Defending 'The Cost of Delaying Marriage'

Sep 22, 2005 |Candice Watters

So much of the email we received in response to Danielle Crittenden's book excerpt was negative that we decided to answer it here.

I cannot recall a time when an article stirred such anger in me.... I am SHOCKED that Focus on the Family would allow such an article to be placed on its website. I must say that I can hardly find words to properly express my horror at the bogus expert that was posted on your website.

So began two of many emails we received complaining about "The Cost of Delaying Marriage," an excerpt from Danielle Crittenden's book What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us. The women who wrote those messages were not alone in their sentiments. More than any other article we've run on Boundless, this one stirred up strong emotions, especially among singles.

I wasn't surprised by the response — it was very much like what we received the first time we ran this excerpt six years ago. But I was discouraged. Discouraged by the possibility that we haven't made more progress on the issue of singleness in the church. And concerned that many readers seemingly found her article more controversial this time around.

Thankfully the response wasn’t monolithic. After mentioning all the negative responses to readers of our weekly email update, lots more readers wrote in to applaud Danielle's stance. And to all of you, I say thanks. It was heartening to know marriage is still esteemed among many.

And yet I think it's important to answer some of the more troubling and common complaints we received. For those of you who are still fuming from what we published, this response is for you.

Jesus Is Enough

The top complaint from singles who want to get married but haven't yet had the opportunity has a spiritual bent. It goes something like this: The single years are more virtuous than the married ones, characterized by more faithful, focused and selfless living for the kingdom. Christ is the sum total of what fulfills us — to suggest that marriage can, or should fulfill us, is to devalue the role of Christ in our lives.

Simply put: All we need is Jesus.

The response to this could be an article in itself, because this belief seems to be an emerging motto of Christian singles everywhere. There's just one problem: Adam had perfect communion with God in the Garden of Eden and still God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him" (Genesis 2:18). Everything else about Eden was said to be "good" by God. Everything, that is, except a man. Alone.

People who claim that Jesus is enough typically quote 1 Corinthians 7. In it Paul says, "It is good for a man not to marry" and "an unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit." Paul is describing celibate service — a calling God places on a select few men and women. Though Paul does say, "I wish that all men were as I am," he goes on to say, "But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that." The gift Paul is describing is celibacy — a gift that equips a person to not "burn with passion" while enabling them to fully expend themselves in God's service without the distractions of spouse and children.

How do you know if you have this gift? Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and member of Focus' board of directors suggests asking yourself, "Can I go the rest of my life without sex, without the companionship of marriage, without having children and without being bitter about it?" If you answer yes, it's likely you do.

For everyone else, the call is to marriage. To marry doesn't diminish the need for Christ. In fact, it increases it: The reason Christian marriage requires a vow is that no mere promise is enough to hold two mortals together for life. We're dependent on Christ to help us fulfill it.

It's Not My Fault

Some writers — women especially — were frustrated by their singleness, admittedly wanting to be married but never having had the opportunity to do so. They were offended by Danielle's assertion that women who are still single in their 30s and beyond must be that way because they disregarded the many proposals they received in their 20s. Though some devoted their 20s primarily to education and career development — implying that their focus was not on finding a mate — most in this category were put off by the notion that their singleness was their choice.

One example:

Do I sound bitter? I am really not bitter. I am frustrated, because I see articles that do not seem to present the other side of the story, that despite our best efforts, some of us have just not met someone. That sometimes a person does not have a choice about delaying marriage, because the possibility has never presented itself.

And another:

I don't want to sound like a complainer, but I think that the delayed marriage factor has a lot to do with Christian men as well as women. I find it frustrating to be accused of being very independent when I haven't even had the option of anything else! It's not like I had 10 suitors on my doorstep, and I turned down marriage at 20. I didn't have the option of marriage at 20 or even 30. ... I need the support of the Christian community. Your Boundless article seems to put us all in the bucket of waiting too long or too late. But what about just waiting, because that's your only choice.

