Topic: Leisure (81)

From a Political Junkie: Marriage, Values and Culture

Riley Sweeney discusses the discomfort of religious and cultural differences among friends

Riley Sweeney discusses the discomfort of religious and cultural differences among friends

• Topics: Leisure, Leisure,
In the last month, I have been thinking about the clash of cultures. Two things brought this to light. One of my oldest and dearest friends just got engaged. I have known this guy since kindergarten, we grew up together. He is getting engaged to a woman who he started dating five months ago, and his family welcomed the news with joy. He is my age, 23. The key part of this whole scenario is that he is also highly religious, from one of the more conservative traditions.
Why does it worry me? I’m quite happy he is getting married, but why does it set off little warning bells in my head? Perhaps it’s the short courting time, the fact they have never lived together, the fact they are young. There have been short courtships before this that have worked out, same with couples who move in right after their wedding. My parents married young and it worked out. So why does it worry me?
I think it is firmly rooted in the culture I grew up in. I grew up in a liberal family of two college-educated state workers, raised without any religion in my life and surrounded by children of similar values. I spent most of my youth volunteering with non-profit community organizations and didn’t enter a church until I was sixteen. My worldview firmly reflects these privileges and biases. The idea of cohabitating before marriage seems like a common sense step. You must know how your life will change before you make such a firm commitment. The idea of getting married quickly or young implies a rash decision without thought of the full consequences.
But from my friend’s point of view, it is the natural step. You find someone you are compatible with, get married and start a family relatively quickly. He values his faith and his family, and knows he will make the situation work. He has confidence this is the right path for him after he returned from his mission a year ago. My misgivings simply reflect our cultural differences.
The second thing causing these issues to surface is that my girlfriend’s sister has started dating a local Bellingham boy. Hang on, I’ll unpack that so it sounds less elitist. She is an Anthropology major at Western, in her second year, who soaks up books like a sponge, and she found a pleasant young man who has lived his whole life in Whatcom County and now works as a chef in one of the restaurants. He has never attended college, although he hopes to be a cop some day. He is nice, pleasant and likes to spend his weekends out at the firing range with his friends. He is pretty Christian, she is a most devout Pagan and bristles at the very mention of Jesus.
Do opposites attract? Sure, but is it sustainable? The more time I spend with this guy, the more I like him. He is friendly, honest and clearly quite in love with my girlfriend’s sister. So why is there this vague unease? Once again, cultural differences. We come from different places in the world socially, economically and religiously. Can they work things out? Will I be more comfortable with him in the future? I believe so, but that innate bias makes things tricky.
We could spill over all these microcosms to a whole range of subjects: race, religion, politics. You can see why the conflicts over abstinence-only education, prayer in schools, gay marriage, and divorce laws can get so ugly. In one of my first political science classes, we were asked to prepare and present debates on any issue except one. Abortion. The teacher told us no one’s mind would ever be changed on that no matter how much discussion was had. Are these cultural issues really so contentious they cannot be overturned?
I would love to wrap up this column on one of those positive, David Brooks-like moments where I say, “If only there was more civility in our discourse, things would be so much better.” But I can’t. These issues will always be there. And to think the differences here were minor; mainly issues of class and religion, not race or location. I think the best way for us to move forward would be to acknowledge what makes us nervous. What cultural divides do you encounter? What phrases or situations trigger the feeling that the person you are talking to does not share your background?
The last level of irony on this topic is that I myself have been talking with my partner about getting married some day. We have been cohabitating for over a year and a half, and are just now beginning those discussions. What gives me any right to look down my nose and say someone else is getting married too early or too young?

About Riley Sweeney

Citizen Journalist • Member since Aug 10, 2009

Comments by Readers

John Servais

May 17, 2010

Thanks for sharing your personal views on this, Riley.  Your thoughts are probably similar to what many of us deal with as friends get married, choose careers and make other important life changes.  As I’m pushing 70, it is nice to read your thoughts at 23 and see that we have common thinking. 

And as one who has had friends marry, divorce, and then marry and divorce again, I have two observations that are born from experience.  One - no decision is life long.  Each decision has to be reinforced daily and yearly.  There is always the chance to change and the rest of us need to accept that in our friends.  Second - it is tragedy only when society prevents people from making desired changes in their private lives.  Society is the churches, the laws, the social pressures, employers, and, last but most importantly, our families and friends.  People can always make changes.  Society should allow them to.

Decisions made at a young age are not the problem.  It is society locking people into those decisions and not allowing changes.  Divorce was not so easy nor accepted just a few short decades ago - when I was young.  Now it is.  We should safeguard this.  And we have many more barriers to fulfilling private lives that we need to dismantle.  The lack of gay rights.  Abortion rights.  Racism.  And there are more.

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