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Late Have I Loved You – On the Delay of Marriage in Our Culture and the Flawed Notions That Underlie It

January 11, 2016 29 Comments

In football, if the offense takes more than thirty seconds between plays, they are penalized for “delay of game.” The result is lost yardage; they are now farther away from the goal line. The delay thus brings loss; progress toward the goal is hindered; victory becomes less likely, not more. I’m sure the offense would always like a little more time in the huddle in order to ensure that everyone knows exactly what to do. But there comes a moment when they must break out of the huddle and execute the play even if more time would have been ideal.

This also happens in “real life.” Deliberations have their place, but delay can be costly and can actually set us back from our goals. Life keeps moving forward even when we don’t feel prepared or completely certain of the outcome.

Related to this is an old saying, “If something is worth doing well, it’s worth doing poorly.” The point is not that we should plan to do something poorly, but rather that if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing, even if we wish we could have more time to plan/control better. One might have envisioned a nice cookout with steaks on the grill, but due to time constraints and limited funds it ends up being hot dogs and hamburgers. But it was still worth doing, and a nice time was had by all.

With this in mind, I’d like to discuss an increasingly large problem in our culture: the delay of marriage by young people. Many today are in their thirties by the time they marry. There are many reasons for this that are beyond the young adults themselves, but the bottom line is that delayed marriage is not indicative of a healthy culture. Marriage and family are the foundation of a healthy culture, and the lack of this anchor causes many to drift into unhealthy and counterproductive attitudes and behaviors. This “delay of game” brings penalties, both personal and societal, that cause us to “lose yardage” and make victory less likely.

Marrying and raising children within a family is demonstrably better for men and women than remaining single. Those in traditional marriages are on average healthier, happier, more affluent, and mature more quickly. It is also better for the culture when young people get married. Getting married and having children help men and women to become more responsible, more mature, and to make better decisions that are less wasteful and selfish. It helps them to think of others, and to learn to settle down into more stable, frugal, generous lives. All of this is good for culture and society.

A recent article by Dennis Prager in National Review speaks to the flawed thinking that has given rise to the delay of marriage. He does not deny, nor do I, that young adults today face many personal and cultural obstacles. But he also thinks that the obstacles are often overstated, and that it is time for all of us to work more at facilitating earlier marriages by encouraging young adults to be more intent on this goal.

I have presented Prager’s remarks in bold, black italics; my remarks are in plain, red text.

The statement “I’m not ready to get married” … said by more and more Americans between the ages of 21 and 40 (and some who are older than that) … usually qualifies as both meaningless and untrue. … So, here’s a truth that young Americans need to hear: Most people become “ready to get married” when they get married. Throughout history most people got married at a much younger age than people today. They were hardly “ready.” They got married because society and/or their religion expected them to. And then, once married, they tended to rise to the occasion.

Here is the opening salvo: it is always be possible to be more ready to do something. But the trap is that when you can always be more ready, you’re never quite ready enough.

For me, there is nothing like a deadline to help me accomplish a task. But the expectation in our culture today that young people should marry is so weak that few sense any urgency or “deadline” until they are well into their thirties. And it’s usually more the women than the men feel it. The biological starts to loom large for a woman when she hits her mid-thirties, but for a man it doesn’t. Thus there is little to no expectation that binds men and women equally to set about the task of looking for a spouse and getting married.

At one time we thought it was the most natural thing in the world for men and women to want to marry each other; apparently that is no longer the case.

A promiscuous culture has taken away one very central lure of marriage: approved access to sexual intimacy. Further, there is the notion that a marriage is supposed to be a perfect union and that the ideal mate must be found. Add to this the ordinary fear that getting married has always provoked.

I remember as a boy being up on the high diving board at the local pool. Standing up there on my own looking down at the water so far below caused me to freeze up. A few things “unfroze” me: someone coming up the ladder behind me, my friends down below encouraging me, and everyone else expecting me to go ahead and make the dive and chiding me for my delay. I felt unprepared, but off the board I went. I “got ready” by just doing it.

