Saturday, May 12, 2018

on marriage not going away, and on the "cornerstone" to "capstone" praxis about how Americans pursue it

Having been in the Reformed side of things for a while and having spent more than a few years in what many would call the new Calvinist wing (i.e. at Mars Hill) I've seen more than a few laments about how long people are waiting to get married these days.  Mark Driscoll, I am sure, still goes on and on about the social blight of guys not getting married as early as they used to.  It doesn't matter if the financial crash of 2008 may have gutted savings and financial opportunities.  It doesn't matter if the increasing promotion of bachelors degrees and post-secondary education have inflated the value of degrees as costs skyrocket in contexts where jobs for degree holders dwindle and the possibilities for trade work go untouched.  Never mind all that, for a certain nebulously alluded to strata of potentially upwardly mobile middle class to upper class dudes there need to be guys getting married.

I have seen reference to a "plague of singleness" more than a few times in the course of twenty years. 

Socially conservative Christians tend to fixate on the later date for first marriage rather than on the propensity for a majority of people to cohabitate in some context in which a sexual relationship is established.  Or as punkish teenagers could ask, where, exactly, in the Bible does it say that you have to go to a justice of the state and formally get permission to "be married"?  There are some pieces in The Atlantic that have been published over the years that discuss how marriage is probably nowhere near as "on the rocks" as a variety of social pundits have said it is.

The actual title of the following article is not what's in the link, it's "Marriage Has Become a Trophy".
The decline of marriage is upon us. Or, at least, that’s what the zeitgeist would have us believe. In 2010, when Time magazine and the Pew Research Center famously asked Americans whether they thought marriage was becoming obsolete, 39 percent said yes. That was up from 28 percent when Time asked the question in 1978. Also, since 2010, the Census Bureau has reported that married couples have made up less than half of all households; in 1950 they made up 78 percent. Data such as these have led to much collective handwringing about the fate of the embattled institution.

But there is one statistical tidbit that flies in the face of this conventional wisdom: A clear majority of same-sex couples who are living together are now married. Same-sex marriage was illegal in every state until Massachusetts legalized it in 2004, and it did not become legal nationwide until the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. Two years after that decision, 61 percent of same-sex couples who were sharing a household were married, according to a set of surveys by Gallup. That’s a high take-up rate: Just because same-sex couples are able to marry doesn’t mean that they have to; and yet large numbers have seized the opportunity. (That’s compared with 89 percent of different-sex couples.)

The move toward marriage has not been driven by young gay and lesbian couples rushing to the altar. In both the year before and the year after Obergefell, only one out of seven people whom the Census Bureau classified as in a same-sex marriage was age 30 or younger, according to calculations I’ve done based on the bureau’s American Community Survey. In fact, half of them were age 50 or older. The only way that could have happened, given that same-sex marriage has been legal for less than 15 years, is if large numbers of older same-sex couples who had been together for many years took advantage of the new laws. In other words, changes in state and federal laws seem to have spurred a backlog of committed, medium- to long-term couples to marry.

Why would they choose to do so after living, presumably happily, as cohabiting unmarried partners? In part, they may have married to take advantage of the legal rights and benefits of married couples, such as the ability to submit a joint federal tax return. But the legal issues, important as they are, appear secondary. In a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 84 percent of LGBT individuals said that “love” was a very important reason to marry, and 71 percent said “companionship” was very important, compared to 46 percent who said that “legal rights and benefits” are very important.

Yet the emphasis on love and companionship is not enough to explain the same-sex marriage boom. Without doubt, most of the middle-aged same-sex couples who have married of late already had love and companionship—otherwise they would not have still been together. So why marry now? Marriage became for them a public marker of their successful union, providing them the opportunity to display their love and companionship to family and friends. One reason, of course, was the desire to claim a right so long denied, but that only further underlines the way in which marriage today signals to the wider community the success of a long-standing relationship.

In this sense, these gay couples were falling right in line with the broader American pattern right now: For many people, regardless of sexual orientation, a wedding is no longer the first step into adulthood that it once was, but, often, the last. It is a celebration of all that two people have already done, unlike a traditional wedding, which was a celebration of what a couple would do in the future. [emphasis added]

Consistent with this shift in meaning, different-sex couples, like the many of the same-sex couples who have married recently, are starting their marriages later in their lives. According to the Census Bureau, the median age at first marriage—the age at which half of all marriages occur—was 27.4 for women and 29.5 for men in 2017. That’s higher than at any time since the Census began keeping records in 1890. It is six years higher than when I got married in 1972 (at the typical age of 24). In my era, a young couple usually got married first, then moved in together, then started their adult roles as workers or homemakers, and then had children. (I scandalized my parents by living with my future wife before I married her.) Now marriage tends to come after most of these markers are attained. [emphasis added]
If socially conservative punditry only emphasizes how late to the rite people are going for marriage you'd get the impression that marriage isn't a goal.  Yet the prevalence of gay marriages should disabuse us all of the idea that people somehow don't view marriage as a good to be pursued.  But the "capstone" rather than "cornerstone" view needs to be kept in mind.  And, as anyone who has read any degree of Marxist cultural theorizing should be able to point out, there's also the matter of class and in Anglo-American contexts it's pretty hard to separate class from what's conventionally known as educational attainment.  So ...

