Marriage and the Fantasy of Options
By: Shane James O’Neill
3 min. read
Marriage: A Horrible Idea
When I was preparing to get engaged, all I could think about was how marriage is basically a thought experiment gone horribly wrong. It played out like this: Professor enters the classroom. “Kids, today in class I want you to imagine a scenario where two people make a covenant to live in total vulnerability. This covenant excludes all others from joining and (as the professor raises his finger in exclamation) this covenant binds these two in this vulnerable position for the entirety of their lives.”
Now, what do you think will happen!? Go!
Leading up to my engagement, this scene kept playing in my head over and over again. And then the silly, heartwarming part would settle in as I realized that with all my soul, I wanted to live out this ludicrous thought experiment.
God is the inventor of terribly, wonderful things, especially marriage.
My issue was the commitment part of covenant.
A Shallow Singleness
There’s something trite feeling about practicing sexual integrity during singleness. After all, we can’t see the object for whom we are being chaste — whether that be God or the ambiguous “future spouse.” It’s hard to fight for something we can’t see. This leads many of us to inadvertently trivialize the sexual integrity journey.
“Sure, I wanna be pure for whoever God gives me one day… but that won’t be for a while. And of course, I want to be pure because God calls me to purity, but God is about forgiveness so… I can afford to mess up from time to time and learn purity at a slower pace.”
Of course, we don’t admit such impious feelings out loud. Yet, they govern so much of our behavior.
Throw our sexualized culture into the mix—with a dash of shame—you have for yourself a truly poisonous cocktail, a cocktail that may taste great at first, but will leave you continually making regretful decisions time and time again.
The Fantasy of Options
The hardest part of engagement, and surely one of the most of important parts, has been killing fantasy. I don’t mean fantasy in the overtly lustful sense. I mean the kind of fantasy that allows for options. We spend most of our singleness looking for “the one,” which gives our eyes the right to wander at coffee shops, as we check to see if the people around us or the person who just walked in is attractive or not. It gives our eyes the right to wander at the gym because, hey maybe I’ll end up marrying one of these people, who knows?
As Laurie Krieg puts it, “Somewhere along the way I started to believe I had a right to sin and then that my thoughts weren’t even sinful.”
In short, the fantasy of options is as intoxicating as it is poisonous. It’s the kind of thing that will burn a marriage before we can hang the first family photo and it can sink a marriage long before there’s even a first date.
Laurie calls this, “the treasuring of secret questions.” They’re the kinds of what-ifs we carry around inside of us at the gym or at the coffee shop. They’re also the fantasies we bring into marriage. What if that person made a move on me? What if I watched porn just this once? What if I snuck out tonight? What if I just got to indulge my desires? What if my wife was hotter? What if I married that person? What if I left my spouse?
These are the kinds of questions that burn within us, even as they char our souls. They’re the questions that surface late at night, at coffee shops, or when we’re frustrated, annoyed, and even when we want to celebrate. They’re the questions we keep tucked away just for ourselves, like junk food under our beds that we pull out when we just don’t care.
Hoping for More
If we want to spend our lives knowing and being known, then we need to address our fantasy of options. If Christian sexual integrity means anything, then surely it means learning to commit to only one option — to entrust ourselves to The One who sees us and loves us.
So yes, marriage still terrifies me. Yet, in marriage (as in singleness) I get to practice covenantal commitment. A marriage that reflects God’s relationship with us is a marriage that reflects God’s unrelenting commitment to us.
Killing options begins long before marriage, and so does sexual integrity.
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Shane James O’Neill is the Editorial Director for Proven Men Ministries. He is currently working on a graduate degree in apologetics at Liberty University’s Rawling School of Divinity.