Folks, like it or not, with every day that passes we are entering a little bit further into a postmodern America. When I say postmodern I mean a pluralistic, anti-institutional, ironic, paradoxical, truth is negotiable and personalized, "what’s all the fighting about?" philosophy.
It is an invisible philosophical foundation that guides people’s assumptions. It is a reaction to the monolithic, institution-trusting, straight forward, logical, truth is absolute and generalized, "the man with the biggest guns wins" philosophy of modernism, which has been the ruling philosophy since Martin Luther did that little protest five centuries ago.
One could say that each philosophical foundation has its cracks (and crackpots), but it is difficult to deny that postmodernism is rushing in like dawn’s sunlight floods the Delta plain. Since it is here to stay for a few hundred years (until post-postmodernism takes over), we might as well take a look at what it means for marriage. Mostly, I want to focus on younger marriages. If you’ve been married fifty years, this article might just make you shake your head and say, "kids these days…"
Let’s explore a couple mantras from this emerging postmodern culture we cannot avoid living in and discuss how these impact younger marriages.
The first mantra is: "I don’t want to impose." This mantra flows from the "my truth is mine and your truth is yours" ethic that threads throughout postmodernity. Or, as Tom Cruise said in Far and Away, "I prefer to keep myself to myself." Each person’s domain is self-contained. One person’s right to assert truth ends at his or her own skin.
The good news for marriage is that there is a new and refreshing sense of respect that comes with the postmodern ethic. Postmoderns do not like conflict at all – it’s bad, maybe even evil. To impose is to conflict and to conflict is to fail. It is not that they too easily agree, but rather that they have an excessively high tolerance for disagreement. To a modern person, disagreement is a problem that requires a conflict in order to fix it. To a postmodern person, disagreement indicates a difference, but does not necessitate any remediation. Yes, this is good news.
However, the bad news for marriage is that two people living within their own worlds can get really lonely, even lying next to each other in bed. What was meant to be respect for one another results in never sharing their lives with each other, never hammering out intimate realities, never making up after the fight – because there are no fights. Some of the most intimate times a couple can have occur during conflict. Sometimes conflict is the only way you know that you matter to each other.
The second mantra is: "I can do whatever I want to." This one is the flip side of the coin. If the first one says, "I don’t want to impose," this one says, "…and you’d better not impose upon me." Now, before you say, "aha! Selfish," there is a good side to this postmodern mantra.
The good news is that oppressed people are empowered by this ethic and freed to make their way. Women, minorities, and other traditionally oppressed people groups have hit gold with this ethic. Freed to live the kind of life they were meant to, they enjoy a more level playing field. This helps in marriage because women are freer to make a wider variety of choices about their lives, but so are men. The gender straightjackets are loosened up.
However, the bad news is that selfishness can and does run amuck. A sense of entitlement can saturate a person and lead that person right to divorce court. I can go out with my friends, stay out late, never call you, flirt with other people, play my video games, shop ‘til I drop, buy that boat and do whatever I want to. Don’t tell me what I can’t do. In short, there is huge temptation for people to get married, but continue to live single.
As we move into this new and unusual postmodern world, marriages are going through a tough transition. Deep character, courageous intimacy, and patient conflict will help to hedge against the challenges that postmodernism presents.