Men and marriage
Risk-based aversion to marriage isn’t just wrong—it’s unmanly
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Anti-marriage influencers claim to be looking after men’s interests, but they are directing men toward unhappy, cowardly lives. The latest example comes from X, formerly known as Twitter, where social media personality H. Pearl Davis declared that “marriage is a terrible deal for men in 2023.” To the contrary, sociologist Brad Wilcox pointed out that married men are, on average, much happier than their unmarried peers (and the same is true of women).
The rejoinder from Davis and her followers was that the problem with marriage is in the potential for failure—sure a happy marriage might be great, but a bad one may be so miserable, or a divorce so devastating, that marriage is not worth attempting. Though Davis overstates the prevalence of these ills, they are real. Men can have their hearts broken, their bank accounts drained, and their children taken from them. Thus, though Lyman Stone is correct that the risks of divorce do not, on aggregate, offset the benefits of marriage, and furthermore that “divorced men have the SAME HAPPINESS as never-married men,” this is not really about the data. Rather it is about courage and what it is to be a man.
The critics are right that marriage is risky. Indeed, it is more than risky; it is a surety of suffering. There are, as one G.K. Chesterton character put, no prudent marriages. The end of a good marriage is one spouse mourning at the deathbed of the other. Those whose goal in life is to avoid suffering should avoid marriage. Indeed, they should avoid love of any sort.
Love requires risk. As C.S. Lewis put it, “to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
And it is not only love that makes us vulnerable, for all good and noble ventures entail the possibility of failure. Even relying on other people for anything creates risk; they, whether friends or business partners, may let you down, or even betray your trust. To live without risk is not possible, and attempting it is to hardly live at all.
Some risks are not worth taking, but marriage is not so intrinsically foolhardy as to be among them, even in 2023. Indeed, marriage is the vocation that the great majority of men are called to—and it is not as if Davis and the rest are encouraging men to remain unmarried in order to devote themselves to the service of God and His people. Rather, those telling men not to fulfill their vocations as husbands and fathers are basing this counsel on reasons that are weak and cowardly. For all of their supposed sympathy, it is they who seek to stunt men's nature and sacrifice our calling in exchange for the promise of a tame security. This is unmanly.
Marriage is still worth the risks, because it is what we were meant for. Furthermore, men can do a great deal, both before and after getting married, to increase the likelihood of matrimonial success. Yes, there will still be instances in which men, despite their best efforts, find their marriages falling apart. In such cases, real men will persevere. There are men who, despite suffering some or even all of what Davis and her ilk teach men to fear, are not defeated. They continue to live, to serve God and others, and to find sources of joy in this life. Such men still rejoice in the happy marriages of those they know, rather than turning to bitterness and trying to drag others with them.
Fear and bitterness are not manly, but marriage is. Marriage unites the two halves of the human race to provide for its continuation, establishing the primeval human relationships of mother, father, and child. Marriage vows are a commitment to this in defiance of both fate and one’s own future fickleness. And the vulnerability this binding of oneself to others entails is inseparable from the flourishing it enables. Love, joy, and meaning come with risks and pains.
Men are not made to sit quietly, avoiding all perils in this life, but to grow and brave them. Cowards will shrink from this, but men—who want to live as men are meant to live—will welcome the dangers and difficulties as well as the joys and satisfactions of love and marriage.
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