Given these many ways of doing relationships, I want us to look at all paths: single life, community life, or partnership with another person.
Given the Bible’s focus on not making hasty vows, I’d challenge my fellow western Christians not to pressure young people to make lifelong vows before they’re ready.
(But what about sex? I get the concern, and believe it’s important for every person to have a sexual ethic. A Christian ethic may mean a focus on mutual giving, lifelong commitment, and a partnership for family, calling, or community, not just for two people enjoying themselves. For many, that means abstaining outside of vowed relationships. Yet pushing people to make vows just to avoid ‘sex outside of marriage’ seems like a bad path.)
In light of the monastic model, I wonder if we’d be better off discerning how our lives fit together over time.
Why do pair bonds matter?
Well, pair bonds are important. Around the world, humans tend to live in couples and families. For Americans, couplehood is where we find emotional and sexual intimacy, build houses, care for children, the sick, and the elderly, and pool money and resources against future hard times.
Yet as Jenell Williams Paris notes, pushing young people into either marriage or celibacy isn’t enough to meet all our needs.
Healthy humans need friends and intimates. We need sensuality and bodily expression, giving and receiving love, care when sick, companions in our old age, someone to call us on our shit, a landing space in case of tragedy, and wider social meaning and connection in life.
And we need all of those things whether we’re married, single, divorced, or widowed.
Strong, wide communities
The way American society is set up, we ask marriage to do all the work of providing for love, sex, childcare, economic insurance, and social security.
Yet many humans will never marry. Others marry late. Many have a spouse that dies young, or find themselves divorced or deserted. Pushing people into pair bonds doesn’t provide the care that everyone needs.
So even if we marry young, and even if we keep our promises, most of us won’t be in pair bonds for our whole adult lives:
As Laurie Essig says in the video above,
“Capitalism sells us an ideology, romance, that makes us ignore material reality in favor of fantasy.”
Our material world is important. In America today, we need affordable shelter and education, we need love and friends, we need meaningful work and a political voice.
But “true love” can’t do this for all of us. Finding the partner to float a little love-and-economic-sufficiency boat isn’t enough.
Instead, caring means caring for everyone, not just the people we’re in love with, not just our children.
It means being more honest about what we expect from relationships, and it means cultivating supporting relationships beyond the pair bond. And it means sorting all of this out together, in community.
I come across strong, I realize that. But I’d love to encourage a discussion–to ask you, dear readers, the stories you tell about love, caring, and relationships.
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