If you have been faithfully married for a long time, you are likely out of touch with just how different the world of sex and dating is now than when you were young and single.
(By “long” here, I mean “decades” not “it feels like forever”. Not in any way minimizing the challenges and victories of the earlier years, but if you are still in the early years, you probably know more about the contemporary single-world than those who’ve been out of that game for a couple decades or longer. And the “faithfully” is important, since a fair bit of what faithfully-married persons don’t go doing is precisely what brings us to the mission.)
When you were young-and-single, Old Married Reader, it is likely that no matter how much you bungled it, there was still a generalized belief that faithful, lifelong marriage was a real, attainable, desirable thing.
It is likely you had doubts, of course, because if you are part of the under-80 set, you have spent your entire marriage under steady pressure to cut your losses and run if things aren’t as fulfilling as the magazine says they ought to be. And of course you understand that sometimes one or both spouses is simply incapable of behaving with the remotest shred of decency, and genuine abuse is not, at all, the same thing as sticking it out with your notably flawed but genuinely loving and committed other-half.
Old Married Reader, what you need to know is that a whole lotta single persons these days have no concept of the value of marriage that you yourself took for granted back in the day. You yourself perhaps never even gave it much thought, back then. It simply was. Fall in love, get married, hope it works out because you know that’s the good life, and you want a good life. That was our world.
That world is not the one known to most younger adults — nice kids, who mean well, and who want to live a fulfilling life for themselves and for others — their world is not at all like the world we dated in.
They live in a world where sex is entirely, totally, radically divorced from marriage and procreation. They live in a world that has no hope that faithful, committed, loving marriage can be a thing.
How hopeless are they? It’s not just the porn addiction and relentless promiscuity and the online sugar daddies. On the other end of the spectrum are those who won’t date anyone, because none of the candidates are divorce-proof enough, no matter how keen the other person is to settle down and raise a family. They want to date but somehow never can, because they’ve seen how many different ways a spouse’s faults can be marriage-ending, and thus are terrified to commit to anyone who isn’t the picture of Perfect Marriage Material.
They have, in short, become unable to fall in love.
Old Married Person, I know your marriage isn’t all that great. You’ve been at this for two or three or four decades or more, and your spouse still doesn’t have it together, and neither do you. Whole self-help books have been written about your glaring faults, with bonus chapters devoted to your lesser ones. If you had kids, they’ve turned out to be just normal people like yourself, not winning any Picture of Total Perfection awards.
And yet, by simple fact of choosing to keep on loving each other (even though you bungle it sometimes) and keep on staying faithfully committed to each other, you two who are really not that impressive on most measures of human achievement have managed to accomplish this amazing thing. Your marriage is far, far greater than the sum of you two parts. Indeed, the fact of your still loving each other (bungled, but genuine) and still being faithfully committed to each other is the most impressive thing you’ve ever done.
It’s involved denying yourself many, many other opportunities. You’ve set aside dreams that really mattered to you. Your spouse has been, at times, a source of pain to you, and likewise you to your spouse. Caring for him or her has meant letting go of parts of you. In exchange you’ve created, together, a world that doesn’t look like much on the outside, but when you probe it you discover depth and meaning that, frankly, it’s darn unbelievable someone like you could even pull off.
Single people need to know about this world.
They need to know that entering into the vocation of lifelong faithful commitment to the man or woman you fell in love with is fulfilling. It is meaningful. It is worthwhile. And above it: It is possible.
It doesn’t require two people who are ideal marriage material. It requires two people who are 100% committed to faithful, lifelong love for one another, and who acknowledge there’s going to be some bungling, it’s honestly not going to be glamorous, and that good-enough in the marriage department doesn’t play well for an audience, but hello? It’s not a show. It’s a life. A real life. A hard life. A good life.
Old Married People, I write to you because what you have is no longer a commonplace. Many young people have zero exposure to the reality of faithful, lasting, good-enough marriages. They think it’s impossible, or they think it’s a luxury for rare specimens of extraordinary perfection. They have not an inkling of how good a faithful marriage is.
And thus, OMP, there is a genuine mission calling your name: Let people know.
If you’re widowed, speak openly of the years you had with your spouse, both the good and the difficult. If you are both still alive, be available for single people who want to spend time with the two of you, seeing what this marriage business is really like.
For all OMP’s, be open to conversation with younger married couples who need some realistic feedback on the problems they are facing, and how to fruitfully (and safely — abuse is real, it does happen) work through them.
This isn’t a new mission, its just that the missionaries are fewer on the ground than in previous generations. I’d like to say right now that I’m incredibly grateful for the many older relatives and friends who have been an example and an inspiration for my own marriage. Not because they are perfect people, but because they are imperfect people.
Lessons on how to stay faithful when both of you are perfectly-perfect are utterly irrelevant to me. An example of faithfulness when both of you have some pretty obvious weaknesses and foibles? Yep, we needed that.
We still need that.
OMP, your life isn’t shiny and it doesn’t always photograph well. But your life is important. It’s important to you and it’s important to your family and friends, of course. But dear one, your life is desperately important to the legions of young people who have grown up without any exposure to old married persons like yourself.
It’s scary, because you know your weaknesses. You know very well your marriage is not fully accomplished until one of you have breathed your last, and even after it still unfolds. But put it out there anyway. There are legions of single persons whose lives could pivot towards genuine happiness, albeit the hard kind, if only they knew how real and attainable is your humdrum exceptional world.