1) I was specifically interested in his ideas on underlying causes for the dearth of marriages. He didn't have much idea as to the why of it, not on the level of social dynamics, which is what I was interested in. He went straight to the underlying cause: "We live in a selfish and individualistic society. It's all about sex, drugs and rock-n-roll." He left me to fill in the blanks for myself.
It's easy enough to see how marriage just isn't a priority for those living the casual sex, one-night stand, hookup cultural lifestyle. Marriage intrinsically involves sacrifice, commitment, responsibility, and these are not qualities exercised by the hook-up culture. Those who live in that culture find themselves ill-prepared to desire marriage, and ill-prepared to maintain it if they do get married.
For those who aren't in the hookup scene, but are cohabitating or having sex before marriage, the lack of marriage is also easy to account for. Why would you take the formal step, make that formal commitment, if you are getting all the benefits without all the responsibilities of it? In a non-married relationship there is always the walk-off option. No cost, no lawyers, no courts. Child support, of course, but thats what we have contraception for.
No, the lack of marriage in society at large is not puzzling at all. The demographic I was thinking about when I asked the question was the Catholic Young Adult scene, since that is my demographic and it was a Catholic Young Adult group that hosted the talk. These young folks are not sleeping around, not co-habitating, living out the Church's sexual morality, sometimes to an extreme extent. Modesty is practiced by the women, and respectful talk and behavior by the men. There is mutual respect, strong friendship, fellowship, community. There is just very little dating. Very few of my friends my own age are in marriage track relationships. Those who are dating are likely to date for years without getting engaged.
I am not really qualified to comment on the women. It seems to me most would like to be married and are willing to be pursued and won. There are exceptions, of course, and the world being what it is, most women have their share of baggage, either from families, previous relationships, or both. Some few cannot seem to decide whether they are called to marriage or not, but that issue cuts across gender lines among the most devout young people these days.
The men, on the other hand, I can take some guesses at:
- Financial climate: It is hard enough for a young man to support himself in our current economic climate, especially if he is going to college, or has no degree. The blue collar jobs that once kept America strong are not what they used to be. The worker has become a means of production and the cheapest workers all live in China. The lack of jobs means a lack of money. Men are far less likely to pursue marriage when they don't feel financially stable.
- Entertainment culture: Video games, facebook, youtube, etc. All of these are useful and enjoyable pastimes, but they can be traps. It is very possible for a young man to use facebook, or comments on a blog or video channel, or twitter followers as a substitute for relationships. They fill the immediate craving, lessening any sense of urgency to pursue a real relationship, but in the long run they do not satisfy the real longing of the human heart for communion. Not that any human relationship can, but a real relationship with a real person is a means to learning to love, which is the perequisite for that ultimately satisfying relationship.
- Pornography: It is an open secret that internet pornography is the plague of Christian manhood. Around the American Catholic Church and the Protestant churches very few men have never seen pornography, and far too many have viewed it deliberately and habitually. It is an issue that is too big to cover here, but I consider pornography to be a huge discouragement to marriage for two reasons: 1) It is an outlet for the sexual instinct that should be directing men towards marriage. It is not satisfying, and ultimately it frustrates and stunts the drive it professes to fulfill, but in the short term a man without that sexual tension driving him to seek a lawful outlet is not likely to seek out marriage. 2) It establishes an unreasonable standard of sexual attractiveness. No woman can hope to look like an airbrushed model, and shouldn't bother trying. A porno star never argues, never has her own opinions, and never suffers from PMS. The man who lives on a steady diet of such unreality will lose his ability to fall in love with a real woman. Even if he does "settle" for someone who is not quite as hot as the women on the computer screen, even if he falls in love with her personality or her character, he is still splitting himself. He is splitting the sexual desire from the personal desire and it will bear rotten fruit later on. So, whether porn use completely stifles his desire for marriage, or merely delays him in acting on it, I still classify it as a severe impediment to Catholic Marriage.
- Lack of Example: We are all, to some extent, products of our culture. Our culture does not value marriage. It values the "bro-life." Unbridled freedom from responsibility, self-actuation, self, self, self is our cultural idol. Guys who get married and work 9-5 and drive a minivan are not cool. They don't have big-screen TV's, they don't drive fast cars, they don't stay out late anymore. They are not the ones that young men want to emulate. They don't make marriage look fun. (No offense meant to the many wonderful married men I know. I am just generalizing.) This cultural reality bleeds over into the Church. Even though we may agree in theory that marriage is a worthy goal for "someday" the single life is fun, free of responsibility, and has its own business. We let the urgent override the important.
- Within the Church there is the phenomenon of endless "discernment." To which I can only say that, even if there is a "right" and "wrong" decision (which I am not convinced of), the worst possible decision is no decision. Rather like the three servants in Matthew 25:14-30. One made more than the other, but the only one who was punished was the one who did nothing with what he had been given.
- And of course we must not forget the individual story. Each particular man has his own background and his own call. Some men may very well be called to do some work for God which is their true vocation, and they are not able to marry. For that they are responsible to explain themselves to no one but God.