Two Cheers for the Wedding Industrial Complex

For all their faults, our marriage rituals present family and promise-keeping as beautiful, desirable, and worth the effort.

It’s summer, and for a professor at a Christian college—an evangelical school in the South, no less—that means it’s wedding season. On my campus, jokes about “ring by spring” still abound.

Talk about a counterculture. Few things are less in tune with the zeitgeist. Americans are marrying and having children later than ever. And even in evangelical contexts, many young people’s parents, pastors, and professors are advising delayed marriage: Focus first on a degree, on establishing a career, on saving some money. Worry about a mate closer to 30 than to 20—and certainly don’t get pregnant! These things will take care of themselves.

This advice is well-intended, perhaps autobiographical. Many Christians in older generations remember and reject the old stigma of singleness into one’s 30s. They may have married young themselves, then come to regret it—or they may worry that young people, especially young women, will follow the script of early marriage and childbearing to their own regrets.

There’s also some real wisdom here: Don’t get married just because it seems like the next step on a checklist. Moreover, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Take marriage seriously, even if that means waiting for a few years.

The risk, though, is that a spouse may not be waiting for you. Marriage and children aren’t just arriving later; increasingly, they aren’t arriving at all. From my vantage point, the problem is not that too many of my students want to get married too young. It’s the opposite. They’ve gotten the memo from their families, churches, and secular culture alike. They know about the likelihood …

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