Responding to “The Marriage Crisis”
We were recently sent the link to a very humorous satirical website: No Girl Left Behind (The Solution to the Marriage Crisis). Though the website is a farce, it plays on a very real panic we have encountered: an anxiety that not enough homeschooled young people are getting married these days.
The panic is summed up in the words of the site, “There are young people of both genders who wish to be married and are not.”
This is a True Statement. However, true observations can get blown out of proportion and trigger false alarm; fed with fear, emotionalism, bitterness, gossip and rumors, they can easily become a monster. Perspective is lost, objectivity destroyed, and it becomes hard for us to detach ourselves from our own personal concerns.
Looking realistically at the big picture, the existence of young people wishing to be married and having a hard time going about it is hardly a new phenomenon. Many of civilization’s most familiar literary classics revolve around this theme (Shakespeare or Austen, anyone?)
Nor is this “problem” a product of the courtship movement. Our whole generation is seeing an unusually prolonged season of singleness, from the secular crowd that intentionally puts off marriage, to the Christian singles-group dating scene that has created a minefield of thirty-something singles. Inside the courtship camp, marriage rates are in fact higher than for those outside. However, we’re still inhaling the fumes of the culture that has caused the general marriage delay, and some of this second-hand smoke is affecting our own matrimonial condition. In this article, we would like to examine three questions:
Is there a problem?
If so, who is to blame?
How can we fix it?
Is There a Problem?
If there is a problem, we believe it’s not that so many young people are not married – it’s that so many young people are not ready to be married. The capper is that we have such low standards for ourselves that we don’t even realize it.
Let’s be honest with ourselves about the ways we’ve been compromised by our society, usually without knowing it. We are still swaying to the beat of our culture’s drum, in many of our attitudes, our affections, our expectations, and our actions. Many of us have picked up Hollywood ideas about what men should be like, and what makes a good match. We’re often double-minded, with our convictions and our affections running in two different directions, looking for a man that will somehow gratify both. Many of us claim to be preparing for godly wifehood, but actually are doing so with a narcissistic and feministic self-focus. We often have lofty demands for suitors (well, not that lofty – just that they be Jonathan Edwards in Edward Cullen’s body), but love ourselves just the way we are. So the men we want to marry often don’t really exist – and if they did… well… why would they want to marry us?
Now that we’ve drunk from our culture’s well, we shouldn’t be surprised to be feeling some of the same symptoms. Thanks to cultural confusion, personal baggage, or pendulum swings, guys and girls are can have a hard time knowing how to have relationships with each other. Some of us girls still have weak relationships and poor communication with our fathers, which makes everything surrounding courtship difficult. Some of us still have traces of our feminist culture or our Barbie culture in our personalities and character, which make us unappealing to young men who share our convictions on biblical femininity. Fear of responsibility, confusion about love and attraction, selfish attitudes towards relationships, entitlement syndrome – we’re as likely to pick these up from Hollywood as the girl next door… and they’re just as likely to affect our matrimonial futures.
There are, by the way, plenty of people who have maturely avoided these mistakes, or repented of them. Among our friends, they are getting married. (If panicky singles would start looking outside of their own situations, they might notice all of the wonderful marriages taking place.)
But insofar as a problem exists, it should be identified as a maturity crisis – not a marriage crisis.
Who is to Blame?
The easiest and most common response is to point our fingers – at the young men, for not getting their act together, or for not being proactive about asking; at our fathers, for being too intimidating or too picky; or at leadership, for not doing something.
Whether or not the young men, fathers, and leadership involved have behaved infallibly is not our place to say; we are here to point out that we girls have no business fixating on anyone’s faults but our own. This is partly a point of Christian charity and proper jurisdiction. It’s also a point of having to be honest with ourselves. After all, in any one of our individual cases, the problem just might be: Us.
Our aspirations to be married to fine husbands are good; but then, that’s an aspiration that the Cinderellas and the ugly stepsisters of the world have always had in common. We need to step outside of our imaginary roles as the heroines of our own personal fairy tales, and ask ourselves: which one am I? Why would the prince choose me?
One of the hallmark verses of waiting daughters is “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is above rubies.” We all love to claim the “above rubies” appellation and the idea that we’re a great prize for a young man to find – but Proverbs 31 places that price tag on a very specific description of a woman, and we all know that it doesn’t describe us. So why do we demand to be treated, and eventually chosen, as though we were that Proverbs 31 woman?
For every girl we know asking why so few young men are “ready,” we know a young man asking where the ready and eligible girls are. Our brothers and their friends have told us that many of the qualities girls have cultivated to make themselves “eligible” are things that won’t come up on young men’s radar screens, and the qualities the young men are most looking for have been neglected.
