Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Let's Help Them Marry Young

I’d hate to be 22, and in love, these days. How could I support a bride? How could I find a place to live? How could I train for a profession—in a day where more and more training is essential?

Without financial help I couldn’t.


The case for making marriage available to hundreds of thousands of the blocked generation is not built on sentiment: it is a serious business of saving young people from frustration, of preserving the American home, of stemming the tidal waves of promiscuity, delinquency and divorce.

We surround boys and girls in their late teens and early twenties with ideals of marriage and home building. We admit that our Hal Smiths and Jean Fosters are biologically mature, that they possess growing and compelling urges toward mating and parenthood. We lure them toward marriage in our movies, our fiction, in the whole romantic gloss with which we daub youthful life. Then we snatch away this illusion with: “Don’t be a fool, Alice. It’s ridiculous to marry a boy who’s making only $30 a week!” Or, “Out of the question, Ned. You can’t marry until you’ve finished your internship!”

The result is a sexual dilemma. Psychiatrists’ offices teem with men and women suffering from guilt complexes because they indulged in premarital sex relations, and with equal numbers who are frigid or impotent because they were too long repressed.

From the files of Dr. Janet Fowler Nelson come these case histories:

Tom and Lillian were in love and wanted to marry, but couldn’t because Tom, an architect, was working out his apprenticeship at $28 a week. Faced with a wait of five years or more, Tom and Lillian realized that they had to make a decision. Either they would (1) have extra-marital relations, thus breaking the rules of society, or (2) stifle their emotional and physical drives, with the resultant frustration. They chose the first alternative.

When they finally married, Lillian was oppressed with the fear that “Tom only married me because he thought he ought to,” and Tom unhappily remarked, “If she was that way with me, maybe she’d be the same with any man.”

Equally bitter is the case of conscientious Arthur and Margaret, who chose the second alternative. Margaret’s parents refused to allow her to marry until she had a college diploma and had taught school for at least a year. She and Arthur “went steady” from the time she was 19 until she was 23. Then they were married. A few years later Margaret was in Dr. Nelson’s office relating a sorrowful story of their failure to reach mature sexual adjustment. “You see,” Margaret said, “we ruled out all petting before we were married. We knew that was the only way to keep out of difficulty. I suppose it was puritanical, but anyway we prided ourselves on never showing any sign of physical affection.”

Arthur and Margaret had fallen into a familiar trap. They had reined in their impulses by labeling them evil and tawdry. “This carried over into their married life and completely blocked a happy adjustment,” Dr. Nelson explains.


Promiscuity, sociologists agree, is the greatest foe of successful marriage. But a YMCA poll among men in their early 20’s indicated not only that extramarital relations were “greatly increasing” but that 80 percent of the young men blamed financial bars against early marriage for the upward trend.

Our communities, up to their necks in delinquency, scream alarm at the number of wayward girls, young sex offenders, unmarried mothers. “Yet what is this,” asks Will C. Turnbladh, of the National Probation Association, “but an indication of the stone wall many young people are up against.”

- From “Let’s Help Them Marry Young” by Howard Whitman. Taken from The Reader’s Digest condensed version, October 1947.


Discussion Questions:

1. Whitman cites an increasing trend towards later marriage and independence among Americans in 1947, stating financial barriers to be the cause. Discuss ways this observation has changed and remained the same in the last sixty years.

2. How have society’s opinions about premarital sex and promiscuity changed since 1947? How does this change affect the author’s argument? Do Tom and Lillian’s fears still sound realistic today?

3. Have the parental arguments in Paragraph 4 become ingrained in our concept of marriage, or are they remnants of the 1940’s? Include specific examples in your response.

4. Why did Ian include such an obviously outdated article in his blog?

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