Dear Millenials: Surveys show you’re losing interest in marriage and, from what I hear, the main reason is this: to you, marriage doesn’t make any sense. And I know why you feel that way—it’s because marriage doesn’t make any sense.
One life has enough sorrow of its own. Why would you volunteer to share the sorrow of another human being, too? Why would you double-up on pain and mess?
Marriage is a crapshoot. Half of them end in divorce. Do we really need to go out of our way to add things to our life that are going to end up dying anyway? Isn’t that what pets are for?
If marriage is to work, you have to give in. Daily. You have to submit, allow, release, and let go. At least half the time. For crying out loud, it’s hard enough to get a leg up in life, who has the time and energy to spend their days lifting someone else up, too?
Human beings seem to be wired for attraction to many different people. Our appetites are not easily whetted. Why would anyone spend a lifetime trying to rein in that craving?
And people get old. The person you’re attracted to now will eventually be replaced by a smaller, plumper, more shriveled version of themselves. What if, eventually, you’re not attracted to the person wearing the lines and signs of a lifetime together?
Not to mention the brokenness of people. No matter how amazing a person is, they’re still going to mess up. A lot. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, but it’s also a ruthless thing. Every time you do it, you have to let something inside of you die, like your instinct for retribution or your self-righteousness. And after all, we’re here to live, not to die, right?
Except, Dear Millenials, we actually are here to die.
Not in fifteen years or fifty years. We’re here to die today. And tomorrow. And the day after that. We’re here to let the part of us we value most—the part we cherish without even knowing it—slowly wither away.
That part of us is our ego.
It’s the part of our psyche responsible for protecting us. And it’s merciless. It will do whatever it takes to keep us safe. It starts out by hiding us away behind a false self. But when it can’t hide us—and who can hide in a marriage?—it almost always graduates to subtle and not so subtle kinds of violence. When we don’t feel good enough, it raises us up by knocking other people down.
This year, my oldest son entered the ego minefield called middle school. In adolescence, egos are growing bigger, faster, and stronger at a precocious rate. Insults are thrown around like spitballs and it doesn’t really matter who they stick to, as long as they sting someone else and keep the thrower feeling powerful and better-than.
Yet, somehow, my son has seen the whole thing for what it is: a game we all play. He wears a pencil in his ear, and when people tell him it looks goofy, he tells them it’s a fashion statement. When they tell him he knows too much about world events, he tells them he’s “culturally informed.” It’s like he’s Neo and he chose the red pill and he can see the Matrix and they’re firing ego bullets at him and he’s picking them out of the air and studying them, amused by them.
Lately, though, I’ve noticed even he’s started to fire a few ego bullets of his own. At his friends. At his brother. At me. And of course he has—it’s almost impossible to live amongst egos for too long and not have them trigger the growth of your own. Which is why, someday, my son is probably going to need marriage, too.
After all, that’s the healing and holy purpose of marriage: to shrink the ego back down to its proper size.
Dear Millenials, many people are pessimistic about your generation. I’m not. In fact, I’m quite optimistic, because I believe you care more about the human race and the survival of our planet than any other generation before you. I just don’t think you’ve been given the tools to accomplish it.
Marriage is one of those tools.
“Tool” sounds so mechanical. But remember, a paintbrush is a tool. A chisel is a tool. A pen is a tool. A kiln is a tool. They’re all tools for creating beauty. Marriage is that kind of tool.
It’s where our egos lay down so our souls can get up and walk, like newborn foals on wobbly legs. It’s where our egos go to sleep so our souls can awaken, like squinting eyes in the bright light of a brand new day. It’s where ego-things—like condemnation, competition, and condescension—go to die, and soul-things—like empathy, courage, sacrifice, commitment, forgiveness, unity, and peace—grow and blossom and flourish.
Marriage is the space in the world that prepares us to change it from the inside out.
Because the heyday for the human ego is over. Now, it is becoming increasingly clear, if we want to survive as a species, we need to do away with it and the tribes it leads us to form and the violence it leads us to perform. If we don’t come together now, we’ll fall apart eventually.
And marriage is where we learn how to truly come together.
Which is why, Dear Millenials, marriage is really the sanest thing of all.
Someone Who Believes in You
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
Connect with Kelly
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.