The Dilemma Facing Single People
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While few have run a “want ad” such as the above, many can sympathize with the painful dilemma here described. In more subtle ways, they too have “advertised,” and found that seeking a mate in today’s world is often a frustrating and complex process.
Elaine, a lonely woman in her thirties, speaks of a point of desperation that she reached: “There was no one I could really talk to. I stopped eating and would begin to cry for no reason. And I couldn’t confide in anyone because my feelings were so intense that I was ashamed. . . . I think people have given up on me as far as getting married.”—New York Post.
Although concerned, the thousands of men and women like Elaine usually have not studied the why of their circumstances. They frequently are unaware of sociologists’ studies pointing to the increasing difficulty of finding a good marriage mate. They do not know that this research blames such factors as the massive population shift from rural to city life and the accompanying “moral revolution” that has questioned just about every aspect of the male-female relationship.
However, most are aware of the fast rise of total marital failure, politely called “divorce.” They know that many people today cruelly and abruptly drop one lover for another. They are conscious of the flood of conflicting advice that they receive and of the drastically different approaches that their single friends take in seeking a companion. They sense the confusion.
Is there a way out of all of this? Choice of a marriage mate is of an intensely personal nature, but are there guidelines or principles that both the youth and the older one can follow? Are there definite pitfalls to be avoided?
Facing the ‘Marriage Myths’
Naturally the circumstances and needs of a widow with small children, an older divorced man and a young adult differ greatly. Yet single persons of all ages are faced with certain popular “myths” about matrimony that greatly add to their dilemma. Investigating the value of some of these should help to clear away part of the confusion.
One common myth is that since ‘opposites attract,’ someone who is very different from you will add interest to a marriage match. There is, of course, much curiosity about someone from a contrasting environment, religion or nationality. Nevertheless, scientific study to date overwhelmingly indicates that such unions have a higher incidence of divorce. For example, Dr. Dominian in the book Marital Breakdown notes: “The conclusion of all major studies appears to indicate that [religiously] mixed marriages . . . do run a higher risk of marital breakdown.”
Is this hard to believe? Really, does not common sense tell you that your friends are those with whom you share similar interests? How will you fare with someone who constantly pulls in another direction or who may disdain those things that you enjoy? The Bible, in Genesis chapter two, refers to the creation of woman for the purpose of being man’s “helper.” Now if you and your helper are to get along in happy harmony, should you two not have similar interests, goals and moral standards?
Actually, the more a couple agree on what they commonly hold to be the most important aspects of life, the smoother their daily life will be. That which is different may be initially exciting but in a short time can become a source of strain.
As to other marriage myths, undoubtedly the greater number surround infatuation. Infatuation has been defined as “foolish admiration,” an idealizing of a person whom you really do not know. The ‘one and only’ myth, and the ‘love at first sight’ myth, are both symptoms of infatuation.
When one seeks a mate in terms of a Mr. Right or a Miss Perfect, there is the expectation that suddenly the tailor-made marriage partner will appear. Of course, a person is naturally more attracted to some people initially than to others—their appearance, manner, one’s own mood at the time all affect this. What is so dangerous is assigning such a person the mystical qualities of Prince (or, Princess) Charming, quickly forming a longing for that one, and then expecting to ‘live happily ever after.’
But, you might say, although such may be the case at first, surely in the process of courting, the infatuated one will eventually see the ‘real person.’ Sadly, this is not always true. Infatuation can continue right into wedlock. How so? When a relationship is so emotionally “charged” right from the start, it frequently leads to a very physical relationship. Such infatuated ones often smooth over differences with passion by petting. The disastrous result is two virtual strangers entering life’s most intimate bond.
“The idea that there is somewhere in the universe a ‘one and only’ for everyone is deeply rooted in fiction and tradition,” says the book Making the Most of Marriage. It continues: “A more practical view is that the well-adjusted person can marry any one of a number of people and be happy, whereas the maladjusted, unhappy person can be successfully married to no one.” The truth of this would seem to be supported by widows and widowers who have eventually remarried and found happiness.
