Men and Marriage
Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your
own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your
streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a
graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you
ever be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, by an
adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?
In the mid-1980s, George Gilder wrote a controversial book called Men and Marriage. In it, he argues that marriage is the glue that holds civilization together because, without marriage, many men would generally be little more than “barbarians at the gates.” Since marriage has been central to our everyday experience, we tend to accept the arrangement without thinking much about the dynamic behind it. Gilder seems to enjoy troubling our normal perceptions by arguing that marriage permits women to transform the barbarian into the prince who then becomes the protector of the community for this and the generation to come. In short, Gilder argues that women civilize men and that marriage is the structure through which this happens.
Gilder explains that young men are characteristically dreamers, warriors, and adventurers. Without the self-limiting relationship fostered by marriage, young men would be content to do whatever they want whenever they want. Though the institution of marriage itself has changed over the past fifty years, marriage still generally defines the role of men as provider and protector; he has willingly allowed his own freedom to be circumscribed for the sake of love and mutual interest. And this bond creates the context for commitment that is the essential building block underpinning the next generation.
While marriage may seem to some men like a sacrifice and a loss of freedom, it would be more accurate to describe the marriage bond as a transition into a new stage of life through a new kind of freedom. The dreamer does not vanish under a mountain of new domestic responsibilities; rather, the new purpose behind the dreams changes by including others as part of the new dream narrative. A man’s instinct for adventure is a good thing and it needs to stay alive, but devoting one’s life to the well-being of the family and the generation to come is of greater value because our entire civilization depends upon it. The adolescent boy may dream great dreams and he may yearn to become some kind of superhero, but in most respects, these dreams find their most powerful expression in the form of a committed and attentive husband and an involved and loving father.
—Eric Kampmann, Signposts