When I became a JW in the 1970's, I would tell people divorce was unheard of among us; it simply never happened. It wasn't true.
But it was almost true. Divorce was rare enough that a new person might think it was true, and I did. Back then, there might be a couple dozen divorces within the entire circuit, and that would be cumulative, not per annum. Not anymore. Nobody today has the slightest difficulty listing any number of divorced persons. In fact, someone even tried to tell me that, here in the West, divorces are slightly more frequent among JWs than the general population. I don't think that's true, just based upon what I see. But it might be true if one considers that huge swaths of people just don't bother with marriage anymore; they simply cohabit. Thus, should they break up, it does nothing to “harm the stats.”
Several years ago, I worked a part-time job that put me shoulder to shoulder with lots of young people. They'd ask how long I'd been married and do a doubletake when I told them. Products of divorce, separation, and single-parent families, they'd never come across someone married so long. Can you really expect that they're going to commit themselves to a model they've never seen work? So they simply live together when the time comes. Those who formalize their relationship into marriage may have lived together so long that their relationship is like an old comfortable shoe, unlikely to pinch.
But long-married folks among us know how marriage is. It's built on love and loyalty. You find just that right person to start with.... personalities that click, common interests, goals and so forth, and then you add in shared experiences, lots of communication, and deliberate acts of kindness expressed towards each other. You put time and effort into it. It's like sewing, really. Hundreds of tiny stitches, adding more all the time, to bind the garment ever tighter as one. It's all very fine. It builds over years and years.
And then one day someone comes along out of the blue, someone with whom you've done none of these things, and immediately narrows the gap by half simply by being themselves! What's with that? A “soulmate”? A “treacherous heart?” Or a bit of both? Let's face it – people today love the idea of soulmates.
Mrs. Sheepandgoats and I have talked through these things before. We have a good marriage. We don't have a perfect marriage. Are there any of those? We mesh as one on some things. We're quite unlike on others. We've worked through issues, like, really, any other lasting couple I know of.
That's why it irked me a little when I stumbled across that film Before Sunset, though at the same time I liked it a lot because it dealt intelligently with the attraction of soulmates. It doesn't use the actual word, probably so as not to be assigned the category of “new age babble,” but it sure does explore the concept. It's a talky movie, full of persuasive, unforced, seemingly spontaneous dialogue, most of it filmed in long 6 or 7 minute takes while the two characters, man and woman, are strolling the streets of Paris. These two have reunited after a too-brief chance encounter ten years ago. It seemed, back then, that they were made for each other. They felt that instinctive attraction. They meant to develop and continue the relationship, but alas, circumstances yanked them apart and they did not reconnect until now – ten years later. In the meantime, they've both built lives, taken responsibilities, one of them is married with child.
What I like is that the soulmate notion is explored so well...we feel as they that developing awareness that they've both passed on that one person...each other...with whom they were meant to be. Moreover, the film develops so gradually you don't for a moment find it contrived. Ever so gradually it unfolds that this married fellow isn't happy with how his life has turned out, nor the woman with hers. His marriage is like a prison, he at long last confesses; he's married to a wonderful person, mind you, no one says otherwise, but just the wrong person. And when we learn why the he wrote his best-selling book in the first place....for that's the opening of the film: he's on a book tour promoting it.....you should think Slumdog Millionaire. He wrote the book about her, the only way he could think of to find her again! It's emotionally moving, I admit. That's what I like.
What I don't like is how conventional marriage suffers in comparison. Don't you have to cultivate a marriage? If this guy's marriage is a “prison,” isn't it through this own neglect? He's surely cultivated his career with due diligence, as we are made well aware. Would that he put the same effort into his marriage. But you know how it is with folks today. Relationships must be “pure heart,” no effort required. Thus, we have that stupid 1970 film Love Story, with it's silly “Love means never having to say you're sorry.” Any effort implies that perhaps the relationship is phony to begin with, and is not “meant to be.”
Though, having said that, if I recall correctly, this Before Sunset fellow married so as to be a responsible father to the child he had conceived. That's not the best foundation upon which to build, is it? Doesn't it serve to remind that you ought to go conceiving after the stable relationship is established, not before? I tell you, it makes me grateful to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses, a faith which has “held the line” regarding marriage over the past century, while most everyone else has learned to accommodate a new morality....to be satisfied with, not necessarily marriage, but merely a “caring relationship.” Okay, okay, so JWs show the strains of withstanding the new anti-marriage environment. We've even adapted to the times, and in the last few decades have listed a few scenarios....essentially, when you're married to someone who's just plain no good....under which separation is understandable. I mean, there are people with whom you just can't do much. Still, the JW stance is a far cry from most groups, who have thrown the marriage model overboard altogether, and how many of us might not have fared well were it not for that strong framework? For marriage, as practiced in most quarters today, is not thought to be a permanent bond, but simply a manifestation of hopeful intentions. You see your lawyer beforehand to draw up the pre-nups in case it doesn't work out.
