Friday, July 30, 2010

Head vs. Heart : Marriage and Cynicism

I'm always fascinated by the cynicism in our culture. It's not the classic bitter cynicism, the stuff our grandparents had, but a more modern to-each-his-own, there-is-no-truth cynicism. We live in a culture where true life-long love is scarce and becoming more like a fantasy than an attainable reality. The idea of Ultimate Truth is becoming referred to more and more as an ignorant, fascist idea of the past. We are the newly enlightened, the culture that surpasses all previous cultures. We even defy our natural roles and any traditional institutions because 'we're advanced and there are no rules but the rules we make.' I wonder why we think we're so special, like we have it all figured out. Is it technology? Has it got us feeling like mini-gods? It's true, the power of man is impressive, our scientific knowledge has never been as well documented and advanced. I'm often blown away by what my phone can do, or how far I can travel in just one day, and it's all happened so fast. Has it caused us to worship ourselves? I just ask because it seems like "Self" is our primary focus.

I wonder where all this progressive-thought is taking us, because it seems to me like we're becoming less and less a people of morals and conviction and more and more like a "whatever-works-for-you" culture. Please don't get me wrong, I'm not a conservative whistle-blower, I'm a staunch centrist who believes in selflessness. I believe in simple characteristics that are universally agreed upon as good. Characteristics that are scarce in our culture. The problem with the "whatever-works-for-you" type of culture is that it's focused on YOU. Our problem is an extremely selfish one. Things like honor, servitude, purpose, love, integrity and respect are becoming identified less like characteristics to strive for and more like a television commercial for the Army; fairy-tale-ish, naive and old-fashioned. It seems to me like our generation could be defined as restless and lonely, "tolerant" but with no meaning or purpose. The pills we take help us to remain unconcerned with what our ancestors might have deemed important. We've allowed our minds to drag our hearts through the existential muck to some lonely island on which we spend our days convincing our hearts that it's okay; Put off those pangs of longing, do away with those stabs of regret, distract that desperate unrest... Take this pill. After all we're advanced now, our brain says. You simply have to evolve, heart, and frankly you're taking your sweet time.

We are obsessed with self. The customer service industry has done this to us by telling us "The customer is always right." Our therapists, counselors and teachers have done this to us by telling us to "Do what's right for yourself." Our parents have done this to us by telling us to do "Whatever makes you happy." Of course this can be good advice at times, but when it's blitzing us constantly we start to think that whatever I want, I deserve (Watch "Sweet Sixteen" for real life examples). "Tolerance" we're told, is about being tolerant of different people regardless of their background or lifestyle choices, which I totally agree with, but being extreme beings we take it one step further. We elevate the individual and label any constructive critique, any careful warning, any nugget of wisdom to the contrary, however true it is, as "judgmental" and "intolerant." Now tolerance means "Everything-is-good-so-do-whatever-YOU-think-serves-YOU-best." In our culture truth is relative and self is god. We elevate self, and we're losing a lot of the principles that make people good people. We're becoming "whatever" people. We're selfish. We get married because of what we gain for ourselves, and not surprisingly that's also why we get divorced. We're constantly bombarded with outlets telling us that we are "#1," so much so that we start believing it. We flip our lids to the customer service person the second they tell us they can't help us. How dare they! I'm "#1!" (I love flipping my lid). What's incredibly ironic is that all this was bred in us under the ambiguous flag of "Tolerance," yet we have very little tolerance for those who would defy us.

Where has this selfishness left us as a generation? I'd say pretty sad and cynical. We have all the materials to be happy but it's not working. We still need to medicate our hearts. For some reason our heart won't go along with our head's propositions for attainable happiness. Where I live, you'd be hard pressed to find a twenty-something who really believes a marriage can work in this day and age, and what's even worse is that our divorced parents are feeding into this doubt, not just with their actions but with their advice. I have a friend who is loyally in love with his girlfriend but won't get married because his dad told him to "Never get married until you own property and dammit you should wait until you're older." Not surprisingly his dad was married out of high school without much to his name and his marriage failed, for whatever reason, but I'm sure it wasn't because he didn't own a house. He obviously created some notion about home-owning to disassociate himself from how both he and his ex-wife made a series of bad relational choices which led to divorce. What is more sad is that he's passed this notion onto his son, and how his son thinks it's as good as God's Word. So my friend has decided he's not going to be with anyone else but his current girlfriend, but has no plans to get married any time soon. Their relationship is at a standstill commitment-wise, and who knows how long that plateau is. People say the next step is moving in together, but I say that's the best way to not get married (or when you finally do, it'll probably be out of obligation rather than joy and excitement). You need to work up an appetite before you eat dinner, let alone dessert. I know that opinion will offend some people because you're living with your hope-to-be-spouse. I'm not trying to be narrow, I know there are many ways to do things (heck, we're doing things way different than our parents did, probably at least a few of them are wrong). But ask yourself, if you're not married, why? List the reasons. The only valid reason is the "I don't love them" reason (and maybe the "I'm only 16" reason, please wait until you're at least 21). All those other little fears don't add up to much, and are probably just cultural biases that hold no real water. Contrary to what you may have heard you do not need to own a home to commit your life to a person.

