I made some comments recently about trends I find troubling within the online Orthodox community around the quality of “marriable” Orthodox women. I have mentioned in the past that I am married, and also that part of my affection for the so-called '“Orthobros” is because I was of a very similar disposition 10 or so years ago. I grew out of it, and no brow-beating disposition from my elders helped me to do it. In large part, it was my wife, having kids, and a personal desire for holiness that gradually became more important than being perceived a particular way online by people whom I’ve never met.
I wanted to share a few personal insights and lessons I’ve learned about marriage. I am by no means an expert in Orthodoxy - I do not pretend as such, and I’m still in the newly illumined category - but despite my age (32), I’ve been married for nearly 13 years. Yes, I got married as a teenager.
While the Orthodoxy community wouldn’t really bat an eye at a couple getting married young, my wife and I dealt with our fair share of side eyes over the first few years of our marriage and the snide follow-up question after the shocked exclamation of you’re married!? was usually, “how many kids do you have?”
To the surprise of our peers at the time, no, we did not have a “shotgun wedding” - our first child came five years into our marriage - and to the surprise of my Orthodox brothers and sisters, no, we are not your typical “Trad” couple.
As I mentioned above, I’ve been married for almost 13 years. I am also a new Orthodox convert. A simple deduction can lead one to the conclusion that I was not Orthodox when I got married. My wife and I were both baptists at the time of our wedding, me being a former Lutheran and she being a former Catholic. I’ve written a small bit about our relationship before, but not much for respect of privacy. The key takeaway relevant for my thoughts here is that my wife is not Orthodox.
She is also not a “Trad Wife” and I can say unequivocally that she’d be perfectly fine with me sharing that fact with the world. This has led me to have an experience that many Orthodox men would arguably not want, so I feel like I may be able to offer some brief comments from an outside perspective.
Firstly, marriage is one of the paths to salvation that the Church recognizes, the other being monasticism. Both of these paths require asceticism and a demonstration of Christian virtues. As Orthodox Christians, we also recognize the important role of suffering in the Christian life not as something to escape, but something that shapes us as we share in the life of Christ in all respects.
I’m married to a non-Orthodox, non-Trad wife. I’m perfectly happy in my marriage, mind you, so this is why I tend to take the lofty marriage goals on Orthotwitter twenty-somethings with a grain of salt. The image often put forward of the perfect Orthodox wife is one who will ensure all the housework is done, all the meals are cooked, and the house is clean by the time Trad Man Chad is done with his four-hour workday. She raises children that stand stick still during liturgy and can recite the entire psalter by the age of ten. She has “based” political hot takes, but doesn’t speak them too loudly lest she takes the glory of making the point away from her husband.
Yes, I’m being hyperbolic, but sadly not by much. For the young Orthodox men who are searching for a wife that is - as I pointed out in the previous post - just slightly above their station, it appears to this outside observer like they don’t want a marriage that will require of them any measure ascetic struggle. Rather, their submissive wife should serve to make their life easier. If you are one such individual, believing that marriage should make your life easier and not harder, I must ask you the following question: If the Church recognizes marriage and monasticism as two paths to salvation, on what basis do you assume that taking marital vows should result in a life of being served while taking monastic vows would result in a life of service to others? Certainly marriage and monasticism present different kinds of struggles in the Christian life, but is it reasonable to expect that marriage should yield a lifestyle that is completely antithetical to the one to which we’re called when we are told to become a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), to lay down our lives daily (Ephesians 5:25), and to carry our cross (Luke 14:27)?
Marriage is a blessed thing that brings us joy, for sure. Monasticism is the same, but neither is defined by being served. Our Lord did not live a life of being served and nothing in any of the words He ever spoke would imply that he’d expect us to do so.
With this in mind, I urge you that if you are preparing to enter into marriage and you maintain an attitude that your bride must serve you, you’ve already failed your end of the marriage covenant.
I don’t throw these words around lightly. I love my wife dearly, but God has seen fit to ensure that our marriage is an act of asceticism. My marriage is not easy, and thank God for that! In my call to lay my life down daily for my non-Trad wife, I am able to see more clearly the depth of my own sin and the need for my Savior to continue transforming me into His image.