I’m sitting in a café in Williamsburg, New York. It’s probably the hipster capital of America, maybe the world. Most people are in their twenties or thirties, and I get the sense that marriage is uncommon and largely undesired. But I wonder, if they don’t want a family, what do they want?
So I asked a stranger out of the blue “What do you think about marriage?” As I wait for his response people with beards, tight pants, and cool glasses stroll by. The guy serving Americanos and coffees has a long red beard and wide suspenders, purple handkerchief hanging from his tight black jeans, hair wrapped in a ponytail. He looks kind of like my Amish uncle, except for the ponytail part.
“It’s not for me,” he said. He doesn’t ever want a family, he told me.
“I’m homeless,” he announced to me, except he didn’t look homeless. He explained that two years ago he intentionally became homeless. He and his friend did an experiment they called “the trust fall”: they would see what would happen if they became homeless and relied on their artist friends to help them out. He told me that the trust fall was really about whether they could find love and family. An unconventional family, sure, but a family all the same. Most everyone obliged them, he said. The trust fall worked. Then, Hurricane Sandy hit, and he and his friend got separated.
“What about you?” he asked. “What do you think about marriage?”
“I grew up Amish,” I said. “For the Amish, getting married is natural. It’s what you do. So I was influenced by that.”
“But there’s more,” I said. “I wanted to get married because I loved Amber. I wanted to give her everything, body and soul. And for me, that meant getting married. Because that’s what marriage is about: a radical gift, a radical commitment.”
He nodded his head respectfully.
“Don’t give a f*** about what people say,” the music blares in the café. We don’t need marriage, some of us say, because marriage is just a piece of paper. We don’t need to form traditional families, we tell ourselves, because family is whatever you make of it.
But one thing we all want is community. Community is a buzzword for our generation. We are disconnected from traditional institutions like marriage and church, but are connected with more people than you could ever actually and really know through Facebook and texting and Twitter. Will those connections last? I don’t know.
The reason I committed to my wife, Amber, and started a family together, is because I wanted community. I wanted to love, really love. I wanted to create a community, a family, with her that would last. This community is the fruit of our love, and might go on for generations. I wanted to love, really love. Like, I’m-all-in-never-looking-back kind of love. And I wanted my children and great-grandchildren to one day look at us, old and wrinkled and gray, and say, “Now, that there: that’s love; that’s a community.”
I like getting out on trips like this to New York City. I get to see old friends and meet new people. But I miss Amber. I miss my boys. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.