February 15, 2007
By Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
When out-of-wedlock births are nearing 40 percent, when most
children will reach age 18 without both of their parents together,
celebrating St. Valentine's Day has less and less the note of joy
and romance in it.
Yet America needs a real Valentine tradition precisely because the
messages we give our teenagers pushes more and more young men and
women to reject each other rather than to belong to each other. The
vast majority of teenage young men putting on condoms and teenage
young women taking the pill has no intention of marrying those whom
they bed. They join in the embrace meant to last forever, knowing
all the while that they will likely walk away from each other. Thus
they reject - and get used to being rejected - in their intimate
lives, and in the process build not a culture of belonging and
romance but one of rejection and suffering. They pay a price bigger
than most suspect.
A few years ago Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson of the Heritage
Foundation did an
analysis of the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth and found
that for women 30 or older those who were monogamous (only one
sexual partner in a lifetime) were by far most likely to be still
in a stable relationship (80 percent). Sleeping with just one extra
partner dropped that probability to 54 percent. Two extra partners
brought it down to 44 percent. Who would have thought that the
price of sleeping with even one partner would lead to divorce for
almost half of those who had only one extra tryst?
It would seem virgins make not only the best Valentines but the
best mothers - for raising children well means developing their
capacity to be married parents who know how to stay married and how
to select a mate who can do the same - a long-term task made for
two parents who love each other. Making babies is the easy part of
parenting: It hardly takes any effort or acculturation, hence all
the effort Planned Parenthood puts into its agenda.
Today in our culture everyone, even Planned Parenthood sometimes,
passes on to girls the cultural script that mothers and children
belong together. But the difficult script of "male and female
together forever" gets little attention. Sexual attraction or the
falling in love comes easy - no scripting is required for that.
Even belonging together for a while comes easily enough. It is only
after the "delightful madness" of being in love fades that the long
haul of true love begins. It is virgin women who have the greater
capacity to find the men capable of it.
But fewer and fewer of our young men are capable of this long
haul. Consider how teenage boys are being scripted. How many pick
up the message that it is best to have as many women as possible,
versus those who pick up the message to find "their one and only
true love" ? How many get the predator/hunter message instead of
the message to become the "protector of their love" ?
It is easy for men to take to the predator message; it may even
seem to be hardwired. By contrast it takes a massive cultural
effort to make the protector lesson take hold among men. Most
cultures (not ours anymore, alas) have put enormous energy into the
protector message because the children of each generation need
their fathers at home with them. Almost a quarter of our children
are aborted today, 80 percent outside of marriage, while 60 percent
of those who do manage to make it alive through the birth canal
eventually end up with their parents rejecting each other. We, the
United States, have become one huge culture of rejection.
While 80 percent of the virgins in the Rector-Johnson study above
maintained a stable relationship, 20 percent failed. That data set
cannot tell us but I suspect that many of these latter virgins were
foolish enough to trust themselves to a "predator" -scripted male.
Meanwhile, their non-virgin sisters who married after they had
given their virginity to someone other than their husbands were all
by no means doomed to divorce, but the data indicate the majority
was. From Steve Nock's
research on Virginia divorces, we know that roughly two thirds
were initiated by the wives. Extrapolating from Rector-Johnson's
research I bet most of the wives in Nock's sample did not come to
their husbands as virgins, but before marriage were already used to
rejection and rejecting and to moving on to another man. This is
just a hypothesis and it may be proved wrong, but checking it out
will make for a very interesting study.
In the meantime, for the young people who want to have a lifelong
valentine in their future, the lesson is already clear: Consider
virginity. It is the natural prequel to the love that lasts.
Patrick Fagan is
the William H.G. FitzGerald research fellow in family and cultural
issues at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The National Review
When out-of-wedlock births are nearing 40 percent, when most children will reach age 18 without both of their parents together, celebrating St. Valentine’s Day has less and less the note of joy and romance in it.
Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
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