By Frank Batavick
Frank Sinatra once crooned “Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage.” Leaving aside Sinatra’s checkered history in the marriage department, you have to admit that these lyrics sound somewhat old-fashioned today, and I don’t mean the “horse and carriage” part.
I was at my doctor’s office recently and heard one woman congratulate another for her quite visible pregnancy. The pregnant one exclaimed that she was so happy. Her boyfriend already had two children and this baby would make three. She added she always wanted a big family. My ears zeroed in on the “my boyfriend” part, giving me cause for concern, if not alarm.
Some of the much younger members of my extended family have serious girlfriends, and one of the guys recently got engaged. That was great news for all. The blood line promises to pulse on to yet another generation. This young man and another male relation, recent college grads, already live with their mates in houses that each couple purchased. Both guys tell us they are looking forward to wedding dates sometime in 2016. One of the fellows has known the young woman since high school. The other met his fiancé in college.
Wait! Did they say 2016? What in the world are they waiting for? What are they afraid of?
Now, I know that this will make me sound like an AARP card-carrying fogey, but what has happened to the institution of marriage in my life-time? What or who is responsible for its transformation into some idealized stage of life, like the almost unattainable “self-actualization” in psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? As young people journey to this supposedly perfect state, it is as if they seek to have their tickets punched out-of-sequence for all of the events in-between. Significant other? Check. Move in together? Check. Buy furniture to furnish an apartment? Check. Have one or more babies? Check. Get engaged? Check. Buy a house? Check. Apply for a marriage license? Check.
This novel approach to matrimony might be acceptable if “living together” before marriage has caused the divorce rate to fall. But it hasn’t. Professor Scott Stanley at the University of Denver studies “commitment and couple development in romantic relationships and marriage.” His research shows that “a young couple marrying for the first time today has a lifetime divorce risk of 40 percent," unless there is a significant change in current trends.
Senator Ted Cruz has sounded the alarm, “Marriage is under assault.” But he is talking about gay marriage here, and I think he is missing the point. Same sex weddings aren’t a serious threat to the institution of marriage. But our laissez faire attitude toward the heterosexual young as they couple and have babies before matrimony is. I don’t say this on religious grounds, though there are plenty of reasons to be found in Church teaching. I simply don’t think this current practice is good for the health and well-being of the most essential link we have keeping our society together— the family.
So who is to blame? As you look in the mirror, try not to catch yourself shrugging your shoulders. Other guilty candidates include the many glamorous role models found in the world of show business. How many movie and rock stars do we know who have had serial partners; with many of their unions producing one or more children? A few select sports stars put the glamor set to shame. Some NBA players have sired multiple children by multiple women in multiple cities and have absolutely no intent to plan the nuptials. Such promiscuity may be a different issue, but its widespread practice and acceptance have only contributed to the expanding cracks in the foundation of traditional marriage.
The growing trend among women to consciously become mothers without benefit of a spouse is another threat to marriage. Again, the glamor set often leads the way by using “no strings” male partners, artificial insemination, or even surrogate moms as their modus operandi. The resulting children are destined to grow up without fathers and without male role-models. How can this be a good thing, especially for the boys?
I don’t have any answers to all of this, just a feeling in my gut that we may have allowed things to go seriously awry. Important things. I don’t think the country realizes that it is now engaged in a massive social experiment with little thought given to the wide range of consequences.
Frank Batavick is a graduate of Gloucester Catholic (‘63) with over 40 years of experience as a television writer/producer/director for public TV and media companies in Indiana and New Jersey. He has also served as adjunct faculty and visiting professor in Communications at colleges and universities in New York and Maryland. He now lives in Maryland with his wife Dori (GCHS, ‘63), where he is the vice chair of the Historical Society of Carroll County’s board of trustees, editor of the Carroll History Journal, and a weekly columnist and occasional feature writer for the Carroll County Times.