Listening to a recent morning radio show, I had the opportunity to hear a woman named Michelle Afont plug her recent book, The Dang Factor. In a nutshell, she describes it as “inspiring and motivating women everywhere to evaluate the state of their love life and make the changes necessary to find, restore, and keep passionate love in their lives. It is about changing the way women love and learning to un-love and move forward when a relationship does not go according to plan.”
It might not surprise you to know that Michelle herself is a divorce attorney, and reports having left her own husband of twenty-five years after deciding she “had never really felt passionate love.” (Ouch. I’m betting her ex-husband is fairly embarrassed. And really, what does that even mean?) She speaks on her website of relationships that have outgrown their usefulness, appears fairly concerned about end-of-life regret, and generally seems to equate love with excited, happy, adolescent feelings.
It should also come as no surprise that (much to the amusement of my many small passengers) I started shouting at the radio when Michelle described how “successful” relationships ought to look: “you need to make sure it always feels like he’s your boyfriend, and not your husband.” (Seriously? Because I don’t really miss dating. I kind of like being married. And that sounds like a lot of work.)
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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I quite nearly veered my minivan off the road when Ms. Afont advised that it’s necessary for married couples to have common interests to remain in a relationship—“and no, your kids do NOT count as common interests.”
The multitude of children I had with me in the car at the time, all of whom witnessed my angry outbursts, would surely beg to differ. So would my husband, their father, who is not my boyfriend, by the way, although he used to be—though not for the sake of perpetually being a boyfriend, but for the express purpose of, you know, discerning marriage and building a life together.
Has our culture now reached the place where the gold standard for “love” is uncommitted, easy, no-strings-attached infatuation? Are we collectively so very selfish that we believe having children in common is less important than liking the same rock bands, sports teams, or weekend activities? I’m all for encouraging people to find a husband or wife with whom they are compatible on the fundamentals (I certainly did, and I’ve never regretted it!), but to suggest that having a family is not reason enough to stick around is absurd. To discount children who are the ties that God intends to bind a married couple together will result in nothing less than the destruction of many a family. And the wounding of many a child.
But as I fumed and protested (and wondered who on earth made the decision to feature this woman on the show), I was reminded of a sermon I heard preached recently, ostensibly also on the subject of marriage. I say ostensibly, because for all the pastor’s jokes, anecdotes, and predictable commentary on gender differences, not once did he mention parenthood or children. Not once. I kept waiting for him to at least give a passing nod to the long, hard work of motherhood, the beautiful sacrifices implicit in father-as-protector-and-provider, or the fundamental truth that marriage is, ultimately, ordered towards procreation, and that children are the very fruit of married, self-giving love. But there was nothing. Of course, this particular gentleman, although a Christian, isn’t Catholic like I am (and therefore probably holds a different view on marriage)—but a 45-minute talk on marriage without even once mentioning the noisy housemates that stick empty containers back in your fridge, and leave all the lights on, driving you to the brink of insanity? Just shameful. Pay no attention to the little toes peeking out from behind the curtains, or the thundering-as-loud-as-elephants in the room. It seems being a married couple need not have anything to do with babies, sacrifice, helping one another get to Heaven, or the multiplication of love. Marriage is, apparently, only there to make you feel good.
Heaven forbid you wake up one day with a stuffy nose, bad mood, or passing fancy, like Ms. Afont did, and discover you might just feel otherwise.
(Though if you do, chalk it up to your husband needing more time out on the golf course, or you not drinking enough wine with your girlfriends. If those things don’t fix it, there’s always divorce. Your kids will be fine, because on top of merely being incidental to marriage, it turns out they matter less to a relationship than a shared passion for The Decemberists and eating vegan.)
This modern approach to love, which diminishes the respective roles of husband and wife (and leaves couples in a perpetual state of discontent), is not here by accident. It’s no coincidence that a divorce-attorney-turned-author and a megachurch pastor have both converged on this notion that marriage is, primarily, about ever-transient positive feelings between two—and only two—people. They may wrap their truths in different paper, depending on the target audience, but both have eschewed the objective reality of what marriage is. No longer seen from a sacramental or contractual perspective—ordered towards the good of, first, the family, and then society—marriage is relegated to a shape-shifting mirage, something that meets our needs for a time but mostly serves as a relic from the distant past. When it ceases to be useful to us, we determine to simply move on. (Marriage is, of course, most obviously “useful” in the rearing of children. But if they’re inconsequential, and don’t benefit from being raised by their married, biological father and mother, then I suppose that problem is solved. Go ahead and dissolve the union.)
As frustrating as it is when someone is given a platform to spout this kind of nonsense, whether in the form of a pen or a pulpit, the truth is that the problem is so much bigger. The Sexual Revolution and the feminist movement are both partly to blame. For they have convinced women that fertility (read: having a healthy, functional female body) is a curse, that birthing and raising up the next generation is beneath them, and that they sure as heck don’t need those good-for-nothing men (aside from when women make themselves available to men to be used for sex, made possible only by the daily ingestion of carcinogenic birth control pills. How liberating!) Similarly, they’ve convinced men that they are good-for-nothing, that fertility is a curse, and that a woman who longs for motherhood is an inconvenience at best. It is a dangerous (albeit fashionable) lie that love can somehow exist outside of sacrifice, or that marriage isn’t somehow naturally ordered towards the begetting of children. It is a blight on our society that motherhood is deemed less worthwhile than career, and women should really think about what message is being conveyed when a man believes Big Pharma somehow belongs in the bedroom.
Thoughtful men and women, regardless of their respective religious or political persuasions, would do well to consider what makes for a truly good, fulfilling life, and to tune out the modern, self-gratifying voices and think about what love might actually be. We ought to be highly suspicious of anyone, whether a divorce lawyer or member of the clergy, who insists that love makes no demands, that children are not reason enough to work (sometimes very hard) on maintaining a marriage, or that a robust married life need not have anything whatsoever to do with an openness to being a mother, or to being a father. If our goal for marriage is to always feel passionate, feel excited, or feel like a boyfriend/girlfriend, we will quickly find ourselves on a perpetually-spinning hamster wheel, vacillating between a nagging, persistent discontent on the one hand, and an equally compelling, unsettling insecurity on the other.
The truth is that the initial “spark” of love necessarily gives way to a steadier flame, which, though less of a novelty, is certainly stronger and more powerful. It is then that the long work of love and life are found, and when marriages are tried and tested, with the ups and downs, the job losses and cross-country moves, the happy memories and the sad ones, too. For better or worse, this is the well from which we draw our deepest fulfillment, joy, and happiness: Doing right by our spouse and our children, honoring our commitments, learning to both apologize and forgive, and journeying through the whole of life together. Regardless what some authors or pastors might say, that is what makes for a life well-lived. That is the love we will look back on with pride and gratitude. That is the real passion so many are seeking.
So, don’t be fooled. That is the real “dang factor.”
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