NOW GO ON GET OUT OF HERE. AM I MAKING myself clear?" That's how a song written and performed by one of Austin's talented young singer-songwriters, Brent Palmer, begins. But the mood of "In Due Time" quickly shifts: "Tuck you in and say good night. You recant and you revise. 'Will you take me back?'"
Mr. Palmer portrays wonderfully the indecision involved in many relationships. "At arm's length is your credo. Live and die by come and go. You have me and your cake," he sings, and then comes to the refrain that's also a plea: "So make up your mind, in due time." But what is due time? What is due to the young women dated by young men over a long period of time?
A few years ago young single women in our church were complaining that guys were unwilling to commit. Flustered by feminism, guys were passive (so the accusation went), afraid to make decisions and sometimes expecting the women to take the lead. And then, lo and behold, one after another, many of the guys-including Brent Palmer-decided to marry. Astounding and gratifying: Here in our modern Babylon, young men and women were thoughtfully stepping out in godly faith and taking vows to stay together until death.
I thought about commitment while doing my semi-annual viewing of the premium cable network HBO. We don't get HBO in our home because there's too much bad stuff on it, but periodically I want to find out what's hot among Al Gore voters. (That's a small joke, because I know Bushies who watch it as well.) The two regular HBO shows that have received rave reviews for four years now are The Sopranos and Sex and the City, and they are very different.
The Sopranos is about an extended family with lots of normal habits and one that is abnormal: Tony Soprano kills people. But just as The Godfather a generation ago displayed Francis Ford Coppola's view that capitalism is about killing and the Mafia are businessmen honest in their dishonesty, so The Sopranos shows the New York/Hollywood view of messed-up middle America.
The Sopranos is a twisted view of life among the non-literati, but Sex and the City is a world turned upside down. The episodes I've seen don't show sexual coupling but consider it the essence of life, with women often acting like randy men, wanting sex without commitment. Since men are untrustworthy, one-night stands are OK and several-month stands are unusually lengthy.
Maybe that's where we end up when we pretend that men and women are exactly the same. The Bible does not pretend: "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.... Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them" (Ephesians 5:22, 25; Colossians 3:18-19). The women of Sex and the City do not respect men as leaders and expect them to be emotionally harsh, so of course they flee from commitment.
Sometimes the harshness is also physical: One woman I know is still recovering emotionally from her husband's attempt to kill her. Sex and the City, meet The Sopranos. Given the uncertainties of marriage, given the experience of lots of young people with parental divorce, the pairing of people is a lot more complicated than the pairing of birds that in medieval Europe was said to occur on Feb. 14. (See Chaucer's Parliament of Foules: "For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.")
What to do? As evident as are the problems of the 1960s anti-responsibility ethos that's the basis of Sex and the City, let's not call for a return to the 1950s ethos that left many potential women leaders with too much time on their hands. (Volunteer women used to play lead roles in helping the poor, but a half-century or so ago, as labor-saving devices in the home freed up more time to help others, the professionalizing and bureaucratizing of social work reduced opportunities for volunteers.)
Let's instead work through churches and other associations, or even magazines, to counter Sex and the City's emphasis on short-term gratification by celebrating the pleasures of long-term commitment. WORLD readers who have been married for over 20 years: Please send to our Mailbag (see page 34 for address) your accounts in 100 words or less of what in your marriage should lead young people to make up their minds to wed, in due time.