Q. Is marriage on the way out?
A. This was the question on everyone’s lips two or three decades ago. Other styles of relationship were becoming common and many people feared that the traditional institution of marriage was doomed. The fears have not come true, though the so-called alternative lifestyles have continued and divorce has become much more widespread.
Apparently marriage is strong enough to withstand the challenges. But these challenges are not merely pragmatic. There were ideological arguments put forward from about the late 1960s – for example, the claim that marriage is inward-looking, stifles the individual, and creates emotional stress.
At the time when that debate was at its most heated, I agreed that far from causing “narrow privacy”, marriage provided a secure base to enable outward-looking service to the wider community. I said that rather than stifling the individual, marriage released individual potential and facilitated creativity. I added that rather than leading to emotional stress, marriage provided emotional equilibrium. I still believe that marriage has much more going for it than any other type of relationship.
Within marriage, as the Jewish sages said nearly 2000 years ago, there is “joy, blessing, goodness, Torah, protection and peace” (Yevamot 62b).
Yes, marriage requires commitment, and some people are afraid to commit, but I have always applied to marriage the words of Rabindranath Tagore, who said something like this: “I have on my desk a violin string. It is not fixed into a violin. It is free to move. But it cannot make music. I fix it into my violin. Now it is no longer free to move. But for the first time it is free to make music.”