Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

When I was a kid, there was a game show called Family Feud in which Richard Dawson, or Newkirk from Hogan’s Heroes suffering a sad fate (I am not sure whom), would kiss the contestants and host the happenings. A big part of his job was to announce in ponderous tones: “Survey says . . .” and if the contestant did not agree with the results of the survey, he was a loser.

Whatever the merits of the gameshow, which has continued a different host, agreeing with a survey has no merit in real life. Most people can be wrong and on some topics most people often are. Surveys might tell us what some people think at the moment, but they cannot tell us what is right or wrong.

Values endure, but fashions change. Recent surveys showing growing numbers of Americans are not that into marriage tell us something interesting about us, but nothing about love and marriage.

Survey says: we are becoming decadent. Morality says: it will not endure. Moral facts are no more fragile than physical facts. It is any given civilization that is fragile. Americans may reject romance, but love will endure, because Americans can no more harm marriage than they can loot Heaven. We can damn ourselves, but future humanity likely will shake their heads at our folly and use us as a moral lesson.

Marriage will endure, because it is the only worthy response to real romantic love. Romantic love is spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical. It is what happens when a woman or man discovers that there are other humans, equally people, but different from self. This other “side” of humanity seems designed to complement our souls.

It is the deepest form of sexism to believe that women or men could be replaced in such a relationship. Whatever the survey says at the moment, men and women complete each other in a unique way. Call a social contract or any other kind of love “marriage” and the romantics amongst us will simply invent a new word to describe this particular and powerful union.

This kind of union is necessary to our biological survival so nobody thinks we can dispense with it. More important, the union of man and woman is necessary for the spiritual and emotional survival of the vast majority of humankind. Learning to love the deepest differences between people changes our souls in ways in which they must be changed.

Some human men can love the Church as a bride and a few women can find in Christ a husband. These folk are not an exception, but proof of the rule. These men and women have found the other “half” of humanity at a level even more profound than the rest of us. They too are married to the Other, but to a greater Female and a greater Male. This must always be, like marriage, itself a profound mystery, not in the sense that it makes no sense, but instead resonating with the deeper reasoning of the human heart.

Marriage is the explosive result of two utterly different sorts of humans, the man and the woman, meeting and deciding to combine the differences. At its best it is based on rational choices driven by passion, but not consumed by it.

Modern America understandably becomes cynical about this divine romance, having first secularised the divine passion and then turned eros into a commodity. Whether in a romance novel or Internet porno, you cannot buy love, control it, or sterilize it. It is a commitment that can never be bought or sold, because someone making it has turned his back on value for value. The lover who seeks marriage longs for a chance to love for “richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” He or she makes no demands, but receives the gift of love from the other with wonder.

You cannot have a romantic Pride and Prejudice life with a base soul or with protection. Burning romance demands absolute commitment and trust with the result that it can never be safe sex. It is never for sale. A cupid you can buy is no god at all and married love is divine if it is anything. When we meet the other sex we sense the possibility of a union like that known only to gods.

There is no real marriage outside the Church of Jesus Christ for this reason: God is the end of marriage, for only an eternal and infinite God can contain the explosive fecundity that can come when the two halves of the Image of God are united and made one. A great reason to become a Christian is that only in Christ’s Church can the male and the female find completion in each other.

Whatever the moral status of other forms of love may be (God alone knows for sure), nothing but a man and a woman can make a marriage, because only a man and a woman are so different and yet so human. This is not just a matter of biology, but of the spirit. Women and men have different voices and the blending of these differences creates a harmony that is like nothing else. Even when biological reproduction is impossible, there is a spiritual production that comes from joining two complementary goods in union that is so powerful it must be fecund or destructive.

The only survey that counts in marriage is between one man and one woman. In the beginning it was so and it will be until the end.

As I survey my own marriage, my limitations are obvious. I am only a man and cannot see the whole by surveying only my particular part. There I see my own failures of love, my own decadence, my own loss of passion. I cannot rest content with this, because when surveying her, she is too wonderful for me. I want more love, a different love than any man could demand or give me.  The survey of us two says that too often her needs are not met and I have failed to appreciate her gifts and acknowledge her pain. She is not like me and I have tried to make her in my own image.

May she and my God forgive me.

Survey says: “I have failed.” God says, “Try again.” Romance drives me to say, “Yes, Lord. Help me to have an absolute romance with my wife and blend my voice with the different voice of her femininity.”

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles