Hey Matt Walsh: Take it Easy on Young People

by - Friday, October 31, 2014

This week another Matt Walsh blog has been floating around my facebook newsfeed, and though I generally like the frankness of his writing, I really though this blog was more destructive than interesting. Matt was encouraging people in their 20's to get married and have babies- revolutionary, right? I think that this blog hit on a few of the key assumptions that I think are very destructive to our mission as Christians:

1. This (insert choice here) has worked really well for me, so clearly everyone should do it.
2. Oh, this choice doesn't fit you? Then clearly there is something really really wrong with you (because it couldn't possibly be my plan or perspective, which should fit everyone).

This set of moves in logic drives me absolutely nuts, as it tries to negate the many privilege you have that fuel your choices ("everyone should buy a Ferari, and if you don't, it must be because you are stupid") and the profound, deep, and beautiful differences between people (all of whom were made by the same God). As a 28 year old who is in fact married and having a baby, you would think I would support his argument, but I mostly think he is way off base this time. Here's why:

Walsh starts off his argument by saying that we are the most marriage-averse generation in history, and therefore our current behavior is another sign of society's destruction. I mean, we could spend a whole blog just talking about how narrow minded and historically incorrect that point is. Maybe he means in Western history? Judeo Christian history? Not to mention, if you measure marriage ages against average lifespans, we aren't that far off the general mark.

 Also, does being married at 25 really make you that radically different from your peers? I have a very large collection of bridesmaid dresses that beg to differ. If the social-expectation has changed, it hasn't done so in such a dramatic way that a married person in their mid-20's has become am exotic rare flower. Less marriages? Sure, yes. So much so that it deserves this sense of urgency? I don't thik so.

Walsh sees the institution of marriage as "integral to our advancement" as a species, and again, he isn't wrong (I mean, if we all suddenly stopped being able to reproduce Children of Men style, we would be in trouble), but the situation also does seem more complex than that. We are one of the first generations who can clearly see the cost of very dense human populations on the world's resources, and I think you could make the argument that taking it slightly easier on reproducing can be beneficial to the ever-growing population of unwanted children (I know at least two unrelated people who chose to adopt rather than marry and bear children) as well as the potential problems of population overgrowth. Maybe Matt Walsh is in the "Global Warming, who?" pack of Christians, and I can actually respect that, but there is an absolute arrogance to suggesting that the duggars are doing the world 19 times the favor by having way more kids, using way more resources, and announcing their pregnancies 10 minutes after conception.

I also think he is only talking about marriage as the heteronormative privilege (hence the extreme focus on child-making), leaving out the fact that not everyone can get married. Just the choice is a privilege many still don't have, and I don't think that should be forgotten here.

Marriage and kids obviously doesn't have to mean super-spawning, but the starting suggestion that we are self-destructing because we aren't all hankering to populate the Earth might have as much to do with what the world looks like (I mean, most of us also aren't living agrarian lifestyles, and therefore don't need to produce our own workforce) as a generational attitude.

Matt implores us, his friends, to not be afraid of marriage. I think that's a fair enough request. Avoiding anything because you are afraid of it is a pretty sad and self-defeating way to live. But so is doing things just because you think it is what you are "supposed to do." Again, not everyone even can do it, so the access to it is not as simple or self-evident as the essay suggests. He seems to only be writing to people who are just like him, meaning they probably also think just like him already.

I am married. I am going to have a baby, so I can't say "oh this institution is bunk." I like being married so far, and I do think everyone should have the choice to do it. But I can also recognize that I benefit from a lot of privileges that make the choice available and just doable. So here are a few factors I think Matt got wrong or should consider more fully:

1. Not everyone needs marriage- Matt points out early in the article that he lived completely on his own and then with a spouse. He prefers living with his wife over living alone. Awesome. I am happy for you, but is it not possible that some people might actually enjoy being alone more? I mean, you can find these figures in the Bible, so we know it isn't the only available focus. I also completely believe that God gives a lot of important and loving relationships in our life; it is cool when we can have a spouse who fits in that category, but to not notice the other hugely important bonds you have in your life is kind of ungrateful. Siblings, friends, and room mates can hold equally important positions in a heart. These other relationships and priorities can require equal commitment and labor, but it may not look as conventional from the outside. Again, just because this one source works for you does not mean that is the case for everyone.

