Get Married! The Case for Tying the Knot Early

By Harold Fickett

Posted 2/18/08 at 6:15 PM


I enjoyed reading Lori Gottlieb’s funny and insightful “Marry Him! The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough, in the March issue of The Atlantic. At 40 years of age, Ms. Gottlieb finds herself an attractive, intelligent, successful woman whose marriage prospects are plummeting like a skydiver without a parachute. She made the seemingly brave choice to have a child by a sperm-donor, thinking she would find her soul mate afterwards, only to find that she now wants her son to have a great dad, which has multiplied Ms. Gottlieb’s own demanding requirements for a suitable mate exponentially.

You have to admire Lori Gottlieb’s devotion to her child, and yet like her old-fashioned mother, think, “Honey, couldn’t you have seen this coming?”  Much of the article, in fact, is devoted to reconsidering the kinds of things that mothers typically say, particularly, “Don’t be so picky.” The author rues many of the choices she’s made, as she recognizes the wisdom of the traditional family. She’s even come to believe that romance should take a back-seat to finding a truly helpful partner in running that “small, non-profit corporation” known as a family.

Traditionalists, including me, love articles like this, of course, because they reaffirm the wisdom of the ages against the experimentalism of brave new world sexual practices. Reams of conservative books are constructed, in fact, by piling up such evidences of cultural confusion, and saying, “See!  Stop being such idiots!”  And, I will admit that when my grown son and his peers lament the sturm und drang of their relationships, all I want to do is holler “get married!”  His generation assumes that you have to come out of college and have any number of serious sexual liaisons before you can even think about marriage. Twenty-somethings believe that everyone needs a long preseason before the real game of life can begin.

I have a certain sympathy for Ms. Gottlieb, my son, and his peers, despite my traditional and Catholic views, because they are living in a society whose social structures, in terms of education and work apprenticeship, are even crazier than their sexual practices. Go back to the Puritan literature and you’ll see how many public church confessions were made by fornicating teenage couples. The babies were on the way! The Puritans had the good sense to get the kids hitched, put them on farms, and watch over them. That way young couples didn’t kill each other before learning to live together. 

Progressives look at how early people come of age sexually and how late they come of age economically in our society and propose prophylaxis—literally, in the form of condoms, and metaphorically through long sexual try-outs. So we have the Lori Gottliebs who act on good faith in terms of this societal narrative and find themselves betrayed and struggling, if not downright miserable.
But is it enough for traditionalists to say keep it in your pants? Maybe we have to recognize the gap between sexual and economic maturity and start thinking about structural changes in society that will make chastity more than an ideal for those not innately possessed of heroic virtue.

Some of my crunchy-con friends have reinstated the practice of “courting,” as opposed to dating. They tell their kids while they are young that as parents they intend to have a big say in the person they are going to marry. Then, when their sons and daughters reach a marriageable age, around eighteen, the parents allow them to see an approved candidate and only in the parents’ company at first. The parents oversee the relationship, as best they can, all the way to the altar, which these young men and women generally reach as soon as a viable economic future can be managed.
I guess I’m so co-opted by our society’s ways of thinking that this seems extreme, but then I wonder what Lori Gottlieb would think. Would she rather have enjoyed a young adulthood of serial prophylactic monogamy or been married, with her parents blessing, to a young man at a young age, with whom she could have battled it out as they learned to live together?  After all, she’d have now what’s she’s finally recognized as her true heart’s desire. Isn’t that better than “settling”?
In addition to my grown son, I have a soon-to-be thirteen year-old son and an eleven year-old daughter. All I know is, what I don’t want for them is to have sex with a string of people as they try to put an economic life together, only to find that the best part of life—marriage and family—has passed them by. And I very much doubt that they are possessed of heroic virtue. So as a father I’ve got what you might call a situation here.