It’s hard work suppressing the truth.
When my wife first moved to New York City, she rented her own apartment, a Hell’s Kitchen sublet about a mile from where I live. People were surprised that she wasn’t moving in with me. But what amazed her was how many women told her, unsolicited, how much they approved, and how they wish they’d done the same thing. This even included the woman whose apartment she was subletting, who’d left it in order to move in with her boyfriend in Brooklyn.
And when people found that we didn’t have sex until we were married, they were blown away by it. Woman after woman told her, “That’s so amazing. I wish I’d done that.” One woman even told my wife that she intended to lie to her own daughter about her sexual history because she didn’t want her daughter to do the same.
I apply something of a discount to this. Few people will actually express direct disapproval of other people’s life choices. Facebook is notorious for this. No matter how objectively dumb the decision someone posts about making, it will receive a chorus of Likes and affirmatory comments.
But these were all in-person comments, and ones that went well beyond social politeness. My wife was genuinely taken aback by it. What was very clear is that, despite being liberated big city women who would probably never declare it publicly, these women at some level still really longed for the fairy tale of a traditional relationship even if they weren’t making choices in that direction.
What this reveals is that, in contrast to the popular belief that traditional views of marriage are on the way out, it actually remains an aspirational product for a whole lot of people, even those who have no particular religious faith. We see that survey above of younger Millennials and post-Millennials, who’ve been marinated in modernist messages about relationships their entire life and are well trained to know the “right” answers to give in surveys, who nevertheless still show a significant stated preference for traditional elements of marriage.
This is pretty incredible in light of the relentless campaign in media, academia, and much of culture and politics to explicitly elevate and praise everything that’s transgressive to the norm, while explicitly denigrating and attacking traditional marriage as oppressive. Hence we see the NYT magazine cover story playing up open marriages and CNN glamorizing an older single woman’s decision to have children with a sperm donor, while at the same time Mike Pence’s traditional marriage is savaged. This is obvious and easy to see the pattern we see repeated over and over.
The result of much of this is that many young people today don’t even seem to believe the traditional marriage that they want is even possible. A friend of mine helped produced a series of Christian video shorts called “For the Life of the World.” One of the episodes is about love and marriage. When they showed this series to students at Christian colleges, the reaction of students was positive overall, but the response to the love episode was often, “That’s impossible.” Even these Christian youngsters didn’t see how they could attain that kind of marriage in light of what they saw and heard around them.
The reason people like Mike Pence are attacked is that activists don’t want the public to believe it’s possible to have a marriage like that or that people still do have them or what having one might involve. They clearly recognize how attractive that is to a lot of people. And so they see the very idea that it’s possible to achieve as a threat. Hence we see, for example, the OECD criticizing stay at home mothers, and an activist wanting to completely ban stay at home motherhood. Le Marquand is very smart. She realizes that even stigmatizing women staying with their kids won’t work, and thus legal compulsion must be used to stamp out the practice. In this, she echoes Simone de Beauvoir, who famously said, “No woman should be authorized to stay home to raise her children. Women should not have that choice, because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.”
It’s a free country. If people want to focus on career over marriage, that’s their choice. If they want to have an open marriage, they can. Single woman getting sperm donor IVF at age 40? Sure, you can do that. Lean in? More power to you. Watching Internet porn? Nothing’s stopping you.
Not everybody sees it that way though, at least when it comes to traditional marriage. That’s the one thing a lot of people don’t want it to be acceptable to choose or promote.
That’s a shame because the traditional marriage product that Christianity (and other religions) is selling is not just aspirational even to the non-religious, it’s also objectively superior for raising children and staying out of poverty. According to the center-left Brookings Institution, if you graduate high school and get a job, then wait till you are 21 and get married before having kids, your odds of ending up in poverty are only 2%. And you have a 75% chance of being middle class.