The Most Sane Article On Marriage Ever To Appear In A National Newspaper

bride-groom-12616238When I finished reading “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” on Sunday, I immediately checked to see if I was still reading the New York Times or if I had inadvertently hit a button on my Kindle and switched to The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller, pastor of a well known church in NYC. But it turned out that it actually was the Times Opinion page I was reading and the author wasn’t Keller or another pastor or even (as far as I can tell) a professing Christian. Instead it was written by Alain de Botten, a 46 year old British philosopher who writes books and appears on television.

I commend the article to you because the whole thing, as written by de Blotten, is worth reading and also because it might prove helpful to discuss with friends or in a small group or to pass on to others whether they are single or married. You won’t get a much better marital perspective.

6 Nuggets of Wisdom On Marriage and One Important Thing He Got (kinda) Wrong

1. You will never marry the “right” person. That’s mainly because, as the article says, “Nobody’s perfect.” Everyone is crazy. Not everyone is crazy in the same way but everyone has significant issues. If everything (the Bible, pastors, marriage counselors, your own observations after watching other people’s marriages, and now even the Opinion page of the New York Times!) tells you that you won’t marry the right person, stop looking for him or her. Stop trying to find the right person and put your focus on becoming the right person.

2. Dating is very different than marriage. Where do we start with this? For starters during the dating phase of a relationship we “rarely delve into our complexities” but instead are able to project an image of who we wish we were–an image that is usually far more attractive than our real self.

For more on the differences between dating and marriage here’s de Botten:

“Finally, we marry to make a nice feeling permanent. We imagine that marriage will help us to bottle the joy we felt when the thought of proposing first came to us: Perhaps we were in Venice, on the lagoon, in a motorboat, with the evening sun throwing glitter across the sea, chatting about aspects of our souls no one ever seemed to have grasped before, with the prospect of dinner in a risotto place a little later. We married to make such sensations permanent but failed to see that there was no solid connection between these feelings and the institution of marriage.

Indeed, marriage tends decisively to move us onto another, very different and more administrative plane, which perhaps unfolds in a suburban house, with a long commute and maddening children who kill the passion from which they emerged. The only ingredient in common is the partner. And that might have been the wrong ingredient to bottle.”

3. People who really, really want to get married often make bad decisions. Do I love this other person or do I love the idea of getting married? Am I ready to bind myself to this other person in a life long marriage or am I just tired of being the last of my friends to be single? Does this person have the character and values that I am looking for in a spouse or is marriage simply convenient right now? Here’s de Botten: “No one can be in an optimal frame of mind to choose a partner when remaining single feels unbearable.” It’s when you’re content with who God made you and where God has you that you’re in the best frame of mind to think about a relationship.

4. Don’t worry that you didn’t marry the “right” person. This is gold, pure gold:

“The good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person.

We mustn’t abandon him or her, only the founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.”

Catch that? Contrary to the hype, contrary to Hollywood, contrary to cultural expectations, there is NO right person for you to marry because no person can meet all our needs and satisfy all our desires! Sure pastors say things like that but remember that this is the New York Times!

5. “Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.” That’s another great line from the article. Marriage is a great place to grow in humility, patience, compromise, and sacrifice. When we expect to start our marriage with compatibility we deny our spouses’ faults and set ourselves up for disappointment. What if de Botten is right and genuine compatibility comes on the other side of maturity and growth?

6. The “normal” marriage has a lot of ups and downs. Instead of bailing or complaining or withdrawing, what if we stayed with it and kept working and learning and growing?

“Romanticism has been unhelpful to us; it is a harsh philosophy. It has made a lot of what we go through in marriage seem exceptional and appalling. We end up lonely and convinced that our union, with its imperfections, is not “normal.” We should learn to accommodate ourselves to “wrongness,” striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners.”

The normal marriage has plenty of conflict, selfishness, and trying times. Hopefully that’s not all it has but given that in general we tend to remember the bad times more than the good times, it might feel like married life is harder than it truly is.

When God brings two sinners together in a marriage he plans to use each spouse to help the other one grow. It’s when your spouse is being annoying or unreasonable or generally difficult that you can learn patience, to love your enemy, self-examination, empathy, forgiveness and so much more. And remember you’re not so easy to live with either. Your spouse is putting up with a lot and giving you lots of grace too.

But there is ONE big thing he gets wrong…kinda. He claims it is a lie, “that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.” When he wrote that de Botten was thinking of a spouse and in that sense he is right.

But, perhaps unknowingly, he puts his finger on an incredible truth: we all long to know such a perfect being. And de Botten is wrong because such a being exists! The good news for us is that there is one “who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.” That perfect being is God himself made known in Jesus Christ. And that relationship is what EVERY human being is searching for. When we expect our spouse to be that perfect being, nothing works. He feels pressure and she feels disappointed. But when we see that Jesus is the one who will meet our needs and satisfy our hearts, then we are free to love our spouses with the love we received from him.

One Comment

  1. Kyle said:

    I have a concern about (3). How can one tell if he has a strong desire for marriage, which I take to be natural, or an idolatrous desire for marriage, which I think you are talking about in the blog post? I ask because warnings such as this make me suspicious of my desires. As fallen beings, perhaps I should have a healthy suspicion of my desires, but I think there is such a thing about being overly suspicious. I literally cannot feel that my desire for marriage is good because I’m overly suspicious that my motives are wrong, that I’m idolizing marriage and that, if I were to marry, it would be awful because of that idol. Feeling guilty about my desire to marry and the fear that my possibly idolatrous desire will ruin my marriage does not fill me with any confidence and motivation to pursue marriage, even though I want it.

    As for the last section, I’m curious about the idea that God can satisfy all of our yearnings, because I’m not sure it’s true. I’m curious as to why God made us to need communion with other human beings if all we need is God. Do we need community with other people, whether that’s friendships, church, or marriage, solely for practical purposes like personal growth, raising children, and the like? Obviously not. It does seem like there is a deep emotional and spiritual need that we have for other human beings that only other human beings can satisfy, otherwise why would God give us yearnings that he answers through other humans? Sex might be a simple example of a yearning that God cannot satisfy. He made the opposite sex and marriage to answer that (for the people who get it, at least).

    Perhaps the point you’re making is not that God satisfies each of our individual desires, but gives a more general satisfaction. God’s love, promises, and gifts give us things like contentment, even in the face of trials like singleness, hope, even when things look hopeless, and a sense of being loved and known, even when our longings to be known by other people are not fulfilled to whatever extent they can be in a fallen world. Perhaps I’m understating it, but that’s the best I can do at this hour.

    I agree that people should not expect of a spouse (or anyone else) what only God can do, but I am suspicious of the idea that God satisfies all of our yearnings if, by that, one means he can satisfy all of our individual, desires.

Leave a Reply