While I appreciate the alleged sentiment behind this list—namely, that people shouldn’t rush into making a big decision like marriage—it is precisely this sort of navel-gazing that has contributed to the less-than-favorable views on marriage my generation has embraced.
Notice that nearly everything in this list is inwardly focused. It’s all about me. My potentially unfulfilled desires. My potentially missed experiences. The horror of possibly having some minor regrets about how I spent my time in my teens and twenties. The implication here is that the worst mistake someone can make is to prematurely devote their lives to the betterment of someone else’s or to the raising of a family.
I’m fully supportive of any wise counsel that prompts young people to think through what they want out of life and who they want to spend that life with. But the constant refrain of “don’t marry until you are 100% satisfied with your job, and had the maximum number of travel and sexual experiences” has so far had an unhealthy impact on society and culture.
Marriage is about two becoming one. It is about voluntary sacrifice. It is about loving your neighbor as yourself. No one likes to hear or think about this anymore, but it is undeniably true. And where it is not true, you tend to see broken marriages, families, and dreams.
No creature, no matter how wonderful or beautiful, can fulfill our longing for the original source of wonder and beauty: God. Our desire for such goods are infinite, and creatures in their meager finitude fail tragically to deliver. Still, most of us want to be proven wrong, even if only unconsciously. And the result: we slog blindingly down a path of rampant, romantic idolatry.
Of course, de Botton speaks of marriage as a social institution, not as a sacrament instituted by God. While no marriage will be perfect — and our spouses will disappoint us in ways we lament — the Christian view of marriage does offer a mystical and beautiful dimension that the article fails to touch on. We learn to love through this sacramental “institution,” a love that is responsible for one of life’s greatest gifts: the creation of life. I think de Botton’s article treads closely along the banks of despair, while the Christian understanding of marriage — fallen human beings notwithstanding — is more hopeful.
No one is called to seek perfection in their potential spouse, but there may be a “right person” (or group of potential “right people”) whom God invites us to marry for his purposes. Again, this person is not a flawless mate, but a companion with whom to experience joy, sorrow, love and disappointment while working toward heaven. Not only is this a more hopeful understanding of marriage, but also it’s — rather ironically — a more romantic one. Marriage is much more than a medium for solidifying an emotional high or having our egotistical needs met; rather, it’s something that allows us to love like God does.