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