Never does a day go by in conservative politics that we don’t hear the never-ending platitudes about the importance of marriage and having a family.
From the virtues of being a housewife to the joys of raising a big family and having a life centered around faith and community, these ideas seem to be consistently reinforced within everyday conservative spaces.
I also agree with this sentiment. I believe in marriage, and I plan to get married – that has always been my position, still is my position, and always will be my position. However, there’s a difference between getting married for love and getting married simply for the sake of being married.
Building a Family Is Now the Counter-Culture
Encouraging marriage now seems to be a strong counter-narrative as there is less pressure than ever before to have a family and children. Under such a climate, conservatives draw attention to the benefits of getting married, and rightly so, as having a family and children brings deep purpose, companionship, and happiness.
Who would say this was a bad idea? After all, since the rise of third-wave feminism and the 21st century’s hyper-modern progressive values, fewer people are getting married than ever in Western society at large. For example, in the UK, alone, The Office for National Statistics shows that women who have never been married and are not living as a couple are on the rise for all age groups under 70. In addition, between 2002 and 2018, the figure for those aged 40 to 70 rose by half a million. The percentage of women in their forties who have never married doubled.
The percentage of women in their forties who have never married doubled.
In fact, to an extent, there is a dominant stigma towards women who want to get married and start a family. Since the generation of our parents and grandparents, our ideas about marriage and gender roles have drastically changed. Many young women are told to stay single for as long as possible, as marriage may halt their career prospects in much of the Western world.
In the U.S., it has been reported that one of the biggest influences on declining birth rates is expansion of work opportunities for women. According to The New York Times, the birth rate is falling for American women in their twenties, especially in places where the local economy is booming.
It makes sense as to why conservative rhetoric towards marriage is almost central to their beliefs. It’s often why pro-family messages, values, and norms are such a huge part of their larger culture. In fact, in the U.S., according to the new American Family Survey, conservatives (62%) are much more likely than liberals (39%) or moderates (46%) to be married. The data suggest that conservatives feel it’s an integral part of life, which is being eroded by the changing social and cultural dynamics.
Unfortunately, though, many traditionalists seem to have taken it too far. Their narrative towards marriage is striking; they deem it to be somewhat of an obligation. According to data from the new American Family Survey, 80% of American conservatives believe that marriage is absolutely needed to create strong families. In fact, conservatives have also taken on the burden of worrying about the fate of American families at large. Over half of conservatives (56%) say that the divorce rate in the U.S. has increased in the past 10 years, even though the divorce rate has been decreasing, according to the American Family Survey.
There’s a lack of nuance in the conversation here. There’s no conversation about how to choose good marriages, or why there may be justifications for divorce. Often the message is, just pick someone, settle down, and don’t worry about if you’re happy.
Progressives Aren’t Any Better
Meanwhile, the progressive narrative puts less importance on marriage than ever before and believes marriage is not needed. We have been bombarded with headlines such as “Why taxes, kids, and commitment aren’t strong enough reasons to get married” all over the mainstream monoculture.
In fact, liberals are known to be more hesitant about their promotion of “family values” in general and focus more of their narrative on social justice, abortion, and welfare. It seems that the topic of marriage on the political left is somewhat taboo.
It seems that the topic of marriage on the political left is somewhat taboo.
Writer Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute engaged with this issue and echoed this sentiment.
"There's no question about it," Hymowitz said. Having public conversations about family structure is "much harder for the left. The left is very much defined by questioning tradition, for good reasons and bad reasons."
Similarly, Brad Wilcox, the Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia believes the left has a “language” problem when discussing marriage. "Family values terminology is so closely connected to the 1980s and Jerry Falwell-esque way of framing it – it's an immediate turn-off."
Ultimately, it makes sense as to why liberals are less likely to be married as compared to conservatives; the progressive attitude doesn't place nearly enough importance on marriage as an essential social construct.
Two Options, No Nuance
Well, here lies the problem. It’s clear that groupism and tribalism on both sides of the spectrum have taken over. Conservatives make the case for marriage by placing importance on family stability, while the liberal narrative places emphasis on personal freedom.
Both sides are valid and both exist; however, they lack a fair and balanced approach and neglect some important factors. Marriage is not simply a contract between two individuals – it’s a life-changing decision, one that will impact us forever.
Conservatives challenging hysterical progressive perspectives on marriage is important; however, it’s absurd to believe it’s as simple as putting a ring on your finger. To give a part of your life to just anyone, for the sake of societal pressures, is a recipe for disaster.
Do we want to take the risk of staying in a loveless marriage? It seems like some already do. According to Dana Adam Shapiro’s research for his book, You Can Be Right (or You Can Be Married), he says about 17% feel truly happy in their marriage. Shapira interviewed people for his book and revealed one of the reasons for people citing their unhappy marriage was getting married at the wrong time to an incompatible person.
Marriage is not a trivial issue, yet more often than not it’s not treated with the nuance it needs. It’s a religious, sacred institution, and a decision that needs to be made with extreme care as it will become the foundation on which our life will be built. We need to remind ourselves about what marriage truly is, or we risk not having a lifelong, successful relationship.
Wait for the Right Person
Marry for love, marry when the time is right, but don’t marry for the sake of it. It’s important to marry the right person because it risks reducing your quality of life simply for the sake of doing so. This could lead to an unstable life in the long run and eventually a divorce.
What better way to counter these risks than to wait out the decision of getting married? In fact, celebrity expert Audrey Hope agrees with this sentiment, as she once argued, “We are a society that has been conditioned to marry right after college, or, in some areas, right after high school. The culture has a map for us, and if we don’t follow the silent order, we feel that we are doing something wrong and will be left behind and ultimately alone in love.”
And could we disagree? The best time to settle down is when we have found ourselves and have an understanding of who we are as individuals. When we do this, we will exhibit confidence and self-awareness of the kind of person we will be compatible with. There is no doubt that this will lead to a much richer, more nurturing relationship.
This is the real debate that’s lost in this hyper-polarized environment around marriage and nuclear family structures. Instead of attacking marriage as an institution, we should be helping young people determine what makes a strong relationship and how to cultivate a successful, long-term partnership within marriage. Then what’s left is deciding if it’s a commitment you’re willing to make, and who you’ll do it with.
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