2. "Just be more Mature" is not Helpful Advice- A number of Matt's points (1, 3, and 5) suggest that you can't wait until you have your life/ money/ career totally worked out before you get married because that will never happen. In theory, I actually totally agree with that; my experience with adulthood so far is that no one ever knows what the heck they are doing, so you have to take some leaps before you totally understand the situation, or you will stand still your whole life. Truth.

On the other (very important) hand, we are not projects for another person to fix. No one is ever going to help you get to a good point with yourself, and I don't think there is anything wrong with that at all. You will keep growing and changing, and the amazing trick of lasting marriages is somehow coordinating that change, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be good with who you are at the starting gate. If you get married too early in your 20's, you cut off those few years where you don't owe your choices to parents or your spouse. You only have a teeny window to factor only yourself into that equation, and though that time isn't necessary for everyone, it is essential for others. It doesn't make you selfish to want to have independent growth, it is selfish to expect someone else to take care of that growth for us. Taking your time and making the decision with some experience behind it could show more respect for the decision.

3. Priorities aren't necessarily jumbled because they don't look like yours- Yeah, you basically do need money (and basic money-handling skills) to be married! I love that he feels like people aren't getting married because they want to buy iphones. How condescending can you be, man? Money is a tremendously stressful part of our lives, and in general, many people don't get into the jobs they want or trained for until struggling through free labor and minimum wage situations. Bringing in that level of stress to a marriage shows a lack of maturity to me, if anything. Feeding 2 people costs more than one, and even if you can minimize that impact as you add more and more, but it doesn't change the fact that you need to figure out how to feed one first. 

I would say the key positive advice here is to take the time to know what your priorities are, because spending money on stuff that isn't even that important to you is easy to fall into. I know that I have trouble sometimes accepting other people's priorities, but you don't get to say someone else is being selfish just because they don't do life like you do. I can remember on more than one occasion a friend telling me they can't travel like we do because they are married/ have a baby/ aren't rich like us. We prioritized travel for a long time (giving up lots of other things), because we valued our relationships with our extended family that much. We could have gotten married and started spawning sooner if we didn't want to see our grandmas multiple times a year, but that isn't who we are, and I have no interest in apologizing for it. Nor do I think anyone else should. If you want an iphone, or a trip to France, or to be able to volunteer and go on mission trips more than you want to be married, why would that be a bad thing?

4. The Right One (Soulmate, One and Only, etc) does not Exist, but there are Plenty of Wrong Ones- I don't believe in soul mates or the One, and I also do think it can create a situation where you can hand off responsibility to fate when maybe taking care of your relationship would be a healthier course. At the same time, just because there isn't a One and Only doesn't mean any interested applicant would fit just fine. As a kid, I thought you could make it work with anyone if you wanted it bad enough, but that assumption is totally and ridiculously wrong. Compatible communication styles matter. Shared values matter. Please, for goodness sakes, be choosy and don't hand your heart off to anyone who shows interest. Finding a good partner, who you really can be friends with, seems way more important to me than just locking something down.

5. Boooooo Lame Tropes about Biology- I have generally enjoyed Matt Walsh because he seems deeply respectful of the women in his life, but all of number 7 is a straight-to-all-you-vagina-carriers  bummer. It again suggests that there is one path to reproduction and nothing else matters, when that clearly isn't the case for SO MANY PEOPLE. Not to mention this kind of "have your babies now or you NEVER GET BABIES" narrative is not only false, but it traps women back into some Susie Homemaker role. I agree that our biology is not a mistake, but I don't agree that just because pregnancy at 22 is the path of least biological resistance means it is the right (or even available) choice for someone else. I love living in a world where multiple routes to parenthood exists, and I wish Matt was a lot more open-minded on this front. Pregnancy and parenting are hard on your mind, your body, and your time. Someone has to take care of that tiny person, and it is a simultaneously selfless and totally selfish thing to devote time you could be giving to others to a tiny person that continues your own "legacy." If you want to invest your body or time or things elsewhere, I say phooey on anyone who makes you feel bad about it (I also say phooey on anyone who tries to make you feel bad for choosing to have kids). You only have so much effort and time, that is absolutely true, but creating some arbitrary finish lines robs you of the value of what you are doing now. And on that note...