… at least two bad things happen the longer you wait to get “ready” to be married. One is that, if you are a woman, the number of quality single men declines. … as Susan Patton, a Princeton graduate, wrote … “Find a husband on campus before you graduate … You will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”

In a big pool there are lots of fish; in a smaller pool, fewer fish.

The other bad thing that happens when people wait until they are “ready” to get married is that they often end up waiting longer and longer. After a certain point, being single becomes the norm and the thought of marrying becomes less, not more, appealing. So over time you can actually become less “ready” to get married.

Yes, we are very invested in the familiar, even if it has hardships. Further, it gets harder to change as we age. Those who are older are less willing and able to adjust to the changes that marriage brings.

And one more thing: If you’re 25 and not ready … [saying] “I’m not ready to get married” means “I’m not ready to stop being preoccupied with myself,” or, to put it as directly as possible, “I’m not ready to grow up.”

You may think Prager unkind here. And perhaps he generalizes a bit too much. But let’s admit that we live in a narcissistic culture, one in which most people take a long time to grow up and some never do.

I would argue that our whole culture is fixated on teenage issues. We are titillated by and immature about sex; we demand rights but refuse responsibility; we rebel against authority; we act like “know-it-alls”; we are forever crying about how unfair things are and how mean some people can be. This is teenage stuff, but our culture seems stuck in this mode.

Having been brought up on a steady diet of this sort, young adults (understandably) are going to have a harder time breaking free of narcissism and immaturity. But recognizing the problems is a first step toward getting better and getting ready.

People didn’t marry in the past only because they fell in love. And people can fall in love and don’t marry—as happens frequently today. People married because it was a primary societal value. People understood that it was better for society and for the vast majority of its members that as many individuals as possible commit to someone and take care of that person.

I would only add here that in the past people married in order to survive. They had children to survive. There was no Social Security and no retirement plans. Your children were your Social Security.

I do not argue for a dismantling of the whole Social Security system or of retirement plans, but I do argue that they have had unintended effects: the government has increasingly taken on a role that families once filled. People used to take care of those in their family, and this respected the principle of subsidiarity. Today, this has responsibility has been shifted to an impersonal government body. The “welfare system” (personal and corporate) has created an unhealthy dependence on government. This has the dual effect of reducing the perceived need for family ties and interfering with them when they do exist.

The argument [is invalid] that the older people are when they marry, the less likely they are to divorce. … The latest data are that those who marry in their early thirties are more likely to divorce than those who marry in their late twenties.

People may be more mature in their thirties but they are also more settled in their ways and more accustomed to the single life.

And then there is the economic argument. Many single men, for example, say they are not ready to get married because they don’t have the income … In fact, marriage may be the best way to increase one’s income. Men’s income rises after marriage. They have less time to waste, and someone to help support—two spurs to hard work and ambition, not to mention that most employers prefer men who are married. And can’t two people live on less money than they would need if they lived each on his or her own, paying for two apartments?

Frankly there is just more to work for when one is married. And combined resources, financial and otherwise, lead to a more “diversified portfolio.”

In addition to economic benefits, the vast majority of human beings do better when they have someone to come home to, someone to care for, and someone to care for them. And, no matter how much feminists and other progressives deny it, children do best when raised by a married couple.

This is just plain common sense.

Throughout history, and in every society, people married not when they were “ready” to marry but when they reached marriageable age and were expected to assume adult responsibilities.

Yep! And we err by not insisting on these things. People at every stage of life need a little pressure to encourage them to make beneficial moves.

The “greatest generation,” which lived through the depression and fought in WWII, did indeed make enormous sacrifices. But it would seem that they failed to pass on to their children the notion of duty and sacrifice. The baby boom generation thus ended up self-absorbed and under-disciplined. They threw a miserable revolution in the late 1960s. The tsunami-like devastation wrought by this revolution afflicts us to this day and has a lot to do with the demise of marriage, family, and (healthy) disciplined sexuality in the culture.

