I have written before on the idea that we can all learn very important life lessons from our parents, and how it is important to let our elders influence and shape our relationships and understanding of the world. I made the argument here that there is no real need to take what our role models say or do to be the right thing on faith alone, but that their teachings should be adapted to fit our own experiences and the changing world we live in. Just because something has been done unquestioningly for a period of time doesn’t mean that it is the be all and end all, de facto way of doing something. As is often the case, the so called “old ways” tend to be upheld by conservative thinkers, simply because it is the way they have always known.
The particular reason I decided to write this piece came when I was watching the episode of the Office in Season 6 when Pam and Jim are getting married. This is one of my favourite episodes, and the montage with the cast dancing down the aisle to “Forever” cut with Jim and Pam electing to be privately married in the spray of Niagara Falls by the ship captain should have won awards for its tear-jerking quality. Anyhow, this part of the episode is not what caught my attention. I should point out, before I get too much further, that I have watched this episode at least 7-8 times since it aired 3 years ago. However, it was not until this most recent viewing that I actually picked up on how strange the particular scene I will describe unfolds. I think the reason for this might just be the point I’m at right now in my life, where these are things I think about on a day to day basis. It is certainly possible that this scene is actually only strange to me, in that I have never experienced anything like it in my life, and I hope that when I die I can say that I will have never experienced it.
A major plot point in the beginning of the episode is that Pam’s grandmother (henceforth referred to as Mema) is to be kept unaware of the fact that Pam and Jim are living together premaritally, and that Pam is in fact several months pregnant (the main reason the wedding is taking place when it is, though they are soul-mates and could get married in a sewer, or on Mars and things would still work out). The members of the Office are told that Mema is very old-fashioned, and that for that reason, she is being kept in the dark, because she would surely disapprove.
Of course, later in the episode it comes out during a toast that Pam is pregnant (strongly implying that she has engaged in premarital intercourse) and has been living with Jim for a period of several months. Mema decides that in light of this news, she is not going to attend the wedding, a source of panic in the episode. At this point in the story, Michael (Steve Carell) attempts to quell her emotions and convince her that its really not that big a deal. In the end, though it is never mentioned after this conversation, she is later seen at the ceremony. I expect that this scenario is not exactly how it would play out in reality, but for the sake of television they are forced to simplify the issue, as well as try to make it funny.
I have personally never met anybody who I would see as reacting this way to the lifestyle and habits of a family member, or anybody else, but as I understand there are many groups of people who would behave in a very similar manner, though would probably argue more vehemently and with much more conviction than this television scenario would have you believe.
Now, I don’t think this is necessarily a religious argument, but I can see it breaking down into one. Personally, I know many people who have no apparent problem with living together without being married. This can be said of people who make religion a big part of their lives, just as much as it can for people who are actively non-religious, so in my mind it really comes down to morality, which is guided by religion but doesn’t necessarily strictly follow it. I should point out for completeness that I personally have no issue whatsoever with people who wish to live together before getting married, or even who wish to live with a significant other even if there are no immediate plans to marry that person. I see it as a matter of convenience, both in terms of being able to spend time with that person, and in terms of sharing living costs. It stands to reason that two people who wish to spend such a large amount of personal time and space with another person would want to at least make sure they were doing it with someone compatible before making it “permanent”.
Now, on to the pressing issue of how this relates back to me. I have not actually discussed the issue of cohabitation before or after marriage with my parents or any other family members, but I would be keen to get their views on this issue. I don’t really see any members of my family (living or deceased) having any moral issue with my living with a significant other premaritally. Frankly, if they did have a problem with it (strictly on moral grounds of course, if the person in question is terrible, or a drug dealer, or a delinquent they should certainly be voicing their concerns) I expect that I would actually have a problem with them feeling that way. For example, if I was in the same situation as Jim or Pam, and found out that one of my family members wasn’t attending my wedding on this grounds, I don’t think it would bother me in the slightest. I think I would be disconcerted that someone who I know and love felt this way, and chose to protest my life by boycotting part or all of it. I would be glad to be an agent of change towards open-mindedness in a world of staunchly opposed views.
We are told that children are the future, and I think that still applies no matter how old you are. It is up to the newest generation to be open to the personal choices of people around them. It is akin in modern society to a family disowning a member of it because of their sexual orientation. It isn’t right, and nobody should have to justify their choices to anybody, much less the people they are closest to, just because traditionally it was frowned upon.
The bottom line, as I see it, is that people should be allowed to make decisions that are in their best interest, and the least of their worries should be morality police telling them that they are morally bankrupt for trying to be happy. I am just glad that the people I choose to associate myself with all seem to follow this policy.
Edit: This is a real site: http://www.halpertbeesly.com/