PERMANENT AVAILABILITY MODEL
Sociologist Bernard Farber presents an argument that traditional mate selection is obsolete.[i] In his model, adults are available for marriage with anyone and at any time (including after marriage) because people’s needs and desires change over time, and this becomes a reasonable basis for the assumption that one choice is insufficient to maintain a marriage over time.
He further proposes that ‘playing the field’ would better prepare people for marriage than settling on a spouse at an early age.
His findings show this model is most evident in same-sex relationships, social class hypergamy (marrying into a higher class in order to improve your own), inter-faith, and secular interracial marriages.
From an eternal perspective, these demographics represent marriages whose contracts would only stay in force until the death of one or both spouses.
This model of marriage is not compatible with a celestial/temple marriage that has the perspective of “eternal” families, or the teachings of the gospel – the Lord’s model for marriage.
Unfortunately, there are many in the Church (whether lifelong or convert) who carry this cultural model of marriage into their own relationships. It is a model that I believe perpetuated the idea of wearing a ‘parachute’ into your marriage to protect the self from harm.[ii]
Notice how this contrasts with that of an eternal marriage model.
In Farber’s model there comes a sense of hopelessness. A sense of “watching out for the self”. A temporal marriage can corner you into adopting this perspective. It moves us into the belief that everything is temporary and mortality is too short to waste it on just one person.
An Example of Permanent Availability
Let’s look at it from the perspective of Ellen and Jim. Both are heterosexual and not LDS.
Both were raised in a home where they had a loving mother and father.
Ellen wanted to get married because her parents seemed happy. She was in love with the romance of falling in love. She wanted to have a lifelong relationship with a man who adored her, protected her, bought her a home and wanted to raise children with her.
As a teenager, her mother put her on the pill, because she thought it was the responsible thing to do. Ellen gave her virtue and virginity to a male friend during her senior year, because she was curious and didn’t see a reason not to.
In college, she joined a sorority, and experimented with drinking and having sex with many of the young men. With each sexual partner, she felt less and less bonded to each, but felt a rush of power knowing she could arouse a boy sexually as well as meet and try out new people. Despite this, she still had a desire to have her dream of a home and family.
Jim came from similar circumstances and was raised with the idea that sex is natural and there is no shame in multiple sexual partners. He also did not bond, but instead developed fond memories and strong subconscious associations with sex being with multiple people. His drives were to try out someone new.
Ellen and Jim met in college and fell in love. They shared many of the same dreams, goals, background and religious beliefs. Both sides of the family adored Ellen and Jim.
It just felt right, so after graduation, they got married in a garden ceremony by a friend who was a theology major at school and now an ordained minister.
Jim started his career, and after four years of marriage they had two kids. They stopped dating one another after marriage. He bought her a house, all the comforts of life, and spent most of his time at work. Ellen had the home and family she dreamed of, but she felt lonely.
She missed her friends. She missed the socialization. Arguments came in about money, repairs, the kids, illness and the other challenges that come with married life.
Jim was handsome and popular at work. He flirted at work, and, after a while, the women at work started flirting back.
Seven years into their marriage, and with no law of chastity to hold them back, both began flirting with other people. They missed the excitement of their sexual encounters in college. Since life is ‘short’, they also philosophized about whether it was wise to stay with the same person their whole lives.
Can you see here where carrying a standard like Farber’s permanent availability model would open the door for this marriage model to be okay, with seeking other people and becoming serial monogamists? (Having multiple marriages throughout your lifetime.)
How does this contrast with another couple following a celestial marriage model?
Outside the Church, Only One Choice…
Even “Christian” marriage therapists find they cannot escape Bernard Farber’s model – because they also cling so tightly to the belief that marriage ends at death and was never meant to go on beyond this life.
Their clients have no answer to the reason why they shouldn’t remain permanently available. Even family ties, children, STDs, or financial expense isn’t enough to keep a couple together if they allow their relationship to grow apart, differ in sexual desires, starve for intimacy and/or associate “sex” as being with multiple partners and don’t have a strong enough reason to change that association.
