I am unaware of any generation at any time in the last 6000 years that has done as poor a job at marriage as the baby boomer generation. They have the most staggering divorce rate in the world. So why do we listen to their advice when it comes to our relationships?
The typical baby boomer advice to young people is to set high standards for a future spouse. No standard is too high for our parents and in the communities where young people heed this advice the marriage rate is plummeting. In one generation, marriage has gone from the rule to the exception. The New York Times recently reported that according to census data 51% of American women are unmarried – up from 35% in 1950. This rate is especially alarming since we have had no major war that has killed off a generation of men.
The Broken System
The marriage gap is shown most drastically among young people in conservative evangelical churches. In my church, for example, we have between 50 and 60 college students. Of those students, I can think of only 5 or 6 who are in defined relationships. I can think of only one married couple under the age of 25. And my church is just representative of what I have seen among evangelical churches. The situation is even worse in homeschool communities.
Of the hundreds of homeschoolers I know I can think of less than five who are married.
The generations before us have poured out an unprecedented amount of prayer for our generation that God would use us to turn the nation back toward Him. But, if we fail to produce another godly generation, we will inevitably become another England. Like Europe authentic Christianity will become history instead of reality. We need to take our heads out of the sand and examine this issue while there is still time to fix it.
The Problem with High Standards
I believe our unreasonably high and misplaced standards help perpetuate this problem. Many singles think that marrying the “right” person will lead to happiness. So, they proceed to get out a piece of paper and describe an ideal person who may or may not exist in reality. But even if he or she did, why would they be interested?
If I want to marry someone who looks like Nicole Kidman I need to look like Tom Cruise. I don’t, so I won’t, end of story. But if my standards insist that I marry someone who looks like her, I will never get married. I use this outlandish example to make a point but if we are honest, our standards look like this more than we would like to admit.
This thinking is crazy in any other facet of life. If I refuse to go to college unless I get into an Ivy League school I will never get a degree. To get a college education I must come to grips with the fact that while I can’t get into Harvard I can handle UMHB.
The problem is not just that the standards are too high – they are also misplaced. Finding a wife is not like shopping. It’s not about comparing the features between disposable products. No one is perfect. Marriage is about finding someone to grow with, not someone to consume.
Paul Washer once said that God will give you a wife that is strong in all the areas she needs to be so that you are not tempted beyond what you care bear but weak in other areas so that you can learn to be more like Christ. If you ever find someone who meets all the conditions how can you ever learn to love unconditionally?
If you ladies want to marry someone as passionate for Christ as Eric Ludy you have to be as on fire as Leslie Ludy . It doesn’t matter how attractive Eric may or may not be, you won’t see him with Nicole Kidman because on a scale of passion for Jesus I would imagine she ranks around a negative zero.
The converse of this is true as well. If I am selfish and prideful, I will attract selfish and prideful girls. If am I unattractive, I will attract unattractive women. If I am emotionally unstable, the girls interested in me will likely be emotionally unstable as well.
Instead of focusing on external standards for who we want to marry we should focus on our internal standards for who we want to be.
My goal is to become the kind of man who will attract the kind of woman that I want to marry.
There is nothing wrong with high standards as long as we are first willing to live up to them ourselves.
Courtship is a lot like evangelism. Most Christians are so focused on getting “decisions for Christ” that they often overlook the plowing, planting and watering needed to bring about a plentiful harvest. Likewise, most singles are so busy asking, “Is this the one?” that they overlook the process of personal maturity.
What I am not saying:
I am not saying we should ignore the advice of our parents. While the baby boomer generation as a whole has blown it that doesn’t mean all the individual members of the generation lack wisdom. If there is one thing I have learned it is that I am not near as wise as I think I am and that age does not guarantee wisdom. Our self-centered humanistic culture makes it easy to grow old without ever growing up.
I am not advocating that singles should start slumming it and marry the dregs of humanity. I am calling for balance between external and internal standards. We must lower our external standards and raise our internal standards if we ever wan to walk away from this problem.
In response to the sins of our parents, we as a generation have made some drastic changes to our culture, most of which were wise and some were ill advised. It is time for a reevaluation. Feel free to join in on the conversation by commenting on my other posts regarding Christian Courtship .
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Thomas, you are very wise. I read an article recently that said "misery is the key to happiness." The gist of it was that the reason so many people are miserable is because their expectations are too high. People who accept that no one is perfect, and decide to love others in spite of their shortcomings, are happier in their relationships.
As a christian u make assumptions about peoples level of faith. I ask u then where is yours because u should know it is Gods place to judge. With this mindset you will never save anyone!
I appreciate your acknowledgment of the fact that the younger generation apparently has an 'attachment disorder' when it comes to courtship and marriage. I believe that problem is as much due to fear of divorce after watching their parents' generation as to the higher standards you elaborate on–and to other factors as well.
As a Christian therapist, I see many college students and graduates who are confused as to why they're not finding that special person for a serious marriage-oriented relationship. Often they come from dysfunctional homes (which now are the norm rather than the exception) and so have more defenses in place than they care to face or tear down.