For example, though many may have mastered skills like sewing and music, they often seem to be living in a hobby world, removed from the concerns of the real world, and lacking a basic understanding of what’s going on. Some may have learned to be “content,” but haven’t learned to be joyful. Some may be sweet girls, but they often communicate stiffness, timidity, aloofness, or coldness in public. Others may be popular and socially active, but haven’t built real relationships with their own family. Some may feel ready to be loved and romanced, but not ready to love sacrificially. Others may be very accomplished in “feminine arts” (cake decorating, flower arranging, scrapbooking), but lacking in practical skills that will recommend them as capable helpers (the kind of skills that would be required to start a business, manage finances, help run a ministry, etc.)
There are many girls who look prepared to be good mothers and good housekeepers, but not to be capable helpmeets. Our brothers and their friends have told us that they’re not looking for mere live-in maids and nannies; they want wives who would be capable of coming alongside them in the rigors of their lives; being engaging, iron-sharpening companions; and assisting them in business, ministry, adventure, risk, conquest, and uncertainty. The young men we know are asking, “Where are those girls?”
What is the Solution?
There is no quick fix for a problem that has taken generations of cultural immaturity and compromise to create. For starters, let’s stop looking at external problems and external solutions; we’re not going to fix a maturity crisis by calling in other people to make getting married easy for us.
As we’re sure our readers already understand, God is in complete control of who gets married when. There is nothing people can do to make the right marriages happen before God intends them to, and there is no use crusading or going on witch-hunts when it’s God’s sovereign plan we’re up against. This should be a great relief to us: “Seeing that a Pilot steers the ship in which we sail, who will never allow us to perish even in the midst of shipwrecks, there is no reason why our minds should be overwhelmed with fear and overcome with weariness.” (John Calvin)
But resting in God’s sovereignty doesn’t mean resigning from action, expecting Him to reward our laziness. Whatever He has in store for us, we still bear our responsibility to do our duty – to, in the words of the hymn, trust and obey. He tells us to “be faithful with little” before He will entrust us with much. He also promises, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” (Galatians 6:9)
We cannot, by good behavior (or bad), will ourselves into the right marriages, or manipulate Him into making them happen faster. However, there is plenty we can and must be doing to make ourselves more ready and worthy for marriage. We would like to offer four suggestions:
Correct your thinking
Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; our attitudes betray themselves in our actions.
There are several damaging streams of thought polluting our perceptions and eventually our actions. We need to sort through and evaluate all of our presuppositions about marriage, and correct the false ones. A few examples:
Each of these ideas has dangerous implications – try carrying out any of them to their logical conclusions, and you end up with…well… the No Girl Left Behind website.
Become a girl that a godly man will want to marry.
The bad news is, none of us is naturally likeable, desirable or eligible. Because of sin, we all start out as ugly stepsisters; and we don’t naturally become Cinderella upon turning 18. Put yourself in a young man’s shoes, and ask yourself what he might want and need. You might be surprised by how you measure up. If all the good young men you know aren’t interested in you, who are you going to blame?
View your single years as a time to prepare, not wait.
The good news is, most of us were given several single years to prepare and become truly eligible. As long as we don’t spend those years feeling like we’ve arrived, and like there’s something wrong with all the guys that haven’t noticed us yet, becoming more bitter with every wasted year, there’s a lot of progress that can be made, and much that could be accomplished. Make the most of your time!
Some of the girls most frantic to get married admit to us that they’re listless and unengaged at home, and that their relationships with their siblings are a mess. They don’t know it, but what they’re desperate for is a new home to be bored in, a new relationship to neglect, a new person to be crabby to, new circumstances to complain about, and a new life to make the least of.
Girls, if we’re failing where we are now, our propensity for failure will follow us wherever we go. Our bad character, bad attitudes and bad habits will blight our future lives as much as they are our current ones. Ask yourself: How well are you doing with the life you’re in the middle of right now? How well are you doing with the relationships God has put into your family right now? How well are you using your time? How well are you fighting the fight of faith?
“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the last is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10)
God is in control of your future, and His plan is being worked out day by day. The marriages that He has ordained to happen right now are happening, despite the fears of a “marriage crisis.”
In reality, dying an old maid is not the fate most to be feared. The consequences of acting in panic, desperation and fear, or of being poisoned by bitterness, can much more effectively ruin a woman’s life. We have seen this marriage-panic drive young women to destroy their most important relationships, marry recklessly, launch accusation-campaigns and witch-hunts that destroy communities and split churches, devastate their families, create miserable homes for their future children, and poison everyone they know.
Let’s look at the big picture again. Our chief end is not marriage. If attracting a nice Christian guy is the motivating force of your life, you might need to seriously examine the integrity of your faith. If the nonappearance of Prince Charming is making you question God, you may be facing a more serious fate than dying an old maid. Being in this for the husband is just riding to hell in a hopechest.
People sometimes ask why we, at the ages of 22 and 24, are not yet married. The only answer we can give is that God has not ordained for us to be married yet, and that is, like all His other works, “very good”; we are enjoying the extra time to labor with our family, to prepare ourselves more fully, and to “occupy until ‘he’ comes.” As much as we pray for godly marriages, there is much to rejoice about in the calling of visionary daughterhood.
So smile at the future. Think about something other than marriage. And don’t forget to write to your congressman.