Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Tragedy of Low Expectations, Part 1

Question of the day: Why does a man like Tiger Woods, who is clearly incapable of keeping a vow to be faithful to one woman only, ever get married at all?

Just in case you're thinking, "Oh, no, not another blog about Tiger Woods": substitute "David Letterman" for "Tiger Woods," and the question retains its relevance. Since promises of fidelity mean nothing to them, why do such men marry? (And, for that matter, why do such women marry? Female habitual cheaters, as incapable of monogamy as Woods or Letterman, do exist, but we tend to forget that because their stories don't make the news quite as often.)

I have yet to hear an answer to that question that I can live with. One lady very close to me explained, "They want children." Though I have an abundance of respect for this lady, I have a hard time swallowing this. When do men like Woods and Letterman have time to act as fathers? How many hours a day do they spend with their children? It can't be very many, because a promiscuous, bed-as-many-partners-as-you-can lifestyle is pretty time-consuming, even aside from all the hours consumed by golfing and late night talk show hosting. If having children means anything to people like this, it's as status and entitlement, not as the opportunity for a loving relationship. And if we may judge by their actions, "setting a good example" is the last thing on their minds. Heaven save us from fathers (and mothers) like this.

I can understand the dilemma of a bed-hopping politician. Politicians are always expected to marry; only one bachelor, James Buchanan, has ever been elected to the highest office of the land. For some reason, we don't vote for single guys or gals. This doesn't make much sense to me, but as long as voters throw their support towards the married rather than the single, politicians are going to seek trophy spouses to enhance their careers.

But professional athletes and entertainers? Will singleness compromise THEIR careers? It seems to me that we don't really care about the married lives of our actors, singers, talk show hosts, and athletes until something goes wrong; then, it's all we can talk about. We don't admire a home-run king more or less because of his marital status. Therefore, it can't possibly hurt him to stay single if he has a problem with monogamy. I am not the least bit interested in the number of sexual conquests that single men or women rack up. If they eventually find their hedonistic lifestyle empty, or if the revolving bedroom door really does make them happy, that's their business, between them and their own friends and family and whatever God they choose to worship.

But when married people behave in this way, it merits attention. Because the institution of marriage is in trouble, and the threat isn't coming from where we think. Many right-wing Christians would like to persuade us that the real danger lies in allowing gay people to marry. Wrong. The real danger comes from people who get married without the slightest intention, or perhaps capability, of keeping their vows. The example of Ellen DeGeneres is not a threat to marriage. The example of David Letterman is.

The worst thing I heard during the Bill Clinton scandal did not come from any politician. It came during a man-on-the-street interview, in which an average citizen remarked that what Clinton did was "no big deal" because "that's just what men do" -- as if the mere fact of being male renders an individual incapable of exercising self-control and discipline where sex is concerned. That may wash in an old Robin Williams comedy routine, but in point of fact, we are responsible for our behavior, sexually and otherwise. We can't hide behind such feeble excuses as "my gender made me do it."

The trouble is, excuses are the order of the day. They're the means by which we let ourselves off the proverbial hook. We don't have to make the effort to conduct our lives with honor and integrity if we know in advance that we will fail. Here we find the real poison that's afflicting the institution of marriage: low expectations -- of ourselves, of our spouses, of the world around us.

Low expectations compromise our closest relationships on so many levels that I can't list them all in a single blog -- hence the "Part 1" in my title. But every time a person, famous or otherwise, makes a vow to love, honor, cherish and remain faithful without any real understanding of that vow or intention of keeping it, that person is one more drop in the stormy ocean of low expectations. That ocean is already far too full.

So if you love a multiple-partner lifestyle, just stay single. If every bed-hopper did the same, true, we'd see fewer marriages, but what we're aiming for here is quality, not quantity.

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