I think this writer is on to something. The problem of delayed marriage has a lot to do with men who won't take initiative. Women want to be pursued, and men are charged by God to be the pursuers. Proverbs says, "He who finds a wife, " Finds. That's no passive verb. It's active. It instructs the man who wants God's blessing to get out there and look. And to the men we say, get going. It's time you accept the challenge to pursue marriage.

To the women, I say stop glorifying the single years as a super- holy season of just you and Jesus. Yes, being single does provide the chance to be uniquely intimate with Jesus. Enjoy that. But don't advertise it. Why? Because it gives guys permission to kick back and let you. If they think you're perfectly happy as a single, why wouldn't they let you stay that way? Especially when so many of them are gun shy. Thanks to a 50 percent (give or take a few points) divorce rate and absentee dad problem, many of them grew up without a mentor (their dad) and without a godly model for what marriage should look like. Many of them are scared, and for good reason.

Now to you women, that's not an excuse to bash men. You have an important ability to help them move toward marriage. How? By esteeming it. By not being embarrassed about wanting it. By going after it — to a point. You can nurture men toward marriage by helping them see that it contains a lot of what they're looking for, even if they don't yet know it.

Think of Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life. He's depressed that once again, his plans to get out of small town America and see the world have been thwarted and he's left tending the family business with just his mom and alcoholic uncle for companionship. He's questioning his very existence, longing to know his destiny. What's his mom's suggestion? "Why don't you go talk to Mary," she says. "I'll bet she could help you find the answers you're looking for."

Marriage holds the possibility of partnership, adventure, creativity, challenge and many more of the things we long for, but try to obtain with inferior pursuits. As Amy and Leon Kass observed in their roles as professors at the University of Chicago, "...we detect among our students certain (albeit sometimes unarticulated) longings — for friendship, for wholeness, for a life that is serious and deep, and for associations that are trustworthy and lasting — longings that they do not realize could be largely satisfied by marrying well." (Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar, p. 2)

Singles Have More Fun

Crittenden's article artificially elevates marriage while underestimating the value of living single, independent and free, said some. What's so bad about choosing to be single? It's a lot more fun, they argued.

Ms. Crittenden's article is critical of single women and suggests that we have somehow missed God's plan for our lives by doing what we want to do. She states that we single, 30-year-old women have a second-rate life that can only be tolerated. In addition, without men that we will remain unfulfilled and sad.

And another:

Yes, God makes some of us to be parents and spouses as part of our identity," wrote one. "But He also gives us spiritual gifts that allow us to contribute to our church; He gives us friends to enrich our lives; He gives us talents to praise Him; He gives us careers that fulfill our dreams. Being single doesn't cancel out my identity. And to hear that my identity as a child of God is not complete without a spouse is judgmental and disturbing."

It's not about identity. It's about obedience. When it comes to marriage, we don't need a burning bush to know if it's God's will. He's already told us it is. If we're not specially gifted to be celibate, we're called to marriage. There's no third option; no lifestyle choice to remain single because it's more fun or more fulfilling or more spiritual than being married. Yes, if you're gifted with a calling to celibacy, a la Paul, then that is your duty. But if you're not — and Scripture is clear that most of us aren't — then our calling is marriage.

For women, that means remaining open to the possibility, praying boldly for the opportunity and living intentionally so as not to undermine your prospects. For men, it means "finding a wife" and "leaving and cleaving;" taking initiative — looking at the women you know, identifying the ones who would be a godly wife and good mother and pursuing one of them. Be active.

For both men and women it means living purely — being faithful with your sexuality — actively participating in Christian community and being a good steward of your time, money and talents. These are all things that protect and prepare you for the commitment of marriage.

Marriageandbabies Isn't One Word

Not all women want to raise families others pointed out.

This letter explained,

I have a Christian friend who's married and absolutely loathes small children. The thought of changing a diaper is disgusting to her. She will probably never have children even though she's found the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with.