Unfortunately, some marriage myths put much pressure on single persons. Two of these myths, often advocated by relatives and friends, are that ‘something is wrong with anyone who doesn’t marry’ and that ‘someone is better than no one.’ Such sayings thus proclaim that singleness is inherently bad. The individual is made to feel “abnormal” or, perhaps, even latently homosexual.
It is one thing if a person needs to marry but doesn’t because he fears matrimony. It is quite another matter for a single person simply to recognize that he does not need to marry. Says educator Dr. Henry Bowman: “If [a person] feels that remaining single is the way to greater happiness in life, he [or she] should by all means remain single. . . . There are well-adjusted single persons; there are married ‘old maids’ and ‘old bachelors.’”
Yes, rather than being fearfully “stampeded” into an unwanted marriage, it is better to recognize what the wise teacher, Jesus Christ, knew about people. He said that some have the “gift” or ability to be happy in staying single and encouraged Christians who had this “gift” to hold on to it and use it in serving God.—Matt. 19:10-12.
A myth is a fantasy, a popular lie. And we can certainly see where following any of the myths that we have discussed would add to the confusion of one contemplating the marriage-singleness question. However, many young moderns would tell us that there is nothing to fear from any fantasy. Let your emotions go, they say. Don’t worry about making a mistake. Rather, just live together for a while and then if you ‘stay in love,’ marry. Now, is “trial marriage” a way out of the dilemma or is it yet another myth?
“Trial Marriage”—A Satisfying Solution?
Of course, there is nothing new in the idea of two people living together without first marrying. What is new is the number openly doing so. In the United States, a government report indicated that between 1960 and 1970 there was a 700-percent increase in unwed couples. More recent reports show an even greater jump.
Besides the obvious conflict for a Christian conscience, the question is: Are these couples enjoying “marriage”? Does this cohabitation lead them out of the confusion and into a meaningful, permanent relationship?
The truth is that, though some unwed couples may live together for a lifetime, generally these liaisons are short-lived. The fruitage is as bitter and often as emotionally disastrous as divorce. Why?
Reflect honestly for a moment. What kind of relationship is it that values the ‘freedom to leave’ above a real commitment to one another? Although a couple may claim that they are not just selfishly ‘taking’ but are ‘sharing’ pleasure, is it reasonable to give something so precious and intimate without a commitment?
One definition of “trial” is “experiment.” Can anyone afford an experimental marriage? After all, we are not discussing sharing a piece of clothing. If it is torn in half or discarded, one simply goes out and buys another garment. But the emotional ‘scar tissue’ of a broken intimate relationship is far-reaching; it has brought some to the point of suicide.
Even those couples who genuinely care for each other face an emotion-jarring problem: insecurity. As one unwed couple replied to a relative who asked why they were now marrying: “Because we want to—we want the commitment.”
Still, what about the argument that ‘you really don’t know for sure what marriage to that person would be like until you try it out’? One author wisely noted concerning unwed couples: “Marriage adjustment cannot be tested in a state of singleness. Those who attempt a test, even when it seems to be successful, have not proved that they can live together happily in marriage.” And people who have lived in unwed sexual relationship with several others do not come to a new relationship with any great insight. For what little they have learned, the emotional price has usually left them less capable of facing problems, less ready to give of themselves and less ready to trust.
Of course, the old-fashioned virtue of “self-control” is not popular today. It is considered repressive, inhibiting, damaging to the personality. Yet in reply to the question, “Is sexual restraint dangerous?” the book Marriage for Moderns declares: “Sexual control before marriage is fraught with fewer physiological, psychological, and social risks than is sexual gratification.”
Thus “trial marriage,” as with the other marriage myths, is a dangerous and shaky foundation on which to try to build. “Well,” one might reason, “that helps me to know some views to avoid, but do any ‘positive’ principles then remain? How can I know if I am ready for marriage? How can I wisely select a mate?”
There are no simple ‘slogan answers’ to these hard questions. However, reliable guidelines do exist for the benefit of those with the insight to ‘look before they leap.’ Let’s explore them in the following article.