Hydrogen, oxygen and water can be the perfect metaphor for committed marriage. But before we get to that, here's some background.
In a recent Time magazine article, author Jon Birger suggests that the decline of traditional dating and courtship and the increasing rate of singleness and delaying of marriage in the Mormon culture are due to simple demographics — the fact that there are more active women in the church than men. Thus, men can take more time and be more choosy.
There may be some truth in that analysis, but the bigger problem, throughout most of the Western world’s culture, is a rising fear of commitment, an obsession with preserving all options and the notion that independence is the best state of life and is undermined by the interdependence of marriage.
Last week, we suggested that exchanging independence for interdependence is usually a good trade. And as we expected, there was major pushback on the idea of giving up independence for anything. Independence, particularly among the millennial generation, seems to be the ultimate goal.
We hope this second article and its metaphor will clarify why we advocate interdependence and will help convince readers that real commitment to the one you love — formal commitment, forever commitment — is something that adds to your freedom, joy and options. It's not something that subtracts from them.
If you know someone who is certain that he or she is in love but is having a hard time deciding if this is really the person, or if the commitment of marriage frightens them a bit, here are three suggestions you might consider passing on to them:
Understand that while you want to be as sure as possible, marriage is always somewhat of a leap of faith. If it seems right in both your heart and your brain, if you’ve asked the right questions, and resolved or thought through any major or glaring potential problems in your relationship, then what you need to do is make a decision. Then, if you are a person of faith, take your decision to God in prayer and ask for a confirmation — for a peace about it; for a feeling of light and right about the decision you have made. Do this individually and together as a couple. If you feel the peace of a confirmation on the decision you have made, set your marriage date.
Understand that commitment is not what you do after a lot of experimenting and living together and proving to yourselves that you are completely compatible. That is unlikely to happen in a noncommitted, unformalized relationship, and that's why the split-up percentage is far higher among couples that move in together cohabitating than among those who move in together married. The simple fact is that you will have tough times, and it will be the commitment that gets you through those tough times.
If you hope to have children, think of those children now. Is that child generally better off with a couple that has made the commitment of marriage? Even if you want to put off having kids, as many cohabitating couples say they do, it doesn’t always work out that way. A child’s chances of living with both parents throughout his or her childhood is dramatically higher if the parents are married than if they are not. And the idea that you can’t afford marriage usually doesn’t hold water. Marriages don’t have to be expensive affairs, and the fact is that two or three people can live together more economically than they can live separately.
Now before we start sounding too preachy here, let's pull back and think of a metaphor. The reason so many millennials shy away from marriage is that they prize their independence and they love the freedom and options they have as single people. And when they find someone, cohabitation seems a more gradual step where they are not sacrificing their independence quite as much.
But the reality is that the marriage commitment to interdependence does not lessen you as an individual — it enhances you. You are still you. You have your views and your opinions and your skills and your unique nature as much as you ever did. When approached with love and commitment, marriage creates an almost magical synergy where the total is greater than the sum of its parts.
Hydrogen, by itself, is a gas possessing many unique properties. Oxygen is another gas with its own set of qualities. But when they are combined, in a committed, fused sort of way, they become marvelous, clear, flowing, life-giving water.
Life is not always easy for water. It can be evaporated, frozen, even dammed. But, oh, what a miracle water is. Water can do things and go places and bring about results that neither hydrogen nor oxygen, by themselves, could even imagine.
The hydrogen is still hydrogen — it has not lost or given up any of what it is. And the same is true for the oxygen. But by combining, by joining, by committing to each other, they have become something more. They have become the magic of water.
And they and the whole world are better off for it.