Finally, this [situation] reflects another negative trend in society—that of people being guided by feelings rather than by standards or obligations. In life, behavior shapes feelings. Act happy, you’ll become happy. Act like you’re single, you’ll remain single. Act like you’re ready for marriage, you’ll become ready for marriage. Do it, in other words. Then you’ll be “ready.”

Yes, other things being equal, this is true. Now please, don’t treat this as an absolute and consequently reject it. Understand that it is a general principle. There are times when other factors are involved; the correlation is not 100%. But I know (as I think you do) that when I do right and I do good, I “feel” better.

Finally, a disclaimer: I have written a lot on this blog about issues related to the delay of marriage, to the vocation, and so forth. And whenever I do, I find that some readers take articles like this one very personally and get offended. This piece is a commentary on cultural trends, not on your personal life. There are always going to be specific, individual factors that affect the outcome in a particular situation; those cannot reasonably be included in wide-ranging column addressed to thousands. If you are in your thirties and unmarried, there may be good reason for that. But this article is not about you; it is about an overall trend that is not healthy for a culture. Young adults today are not wholly to blame for marrying later in life. The adults in their lives, and institutions like schools and the Church, also bear some responsibility. These negative effects flowed from what we have done and what we have failed to do, individually and collectively. This is about all of us. I pray that this disclaimer will avoid the posting of angry and bitter responses in the comments section that bespeak readers who take personally what is not meant personally.

Filed in: Culture, Marriage

Comments (29)

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  1. Thorfinn says:

    There is being ready for marriage and being sure you have the right person to marry. I agree that you’re never really ready for marriage — it requires constant work throughout marriage anyway. But my experience is that when you find the right person, you’ll know.

  2. Jesse says:

    What I learned from this article:
    1. People who are of “marriageable” age should get married, and those who don’t are shirking their “adult responsibilities.” Love has nothing to do with it. Literally. The word love was mentioned twice in this article, and both of those instances were in the same sentence.
    2. It’s totally a choice for every single person. Those who aren’t married are obviously choosing not to be married. None of them have perhaps not found the right person yet.
    3. The increase of women in the workforce has nothing to do with it. Back in the day, women married for survival because they literally could not leave their parents house and survive on their own unless they had a husband’s income to support them. Today, it is more common for women to have full time careers, and thus, they don’t NEED to rush into a union that maybe isn’t as full of love as it should be.

    I’m not taking this article personally per se, because I know I’m not alone in saying that we need support in actually spending time learning our vocations. Why is it that men and women joining the seminaries and convents in their early thirties are praised but young folks called to marriage are “failing” if they don’t do it before their thirties? You talk about how the trend has changed, but the trend was always in place. There was always a cultural trend. It wasn’t just Christians getting married young, it was everybody. Why should we follow culture just to follow culture? In today’s world, I praise those that have the decency and courage to wait and make sure they know they’re marrying someone they love with all their heart, mind and soul, that will lead them closer to God. If you find that in your teens or early twenties, lucky you! If you find it later in life, that’s a blessing also. And it is no less valuable, nor does it mean that the individuals in that union are less valuable.

    I am called to be married. I know that. But I am also called to minister to the many atheists in my life. That will be much harder to do when I have children as I will likely be spending less time “out in the world” and more time rearing them to be God-fearing men and women of God. I need that time. Many couples need that time. I understand that this is your opinion, but please be careful that what you say can make others feel devalued by the Church, as though they cannot contribute positively until they are married. That’s the general sentiment. God creates each of us to be a part of the Body of Christ, and the Body of Christ requires all those unique moving parts to do different jobs at different times.

  3. Jim says:

    I think one problem is that the Church unwittingly buys into secular culture. The message to young Catholics is that single = freedom = fun. Single = self fulfillment. But it is not.

    Another problem is this idea that you have to “discern” a vocation to be married before you get started looking, or that you have no vocation to marriage until you meet a specific person you want to marry.

    The result is vocational drift and endless “discernment” about discerning. Then you wake up and find that marriage has passed you buy.

