April 23, 2004
They were a tender sight across the room, the two of them leaning across the table, talking and laughing, smiling into each other’s eyes. Even as they ate dinner under the low lights, they kept their fingers laced together on the tabletop.
As the waiter cleared their table, they sat in silence. Then, in the quiet interlude before dessert arrived, the young man reached into the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out a small box. Scooting his chair backwards, he stood tall and moved to the side of his date. Slowly, kneeling on one knee, he looked up to her.
Everyone in the room knew something special was happening. Cooperating with the young man, voices drew lower, and when the young woman’s face lit up with joy, the couple was met with an impulsive collective applause from the strangers seated around them.
It really happened. But it seems quaint today, an awkward public moment to declare one’s intentions. One simple question, Will you marry me, ushering in a lifetime of commitment. One question, followed with an answer and a promise, a tender moment that will be tested by the trials of time.
Boy, how things have changed.
My husband and I met in the 60’s when marriage vows were passé. Quaint promises were given on the beach and meant, not for a lifetime, but for as long we both shall get along together.
During our college years divorce was elevated to a social duty for unhappy married people. And the advent of birth control seemingly eliminated any consequences of sex…along with the need for parents to usher in a late-night wedding to save the family honor.
In 1966, Robert Rimmer’s The Harrad Experiment portrayed an experimental college where students were “expected to couple up in various combinations and permutations in order to develop a free and uninhibited approach to sexuality.” None of that had a single thing to do with marriage, vows, and fidelity.
And in 1969, this experimentation spawned the movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice where two couples applauded one another’s affairs and swinging. Billed as a farce, the foursome under the sheets provided Americans a voyeuristic romp with the “neighbor next door” that made marriage vows a laughable anachronism.
For people of our generation, confidence had been shaken in traditions of the past. Marriage was seen as just a piece of paper. Cynicism grew. And grew. Even the word itself came under suspicion…m…m…m…marriage, “You want to get m…m…m…married?”
As we saw it, marriage was difficult. It wasn’t perfect. People cheated on each other. They got divorced. Why try it if you knew it wouldn’t work?
Well…after all these years, we got what we wanted. And now we are paying the price. Congress is working to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment. Meanwhile, abstinence educators are working to teach children the benefits of saving sex until marriage.
Yet, the hardest work lies ahead…even if we restore marriage as a timeless and honored relationship between a man and a woman…even if we lead the coming generation to the altar.
Marriage as an institution is only as good as the love that blooms when a young man bends his knee and a woman reaches out to accept his hand. Cynicism has no place in marriage.
Marriage as a lifelong relationship will only flourish if we restore the sense of dignity and hope contained in a vow to love and honor, till death do us part.
If marriage matters, we must bestow honor on those who work to make their marriages last a lifetime. We must work to understand the desires and emotions that cause marriages to crumble, and we must honor our marriages enough to work for their preservation.
Most of all we must muster up the courage to admit that marriage is a good thing. We must stop the stammering and stand tall. We must ask boldly and answer gladly.
Will you marry me? Yes!