I've been reading "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage," by Elizabeth Gilbert. She's the author of "Eat, Pray, Love." During the final third of "EPL," Gilbert meets the man she marries at the end of "Committed." As someone who has been married before, Gilbert is getting remarried due to necessity and circumstances rather than an enthusiastic desire to embrace the institution. In this book, the author struggles to make sense of marriage from various perspectives, and to figure out what makes marriages work or not work.
In one section about infatuation, she talks about how, oftentimes, people form particularly passionate attachments during times of transition or change. Examples include after a loved one has passed away, after one's own illness, or while traveling. She also noted that the transition to living away from parents for the first time in a college setting is atime when this is likely to happen. Apparently, impulsive romantic decisions and infatuations are more likely to develop during such exciting but vulnerable windows of opportunity. This made me think about the two years or so I spent at a conservative Christian university. One of the things I immediately noticed was how quickly young couples got engaged and married there. A standing joke on campus was "ring by spring or your money back."
Even back then, before I did more extensive training in couples work and counseling and way before reading "Committed," I had a lot of concerns about this common pattern. It seemed to be brought on by a combination of very restrictive limits on touching and a strong belief that God had brought them together because they were made for each other. I felt that the God factor and the sex factor might have been off balance and that this unbalance was influencing them more than they realized. I wondered how these couples would ultimately do as far as the long-term happiness and health of their marriages.
One of my friends at this college was engaged after only a few months of dating and got married the following summer. It is my understanding that their marriage did not work out. That did not come as a surprise to me, given things I observed about their interactions. They didn't take time to really get to know each other. Recently, in my counseling office, I have listened to several more variations on this theme. Different details but the punch lines are mostly the same. Sad stories about young couples who did not do well even though they shared strong religious convictions. . I'm not just talking church here. I'm talking about people who are deeply spiritual and committed to faith traditions as a couple and individually. I'm talking about people who took vows, not just to each other, but to God, and meant them.
Making promises to God in a formal ceremony with witnesses and rings should make them more binding and even more serious. I believe these couples are sincere about the spiritual covenant, the promises, and the wish to be together as husband and wife until death parts them. They enter marriage with the best of intentions. Belief in God, however deep and sincere, is just not enough to keep couples together. Neither is marriage in and of itself. I believe in marriage as the proper setting for life-long commitment and raising children. I believe marriage is a covenant before God and others.