldn’t work out. He already had one divorced sibling and expected her to follow in the same path.
This led him into a diatribe on the institution of marriage, a view his barber affirmed. He described it as an “antiquated establishment.” He noted that it simply doesn’t make sense for the modern professional. “Nobody wants that sort of permanence anymore… people change their minds.” He then went on to say that he’d like to eventually have a family, but that he’s “not even close” to settling down. His barber generally agreed. Marriage is a mirage.
His barber went even farther: “I have heard of some people who are married and have kids in their 20s. In their 20s! Can you believe it?”
At this point, I spoke up. It was the first thing I had said since giving my barber my preferences, which are pretty simple for balding dudes (“short”).
“I love my marriage,” I said. “I married my sweetheart at the sweet age of 25 and she makes me and our lives so much richer.”
They both laughed warmly, surprised to learn I was listening in on their conversation. Like someone seeing a picture of a swarm of cute kittens, they asked all sorts of questions about our marriage and kids, cooing at the quaintness of our little lives.
The Brit then shared that he feels marriage is alive in America, but dead in Europe. He suggested the reason for the American affection with marriage was related to our nation’s Christian ethos. He said Christianity was a relic in Europe and so too was marriage.
I challenged him that marriage is an incredible gift and joy, even if it can be hard work. The conversation ended on a somber note. He lamented, his voice trailing off, “I know. The truth is, in my quiet moments, a great marriage is exactly what I want. It’s what all of us want.”
“We’re just waiting for our prince or princess on the white horse,” his barber chimed in.
To the married gentlemen: Your marriage is not just your own. It is an advertisement to the West. It is a picture our sophisticated, secularized, educated global peers are looking at with curiosity and even unspoken desire. Deep down, it’s wired into humans to crave intimate relationships. Even in a city like Hong Kong–with all the glitz and energy and power of Manhattan–“it is not good for man to be alone.” Adam had it all too, but his heart was unsettled.
To the unmarried gentlemen: God has given you this season of singleness for His reasons and purposes. It may continue for all your days–only God knows–but if you sense he has wired you to be married, stay in the hunt. Hang onto hope amid the challenges of the single life. And cling to your family and close friends who can help to bring the sort of community and belonging God speaks to in Genesis 2.