Back in the day, that pressure would have come from a worried mother, or more likely, a protective father and the business end of shotgun.
But this is 2012. The family pressure to marry comes, in this case, from the Jolie-Pitts’ six children. Though the couple once said they wouldn’t marry until the privilege to do so was afforded to everyone, their political statement in defense of gay marriage ultimately lost out to the need to make a promise to their kids.
Who knows if this celebrity marriage will have more staying power than most? So far, their devotion to their children appears to reflect a certain level of commitment. But it takes much more than shared parenting to make a marriage.
It takes work.
According to a 2010 study from the Pew Research Center, only about half of all adults were married as of 2008. In 1960, that number was 72 percent. And marriage itself is becoming a luxury of the wealthy and well-educated. The Pew study indicates there now is a 16 percent gap in marriage rates between college graduates and those with a high school diploma or less. In 1960, that gap was only 4 percent.
Worse, growing numbers of adults say marriage itself is becoming obsolete. In 1978, 28 percent of registered voters thought the institution of marriage was an outdated idea. Today, nearly 40 percent think this is so.
If the institution itself has not quite gone the way of the dodo, certainly the expectation that marriage is a lifelong commitment might be considered optimistic, at best.
Divorce is a likely outcome for between 41 percent and 50 percent of first-time married couples (the frequency of divorce depends on which research you believe), with 60 percent of second marriages ending in divorce and a whopping 73 percent of third marriages failing.
Former Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum used his campaign to remind us that successful marriages are crucial to the health and well-being of a society.
“Marriage is a society’s lifeblood,” he said. “Not everybody can or will marry, but all of us (married or not) depend on marriage in a unique way. Marriage is foundational: It creates and sustains not only children, but civilization itself.”
According to the Family Research Council, marriage is “the most important social act, one that involves much more than just the married couple.”
“To begin with, extended families are merged and renewed through a wedding. It also is through marriage that the community and the nation are renewed.
“Marriage also has beneficial social and health effects for both adults and children, and these gifts benefit the community and the whole society. … The future of the nation depends on the creation of good marriages and good homes for children.”
Of course, we don’t get married to save the nation. We don’t imagine our families as “mitigating structures” for the community, or as an economic force to uplift our towns and neighborhoods.
We marry for love.
Twenty-five years ago today, I married the love of my life, Jim Hicks. We couldn’t know then what it meant when people told us that a lifelong marriage would take work and sacrifice and selflessness.
We couldn’t imagine the frustrations and disappointments along the way, just as we could not have dreamed of the blessings and bounty that God – in his inexplicable grace – has allowed us to enjoy.
We only hoped for children, but never envisioned the four human beings whose mere existence affirms our own and personifies our love.
We simply said, “I do.” And then we did. With prayer and patience, love and laughter, we uphold the covenant we made all those years ago.
Obsolete? Not even a little bit. Love endures forever.