Angst!

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Marriage: Right person or right time?

Is not marrying "the right one" immoral?

Silver fox Dr. Drew has a new television show on Headline News that explores the human experience. I grew up listening to Loveline on the radio and enjoy watching Celebrity Rehab. Dr. Drew's new show focuses on people's motivations and reasoning--exactly the things I get excited about and want to share on this blog. I'm a little skeptical of the feel or aesthetic of the show; it looks like a news set and the picture-in-picture windows of people on video satellite unfortunately remind me of the other political talk shows I pass over. But the "Love Dr." draws me in.

Halfway through Drew's first episode he makes a fascinating remark: "Men, typically, more often than not, have a time in their life when they are ready to get married than a person they are with...[W]hile women, more often than not, judge on who they are with." What a fantastic claim! What do you think? I think Drew captures part of the folk sentiment of "meeting the right person," a notion I have issues with (see this post), though I'm curious about his claim regarding men. Why would time be the dominant factor when choosing when to marry for men and not women? Is this a value that men learn from our culture or is there a biological component? Is it a combination of the two or something else completely? What evolutionary role would this reasoning play?

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At a superficial level, there is a somewhat cliché caricature that men want to avoid marriage until they can't and this feeds into Drew's analysis. It conjures up an image of an aging, balding, and bulging bachelor who decides he has had "a good ride" and now it's time to "settle down" after sowing his wild oats. Perhaps he decides to get hitched because his current partner is the best he can do and the envisioned nightmare of dying alone is unbearable. On the other hand, suppose he is in love with his partner but he hasn't felt mature or financially stable enough to commit yet. 

Is there a moral judgment to make concerning the decision to get married? Sure there is. Marrying solely for money--"gold-digging"--is a clear case of treating someone as a means to an end. But is deciding to get married based on a factor that isn't "they are the right one" ethically blameworthy? Unromantic, yes, but immoral? Note that the two claims, "being the right one" and "it was the right time" are not mutually exclusive; it could be the right time and the right person. It could also be "the right person" at the "wrong time." This circumstance is an enduring theme in romantic literature and movies. Two people meet on safari and have an overwhelming experience together, but alas, it was just bad timing. He was going on tour with the band, and she, well, she had her successful practice back home.

I wonder what Dr. Drew's wife would think of his statement. Do you think it is insulting to women? Or is this just a realistic insight into the male psyche?

What about divorce? Or breaking up? Is time a deciding factor for men in these circumstances as well? If men marry when they feel it is the right time, does the inverse apply as well? I think in some cases it does. This is another popular plot device, particularly in coming-of-age young-adult rom-coms. Remember Can't Hardly Wait when uber-stud Mike Dexter broke up with prom queen Amanda Beckett because he was going off to college? Or have you heard the joke: "What is the first thing a new doctor does? Gets a hotter girlfriend." I wonder if transitions are really the catalyst in some of these decisions rather than time. It could be that certain events affect decisions rather than simply the passing of time. For example, it may take a long time for an event to happen, but something has to happen--inertia!--to decide to marry, divorce, etc. While I think time is a factor, life is punctuated by pivotal events over time that informs our reasoning and behavior. I think Drew's take explains too much in that every decision is influenced by time, but also too little--our decisions can be complex and involve emotional and non-rational factors. Time may be one key ingredient, but it's a big soup.

Time for lunch.

Michael Bruce works with at-risk youth and is the editor of College Sex - Philosophy for Everyone: Philosophers With Benefits (Wiley-Blackwell).

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