There’s also a factor of fear in this belief. A piece of paper that claims your marriage ends at death can come for some as too painful to witness that end, especially if it comes with the worry of looking back and feeling like you wasted a lot of opportunities to know multiple people intimately who were also interesting.
If we marry outside of the Church, we have no choice but to accept the reality that we or our spouse may live in a permanent availability model, just awaiting the right conditions to develop.
The Eternal Marriage Model or “Marriage the Lord’s Way.”
The eternal marriage model says that traditional mate selection is not obsolete, and that social acceptance does not change the status of an act from wrong to right.
Because we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints know that the authority is on the earth that allows marriage to not end at “till death do us part” but can last for all eternity, we cannot subscribe to the idea that marriage and life is only temporary.
Of the eternal marriage model, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:
“Knowing why we left the presence of our Heavenly Father and what it takes to return and be exalted with Him, it becomes very clear that nothing relative to our time on earth can be more important than physical birth and spiritual rebirth, the two prerequisites of eternal life.
This is, to use the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the “office” of marriage, the “post of responsibility towards … mankind,” that this divine institution “from above, from God” occupies. It is the “link in the chain of the generations” both here and hereafter—the order of heaven.
A family built on the marriage of a man and woman supplies the best setting for God’s plan to thrive—the setting for the birth of children, who come in purity and innocence from God, and the environment for the learning and preparation they will need for a successful mortal life and eternal life in the world to come.
A critical mass of families built on such marriages is vital for societies to survive and flourish. That is why communities and nations generally have encouraged and protected marriage and the family as privileged institutions. It has never been just about the love and happiness of adults.”[iii]
The eternal marriage model comes from the perspective that marriage is intended to last forever – even after this life – and therefore requires the work and commitment to develop habits that will sustain this type of relationship.
As Mormons, we also believe that commandments and restraints are put on us by God not to restrict our freedom, but to keep those things out of our lives that would enslave (remove our freedom) us and destroy relationships.
Physiological “Imprinting” on Sexual Experiences – Mark Gungor
One of these laws includes the law of chastity. Sex and sexuality are sacred. Even conventional evangelical marriage counselors know the value and consequences of living this law.
Minister and marriage counselor Mark Gungor said:
“The reason God encourages people to wait until marriage to have sex is because when you have sex outside of marriage, you run a very high risk of messing things up.Now this is particularly true for men. Men tend to ‘imprint’ off of their early sexual experiences, much like a bird, some of these birds… they imprint on the first thing they see after they’re born.You know about this, but there’s some animals, as soon as they’re born, the first thing it sees, it imprints on and thinks that is its mama. So if these cranes are born, and there’s chickens around, it’s gonna follow the chicken and ignore its mother.Professionals who deal with these animals have to be very careful. I’ve seen them actually work with them where they have to dress up like gigantic cranes to get around them, because they’re not the brightest things in the world.They’re like, “It’s Mama!” and they’ll follow it everywhere…and men tend to ‘imprint’ [in the same way] off of their early sexual experiences.If a man’s early sexual experiences are in the context of lust (which is what they are outside of marriage – it’s not really about love – it’s about lust, about heat, about the back seat of a car, it’s about someone they don’t really know), they tend to imprint on that.They tend to imprint on the sex, and not on the girl.…when they have these early orgasmic experiences, their psyche goes, “Whoa, what was THAT?” and the brain starts taking pictures cause they want to remember…and they imprint off of this. And that’s why, a lot of guys, they get stuck here.That’s why a lot of men, even in their marriages, are trying to recreate a ‘lust’ environment, trying to get fulfilled sexually as a married man, trying to force their wives to do things that a lot of them are very uncomfortable doing.Why are they doing that? Because they’re trying to recreate this thing, they’re trying to recreate this moment.See…if a man’s early sexual experience is in the context of marriage, where he falls in love with this girl, and all these people gather together, and they all approve of it, and they have this wedding, and they’re in a church, and God approves of it, and their friends and family approve of it, and they have the biggest celebration of their life, and then on their wedding night, and on their honeymoon, he starts having these first experiences…now [the brain also takes pictures, and] he’s imprinting on the girl.And he connects to the girl at a very deep level.That’s why people who wait until they’re married to have sex have a fraction of the divorce rate of the rest of the world…. because he’s imprinting on her as opposed to just ‘sex’.I met a man not too long ago who told me after a session, he says, “You know, I’ve got a problem.”