    “Discernment” is to see whether you have vocation to the priesthood or the consecrated life. If you know for certain you don’t have a vocation to apostolic celibacy of some sort, then you really need to plan to be married.

    Acedia can mean failure to seek the good. Sloth used to be one of the cardinal sins, and it also meant failure to seek out what is good for us.

    While people can be single for lots of reasons, good and bad, and I am single myself, I believe that much of today’s singleness results from some combination of poor catechesis, drift, sloth, and acedia.

  4. Jim says:

    As I saying…. You put it well, Monsignor.

    Act happy, you’ll become happy. Act like you’re single, you’ll remain single.

    Assuming that you are supposed to be single until someone tells you otherwise, or just not caring enough to seek the married vocation that used to be the default for people not seeking religious life, mens that you are going to be single for life.

  5. Matt says:

    While I appreciate the last paragraph and while I don’t take it personally, I’m slightly irritated that this piece glosses over the economic perspective. What is severely lacking is the understanding that the millennial generation has been hit hardest by the Great Recession. To simply state that two incomes are better than one and that “you work harder when you have something to work for” is the basest of sentiments when the millennial generation has massive student debt, incredibly poor job market, plus the now added burden of having people tell them that they need to get married and start having kids. I don’t think the older generations understand that because of things like student loans, the younger generations cannot get a loan to buy a house, half of their income goes to paying off said loans, and younger people now have to live in city centres in apartments because they cannot buy homes. Thus, it has and will continue to change demographics and travel patterns. Living in the city means that a young married couple does not have access to quality schools located in the suburbs nor are city centres ideal places to raise children. I had to move across the country for employment which takes me away from my family who could be very supportive in things like child care. Since I would now have to pay for day care on top of rent and loan repayment. So the economics of things weigh far more significantly on the millennial generation’s shoulders than older generations understand.

    • Matt says:

      I might also add that unless one is doing a super cheap wedding, most modern weddings go for between $5-15k without the honeymoon. Now many of my friends have foregone having a honeymoon so they could save up for a house or apartment. Regardless, $10k more in debt is not something one should ask young couples for lightly.

      Additionally, those of us who don’t have apartments often move back in with their parents. Thus, for us, to begin a family with our spouse whilst living in one’s parents house is positively medieval culturally speaking let alone just plain weird.

      Those in the millennial generation listed to the older generations prior to the Great Recession when they told us to go to the best schools possible no matter the cost so as to get a good job once were done. Having followed their advice, it left us in this current predicament once the job market went south caused in no large part by the older generations who bought houses they themselves couldn’t afford. Does the millennial generation bear responsibility for some of their problem: absolutely. Knowing what I know now, I would’ve done my gen eds at a community college or the like and transferred to my school of choice later in order to minimise debt and increase prospects.

      Since, however, there is extraordinarily little support either from the older generations or from other institutions like employers or the church, it often feels as if the older generations not only give bad advice at every opportunity but also when that advice does not work out, there is no support from them at all. It’s interesting, my Mormon friends mention how if someone in their community looses a job, the church is there to offer support for a time until they get back on their feet in the form of helping with rent, baby sitting etc. However, since the older Catholic generations don’t come anywhere near to tithing, the Church’s hands are tied with regards to offering material support.

      I appreciate your encouragement to the joys of the sacrament of marriage, Msgr. However, please know that although there are some in the millennial generation who foolishly wait for marriage for selfish reasons, those who wait for other more practical reasons feel as if older generations are once more loading us with more burdens and bad advice whilst not lifting a finger to help when things turn sour.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Well I have discussed the economic issues in previous post. Or did you want the article to be even longer? At some point it helps to remember that no article can or will cover everything. SO rather than be irritated why not just say something by addition? Comments are open, you can do that. Save your irritation for better things.

      • Mary says:

        I KIND of tend to shrug when people start going on about the “economic perspective.” Something I see in almost all my peers, is this profound insecurity and need for stability and, I think, stemming from that, a need to have everything lined up just right before committing to anything. My parents got married when my dad was still a grad student, and had two children by the time he graduated. They didn’t buy a house until they had six kids. They went on to have ten kids, and life went through its typical ups and downs of job losses and illnesses. Are we all ok? Yes – in spite of occasional economic tight times and worries – we are all even great.