The main distinction in marriage patterns today is between Americans who have attained at least a bachelor’s degree and those with less education. The college-educated are more likely to eventually marry, even though they may take longer to get around to it. In addition, nearly nine out of 10 wait until after they marry to have children, whereas a majority of those without college educations have a first child before they marry. Rates of divorce have been dropping across the board since about 1980, but the drop has been steeper for the college-educated. In the mid-20th century, people’s educational level had less impact on when, whether, and for how long they married. Today, marriage is a much more central part of family life among the college educated.

Nevertheless, the last-step view of marriage is common across all educational groups in United States. [emphasis added] And it is being carried to the nth degree in Scandinavia. In Norway and Sweden, a majority of the population marries, but weddings often take place long after a couple starts to have children, or even after all of their children are born. The median age at first marriage in Norway is an astounding 39 for men and 38 for women, according to a recent estimate—six to eight years higher than the median age at first childbirth. In Sweden, one study found that 17 percent of all marriages had occurred after the couple had had two children. Why do they even bother to marry at such a late stage of their unions? Norwegians told researchers that they view marriage as a way to demonstrate love and commitment and to celebrate with relatives and friends the family they have constructed. This is capstone marriage: The wedding is the last brick put in place to finally complete the building of the family.

As for the capstone rather than cornerstone, that's discussed over here, too.
The polls show that a growing number of us want our fellow Americans to be able to marry whom they love, regardless of biological sex. Those same polls show that we also want to have the right to leave a miserable marriage as easily as possible. Those aren't inconsistent positions. They reflect the modern sense that marriage is primarily about individual happiness rather than making babies or ensuring communal stability. Everyone should be able to take their chance at the unique set of rewards we imagine that only marriage can offer; everyone should be able to leave if those rewards are not forthcoming.
The growing abhorrence of infidelity is linked to this more individualistic view of marriage. Just a few decades ago, divorce was scandalous; if your marriage came to an end you and your spouse were likely to face cruel gossip and painful social ostracism. The fear of the public humiliation that attended divorce kept people in unhappy marriages. That fear is gone, replaced by a growing anxiety about the more private humiliation of sexual betrayal. "I'd rather be left than lied to" is the prevailing sentiment that the polling reveals; it's not a stretch to suggest that the reverse would have been true just a few decades ago.

As Karen Swallow Prior wrote here at The Atlantic in March, young people are marrying later because they see marriage as a "capstone" to a well-ordered life rather than a "cornerstone" upon which to build. Whatever the wisdom of delaying first marriage for the sake of a richer set of life experiences as a singleton, there's little doubt that the "cornerstone" model builds in an expectation of difficulty that the "capstone" paradigm doesn't.

We expect couples who marry young to "struggle"—a common euphemism that encompasses everything from fights over money (of which there is almost invariably not enough) to extramarital flirtations and affairs. The cornerstone model presumes, optimistically, that men and women are transformed for the better by sticking it out through the "tough times" that everyone concedes will attend the marriage of the young, the poor, and the naïve. The expectation of struggle doesn't condone infidelity so much as it concedes its near-inevitability.

The "capstone" model presumes, as one of my friends puts it, that you only should get married "after you've got your shit together." Capstoners believe that marriage is something you enter into only after you've finished sowing your proverbial oats—and come into possession of the financial, emotional, and professional sophistication you'll need to blend your life with another person without becoming dangerously dependent upon them. The capstone model is much less forgiving of sexual betrayal because it presumes that those who finally get around to marrying should be mature enough to be both self-regulating and scrupulously honest. The increased unacceptability of adultery is linked to the rising age of first marriages. The evidence suggests, however, that the capstoners are more than a little naïve if they imagine that a rich set of premarital life experiences will serve as an inoculation against infidelity.  [emphasis added]

It may just be that we can move the naivete from one domain to another about marriage as a social institution and interpersonal relationship but that we can't remove it from ourselves. 

The same Gallup poll that found near-unanimous disapproval of cheating also found rising acceptance of many other non-traditional, consensual sexual relationships. The new ethical consensus that you can do whatever you like as long as you're not hurting anyone—and as long as you're being rigorously candid—reflects a thoroughly modern mix of tolerance and puritanical censoriousness. We've become more willing to embrace diverse models of sexual self-expression even as we've become ever more intolerant of hypocrisy and the human frailty that makes hypocrisy almost inevitable.

