Tomorrow I have the unique opportunity to attend a marriage that was neither arranged nor the result of a protracted period of dating and wooing. In short, it fits into neither the modern nor historical modes of contracting a bond to a significant other. The two parties have decided that their union is a matter of spiritual welfare, of necessity for both to live out their lives meaningfully. In some sense they have followed the millennial tendency to look for "relationships" rather than to "fall in love". But is this right?
It would be hard to fault millennial for refusing to repeat the sins of their parents and grandparents in the realm of marriage. Despite their general proclivity for supporting homosexual unions, they statistically are less promiscuous than the prior two generations and are less apt to divorce. As children of the Great Recession and ex-students burdened with crushing student loan debt, they marry later than the previous generations if they wed at all. While miles off the ideal, they have sought stability rather than the impulse of "falling in love," and for that they deserve some small degree of commendation.
But is it right to seek a "relationship" instead of "love"? A "relationship" today is a functional arrangement. Both parties have compatible values, they have similar or non-conflicting goals, they can lean on each other for emotive comfort. This is in contrast to those who just "fall in love."
"Falling in love" has its roots in the wealthier medieval city states, places with robust mercantile classes who needed neither the family alliances of the nobles nor the stable expectations of the feudal vassals. They could afford to marry because they wanted to marry. One might assume that the Montague and Capulet families of Romeo and Juliet were members of this class rather than the landed aristocracy.
Some centuries into the future post-War American children are compelled to marry at the youthful ages of their parents and yet they are disposed to listlessness owing to an historically unprecedented wealth and security. Teenage angst isn't real, it was invented in the 1950s along with Rock & Roll and songs about puppy love, "unconsummated lust" as Harold Bloom called it. The Beatles, Beach Boys, Elvis, the Isley Brothers, Four Seasons, Phil Spectre, and every other recording outfit beamed tunes to the same theme as And Then He Kissed Me: boy meets girl, girl likes boy, girl loves boy, boy marries girl. This generation discovered that unlike their parents' initial meetings in churches and familial settings, lusting after someone at prom was not a substantial basis for marriage.
Today's "relationship" outlook on dating is much more in accord with the arranged unions and familial ties of past times. It does not mean these people did not grow to love each other and did not become genuine partners in life. It does mean that marriage includes a vow to love another and does not codify existing attractions. In this sense marriage is much more difficult than we like to imagine. Unions in which the husband and wife are best friends, lovers, and parents are really rare and always have been. By contrast, the "blessed continence" and consideration of the "blessed life" extolled by Saint Augustine as much easier to follow faithfully than the long term consequences of "And then he asked me to be his bride/ And always stand right by his side/ I felt so happy I almost cried/ And then he kissed me". Like all things with our fallen nature, there is no perfect formula, but there is the power of God within the Sacraments to make it work.