        Contrast this with most of my friends who refuse to get married until all their studies are finished, and they are well established in the job market, and who then refuse to have children until they buy a house….

        Long story short – I am not sure that this generation is particularly hard done by. They just think they are.

  6. Jesse says:

    I don’t think he’s just saying it to express irritation, but, to me, the point of his post lies in the fact that some young people are [wisely in my opinion] aware that their current situation isn’t the ideal environment to have a family in. Whether that be because we’re living in tiny apartments in the city or in massive debt from student loans, we recognize that we’re not able to be the quality of parents God calls us to be. But we probably will be in a few years once we get our affairs in order. I know very few people in their mid-twenties who are single because they want to be… and of my Christian/Catholic friends, I know zero. They want to be married, they desire that with their whole hearts, but they also want to be quality husbands, wives and parents. And sometimes that means forgoing our selfish desires for companionship until we are able to fulfill the responsibilities that come with that.

    As a disclaimer, I am in no way saying that you need to have a lot of money or live in the suburbs to raise a family… but if you’re living in a shitty apartment with loud neighbors and you KNOW it’s temporary, etc, etc, why put your kid in that environment if you don’t have to? I know there is never a right or wrong time to get married or have a family, but I would argue that are better and worse times.

  7. Leigh says:

    I agree with many points this article raises and don’t feel personally attacked in the least, although I am a single woman in my mid-twenties. I live alone and love my job and my life, but I do have to actively look for ways to be selfless since I don’t even have a roommate to be considerate of. I intend to welcome marriage as soon as the opportunity comes and the Lord gives me peace that it is the right man. I have even been asked, just never by the right person. From my own experience, men can be very eager about marriage and jump the gun because the idea of marriage is so enticing, they forget it is a real sacrifice.

    I think there is such a thing as being “unready” for marriage. I am in a good enough financial spot to have children, but if I fell in love with someone with a lot of student debt (college was a lot cheaper for the older generations), and we could not in good conscience have children right away, I would wait a little longer to make sure our finances are in order. I think children is a huge part of marriage, and if getting pregnant right away would be an issue, I’d wait a second, enjoy a chaste dating relationship, and get married when the financial burden is more manageable. NFP is hard y’all!

    I think another evil that has drenched our culture and has made men unready for marriage is pornography. Most men in my generation, even the good Catholic ones, have been struggling with addition to pornography since they were 12. I don’t think this was an epidemic in earlier generations. I’d rather be single than married to a man constantly cheating on me with women on the Internet. Not to sound judgmental, my heart goes out to those struggling, but you should get serious help for that issue no matter what your vocation and probably aren’t ready to commit to anyone until you are in a good place.

  8. Ari says:

    There are many reasons for people delaying marriage. It is a negative thing, statistically speaking, but what of the person who is READY to be married and there is no one eligible? What about the person who believed all the lies of the culture and is NOT ready to be married until 30’s or later? It is complicated. What about the parents who are NOT supportive of the couple, who don’t pay for the wedding, who don’t help the couple begin life together (not to mention school debt). It is complicated. We may have all the right desires and preparation, and it doesn’t happen at the “right” time, or even the BEST time (for our fertility, for sociology, etc.)

    • Robert says:

      In my opinion I think that the hardship in finding a marriageable Catholic spouse is the single biggest reason for rise in marriage.

  9. John Thomas says:

    The Catholic Church must boldly proclaim the truth about marriage.

    We also must have an honest discussion about why marriages in the Church are so few.

    Lost in this discussion is there reason why the number of Catholic, sacramental marriages has dropped so much further faster than the number of marriages in the population as a whole, which is already in steep decline.

  10. Scott W. says:

    Even with the disclaimer, the caviles are legion.