A Google search for "ethical non-monogamy" returns plenty of results about polyamory and open marriage. It also brings up sex columnist Dan Savage's notion of "monogamish" relationships, in which partners pledge enduring emotional commitment while enjoying "flings, affairs, three-ways, and swinging experiences." Even the monogamish life, however, is predicated on one key rule: telling the truth. As Savage argues persuasively, ethical non-monogamy can certainly lead to happiness. But non-monogamy and infidelity aren't synonyms—only the latter signifies betrayal. [emphasis added] For non-monogamy's growing number of advocates, total candor is the non-negotiable admission price to liberation; "ethical dishonesty" remains an oxymoron.

As has been discussed here over the years a few times, socially conservative Christian pundits who fixate on the lateness to the marriage game dynamic seem to be skipping altogether past questions of how and why people wait longer and longer to get married.  The idea that marriage has shifted from a "cornerstone" to "capstone" paradigm for socioeconomic reasons and that the more traditionalist approach to marriage is more typical of middle and upper class than lower class seems to be off the table. 

As Mark Driscoll made the rounds on the conference and interview circuit in the Christian media scene in the wake of his resignation he showed that he's still eager to talk about how he wants to compel the young men to grow up.

I've made a lot of mistakes and one of them was going too fast. There's the Lord's calling and there's the Lord's timing and I should have waited longer. I should have been under godly spiritual authority, for Grace and I to be under a godly couple, that was [a] senior pastor, so that we could learn and grow. I, I, my character was not caught up with my gifting and I did start to young. And I believe God called us to start the church and he was very, very, very gracious to us, uh, but had I to do it over again I would not look at a 25-year old and say, "Do what I did." :

... We went into the urban core and we felt, specifically, called to go after young, college-educated males. That was really my heart. I wanted everybody to meet Jesus but I felt particularly if we were gonna make in the city and the legacy of families and, you know, the way that women and children and culture treated, that getting young men to love Jesus would be paramount. [emphasis added] So that was really the focus and I didn't think the church would amount to much. The first three years we didn't collect a salary; it was very small; we met at night; we moved a lot because we kept losing our rental location; the offices were in our house, so it wasn't a big deal and we didn't anticipate that it would become what it ultimately did.

... young men aren't going to church. Young men aren't going to college. Young men aren't marrying women. Young men are not raising their children and I have such a deep burden and passion to see men--you know, 1 Corinthians 13--I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I acted like a child. When I became a man I put childish ways behind me--I want, I want to compel young men to grow up, to take responsibility. And sometimes, in doing that, I have communicated that in a way that demeans women and that's not helpful and that's not right. In the grace of God I need to repent and be better about that  but I still want, I mean no one would say young men are, in the Western world, highly impressive and we're all encouraged. There's a lot of work to be done. [emphasis added]

And so I regret the times that I have not communicated in such a way that, in trying to compel the men up it seemed like I was pushing the women down and that's my fault.

This is "cornerstone" boilerplate and in an economic and cultural context in which a whole lot of Americans have moved to the "capstone" paradigm, to the point where it's taken as axiomatic by at least a couple of authors at The Atlantic, it doesn't seem unfair to ask why a social pundit like Mark Driscoll can't account for that in his bromides for bros.  In the double standardized realm of tests of character it's hard to see how Mark Driscoll is ideally situated in the wake of his controversies about plagiarism and Result Source and non-disclosure agreements and resigning in the wake of a restorative disciplinary process he claimed he initiated that a guy like Mark Driscoll is really in any position to talk, even on the basis of his own previously stated ideals, about how he wants to "compel young men to grow up, to take responsibility."

If that's what he wants then he may have to go about doing that the way just about any parent does, leading by example and not just precept. 

Now there could be a few things said about the dangers and risks of a "capstone" approach to marriage but those would involve criticisms of cultural standards of consumption and issues of class and caste.  Socially conservative Anglo-American Christians can lament the "capstone" approach but they will also have to more directly address how many of the real and perceived problems with a "capstone" praxis highlight the ways in which the "cornerstone" theory and praxis presuppose the power of the state to legitimize or delegitimize a set of practices that are decreasingly manifest in the less educated strata of American society.  If the vehement disapproval of infidelity even within a "capstone" cultural context is anything to go by people get that adultery is a terrible betrayal whether there's an official marriage license or not. 

Since the second article invoked Dan Savage I might suggest that one of the points at which we can step back and consider where "we" are at is that it has even been possible for grandstanding pundits like Dan Savage and Mark Driscoll to have gained any cultural currency to begin with. 


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