2. The Relationship Escalator

So that path to becoming a monk or nun looks very different from America’s “relationship escalator.” You know, the one that moves smoothly from dating to relationship to engagement to marriage to children, in perfect happiness:

diversity of love relationships i'm feeling love for two people

Click to see a chart of poly relationships.

Or as Jenna McCarthy puts it in her TED talk, two million American couples each year make:

“a legal and spiritual decision to spend the rest of their lives together, and not to have sex with anyone else…ever… then they go shopping for all sorts of things.”

But there are a lot of mental, social, and economic bumps in that path. For instance, romance and passion fade; economic and lifestyle conflicts tear at us over time; conflicting cultural schemas push the man into work long hours and push the woman to do more at home, even if we started out as equal partners. And when this doesn’t go smoothly, we gossip about Jack being ‘afraid of relationship,’ or Jill not ‘trying hard enough’ and ‘failing’ at marriage or life.

Love, Inc. creates a lot of pressure. And we try to adapt: talking with friends, seeking wise counsel, reading books, testing out multiple relationships, or just pushing and praying harder to make it work. But so often, our attempts to “fix” ourselves with therapy are quiet and individual, acquiescing to the default cultural model of relationships.

Christians and the Relationship Escalator

The monk or nun path is also a huge contrast to conservative religious norms of sexuality in America today. We push young people into a quick and committed courtship, engagement, and lifelong vow, making sure they don’t have sex before marriage… but then leave them to deal with the fallout afterwards, in their marriages. And given that we made a vow… well, there’s no ethical way out.

Both the contemporary path of “hooking up” before relationships and the religious path of rushing into marriage feel odd to me. Instead, I find myself drawn to the thoughtful immersion, honest, and time-limited commitments that prospective nuns make as they explore a calling.

But I love relationships, and I love my guy, too. So I write this to push back at the contradiction. Why is the church so discerning about inviting people into lifelong vows in religious communities… but so quick to push us into relational vows? Why let a monk test whether this is his path for a time, or for life… and not allow people in paired relationships the same opportunity to explore marriage in the same serious way?

I hear critique of young people for living together or taking time before marriage, but I wonder if they’re doing their best to discern in the absence of paths laid out for them.

Go on to read the Final post: Discernment and Alternate Paths for Commitment

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