Now that my two little ones are potty trained I can say with all honesty, changing diapers is a disgusting thing. But that's no reason not to have children. Especially as believers. It's only since the advent of pharmaceutical birth control that humans even had the option of choosing marriage while remaining closed to the possibility — and blessing — of children. And it's only since people started writing their own wedding vows that we stopped including the part about promising to receive children and raise them to know God.

Severing the link between marriage and children is a modern concept, born of material wealth, political freedom and technological advancements. But just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. God has not revoked His charge to the first couple, Adam and Eve, to be fruitful and multiply. (And contrary to public opinion, we're in dire need of more, not fewer, people on this earth.) When we marry and choose not to have children, we violate our very design and disobey our God. (We've talked at length about this on Boundless, including articles by J. Budziszewski and Matt Kaufman.)

Men are Jerks

One writer quoted Crittenden:

The 33-year-old single woman who decides she wants more from life than her career cannot so readily walk into marriage and children; by postponing them, all she has done is to push them ahead to a point in her life when she has less sexual power to attain them.

And had this to say,

Gee, thanks. So, women over 30 aren't sexy enough to get a man, we better get them while we are young and perky?"

It's amazing how much of the world's mentality we've absorbed as Christians. It's not about "getting a man," it's about being in reality about when a woman is most likely to marry and still be able to have children. Youth is a wonderful thing for meeting eligible mates (thanks in large part to our system of higher education), having the time to date (again, thanks to college) and for pregnancy. The older a woman gets, the harder it is for her to conceive and the more likely she'll have complications if she does.

Still another writer said it's our fault for making men look bad.

Crittenden takes a very critical and unflattering view of men," she wrote. "She appears to assume that the good men only want women while they're still young, sexually attractive and fertile. Crittenden mentions nothing of men who may simply want partners they can love and connect with on a deeper emotional basis, and men who care nothing of age, fertility or looks and instead want intellectual and emotional equals.

Men and women are different. It's well established by Christian and secular researchers alike that men are more sight oriented than women and that looks matter a great deal to men when it comes to issues of attraction. If that's all they care about, we call them shallow. But to suggest that men should forgo externals and focus instead on deep emotional connections is to ask men to think like women.

As a woman, I'll venture to say that we women still hold a lot of sway over men. Next time you're verbalizing your contentment with being single (especially if what you really want is to marry) or going after one more degree or one more promotion, remember, men are watching. In many areas, they still look to us for cues.

Consider what Boundless reader Mark T. had to say:

This is a welcome breath of fresh air for a male in his early 20s with a professional degree and the beginnings of a career that would love nothing more than to be able to share his life with someone, but only seems to meet young attractive and ambitious women that want to pursue the independent lifestyle for another 10 years all by themselves.
Did We Make a Mistake?

Sometimes we run things on Boundless that we don't completely agree with in order to get readers thinking, or thinking in a different direction. Sometimes we spotlight an article, author or movie to point out where we think they're wrong.

This was not one of those articles.

Danielle's excerpt is one thing we stand behind fully. She's on to something important, and even though she doesn't write from an explicitly Christian perspective, the issues she raises are critical to the church. Boundless isn't alone in thinking this. Dr. Dobson interviewed Danielle about her book for a recent Focus on the Family broadcast (incidentally this was a re-air of the show, originally recorded in 1999).

Afterward, Dr. Mohler called this excerpt "a must read" on his blog. Saying, "This is an issue I address often, and I appreciate Crittenden's thoughtful analysis — as well as her perspective as a woman.... The article is really important. Her intelligent celebration of marriage is refreshing."

We're glad to know the article got you thinking — even if you wrote to say you totally disagree with it. And we hope you'll prayerfully consider the reasons we so thoroughly endorse it. Yes, hoping for and getting married requires some serious risk-taking, especially in this culture. But it's still a divine gift worth pursuing and receiving.

Copyright 2005 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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