  11. cermak_rd says:

    But delay of game is a penalty due to an agreed upon set of rules. There has never been a positive duty of any individual Catholic to marry. Think of all the bachelor uncles and aunts in our families.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Nature gives some pretty basic rules though. As for your second point, I have no idea what you are talking about.

      • I Like the Church Fathers says:

        I think what cermak is getting at is that there is nothing in the Magisterium that says that a Catholic must either marry or become a priest/monk or nun.

        In all traditional societies, there were significant numbers of bachelors and spinsters. This was not particularly problematic because married couples in traditional societies had numerous children. Today, with later marriage and modern ideas about ideal family size and the purpose of marriage, many couples have only one or two children and many have none at all.

        The Church should do more to encourage couples to marry and have children when they are in their early 20s. Natural law dictates that women should be having children at that age because that is precisely when they are most fertile.

        There is no reason why women should have to go to college and get established in a career before starting a family. I know a successful female Catholic lawyer who has nine [9] children! She did this by simply starting a family with her husband before she went to law school. Education and career can wait. Having kids can’t.

  12. K says:

    Msgr. I appreciate your desire to encourage young people to seriously consider commitment and the sacrament of marriage. I think young people do need to hear a message that committing to the sacrament of marriage before you have your 401K set up is ok, even welcome.

    However, I’m having a hard time trying to understand who it is you are trying to convince regarding the toxicity of marrying after 30. Those who are not Catholic are living but a whole different set of beliefs and don’t care at all that you or the Roman Catholic Church believe in chastity, etc., so we’ll leave them out. Catholics who have married before the age of 30 will probably read this and feel vindicated. Catholics who are trying to live Christian lives but are 30 or older and have not married (persons with individual, specific reasons category from your disclaimer) will probably read this and feel somewhat pressured or shamed. There are people dying horrible, violent deaths in this world. There is an incredible amount of evil and greed. I think a loving, God-fearing couple getting married at the age of 32 is ok. I really do. What if said couple didn’t even meet until they were 31? And before they turned 31 no one else they knew was willing to enter a God-fearing relationship that respected their desire to marry and have a family?

    This article suggests that God really wants us all to be married and having children before we hit our 30s and honestly, I think that is offensively limiting God.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Just talking about culture. As for God, you can generally hear his actual voice in Scripture, Tradition and in Creation. Sounds like you’re getting personally offended. I don’t know you so I am not talking about you. This post is not about you. But a culture that has most of its young adults marry well after 30 is not healthy. Take what you like and leave the rest. Again, this post is not about you.

      • J says:

        Monsignor, who is it about? If not us? Catholics?

      • K says:

        Claiming that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is simply taking this personal is a great way to deflect further conversation. However, I would love to choose to believe that you are open to criticism as a means to improve your argument. As I stated before, I appreciate your message to young people that they don’t have to have every single duck in a row in order to marry. I think that that’s really positive and I commend you for it.

        You’re right, the median age for which people are choosing to marrying has significantly increased since the 1970s. And you claim that you are commenting on a cultural trend, not individual choices. But the factors that go into this cultural trend extend beyond the negative influences you listed before (selfishness, etc.). Yes, I am with you, there are some people out there not getting married because they claim that they’re not ready to make that kind of commitment to a spouse or children and they fear “growing up” as it were. That exists. So do canaries. But before we claim that all birds are canaries we should do some research, right? As much as I fear you won’t find him a credible source, Aziz Ansari teamed up with multiple professionals, including researchers and psychologists, to write Modern Romance, a book about how young people fall in love today. They interviewed an incredible amount of people, especially men and women who married in their 20s or even late teens in the 1940s and 1950s. The overwhelming majority of women who married at this age in the 1940s and 1950s said that they wished they would have had the opportunity to live by themselves for a least a year or two before marriage. They did not state that they had unhappy marriages or that they weren’t ready to commit to a spouse or child when they had gotten married, just that they would have appreciated that time to grow and develop before marrying. Today most women in the United States have that opportunity. In the 1940s and 1950s that opportunity virtually did not exist.

