In some parts of the world, a man can go find a wife for the price of two she-camels or several goats. He is then expected to provide for her and she is expected to honor him and produce children for him. Getting married and staying that way can be a bit more complicated elsewhere. These days, men and women alike are less likely to choose marriage than at any other time in history, with many opting for the single life or cohabitation.
According to a recent Pew Research study, the marriage rate in America has declined to its lowest point across the board, for those who are young and for the more mature, for all ethnic and racial groups. While those who have more education are likelier to embrace marriage than those who are less educated, the marriage rate has still dropped in almost every category.
Matrimony was the norm in 1960, when 72 percent of all adults ages 18 and older were married. Today, only 51 percent of adults are bound in legal marital union, and just 20 percent of adults ages 18-29 are thus committed. Divorce rates are higher than they were in the 1960s, but they've leveled off for the past two decades. Adults are simply waiting longer to get married, while some are choosing not to get married at all.
Weddings are less frequent than they were even five years ago. There were an average of 41.4 newlyweds per 1000 unmarried and newly married adults in 2008, 40.1 in 2009, and 37.4 in 2010. The numbers did not only drop for young adults aged 18-24, but also for adults in the 25-34 and over 45 brackets. Among adults ages 25-34, a mere 44 percent were married in 2010, compared with 82 percent in 1960. The marriage rate remained stable for adults 35-44.
And yet, people have not stopped having sex. It has just become culturally acceptable to move sexual intimacy outside of the commitment of marriage.
Marriage V. Cohabitation:
Johnny Depp and his partner Vanessa Paradis have been together for 14 years and have two children together. Whether their relationship is deteriorating as nosy tabloids have rumored, they have still been together longer than the average 7-8 years of today's marriages. Depp once told Extra, "I never found myself needing that piece of paper. Marriage is really from soul to soul, heart to heart. You don't need somebody to say, OK you're married."
Does marriage really matter? Isn't sex an act of love between two consenting adults, something not regulated by a ceremony or a document filed at the court house? Sex isn't evil. God invented it. Besides, isn't it foolish to commit to "til death do us part" with somebody when you've never even shared a bathroom?
Actually, it does make a difference. If people move in together for any reason than true commitment to each other, the situation tends to fall apart, both before and after marriage. People might move in with somebody whom they would never have originally chosen as wife or husband, but because of the "inertia effect" after enough time, marriage seems like the next appropriate step. One partner might have more commitment to the relationship than the other, so that while one partner thinks they're in love and going places, while the other thinks they just have a comfortable situation until a true soul mate is located. It may simply be that those who are the "cohabitating type" – the kind that are more likely to live together before marriage – are also the kind to be less committed either way.
Whatever the reasons, Rutgers University's National Marriage Project indicates that couples who live together before marriage are 46 percent more likely to divorce and significantly more likely to experience domestic violence within their relationships.
Even while they last, cohabiting relationships are statistically less fulfilling than marriage relationships. People who cohabit are more likely to be depressed and financially unstable. Their children also suffer. Kids of cohabiting couples are less likely to do well in school and more likely to suffer abuse.
It is not that people no longer value marriage. According to the National Survey of Family Growth by the US Centers for Disease Control, most adults would rather get married than stay single, and men more so than women, contrary to popular belief. Of those interviewed, 50.6 percent of women and 66.0 percent of men 15-44 either agreed or strongly agreed that marriage was better than an eternally single life. Those are not large majorities, but they do show that a desire for marriage still rests in many people's hearts. Most also disagreed or strongly disagreed (50.6 percent of women and 53.9 percent of men) that divorce was a good solution for marital problems. At the same time, a mere 34.7 percent of women and 32.1 percent of men thought that people should not live together until they are married.
Still, sexually active single Americans experience a series of little divorces that can be easier financially and emotionally than the legal ones, but that still take a heavy toll. People move from one relationship to another, bonding and breaking up, bonding and breaking up, not recognizing the true nature of a sexual relationship or its original purpose.
In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus said, "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, 'For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?' Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
The Word of God is clear: "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge," (Hebrews 13:4).
Sexual relationships were never meant to be transitory. They were meant to make two people one, to bind them together in a close, mutually loving relationship. That was their purpose. They also represent the bonding relationship that Christ has with the Church as Paul describes in Ephesians 5.
"So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones," (Eph 5:28-30).
Nobody enjoys having to wait for the things we want, the things for which we long. Sometimes, though, patience is necessary. Remember, the marriage supper of the Lamb has not yet come. We're still waiting for the groom to arrive to take His bride to the eternal Home He has prepared for her.