Kristie has an acquaintance at work who lives with his girlfriend and has been with her for five years. When Kristie asked him if they were going to get married he hemmed and hawed about how "Yeah I guess, but she has debt and so do I, and my mom told me never to bring debt into a marriage." Not surprisingly, his mom is divorced. She obviously developed some notion that debt ruins marriages to disassociate herself from the fact that she and her ex-husband made a series of relational choices that screwed it up. What's even worse was that her son seems entirely unexcited about marriage. I mean, he already lives with her, so that whole butterflies thing? That whole giddiness of starting a life together? That whole "new adventure?" That's all gone. He's got the prize without the ceremony, without the party, so why celebrate now? His life won't change, if anything (and this is what our culture tells us) it will change for the worse. The cynics in our culture have endless jokes about the "ball and chain" and the lack of freedom, constantly hinting that "Your life is over now, man." The stigma is that people get married and stop having fun. They stop going out, stop socializing and stop enjoying life. Their dreams die. This stigma is conceived and trumpeted by cynics born of failed marriages. It's not a stigma based on wisdom, it's a stigma based on wounds.

When Kristie and I got married five years ago we had nothing. We had debt. We didn't own property or have any assets. All we had was each other. Despite all of our parents warnings that "You can't live on love," we proved that we could. When we got married our real adventure started. We didn't want kids right away, we just wanted to live together, to do life together, to go on an adventure as partners with no pressure to fit into what society deemed "normal." She took off on tour with me for a year. We lived in a van. Was it hard at times? Yes, but also so incredibly rewarding to work through those times together. There's nothing like growing up with someone you're in love with. Since then we've lived in four apartments and two others in-between. We've travelled the country, experienced the city one neighborhood at a time, and we've made and kept many friends. We maintain an incredible social life, mostly with unmarried people. Getting married by no means has to mean that now you're old, boring, washed up and your fun years are behind you (That happens when you have kids - kidding!). Sure, I had fun as a bachelor living in a house with a bunch of guys, but if I went back there now I'd probably hate it. Who wants to be nineteen until they're thirty-five? That's the real tragedy of our generation, people who refuse to act any more responsible than they did ten years ago. I can always have those weekends with the boys, and I have those tours with the boys, but I'm always so glad to come home. My adventure with my wife has been the best adventure of my life. It's the most fulfilling relationship I've ever had. It's given me purpose, drive and character far beyond any other friendship. Marriage is about starting a lifelong adventure with someone, dedicating your life to them, and promising to love them no-matter-what. It's not what the cynics say it is (unless you take their crappy advice). The marriages that effected them failed because of dishonesty, selfishness, pride, bitterness and unfaithfulness. When two people enter into a relationship willing to give their all for their spouse it is one of the most fulfilling things than anyone can experience.

Maybe it's because I live in Seattle, home of the most pretentious, progressive hipsters in the country, but it is so incredibly sad to see people miss out on this, and for silly reasons at best. We see people go from fling to fling without actually experiencing true intimacy, we see them fearful of marriage based on the faults of our parents generation and silly fears like debt and property ownership, and all we want to do is tell them it doesn't have to be like that. We aren't so enlightened that we no longer believe in true love, that we no longer believe in marriage. We're just damaged, trained to be selfish. Slaves to strange fear-based ideologies born only in the last fifty years. We aren't enlightened, we aren't any more special or smart than those who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. They were wise back then, and it would probably do us some good to read up on that wisdom, starting with the best definition of love that I've ever read (written around two-thousand years ago):

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)


  1. Thank you.
    My wife and I got married and moved to another province to be youth pastors and live in a church basement. It was rough, but awesome. Now we are living with family, saving money to go on a year long missions trip...The adventure is grea.t

  2. This was an awesome blog, thanks for writing it!

  3. Brilliantly written. You're a wise man. I always appreciate your insights, both in your blogs and songs. Keep doing what you do.

  4. I think.. that the people with the biggest hearts, also have the most (for lack of a better word) convicting tongues. Sounds bad, but I'm not talkin about the 'I'm always right and you're just not' kind of conviction. You know there's truth out there, and though you don't claim to know what it is, you know that we're not heading in the right direction, and it's almost painful to watch.
    I've always liked reading what you write, because you can put some of the most abstract ideas into words, which is something I couldn't do if my life depended on it.
    I don't know what else to say.. I hope this came off the right way. Thanks for being real. :)

  5. Totally agree. Well said :)

  6. thank you for sharing that- My husband and I have been married 14 years & 4 children later... life's an adventure but, it works. I wouldn't trade this madness for anything.

  7. wow, good stuff! i love how this seems so obvious yet comes out sounding so ...fresh.

    this helps crystalize my thoughts and remind me what relationships are REALLY about, thanks, keep writing!! (:

  8. thanks for writing this! very insightful and thought provoking. love all of your blog posts (and especially your songs) keep doing what you are doing! i will always support you man!

    peace 'n' love

  9. One thing you didn't really mention, is that in today's culture most relationships are formed as a matter of convenience and not necessarily on true love. For some reason we hate to be alone, so it's convenient to have someone, anyone, even if you don't really love them, as long as they love you or if you love them but they don't really love you. Some people just get stuck in these kinds of relationships forever, never even wanting something more.

  10. Loved this post. Reminded me of this video clip:

    Perhaps it's not the most loving way to correct a morally depreciating culture, but it's still pretty awesome.