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    Post-Industrial Marriage Rituals

    September 22, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    Always before, Laura had helped Pa with his work. When she was very little, in the Big Woods, she had helped him make the bullets for his gun; in Indian Territory she had helped finish the house, and on Plum Creek she had helped with the chores and the haying. But she could not help him now, for Pa said that the railroad company would not want anyone but him to work in the office.

    -Laura Ingalls Wilder in By the Shores of Silver Lake

    This weekend someone was telling me about some suggested dating patterns: a date night once a week, a whole day once a month, and a weekend quarterly. I think that was it. Naturally, I crustily replied that this sounded like post-Industrial marriage to me and that, amazingly enough, no one ever did such things for the past four thousand years and marriage has managed to survive.

    Tactful, I know. This is why I should avoid speaking out loud and stick to writing, where I have a chance to think a bit before pressing “publish.”

    Ahem.

    So now that I have had time to think, I stand by my knee-jerk comment that this was post-Industrial marriage in action, but I’ve lost the accompanying negative vibe.

    If there is one thing Industrialism has done, it is divide the family. In this, I mean that the family is physically divided, which, over time, leads to other sorts of divisions, and ultimately the building of separate lives.

    When families were more agrarian, they were unified in ways that are foreign to most of us today. They worked together, meaning that they had shared work. There was still division of labor, to be sure, but because the work was centered in the home {for the most part}, the work offered the family a chance at a shared vision.

    Churches tended to be more unified as well. There was less separation of ministries. There weren’t such clear lines drawn between Men’s Ministry, Women’s Ministry, and Children’s Ministry. The family could sit together in church, and the children could all be together in Sunday School {instead of being divided by age}. We have only to look at the age-division within Sunday School classes for children to be sure that the church is merely reflecting the culture with all of these divided specialty ministries.

    I cannot emphasize enough what this sort of physical unity does for a family {and for a marriage}.

    For a few beautiful years, we were blessed to have Si working from home. He kept office hours, so there were definitely times when the children and I were not physically with him. For the most part, his work wasn’t like farming where the children could help or accompany him. Even I wasn’t able to help all that much. But just having the work taking place in our home was unifying in a way. We understood his days {what made them good or bad}. We knew who his clients were. We knew the nuances of his job because we saw them ourselves. We ate three meals a day together. We took his breaks with him. On slow days, he grabbed his cell phone and we all headed to the park.

    I look back on those days with nostalgia. I have already mentioned that I do not believe absence makes the heart grow fonder. In fact, I think that the more time we spend separately, the farther our hearts are from one another. Si and I were close in those days in a way we cannot be in our current situation. I can’t keep up with who his coworkers are or what he does throughout his day. We don’t have many lunches together because the gas to get there costs more than the meal we’d eat. The way that the children and I are during the day {i.e., our attitudes and behavior, even the volume of our voices in the house} no longer impacts Si’s job success.

    The Job divides one member of the family from the rest.

    In a word, the post-Industrial economy makes our lives less intertwined. This is not to say that I resent my husband leaving and heading out to work every day. On the contrary, I have a deep appreciation for my Magic Checking Account {which is replenished every-other-week without fail}. But we as a culture cannot pretend that there is no need to make up for lost time.

    In my opinion, this is what Date Night is about. It is our culture’s attempt to make up for the time together that we aren’t getting. It is an expression of our drive to reconnect and try to recapture what has been lost.

    In my opinion, it doesn’t make up at all for a life lived together. I think I will always long for the days when our family lived together the majority of the week. But for me to have disparaged Date Night was really for me to miss the point, that the Ties Which Bind have been loosened by so many aspects of our culture. Who am I to criticize one sort of attempt to tighten them a bit?

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    10 Comments

  • Reply Ellen September 25, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Yeah, I’m totally with y’all on “date night.” I am fortunate enough to have a husband who makes a point to talk with me every night, even if its just while we’re cleaning up the kitchen together. We have good conversation regularly. That makes all the difference in the world. You don’t have to have a babysitter and a dinner out ($$$$$$) to connect, and it is selling a bill of goods to say that you do. Even a monthly date night won’t fix a relationship that needed work the other 29 days…

  • Reply Brandy September 25, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Jeana,

    I am so glad that you clarified…there was so much good stuff in that last comment! I especially appreciated how you tried to get down to the root issues. Marriages do not fail due to a lack of date nights, but rather to a (usually gradual) separation of the hearts involved. This makes sense when we think about how Genesis gives the First Couple a shared mission for their life (taking dominion and having children) and then commands them to become one flesh. Everything He gives them is to be shared, and yet these days we do the opposite, having everything from his and hers checking accounts to separate jobs, hobbies, and other ways of spending time. It’s not that any of these things are evil in and of themselves, but what you said is so true: if we realized the cost of so much separation, we might begin to rethink it.