6. Maybe marriage and parenthood will be the best adventure of your life. Or it could be going to nurse children's heart surgeries in Africa. Or writing your first book. Or becoming a badass embroidery artist. Or curing cancer. Or going on a balloon journey across the ocean-  I am glad that Matt is so happy with his choice, and that it has proven to be so exciting and enriching for him. But I am not Matt. And neither are any of you. So have the adventures you want to have, because really, if your dream is to build the Eiffel Tower out of dry spaghetti or make the next great American film, or lobby against handguns or for animal shelters, or speak 10 languages, those are all pretty awesome adventures too. I want to hear all about those. Even if you get married and have kids, please have your adventures too. I hate the suggestion that the dream of a family should trump all other dreams. In relationships, you have to have your own interests and growth to keep bringing something fresh to the table; I can't see why that wouldn't be the same for families.

7. No, You aren't your Parents. But then again, you kind of are (and no matter what, you are carrying a bunch of their nonsense with you)- Matt happily owns that his parents remain married, then suggests that many of us poor millenials are "jaded" by our unhappy childhoods. I find it interesting that Matt feels we were victimized by our "selfish, immature parents" while simultaneously suggesting we get married sooner (wouldn't it be better not to reproduce until some of that selfishness was worked out?). But I would argue that so many adults whose parents were divorced aren't jaded, but take deeply seriously the incredible challenges marriage brings with it. This business is incredibly difficult, and you put everything you are on the line to make it work. We see how crushing it is to everyone when it fails, and I have had so many long, deep conversations about how we can do it differently, but also how we know we are the same. Matt chalks it all up to our parents' choices, but from my perspective, sometimes a bad fit doesn't immediately reveal itself. Or not everyone is in on the choice to dissolve a marriage. A partnership can promote a lot of growth, but the destruction of one leaves scars forever, and pretending they don't exist is a fool's game.

Not to mention, if you haven't lived in a household with a happy marriage at the center of it, you have to author your own idea of what a happy marriage would even look like. In some ways, I think this is incredibly freeing, but building something totally new just takes longer than taking a path that you've already seen work.

Couldn't it be that our generations isn't being flippant or selfish or even afraid, but that we are taking the institution of marriage more seriously by taking our time, making informed decisions, and choosing a path that specifically fits our understandings of ourselves? I am the same age as Matt Walsh and stand on the other end of my 20's just like him. I just don't think there is a wrong way to do it as long as you aren't hurting yourself or others. I am excited and encouraged to see all of the ways people get from here to there, and I feel relieved that there is no one finish line we are all racing toward. Everyone gets to make their own path and design their own life the way that best suits them, and in general, I see people taking that responsibility very seriously (and no, not just in some naval-gazing way, but asking great questions about who they are so they can really give to others). We are also one of the most volunteering generations since that history has been documented, and I don't think that is unrelated to the same trends Matt bemoans.

I understand that when you like the way things are going, you want so badly for everyone to get to feel that same joy, but I think essays like these make the mistake of taking that instinct too far. Someone making another choice doesn't make your choice (or theirs) bad. The beauty of reaching your 20's is that we are each fulfilling our own goals, so grading someone else by your rubric of happiness or priorities becomes completely (and thankfully) ineffective. So get married if you want (I never turn down an occasion for cake), or don't, or do it later, or do it once everyone can do it. I think we can each individually put goodness, selflessness, and love into the world in a way that fits exactly the person God made them into, and that's a beautiful miracle, not a threat. 


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