However, back to the movie, and, of course, "true love" wins out at the end.....doesn't it always with new-age people?....this fellow reunites with his soulmate, presumably leaving his wonderful wife (and child) behind to fend for themselves.... responsibly, of course, with financial support and so forth. And, glory of glories, now that the very cosmos are aligned, doubtless the dumped wife (and child) are now freed to be reunited with their own soulmates! So it's a win-win-(win).
Now, what to make over all this?
With several billion men and women on the planet....you're not going to meet too many of them before marrying one for yourself, are you? So, after marriage, it would seem there's no way you're not going to run across someone, sooner or later, who appears more compatible than your own spouse! But if you've cultivated, sewn, and built upon your own marriage, shouldn't you be able to withstand a soulmate “assault?” Especially if you put some distance between yourselves. Whereas if you've cultivated, sewn, and built upon every other aspect of your life, while allowing the marriage to become a weed patch, it's likely doomed to extinction. Or you come to regard it as “a prison,” which isn't much better. Build on the marriage, however, and it becomes a great source of happiness, stability, loyalty, and love, even if you scratch your head sometimes over a “what if” soulmate scenario.
Besides, I 'm not so sure about “soulmates,” anyway. In the mid 1980's author Richard Bach brought soulmates to the masses. He was already well-known...a somewhat spacey character who authored Jonathan Livingston Seagull. His book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for years, and spawned a movie scored by Neil Diamond. But then he went off on a well-publicized quest to find the "perfect match," the "one and only" for whom he was "meant to be!" He found her! He married her! His one true soulmate! His disciples swooned with joy and ecstasy! He spun a few books off the experience. He became THE soulmate guru. Years of natural bliss ensued. And then......don't you know....he divorced her! His soulmate!!! They say he received death threats from fans, who felt betrayed and who perhaps began to look apprehensively at their own soulmates. Read up on it here and here, if you like.
So it's intriguing, that notion of soulmates, but I hesitate to put too much stock into it.
Nonetheless, let's pursue this a bit. Wouldn't it also be the case that atheism, which is all the rage today, increases the appeal of the “soulmate?” I mean, if this life is truly all there is, then time's running short. You don't want to waste your remaining decades with the “wrong” person, and if you should happen to meet that “right” person....well.....better change horses now while there's yet time. And since, just playing the odds, you're always going to meet someone more “right” than the one you have now, just where does it end? Aren't you apt, if you really follow soulmate propaganda, to merely end up with a lifetime of failed relationships?
But with a healthy belief in God, one can take the long-range view. Doesn't the Bible even instruct that this life is not the real life, anyway....that the “real life” doesn't commence until 1000 years into the new system of God's kingdom rule over earth? So I don't know why we can't be patient, and learn to enjoy the trip. It seems sure to be a good destination in store, since God “is opening his hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.” (Ps 145:16)
It's an alluring anomaly, that of soulmates. I think we lose a lot of marriages to it. Not all. Doubtless much divorce is just good ol sleaze and lust, today's world plastering illicit sex all over the place, so that people come to think of nothing else. Thus, we Watchtower readers are always hearing about trading one's relationship with God for “a few moments of pleasure.” But with the ever-increasing awareness of ones own emotional well-being that pop culture insists we all must cultivate, one begins to wonder about marriage itself. I mean, it doesn't, as practiced today, really take into account “soulmates,” does it? And yet soulmates would appear to be a good thing. Or is it all just Richard Bachian new-age drivel?
Being 1000 years removed from perfection, it's a little hard to tell. (Rev 20:1-6) We're an awfully self-indulgent people right now, living in an world that insists upon satisfying immediate desires. A “god of their belly” world, where people mind only “things on the earth.” Says Paul:
For there are many, I used to mention them often but now I mention them also with weeping, who are walking as the enemies of the torture stake of the Christ, and their finish is destruction, and their god is their belly, and their glory consists in their shame, and they have their minds upon things on the earth. Phil 3:18-19
Perhaps it will be that, upon continual cultivation of one's own marriage over time, our spouse, whoever they are, becomes our full blown soulmate. Or, for all I know, marriage itself may turn out to be primarily a provision to get us through our time of imperfection....an arrangement tailor-made for this system, necessary for now, an acceptable way to interact with the opposite sex and provide a framework for raising the next generation, but due to become obsolete 1000 years into the new system, when the originally intended condition of humankind has been realized. Or maybe not. Dunno. It's a 'wait and see.' But we'd do a lot of changing in 1000 years, even without the burden of human imperfection removed. What might we do when it is removed?
You can almost read the possibility in the current wedding vows: “for as long as we both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.” While that might imply permanence, doesn't it also allow for the possibility that “God's marital arrangement” might one day, 1000 years from now, change? You must admit, it is one way to resolve that perplexing question of why resurrected ones are said not to marry.
But I haven't the foggiest. No one knows. We don't get it all, in this system of things, nor do we even know what the “all” is. But we do know that, regarding God, he is “opening his hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.” And really, that ought to suffice.