        I question whether taking that 1-3 year time span to live by yourself is really evil. And ok, let’s make it personal here. I have multiple friends who are awesome Catholic women who are spending those 1-3 years volunteering in third world countries or teaching in extremely poor communities. Not because they’re running away from a boyfriend or don’t want to commit to a serious relationship. They’re there because they feel like God called them to it and that those experiences will greatly influence them as mothers.

        • JP says:

          Who says taking 1-3 years is evil? That’s crazy. No one has said it here. The issue is a culture of delay, or simply not making marriage a priority in your best years to marry. Or taking a totally passive approach until “love” or “The One” hits you with truck. Or the near-complete absence of support from the Catholic community for people who would like to find someone in their parish or in their local community to marry.

  13. Anne says:

    This whole discussion is revealing how entangled we have all become and we need Gods mercy!!
    Lord please help us all. We are such lost children

  14. JP says:

    I don’t see any “shaming” in this article. Instead, there is some blunt truth telling that is constructive and welcome.

    Sometimes we do no one a favor by refusing address the proverbial “elephant in the dining room” because there are those who would rather not hear about it.

    In our culture generally, we have allowed a dense thicket of rationalizations and expectations to grow up. These tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies unless we push back on them.

    With respect to marriage, many in American culture broadly think of marriage as a capstone, or a pinnacle to be achieved, which may or may not happen at some point in the future.

    In Catholic tradition, and in the America of prior generations, the tendency was to see marriage as a foundation stone for the beginning one’s life, and the solid beginning on which everything else was based. More than a few learned sociologists have written about this.

    There is nothing wrong with the capstone model of marriage, per se. But around it there have grown up a number of false narratives which need to be challenged, as Monsignor notes.

    One of these is the idea that you can start a family whenever you want, at whatever your age. The reality is that by the mid thirties, your window is already rapidly closing —and wake up, gentlemen, this applies to you. Male fertility also declines over time, and some evidence suggests that it is declining a lot faster than it used to. Also, the number of young women who want to date and marry men significantly older than themselves is quite small, as it should be. Even adoption agencies look askance at those over 40, since they will be pushing 60 by the time a child graduates from high school, just when the need for engaged parental support may be greatest.

    Another is the idea that being single past thirty is really just like being single for a brief period in your 20s. As someone who is over 50 and single, I can tell you that the single life becomes more challenging and more difficult over time. Your chances of getting married over 30 do steadily diminish over time. The dating pool is so much smaller. The social opportunities are few and far between. You get more and more wrapped up in your own solitary life—as prospective partners do as well. You have less and less time to build a life with someone else. You may reach a point where your fondest hope is to have a few years of companionship before you reach the retirement home. Your married life is a merger, if you get there, and not a joint venture. And yes, practically no one over 30 is leading a celibate lifestyle. This means that being an older Catholic seeking marriage can be very lonely indeed.

    There is no shame in failing to marry before 30. For a serious Catholic, finding someone to marry at any age is a challenge.

    But let’s be honest: some people are so taken by the capstone notion of marriage—waiting until they have the perfect job, the PhD, the giant house, and a budget for the fancy wedding—that they simply drift along for years. Then they wake up at 45 and wonder what happened to them, why they haven’t had a date in years, and why the feel so out of place at mass or in social situations where everyone else is married.

    Monsignor is providing a valuable service, telling people to wake up before it is too late. If you are hearing this for the first time at age 32 and find it upsetting, the answer is not to complain; the answer is to make sure that people start hearing this message in their late teens and early twenties, before they find themselves over 40 with no options also.

    Some commenters have written about love. Sure, love is hard to find. But your odds of finding it are much lower if you take a passive approach and simply wait for it to happen, when you are ready, once you have attended to other priorities. Fortune favors the bold. We need God’s guidance, but He wants us to take initiative for ourselves. Like the faithful servants, we can trust God and take risks. But if we wait until everything is perfect, or if we come up with endless reasons for delay, or if we make choices in our early 20s that mean we are boxed in for years if not decades of debt payments going forward, we may find ourselves with nothing for our waiting.

