I've been thinking more about marriage since writing my post All marriages are not created equal. Specifically, how my perspective has changed over time, and why the church's treatment of marriage bothers me.
From the time I was a little girl until I was a sophomore in college, I imagined all weddings to be relatively the same. Sure, they might occur in different places and have vastly different themes to them, but I imagined every couple that had a wedding felt the same towards each other as every other couple who exchanged marriage vows. I assumed they were all at the same commitment level, the same in-love stage, the same general readiness to begin a life of living together, providing for themselves, and raising children.
I had a very idealized notion of what getting married meant. So when I heard stories of people getting married after a short whirlwind romance, I thought, "Wow, they must have had a really special connection if they were ready to get married that quickly! How romantic!" Or when I heard of a woman at my college who had been proposed to by two men in the same year, I thought, "Must be nice to have two men who are that in love with you!"
But what I've realized as I've gotten older is that those couples who get married after knowing each other only a short time are not necessarily more in love or more connected than other couples, but they may just be more impulsive. And the woman who got proposed to twice may not have developed the same relationship with both of those men.
After I graduated college, I began to see marriages fall apart between people I knew. I had been at their weddings, seen how happy they were, watched as a clergyman declared them husband and wife. Now those marriages that everyone had made such a fuss over when they began no longer existed. It was jarring to me, but it helped me face reality. People are just people, and weddings are not magic. Marriage isn't an institution that automatically transforms people. It's a relationship that takes work from two very human persons to succeed.
The mythical fantasy of marriage I had dreamed of as a girl was dispelled for me. I stopped worrying about getting married within a specific time frame because I now knew that that did not always equal success.
But I don't get the impression that the church has come to the same understanding as I. Time frames are important, because young marriages lessen the chance of the sin of premarital sex occurring. Weddings are still fantasized as magical, because the woman changes from a daughter to a wife, and from a virgin to a sexual lover. Marriages are an institution, where men and women are now treated differently and have expectations to fulfill, and success is evaluated based on length of time in the institution.
Speaking of length of time: I used to believe this was an excellent indicator of a successful marriage, because I thought divorce was a terrible sin, and a marriage that lacked that sin was a good thing. I even thought, "When I get married, I'm going to make sure he's the type of person who is determined to stay married to me even if we don't love each other any more." The sin of divorce was so bad in my mind that the personal happiness of me or my future spouse didn't matter in comparison. I never considered the sins that could result from the way two people treat each other when they are in a loveless marriage. A chapel speaker at my bible college once told us that finding yourself in a troublesome marriage did not necessarily mean it wasn't right; it could be that God's will for your life was to suffer through marriage and become better for it. Now, I understand that suffering can teach us many things in life, but I also know that when it comes to relationships, suffering can often result in abuse. Also, that statement implies that all Christian marriages are ordained by God, even though it's painfully obvious that Christians are perfectly capable of making wrong decisions.
We are only human. But in the mind of the church, we become something else when we get married. Suddenly our past mistakes are not supposed to apply. We are trapped in the institution and told to make it work. A couple that may have been advised not to marry will be told to work through it once they get married. Because marriage is that inflexible, that important, and that transformative.
I think marriage and purity are two major areas where the church turns a blind eye to our humanness, and it causes us to make poor decisions.