Can Marriage Be an Idol?
With all the debate around marriage equality (this isn’t my response – that is coming soon I promise!), I wanted to share some thoughts I wrote awhile back on marriage and ask an important question: can marriage be an idol?
To get to know me, you should know that I am achievement driven. When I want something bad enough, I will chart a course, work toward it and by gosh achieve it (can you say “by gosh” with a straight face?). By outside standards, I guess you would say I am a success. I went to college, joined a popular sorority and even have a Master’s Degree from a prestigious school. Now as an adult, I have a great job, the world’s best dog and I get to live by the ocean in Southern California (okay I can drive to the ocean in maybe fifteen minutes with no traffic). But still, I live in a place that doesn’t require shoveling; and as a person who grew up in Northern Ontario, Canada, that alone can be seen as achieving success. I believe the real measure of my success, however, is that I have always had a great number of supportive and amazing friends. So I am a success…
Success? Well kind of. But not success in the way that I believe I was taught to measure success. Not success if you compare my life to many societal, and especially ‘Christian,’ standards of success. For alas… I am a spinster. I am in my thirties, and as of yet, I am not married and I never had the 2.5 kids. I hope someone can one day explain to me how you can have 2.5 kids; but I digress. Somewhere deep within me is a narrative saying I haven’t lived up to expectations. Through all of my various romances, I realize that the break up has not just left me sad for the demise of the relationship and loss of the person, but I have also felt like I have failed somehow. I am as liberated of a woman as you will find. I believe independence is important, and we aren’t defined solely by the relationships in our life, yet I perceive myself as a failure. I feel as if I have failed and missed out on the moment when I was supposed to meet my ‘soulmate’ and be chosen.
I think after our family relocated from Canada to Mississippi, I began to want to be a ‘good Christian.’ People said that term a lot in Mississippi, and I am not sure I know what it means now, let alone then. I don’t know when I first heard the idea that part of the requirement of being a ‘good Christian’ was getting married and having kids or how it got deeply rooted in my consciousness.
From youth group to college group, what you were doing was getting closer to God and trying to find that special someone to have devotional time with (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). It was a strange kind of incestual situation. You have to be careful using the word ‘incestual’ when referring to things in Mississippi. By incestual, I mean you dated people who were part of your small groups and Bible studies. Somehow, getting close to people spiritually seemed to have the side effect of making you want to make out with them. It does make some sense: we had shared affinities, we had shared stories and some shared world views. Admittedly, the very fact that I was Canadian by birth and fairly liberal meant that not all of my world views were similar; but in general, we tried to view the world through the same lens. That lens was one of faith and trust in God, or at least our understanding of God and our faith.
I began dating at what I would say was a young age, but not an uncomfortably young age. I was old enough to look for good qualities in a boyfriend, but young enough to believe that when it didn’t work out I would end up with Christian Bale’s character from Newsies. My first boyfriend, who I dated for a total of 3 ½ years, was truly an amazing man. I met him in youth group at the tender age of 15. He really was dreamy. He was an ‘all American’ type: starter on the football team, popular enough to always be on the homecoming court, one of the kindest men I have ever known and a strong Christian to boot. By strong Christian, I mean he literally used to do push-ups while I sat on his back. I will never forgive him for giving me the unrealistic belief that all men have ‘six-packs’ and a ‘heart of gold.’ But he was more than just my arm candy – he was my best friend and intellectual equal. What I realized was that, although he was and still is someone I deeply respect, I was getting a lot more than just love and affection out of our relationship. I was trying to align myself with someone who was seen as upstanding and even important. I realized that his identity somehow gave me identity, as if value is transferable. Sometimes when I am honest, one of the reasons I have felt like a failure for not being married is that I feel as though I haven’t been chosen, and that somehow my value is diminished. But this creates a false narrative where marriage is value giving. Has marriage become an idol for people?