“So, what is it?” says I.“I’m just not interested in sex.” Which, to a Puerto Rican, is very odd. Like speaking Swahili… I don’t know what he’s talking about…So I said, “What do you mean?”He says, “I don’t know – I’m just not interested, and she’s really upset with me.”I said, “Well, are you never interested in sex?”He said, “Well…if we go out, have a nice dinner, go to a hotel or something, then I can get into it.”I said, “Lemme ask you a question…were you a virgin when you got married?”He said, “No…no no.”I said, “Were you pretty sexually active?”His eyes kinda lit up and he said, “Yeah.”I said, “Well, why don’t you tell me about it? What would be a typical experience?”He said, “I’d find these women and pick them up in bars, take them out for dinner, go to some hotel…”I said, “Do you see what you’ve done? You’re so imprinted off of that, that you’re constantly trying to go back there. You’re trying to go back there…”In fact, psychologists today…this whole sex culture that you get from experts…is all lust-based, because they assume virtually everyone’s already done this, so they try to encourage people to keep recreating, and keep fantasizing, and keep imaging and all this other kind of stuff. It can be very, very destructive, and men can have a really hard time really truly connecting with their wives.Can you get past that? Yes you can…What you have to understand is that it’s going to be different for you than for everybody else.The same is true with women…they also imprint, but they imprint in a different way. It’s not so much on the sex, but on what happens after the sex. When women have sex outside of marriage, nothing happens after sex. There’s no connection, there’s no follow-up; they imprint on that ‘sex equals nothing’…’sex means nothing’.That’s why so many married women have such negative attitudes about sex.What I was talking about last night, how this is such a key thing – they don’t even comprehend it, because they have learned (falsely) that sex means nothing.If a woman waits until her wedding night, and sees how that is how she connects with this guy, she understands this means everything. This (sex) is a key; this is a very fundamental thing, particularly it’s very bad for woman who’ve been sexually molested, because, not only does it not mean anything, their whole experience was forced on them, and that has such an impact…those early experiences are so important…Some people say, yeah, you shouldn’t have sex before, yeah yeah, that’s just puritanical nonsense….no no no. This stuff has a huge impact on people. A lot of you will struggle with this for the rest of your life….It won’t probably just all go away. You will struggle with this for the rest of your life, which is all the more reason why you want to tell your children what I’m about to tell you, so they do this right.It’s a matter of like, metabolism. You know how some people, they can eat anything they want and they never gain weight…you know how we all hate those people?They never have to think about it. It’s just natural to them…they can eat anything, and they stay slim all the time.Then there’s the rest of us. We so much as look at food, we gain five pounds.What’s the difference? We can still be at a healthy weight, but it’s a lot harder for us. It’s a lot more work for us. A lot more energy for us to get into a healthy place…what I’m talking to you about has to do with sexual metabolism.If you do this right in the beginning, those people have an automatic, natural, healthy metabolism, and they carry it with them throughout their whole lives, that’s why these people usually stay married forever…these guys who get married at 18 years old, like Debbie and I did, and die at 103…they have this healthy sexual metabolism, because they didn’t get all messed up, and everybody else struggles.That’s not to say you cannot have a good sex life; you can. You can have a wonderful sex life. It’s just that for a lot of you, it’s going to be more deliberate and you’re going to have to work at it a little bit harder than others…I’m not trying to discourage you, but I’m not going to whitewash this to you.That’s why you want to encourage your kids – wait… wait!”[iv]
Laura Brotherson’s Thoughts on Sexual IncompatibilitySo as Mark Gungor demonstrated, sex before marriage is the perfect formula for destroying our ability to be sexually satisfied in marriage. Laura M. Brotherson explains that (unlike the permanent availability model) dating a person longer or having sex before marriage doesn’t ensure a more successful marriage. No matter how long you “date” a person, you can’t know everything about them or be prepared for everything.
