In today’s Washington post Michael Gerson wrote a piece entitled “Lost in a World Without Courtship”. I would like to put excerpts here with my own comments in RED. You can read the full article HERE.
By Michael Gerson, Wednesday, September 16, 2009, The WASHINGTON POST
There is a segment of society for whom traditional familyvalues are increasingly irrelevant, and for whom spring-break sexual liberationism is increasingly costly: men and women in their 20s. Interesting. He describes them as disaffected with the “casual sex” culture but not ncessarily convinced to return to more traditional family values. Here too is another sign that we as a Church have not presented God’s plan for sex and marriage in a compelling manner. OR even more significantly, we have not communicated with many young people AT ALL. Our world view may not even be on their radar.
This is the period of life in which society’s most important social commitments take shape — commitments that produce stability, happiness and children. But the facts of life for 20-somethings are challenging. Puberty — mainly because of improved health — comes steadily sooner. Sexual activity kicks off earlier. But the average age at which people marry has grown later; it is now about 26 for women, 28 for men. Yes, I have noticed this quite clearly. When I was first ordained 20 years ago most of the couples I prepared for marriage were in their early 20s. Now they are in their early 30s. Also the number of weddings I celebrate has dimished by more than half.
This opens a hormone-filled gap — a decade and more of likely sexual activity before marriage. And for those in that gap, there is little helpful guidance from the broader culture. Notice here again the author makes no mention of the Church as offering helpful guidance to young adults. I do not observe this by way of a judgement of him. Rather, here again is more proof that we are not on the radar of most young people and to the extent we are, if our author is right, we have no compelling message or vision to offer young adults. Actually we do, but we have not communicated it well. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, argues that the “courtship narrative” in the past was clear: dating, engagement, marriage, children. This narrative has been disrupted without being replaced, leaving many 20-somethings in a “relational wasteland.” I remain struck at how many young people tell me this same thing. In this “communication age” it seems harder and harder for young people to meet on a meaningful level.
The casual sex promoted in advertising and entertainment often leads, in the real world of fragile hearts and STDs, to emotional and physical wreckage. But it doesn’t seem realistic to expect most men and women to delay sex until marriage at 26 or 28. Such virtue is both admirable and possible — but it can hardly be a general social expectation. So religious institutions, for example, often avoid this thorny topic, content to live with silence, hypocrisy and active singles groups. Alot of hard truth here. It is difficult to remain sexually abstinent all those years. However, I am not quite as pessimistic. I have been faithfully celibate since ordination and even before. However, I’ll admit that I am helped by the expectations upon me and by the fact that I do not date and am never alone with women. This is not usually the case with young adults. It is also true and sad that many clergy and religious leaders avoid talking frankly about sex before marriage. Growing up in high school and college, I never had a priest, deacon or catechist say a word to me about sex before marriage. As a priest, I have tried to remedy this terrible silence by speaking frankly and clearly that the Scriptures and Church teach that pre-marital sex is a serious sin. I am not unaware that young people have a difficult time fully living this and counsel them to be serious about chastity but to seek God’s mercy if they fall. But under no circumstances should they ever thing that pre-marital sex is “no big deal.” It is and infractions should be brought to confession. Gerson’s point about silence of the Church is however tragically the case for too many young people. We need to be clear, encouraging and helpful as well as understanding of the difficulty young adults face.
In the absence of a courtship narrative, young people have evolved a casual, ad hoc version of their own: cohabitation. From 1960 to 2007, the number of Americans cohabiting increased fourteenfold. For some, it is a test-drive for marriage. For others, it is an easier, low-commitment alternative to marriage. About 40 percent of children will now spend some of their childhood in a cohabiting union.Yes, as usual it is the children who suffer. I often grieve for children today who have to live with such confusing circumstances: mom here dad there, they have since split and are now with other partners; a mess and a terrible burden for children.
How is this working out? Not very well. Relationships defined by lower levels of commitment are, not unexpectedly, more likely to break up. Three-quarters of children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents split up by the time they turn 16, compared with about one-third of children born to married parents…..
So apart from the counsel of cold showers or “let the good times roll,” is there any good advice for those traversing the relational wilderness? …
First, while it may not be realistic to maintain the connection between marriage and sex, it remains essential to maintain the connection between marriage and childbearing. Marriage is the most effective institution to bind two parents for a long period in the common enterprise of raising a child — particularly encouraging fathers to invest time and attention in the lives of their children. And the fatherless are some of the most disadvantaged, betrayed people in our society, prone to delinquency, poverty and academic failure. Cohabitation is no place for children. Amen! Just the point I have been trying to make in previous blog posts here. Marriage is fundamentally about children and what is best for them. We have to change our thinking today that so overemphasizes the emotional well being of the spouses (or co-habiting adults) and get back to being sober about the effect that this has on children. They deserve better. Marriage is meant to be a stable, lasting union where a man and woman cling to each other because that is what is best for children. God does not make arbitrary rules. He establishes them for good reason.
Second, the age of first marriage is important to marital survival and happiness. Teen marriage is generally a bad idea, with much higher rates of divorce….But people who marry after 27 tend to have less happy marriages — perhaps because partners are set in their ways or have unrealistically high standards. The marital sweet spot seems to be in the early to mid-20s. Early 20s is still early for many young people. We take a long time to grow up in our culture. But I think mid 20s is reasonable.
Third, having a series of low-commitment relationships does not bode well for later marital commitment….Serial cohabitation trains people for divorce.
[Bottom Line is]….Delaying marriage creates moral, emotional and practical complications…..The answer, even in the relational wasteland, is responsibility, commitment and sacrifice for the sake of children. There we go again, CHILDREN, responsibility and commitment for their sake. We have to be more serious and realize that my lfe isn’t merely about me and what makes me happy.