I got married three weeks ago. Many people ask me how the wedding went, and what it’s like being married. There’s really not much to say in small talk other than it was great! And it’s great.
And really, is our relationship different, now, in a metaphysical sense, because of a ceremony and a legal piece of paper?
My students have joked about me being a changed man. A married man, now. More mature, more responsible.
There’s a trope about marriage in the movie Old School. Will Farrell’s character gets married seemingly for no other reason than he has been in a relationship for a while and that’s what you do when you’re an adult and have been in a relationship for a while. He’s at a college party (in the movie, an adult friend buys a house near a college and starts a frat) and some of the kids ask him why he’s not drinking. While the college kids stare dumbfounded, he explains loudly over the din of the party that he has a big day planned tomorrow:
Well, um, actually a pretty nice little Saturday, we’re going to go to Home Depot. Yeah, buy some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that. Maybe Bed, Bath and Beyond, I don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll have enough time.
Old School, which screened in 2003, is an example of millennial distrust of marriage and other forms of commitment. The main characters in the movie end up finding happiness in a totally different place from where they started.
On average, half of our parents’ marriages didn’t work. We’re getting married later and later in life, if we get married at all. We move from state to state, from job to job, from house to house.
Many of us are asking why marriage even matters anymore. Others wonder what’s the point in having kids? Why bring new life into an overpopulated dying planet where everyone hates each other?
New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about the spiritual malaise of the world today in a recent article: “When Politics Becomes Your Idol.”
Brooks sees a society exemplified by the movie Boyhood, where:
What you see is good people desperately trying to connect in an America where bonds are attenuated — without stable families, tight communities, stable careers, ethnic roots or an enveloping moral culture. There’s just a whirl of changing stepfathers, changing homes, changing phone distractions, changing pop-culture references, financial stress and chronic drinking, which make it harder to sink down roots into something, or to even have a spiritual narrative that gives meaning to life.
Due to lack of meaning in the traditional places — marriage and family, neighborhoods, churches, etc. — Brooks thinks that people have latched onto partisan politics for their identities. Donald Trump has espoused a myth, toward which a person can attach their sense of aggrieved righteousness. The left espouse an alternative myth, a moral politics that can solve all of societies ills.
Both are idolatry which, as all idols will eventually do, demand everything from your mind and soul and offer nothing in return. It drains, it doesn’t fulfill.
I disagree with Brooks on this point. I think people are passionate about politics right now because there are extremely important things being worked out.
People are passionate about politics because we have these career politicians meekly accepting outlandish and destructive behavior from our head of state to achieve political victories that aren’t even being achieved because their head of state is so outlandish and incompetent.
People are passionate because the political party which might have stopped this from happening uncritically nominated for president a career politician who no one trusted, because it was her turn.
(Not that being a career politician is necessarily bad, but in the examples above, our leaders seem to be more concerned with their own power than what’s good for the country. And it’s worth noting that Trump’s election was a backlash against the political institution.)
To be moderate right now is, for Brooks, a virtue.
I could make the opposite argument, that if you aren’t pissed off you aren’t really paying attention.
But back to marriage.
The truth is, marriage does feel like a metaphysical change in my relationship. Standing together before family and friends, making vows, celebrating, signing papers, wearing each other’s rings. It does feel different. The experience was powerful. More profound and personal than I can write on a blog.
I’m not saying that everyone needs to get married in order to be fulfilled or to create a sense of community or anything like that. Maybe that’s what people used to think, and maybe that’s why the institution has eroded.
I think people are working out ways to find purpose and community. I think people are healing from the broken facades of the old institutional myths, whether it’s marriage and family life or political identity or career. Rather than accepting what’s been a given, people are experimenting and creating, and making more conscious choices.
Yes, there are casualties in this creating. Some people do hold politics as an idol. Yes, there’s superficial crap that people immerse themselves with. Technology is a double-edged sword. It can enslave our attention and rob us of deep and reflective thinking. But then, I met my wife on Match.com.
Sometimes in relationships or families or teams or communities or democracies, an argument can bring emotional truths to the surface, and a deeper sense of mutual understanding can follow. With a country this may take a long time. It seems like, in the aftermath of the 2016 election, we’re still in the midst of the fight. Denial on both sides.
What matters most sometimes is the manner in which you disagree. Personal attacks, insults, deception, violence — these cause traumas that take longer and longer to heal.
Brooks is right that we need to find something unifying, deeper than our politics, to bring us together.
The effect of that, though, I hope is not less passion but rather more honesty, more respect, and more effort to see the world from other people’s eyes.