    Sanctity is possible in the single life. But God established Holy Matrimony for a reason. Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that singleness in secular society is anything but a spiritual dead end for the vast majority of people who find themselves living it, though we can stipulate that this should not apply to Catholics, and especially not to people sufficiently alert and engaged to be reading this blog.

    • J says:

      “Sanctity is possible in the single life. But God established Holy Matrimony for a reason. Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that singleness in secular society is anything but a spiritual dead end for the vast majority of people who find themselves living it, though we can stipulate that this should not apply to Catholics, and especially not to people sufficiently alert and engaged to be reading this blog.”

      “Spiritual dead end” is pretty harsh to me… isn’t the single life a vocation? Why does no one want to address this? I also want to address the issue of this “passive” thing. I’m 25. So right there in kind of the middle of all of this. And I can tell you I have SO many friends who married young because they wanted to have sex. Like.. that was their reason. Which, I’m sorry, yes, sex is a beautiful thing, and it’s a beautiful part of marriage, but that’s not a good reason. I can also tell you that the friends I have that are single are anything BUT passive. They are on every dating site (within reason) looking for single Catholic men to date, they are participating in every social event for young Catholic singles, etc, etc. Many of them also went to Catholic colleges even. I get the basic gist of this article, but I have to admit I’m extremely dissatisfied in the lack of addressing the concerns that all of us young folks have brought up. It seems like the majority of comments on this article that have zero or few disagreements with it are all older or members of the clergy. Times have changed. Along with the marriage age rising among our generation, so has our engagement with the church. Obviously we’re doing something right.

      • JP says:

        Not harsh. Not directed at anyone one. Just truth. Singleness doesn’t get better as you get older.

        For most people, most of the time, singleness does lead to a dead end—spiritual and otherwise. In my experience, it has that strong tendency. Not that it is the end of the world, but it is undesirable. God said that it is not good that the man, or woman, should be alone.

        For a few it may be different, but in general, one should should not make singleness a deliberate choice.

        We all have a particular vocation, but “single” is not a vocation in Church teaching, perhaps for this reason.

        We should also be wary that single becomes our choice by default.

        For the first time, perhaps, we live in a society where 51% of adults are single. The number of Catholic marriages per year is a small fraction of what it used to be, and it declines further each year, even when measured by thousands of Catholics.

        Some of us are marrying later. A lot of us are never marrying at all. It is appropriate to consider whether this is a good thing, and whether we can or should do anything about it. It’s just not the case that “everyone” eventually gets married any more.

        For those seeking marriage, it is a fair point that delay does not make anything easier. Your heart must be open to the now, not closed to the not yet. You may not realize when your chance has passed you by.

        If you are actively looking when you are 25, God bless you. The article addresses people who aren’t, of whom there are many, for good reasons and bad. Some just need encouragement. A culture of passivity doesn’t help them. I think this article has helpful intent.

    • Robert says:

      To all the young singles reading this, Msgr.’s audience for this article isn’t for young singles. There is nothing young singles can do change the wider culture that prevents them from marrying young and Msgr. knows this. Msgr. is offering social commentary, not advice and we shouldn’t mix up the two.

      He is getting the conversation started.

      We should be grateful for that because he is literally the only priest in the American Church talking about the current singles crisis the Church is facing.

  15. fRED says:

    It seems that this discussion is centered on the secular aspects of marriage. As a divorced, discarded middle-aged man in my 50s I am astounded by the contemporary “courting” process of my younger colleagues at work. It seems everyone is living with someone, then buying a house/condo, then marrying (maybe), and perhaps children someday.

    Maybe the discussion would be different if it focused on the SACRAMENT of Marriage. Perhaps the high failure rate of RC marriages today is related to an ignorance of the sacramental aspects of marriage and family.

    Forget all the chatter about marriage prep classes (or years) and NFP (to delay having a family-proper spacing ya know). Those things are secular centered rather than sacramental. When things go bad, it usually involves a serious departure from simple fundamentals.

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