This upcoming weekend Mike and I are attending a conference on marriage. Usually when I tell people this they’re silent, they pause, and then they ask, “Well, aren’t you guys already married??”
The answer is yes, in fact we are married! Yay! We also volunteer with our Diocese in helping other couples prepare for marriage, and so during one local conference last spring we found out about this opportunity for college students go to California to learn about what’s now being specified as “traditional” marriage and how to support it.
So usually at this point people say, “Wait, go to California and learn about marriage?? Isn’t that funny?!” To which I respond, “Yes and they’re also going to teach us about color coordination!” Ok, not really but in my head I do.
Actually this conference is the brain-child of a female PhD. economist who re-discovered her faith during an infertility crisis, began looking into family- social dynamics, and founded the Ruth Institute as a non-profit organization to “make marriage cool” amongst college-age students [“making it cool” is a phrase that kind of bothers me – a timeless institution should not be made into a temporary fashion statement like the word “cool implies, and yes, I plan on telling her this when I meet her again!]. Anyway, by “cool” they actually mean “creating a favorable climate to marriage”.
Anyway, I’m really curious to see what this weekend will bring and what I will learn, since the focus is looking at and valuing marriage in a completely secular manner. I know from my own experiences how it seems like you’re going against modern thought to get or want to get married at a “young” age, as if you’re doomed to failure if you do (or, almost worse, I’ve gotten the “Why get married? I thought you were going to do something with your life!”). This is honestly what young people, at least in my circles, are thinking these days. Educated people that are failing to realize the profound impact that intact families have on society.
I know from what I’ve learned spiritually what marriage means to me, but I completely understand that people of other faiths/religions may never value marriage the way I do. Which is why I am excited for this conference, since we’re going to look at marriage from secular points of view including the legal purposes and definitions of marriage, biological and physiological components of sexual activity, social science studies on child rearing, and legal studies custody cases and reproductive science.
The importance of healthy marriages has always been under-estimated and under-valued, but the attacks seem to be increasing lately, from the idea that marriage is equivalent to giving up all your freedom (think: analogies about balls and chains), cohabiting is an acceptable equivalent, kids don’t need married parents, and more recently, that a mother and father figure are equally replaceable by another member of the same sex. Interestingly enough, Dr. Roback-Morse didn’t originally get involved in studying the social science of marriage to specifically address the issues of “same sex marriage”, but because of her location in California and her expertise she became involved since she was one of the few educated in the matter. Her previous work, including the Smart Sex series, is originally how I discovered her. Really, in the series she does such a great job explaining why our cultural norms are literally setting people up for disaster, if you can look past some of the punchy lines like “Why Hooking up is for losers”…. This is the type of thing I’d like to have my teenagers listen to, but I know what I was like in high school and I know that as soon as I heard something like that I’d tune whatever came after wards completely out. The message is good if the delivery needs a little tweaking…
The preliminary required reading for this conference has already given us a glimpse about what we’ll talk about but I also hope they’ll address how to actually make an impact and how to effectively share what we learn. The older generation seems to be content with more negative arguments but I feel like this younger “me centered” generation is much more compassionate and certain arguments just don’t fly. You’re literally seen as someone being “against love” if you oppose anything other than traditional marriage. One of the most frustrating things about this whole topic and the idea of having to support “traditional marriage” (and to even have groups like the Ruth Institute) because you see the cultural and societal implications of its value decreasing, is the stigma that you face if you actually say anything. Eeek.
Mike and I were talking the other week about the conference and he mentioned something along the lines of “Man, you know we could potentially lose our jobs if people found out we attended this conference.” I stopped. We talked about why we felt this was important enough to risk that, but still, knowing that we’re potentially getting involved in something that is so divisive is a little scary. I was nervous to blog about it and put it out there! But there it is.
I’ll let you know what I learn.
*Update*: I just found this really interesting and “timely” article in Time on this very subject, Is There Hope for the American Marriage? Seems we’re not the only one talking about it. For those who don’t like to click, I’ll ruin it and put the last paragraphs here….
“The fundamental question we must ask ourselves at the beginning of the century is this: What is the purpose of marriage? Is it ….simply an institution that has the capacity to increase the pleasure of the adults who enter into it? If so, we might as well hold the wake now: there probably aren’t many people whose idea of 24-hour-a-day good times consists of being yoked to the same romantic partner, through bouts of stomach flu and depression, financial setbacks and emotional upsets, until after many a long decade, one or the other eventually dies in harness.
Or is marriage an institution that still hews to its old intention and function — to raise the next generation, to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct and character that will ensure the generation’s own safe passage into adulthood? Think of it this way: the current generation of children, the one watching commitments between adults snap like dry twigs and observing parents who simply can’t be bothered to marry each other and who hence drift in and out of their children’s lives — that’s the generation who will be taking care of us when we are old.”