When Sara and Stephen (our son) married, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” kept playing in my head. The Beach Boys song reminds us of how times have changed.
Sara and Stephen were married eight years ago this month. That was 45 years after Brian Wilson, Tony Asher, and Mike Love wrote “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” The Beach Boys song was featured on their 1966 album Pet Sounds. It was released as a single two months later, peaking on The Billboard Hot 100 at #8 in September.
Take two minutes and enjoy the 1966 video. Looks attractive to live in a world where we wait to be married so we can “say goodnight and stay together.”
Doesn’t look that way today. Peter Christensen, a media studies professor at Lewis & Clark College considers The Billboard Hot 100 a treasure trove for trend-watchers. It’s one of our cultural antennae. Two weeks ago I said authors like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien are our cultural antennae. Last week I suggested film. This week, music.
Music is our antennae because it’s primal. It bypasses our rational faculties. You don’t think about it. You feel it. We see this in newborns. They’re born sensitive to the rhythms of music before language. Music reflects what we intuitively feel.
So what do we feel today? Conflicted. We see this in two trends Christensen has discovered in studying words in music. The first is the number of songs extolling “love and romantic relationships” has been declining since 1980. But the number of songs about “sex and desire” has risen dramatically since 1960. Why these conflicting trends?
For starters, the peak in the divorce rate was in 1979, right as the oldest Millennials were being born. At the same times, songs extolling “love and romantic relationships” began to decline. That’s because many Millennials and GenX were scarred by their parents’ divorces. The notion of love, romance, and marriage feels illusory.
But like most folks, Millennials and GenX still yearn for sexual intimacy. That might be why unmarried couples are more likely to cohabit than they were a decade ago. Forget marriage. Enjoy sex. That might account for the rise in songs about “sex and desire.” But today’s songs depict sex in ways which, as portrayed, are rarely attained.
We see this played out in marriages that don’t divorce. Plateaued marriages. A study of 522 couples found that marriage quality begins to decline after four years. But most couples don’t divorce. They plateau, settling for a functional put-on-a-happy-face marriage. Pay the bills, get the kids to soccer practice, and so on. But there’s a price tag. Studies indicate these couples are having a lot less sex with each other.
So what can be done? For starters, I’m rewriting my pre-marital course. Why? I guesstimate that 20 percent of couples I married are now divorced (the average for evangelicals is 38 percent). But I wonder if the number of plateaued marriages is higher.
I recognize I didn’t start with a deep enough why—why marriage? I probably depicted marriage in ways which, as portrayed, couples found difficult to attain. Now I take couples deeper into the mystical nature of marriage, how it depicts the gospel, the mystical, mind-blowing, romantic marriage to Jesus. Kathy and I are currently counseling three couples engaged to be married. We’ll see how it goes.
My sense is this course would also be beneficial for married couples. If you’re interested in knowing our why—the mystical reason for marriage, love, and romance—let us know. If enough folks are interested, Kathy and I will pull together a weekend retreat. Or we’ll facilitate a Saturday morning get-together. Let us know.
It would be nice to live in a world where we wait to be married so we can say goodnight and stay together. That’s the world the Song of Solomon depicts. Also called the Song of Songs (meaning the song for all time), it depicts love, romance, marriage, and sexual desire. But how many folks today consider the Bible to be our cultural antennae?
Not many. So I sprinkle in U2 songs. A song for our times is All I Want Is You, Bono’s love song to his wife, Ali. Recorded in 1989 for U2’s “Rattle and Hum,” it celebrates love, romance, marriage, and sexual desire. Bono and Ali celebrate 37 years of marriage this August. Kathy and I are one year ahead. We celebrate 38 years this August.
There are other words in music indicating yet another cultural trend. It has to do with college, affluence, and why the US is the unhappiest it’s ever been.
That’s grist for next week’s mill.