“Sexual incompatibility is pretty inevitable in marriage. … I wanted to make sure we are clear on the fact that marriage will inevitably have some challenges for couples to overcome in the bedroom.
When we hold the notion that we won’t have any differences or incompatibilities in marriage it can set the stage for marriages to break up unnecessarily. Here’s what got the conversation going:
“With sex being one of the major causes of divorce this seems to be the great paradox of the law of chastity. If I ever am in a position to get married again, due to divorce or death (of course I hope that neither of those things happen), I will only marry someone who has been married before, so I can be sure they like sex at least as much as I do.”“The single thing that is forbidden before marriage seems to be the first cause of marriages to break up. What do we expect of couples who marry as virgins and find themselves completely sexually incompatible? Is there a way to prevent this from happening without premarital experiences?”
Here are some of my thoughts in response:Any couple that gets married would be wise to expect that there will be some degree of sexual incompatibility. It’s a myth to think that if people just had sex before they got married then they wouldn’t have any incompatibility problems. It’s not true. It’s also a dangerous lie that Satan would love (and does) perpetuate.
Some have wondered about some kind of a premarital “sexual compatibility test.” While there is no “test” you can give someone prior to marriage to guarantee they will turn out to think and feel like you do concerning sex, there’s a lot couples can read, learn and discuss before marriage that can give them a much better idea of their future sexual relationship (…just as they would discuss finances, having children, and future household responsibilities).
Parents and others aren’t always helpful in preparing couples sexually for marriage when they don’t teach their children about sex, nor do they make it a welcome subject of discussion.
My opinion is that God designed husbands and wives with sexual “incompatibility” that was intended to be overcome through marriage.
Sexual compatibility is a learned behavior…NOT something you can “test” for. It is the opportunity and responsibility of husbands and wives to learn and grow together sexually, and in all other dimensions as well, throughout the adventure of marriageSexual incompatibility is inherent in a marriage between two different people. It’s what we do with it in our marriages that matters!”[v]
The Patience and the Courage to Live with Uncertainty
In the eternal marriage model, marriage then is the institution where a step of faith is taken into the dark to get to know the other person.
We are protected by divine inspiration and the Atonement when we do so, thus negating the need to protect ourselves from unforeseen events.
Within the eternal marriage model, because people’s desires and needs change over time, this instead places a higher requirement to continue courting our spouse throughout our married life. As we grow and change, we grow and change and adjust together as husband and wife.
We learn to become selfless as we adjust for each other’s differences. We grow and learn to become Christlike, and we develop and expand in all the different kinds of love, especially charity.
Beyond that, no one can advise us but the Spirit:
“There is a level at which human beings have to put up with ambiguity. Ambiguity is frequently the only way of telling the truth…The only certainty is in the gospel. That is the only certainty we know. And we can move from that certainty into ambiguity, into dispute, into clouds, into confusion, and into chaos because we have that certainty.The rest of the world is compelled to flee the confusion by means of drugs of various kinds. But we are free to go down into the depths because of our certainties….outside of the gospel, there is nothing but despair.” – Arthur Henry King, The Abundance of the Heart.
While Farber may be right, that marriage may grow obsolete in the world’s view, the celestial view of marriage offers a very different view and path for those who are willing to walk it.
Notes and references:
[ii] See my article, “Do You Wear A Relationship Parachute?” http://ldsmarriagebed.blogspot.com/2010/10/do-you-wear-relationship-parachute_01.html?zx=48b8130403506c8f)
[iii] Christofferson, D. Todd, Why Marriage, Why Family, April 2015 General Conference, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/why-marriage-why-family?lang=eng
[v] Brotherson, Laura M, LMFT, CST, CFLE, Sexual Incompatibility in Marriage, (2012,1), https://www.strengtheningmarriage.com/sexual-incompatibility/