  • Reply Jeana September 24, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    The other day Scott and I were talking to my parents about lifestyles pre- and post- Industrial Revolution, and how the family now spends most of their time apart, where before they were constantly together.*

    I commented that I have to believe that most people, if they really realized how great the cost is of the family being separated, would be much more possessive of their family time at night–they wouldn’t fritter it away on activities, meetings, TV, etc.

    But I think we tell each other “Oh, don’t feel bad, you don’t have a choice, they’ll be fine” so we don’t feel guilty about it. When–let’s assume they really don’t have a choice, which really is not always the truth–what we should say is, “Don’t feel bad, you don’t have a choice but realize what you’re giving up, so you can make every effort to try to make it up wherever you can

    “Have a date night every ____” is a pat answer in the same vein as the one above; having a date night can be one way to reconnect and make up for time apart, but if we don’t realize the root of the problem and why we’re having the date night, we can easily go through the motions and not really get any where, or realize that date night is not an option for us, so we do nothing.

    *And this is where I was so vague the other day–I didn’t want to get sidetracked on all the different ways the family is separated, and whether or not each individual one is “wrong” or not. The point is not which separation is more or less acceptable, the point is that separation in any form is not ideal. It just took me a few days to figure out how to say it right.

    Every once in a while I get fixated on an idea and I just keep picking at it. This was one of those. I think I’m done now.:-)

  • Reply Brandy September 24, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    Jeana, I think I understood what you were saying. If not, I love you anyhow. 🙂

    Emily, you echo the sentiments of a lot of women I speak with. It seems like there is an almost universal acknowledgment that Industrialism made the way that we spend our time a little less natural.

  • Reply Lift Up Your Hearts September 24, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    I agree with you. It’s a much bigger problem than date nights alone can solve. Unfortunately, it’s what most of us are stuck with. I feel blessed that Alif is in & out of our home regularly but our time together is often compartmentalized and unnatural.

  • Reply Jeana September 23, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    Wow, Brandy, your comment is as good as the post! I wholeheartedly agree.

    And re-reading my comment, I don’t know that it makes any sense, if you didn’t hear the rest of the conversation that sparked my thinking. 🙂

  • Reply Brandy September 23, 2008 at 4:44 am

    I’m going to try and control the length of this comment so it doesn’t end up as another post! Here are a few of my thoughts on marital dating (in no particular order):

    (1) To the extent that dating implies spending money, I think that making it some sort of imperative for a successful marriage is a huge burden to place on folks, especially those of us who are on the poor side of rich.

    (2) I think that making dating the goal can actually distract from the actual problem, which is a lack of truly living life together, a lack of unity. Dating does not necessarily unify, and since it takes us away from regular life, it doesn’t necessarily lead to us living together more deliberately.

    (3) I have seen couples out on dates who don’t say a word to each other. I am not sure how doing this regularly is going to help anything.

    (4) Our personal approach is to seek unity. This, naturally, means that we occasionally go somewhere alone and have a meal or do something we enjoy. However, since we want a shared life, seeking out shared hobbies and shared ministries is probably more effective than dating. And dating is more fun when we are already doing a good job at that living life together that I keep mentioning.

    (5) Children’s bedtimes are very helpful. We get a couple of hours every evening to catch up, talk, and even do chores side by side. This isn’t dating, but it definitely lends itself to unity.

    (6) The worst thing about dating is that it takes parents away from their children. If Dad is already not seeing them very often, this is one more time he is unable to connect with them. The marriage might be the core of the family, but a father has a duty toward his children. We have a goal of having more shared activities with other families, where all the children are included, and yet there is a chance for adults to connect (as adults) as well.

  • Reply Kansas Mom September 23, 2008 at 1:53 am

    I have been very blessed to work from home for the past three years (part-time starting tomorrow!) and am so thankful for the extra time with my family. My husband was also home much of that time and will now be home the two days I’m working to watch the kids. It really does make a difference to be able to come out of the office and share about a frustrating conference call. With our little farm (pictures coming, I promise), we’ll be working side by side quite a bit in the coming years.

    I’m very lucky to be married to a man who sits next to me and talks almost every night, even when he was writing his dissertation until midnight or one or working to prepare our “new” house. We don’t need a date night because we focus on each other for just a little while every day. (It helps that our kids are pretty good sleepers, so we have time in the evenings without little ones interrupting, but we’re also teaching our kids that sometimes they have to wait for our attention while we talk to each other.)

  • Reply Jeana September 22, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    I get what you’re saying. I think it’s important to see where our lifestyles fall short. The danger in comforting ourselves with, “There’s nothing wrong with ____” is that if we don’t see the shortcomings we can’t try to make up for them.

  • Reply Ellen September 22, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    I think the recipient of your sadness over the state of our post-Industrial lives will forgive you. You’re existing on less than average amount of sleep. =) And it is sad. I dearly wish that I could be with David at his work… which is why I got a babysitter to go to his first trial. But you can’t put criminals away from home… sigh.

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