It's also true that in our conservative church we've overtaught the guys to guard the girls' hearts so that now they seem to have interpreted that to mean 'don't even ask them to coffee unless you're ready to marry them'. On top of that, gender confusion is a much more widespread malady in the church than most would guess. Pornography has taken quite a few young men captive as well so that the normal desires that would motivate them toward wedded bliss are taken care of through artificial means. Young women often sublimate their own yearnings with fantasies that become their own form of addiction. The culture of the church seems saturated with the perversity of the world we inhabit.
You've indentified the problem well, but the causes and solutions are quite a bit more complex and elusive than any of us want to deal with. Thank God with Christ all things are possible because we're going to need His intervention in this issue that has so many young Christians frustrated and heartbroken.
Thanks for bringing up and writing well about this very important topic.
Very challenging (in a good way) article. Let me suggest something which will (I think) grow this line of thinking into a full-blown theology of courtship. You seem to imply but don't specifically examine the high view of marriage in Eph 5. For a young man, there is no more powerful guidance than to consider that in order to have a marriage as God declares it ought to be, husbands must love their wives as Christ loves the church — meaning, giving himself up for her.
There is no more profitable place in all of scripture for a man to begin to consider marriage than from the place that God calls him to give himself up for his wife /as Christ did for the church/.
And rather than hijack your blog here, I leave you to think that through. Suffering is a great hermeneutic.
I like your site, Thomas! Very thought-provoking.
I would add that people are too obsessed with the idea of finding compatibility with ONE person. There are several brothers in Christ whom I love and respect, but for whatever reason, none has turned out to be my future husband. And I have peace about that. It has nothing to do with flaws in them or in me. Any flaws in a future spouse can indeed be covered over by Christ's love. How He calls a specific man and woman to marry is a mystery, yet it isn't so mysterious that we should run away from it.
And we’ve also overtaught girls to guard the girls’ hearts, so that now they seem to have interpreted that to mean ‘don’t even accept an invitation to coffee unless you’re ready to marry him’
Funny also how both ways, it’s all about guarding the girls’ hearts. Do men not need to have anything in their heart guarded or something?
As Daniel says, there is a echoing silence regarding men’s hearts in the courtship movement. As a mother of sons, I see them expected to be sure they are ready to marry a particular girl before they even approach the father. What if he then, for whatever reason, says no? I am seeing some of my son’s friends getting seriously hurt in this way. There’s no way to show a little interest to see if he is even a possibility for her.
Another great article. As Ruth Bell Graham put it…
If I marry: He must be so tall that when he is on his knees, as one has said, he reaches all the way to Heaven. His shoulders must be broad enough to bear the burden of a family. His lips must be strong enough to smile, firm enough to say no, and tender enough to kiss. Love must be so deep that it takes its stand in Christ and so wide that it takes the whole lost world in. He must be active enough to save souls. He must be big enough to be gentle and great enough to be thoughtful. His arms must be strong enough to carry a little child
Looks are overrated and spirituality is underrated. Unfortunately, there are few that feel that way. I don’t think you are lowering the standard by placing emphasis on a balance between inward and outward, I think you are raising it. My family believes in arranged marriage so when my parents are considering a young man for me, looks is not going to be high on the priority list but godliness and a zeal for Jesus Christ will be. 🙂
Why do I need to lower my standards as a woman? I would rather be alone than to accept someone who is beneath me. I have my own wealth. I do not look like a supermodel but will not accept a man who has nothing or even very little money. Women should guard their hearts and be picky about dating. Casual dating often leads to relationships too quickly because a woman will mistakenly believe she cannot get anyone better. Why go on a date with someone where there is no interest? I am often viewed as stuck-up for not wanting to go with those lesser than me. I am not the one, however, with the drama in my life as the sisters who accept so little in a man.
Due to this blog I changed the perspective and now understand why it is sometimes so complicated.
I carefully read this article; it a nice one, but, I want you to know that marriage is not for the immature. One could be fourty years yet, he or she is a baby. I have witnessed several marriages collapsed just because of immature ways of handling little differences in the home. The Bible says, A MAN shall leave his parent and not a BOY. We have countless broken homes today because, children are involved. Please, let’s encourage our boys to come up mentally before thinking about getting married. I’m a victim of divorce. Immaturity made my parent to part and never reconcile. Young guys, pls, pls, pls, WAIT till you are strong enough to handle marital challenges. Bless you all.
I know a man who is looking a “funamentalist christian” to date. Yet he earns minimum wage, lives in a place without an indoor bathroom and visits a soup kitchen to supplement his meager food budget. He is also a recovering alcoholic. I would say that beggars cannot be choosers, and any woman who is honest, decent and willing to give him the time of day would suffice. This man has no plans to better himself, to try an earn a decent wage so that he can stop being a burden to society. He seems to attach himself to needy women who are starving for attention that are willing to give him a handout, in exchange for Christian fellowship. This women are often older and probably easier to take advantage of.