Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fatalism or sanity?

From Anthony Trollope in Can You Forgive Her?:

People often say that marriage is an important thing, and should be much thought of in advance, and marrying people are cautioned that there are many who marry in haste and repent at leisure. I am not sure, however, that marriage may not be pondered over too much; nor do I feel certain that the leisurely repentance does not as often follow the leisurely marriage as it does the rapid ones. That some repent no one can doubt, but I am incline to believe that most men and women take their lots as they find them, marrying as the birds do by force of nature, and going on with their mates with a general, though not perhaps an undisturbed satisfaction, feeling inwardly assured that Providence, if it has not done the very best for them, has done for them as well as they could do for themselves with all the thought in the world. I do not know that a woman can assure to herself, by her own prudence and taste, a good husband any more than she can add two cubits to her stature; but husbands have been made to be decently good,--and wives too, for the most part, in our country,--so that the thing does not require quite so much thinking as some people say.
[Quoted in Schneider and Brinig, An Invitation to Family Law]

What think you of this? Perspectives from married folk? Charlotte Lucas?


mel said...

Hmm... interesting. I look forward to comments from married people.

Monica said...


I don't agree. Kinda.

I do agree that it is possible to think too hard about marriage and so thinking, think yourself right out of it. But that's possible in any decision, and from what I have seen in the fundamental Christian circle, too little not too much real thought goes into marriages. And by real thought, I mean the kind of thought that asks difficult questions and comes up with revealing answers.

It seems to me that the divorce rate both confirms and repudiates his conclusions. If, as he says, men and women marry "as by force of nature" and "[go] on with their mates with a general...satisfaction," then why is the divorce rate so high? Shouldn't everyone just be going on, more or less satisfied?

On the other hand, if men and women really do view their mates as the animal kingdom does, then why should they not get a new mate with every mating season?

A woman cannot "assure to herself...a good husband" by her own prudence and taste simply because no person can take into full account the vagaries of another human being. That certainly should not mean though that we shouldn't try to do the best that we can. I cannot assure to myself a safe driving experience simply by buying a safe car and obeying the traffic laws because the choices and whims of other people affect me. That doesn't mean that I throw safety and cautious driving to the wind.

He has left one of the primary motivations for marriage entirely out of the picture. Nowhere does he take into account that deep abiding need for an intimate companion, someone who can be trusted and depended upon and enjoyed simply for the sake of their being. At the end of the day, I don't want someone who has been "made to be decently good." I want my husband, my friend, my lover. There's an awfully big difference between someone who refrains from beating me and someone who cares for me.

Becca said...

Keep in mind that Trollope was writing in the Victorian era and had different social realities to work with.

I wonder, too, if his concept of a "decently good husband" would have included one who adhered at least to biblcal ideals of marital roles--no small task--which included loving one's wife. I'm not sure I believe love isn't something one can will oneself to do.

That's not to say we might have a natural inclination to find loving some people easier than others.

Further consideration to throw out: people change. Stats show (not sure how they measure this), that people change the most (men especially) in the few years following matrimony. Whom you marry may not necessarily be to whom you are married in just a few years.

mel said...

I suppose we could bring up the Mazakian definition of love here... as in, it's a choice. (The Bible commands us to love--which sort of implies that love is something that we choose to do.)

Becca said...

Another social reality that may have changed since Trollope's time is increased mobility, both social and geographical. People in their 20s and 30s today probably have exposure (and expect to have exposure) to a much wider range of potential marriage partners. It is no longer the case that you pick one of the ten other single people your age in your community.

Still, there is a lot of pressure that goes with the idea that you have to find "the one" among the entire earth's population hopefully sometime before retirement. If you are an American Christian female, consider:

6 billion people in the world. Half are male. That narrows us down to 3 billion. Approximately 6% of the world's population speaks English as a native language; let's bump that up to 10% to include the more fluent non-native speakers. Now we're down to 300 million potential mates. Let's assume for the sake of the argument that you want to marry within your faith. About 80% of Americans list themselves as generally Christian, but only about 44% attend church with any regularity. Other English-speaking countries tend to be more secular. Let's say about 30% of the pool is "Christian enough" to make the initial cut. Now we have 90 million candidates for husband.

If you put each candidate through the interview process, say, law students go through for summer internships, giving them a 20-minute interview, and you interviewed for 10 hours a day, six days a week (we're Christian, remember--Sunday is a day of rest), it would take you 1.5 million weeks, or almost 29,000 years to interview all the candidates. And that's not even allowing for call-backs.

I like the idea of Providence.

Becca said...

Pardon my math. You could interview 3 an hour, so that would take only 500,000 weeks or about 9,600 years. In that case it might not be so bad...

mel said...

All things (i.e., updated math) considered, I still like the idea of Providence.

Monica said...

Providence is a wonderful resting place surely. :-)

I heard someone advance the idea once that perhpas there is no one "Mr. Right." That if three guys meet the basic criteria (Christian with a desire to obey God and treat his wife in a biblical fashion) and you like them all, you can marry any one of them. (OK, so technically the Bible doesn't say you can't marry all of them, but I don't think we want to go there... :-)) This idea is right in line with the "love is a choice" school of thought.

I don't buy all of it. While I agree that there is a certain amount of choice in love, at least for me, there was a certain amount of inevitability also. I didn't pick Chris out of the crowd and will myself to love him. It just so happened that I really couldn't keep myself away from him, and one day, I discovered that I loved him. When I married him, I chose to vow to love him forever, but I also still can't really help myself. The choice will get me through the hard days, but it's the love that I can't help that makes the every day living the most fun.

Becca said...

Hm. I sincerely hope inclination toward a person alone is not indication that one should marry. Otherwise I am past my expiration date. And I think Mel and I can both testify that marrying on inclination toward a person could have been, in retrospect, disasterous!

mel said...


I'm definitely thankful for the times (plural) that the Lord protected me from doing something really stupid.

Joanna's mom said...

Interesting thoughts ladies, after 26 years of highs and lows in this boat of marriage there are principles we follow, feelings we feel (good ones and bad ones)but the cement that holds the boards together truly is our own personal commitment to Christ. Marriages fail all around and our simple minds have reasoned that if we individually follow hard after our Father then we have the joy of the intimacy marriage has to offer.
Imagine that is what Monica found - a soul who loves and worship God -in a man she connects with and can follow.
People do change, so you have only one option in the selection process - the ultimate FAITH adventure. Lord bless you ladies as you follow Him.

Becca said...

Thanks, Joanna's mom. That's encouraging. :-)