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We had done our thing — going over Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass, barely passable four-wheel drive trails across the Rockies between Lake City and Silverton. You know the type; you’ve seen them in those television commercials designed to convince you that their truck is tough enough to go anywhere a goat can go. Not only were the vistas beyond description but we were fortunate enough, indeed, to come across a herd of wild mountain goats, the first we had ever seen in any of our trips to the Rocky Mountain outback. Then there was Ophir Pass between Silverton and Telluride; though it is rated as only moderately difficult, one half-mile-long stretch is a narrow shelf cut into an enormous talus slope — my husband was smart enough not to point out, far below, the hulk of a broken, deserted vehicle that hadn’t made it across.

Our reward was breakfast at the locally-renowned Butterhorn Bakery and Cafin Frisco, Colorado. The Butterhorn Cafis one of those places of western ambiance located in a rustic, picture-perfect old mining town, the kind that dots the Colorado mountains.

What I remember most, however, was not the delicious breakfast, but the brief conversation we had with our waitress.

We had assumed the waitress was a co-ed soon to be headed back to college. She shocked us by saying that she was 28; then she cheerfully volunteered that she had recently moved to Frisco with her boyfriend with whom she has been living for 10 years. They decided, she said, to trade the beach scene in South Carolina for snowboarding in the Rockies.

Funny how activists have made privacy such a sacred right, yet people still want to connect by revealing themselves to others.

Our waitress had no idea how much her statement revealed to her customers –two people who analyze the nation’s social trends. While the young woman eagerly looks forward to the pleasure of snowboarding this winter, frankly, we know that she probably can’t count on a future with that boyfriend. While she is undoubtedly emotionally bonded to him, she doesn’t have a commitment from him. After giving up ten years of her youth, she is unlikely to receive anything but heartbreak in return. Such relationships typically end with the girl being the loser. If and when they get married, it will be the boyfriend who makes the decision, not the girl and not them together. Typically, she doesn’t know that a marriage after living together is more likely to end in divorce than if they had not lived together beforehand. When he decides to “get serious” it will probably be with a fresher, younger girl.

And, her biological clock is ticking; in fact, it’s winding down fast. She probably doesn’t realize how fast it is going, but at some point she will want a family and children. For many young women in her situation, that realization comes too late. Will her snowboarder boyfriend recognize how significant and full of meaning the life of husband and father is? Will he be willing to give up the life of freedom for one of commitment and responsibility? If she gets pregnant and has the baby, she has no assurance that her boyfriend will stick around and help her change diapers. Many abortions are prompted because the woman has a choice. The boyfriend says, “It’s your choice — the baby or me!”

And for sure, a baby is an expensive proposition and would certainly hamper their snowboarding.

Explaining her living arrangement was more intimate detail than we expected and we weren’t surprised when the waitress abruptly started talking about the freak summer snowstorm outside. She had called her mom, she said, to tell her about the inch of ice on her car that morning.

Her mom. She had called her mom.
Not her mom and dad, not her folks, but her mom.
There has to be a lot of history behind that simple statement: I called my mom.

We did not, of course, ask about that history. Whatever it is, it is a painful story. But, again, our work with cultural trends provides a likely explanation.

The behavior pattern of our waitress closely fits the profile of thousands of young women raised by unmarried moms who are either divorced or never married. Her mother may have been abandoned by the father of her child or she may have been one of the many who have bought into the myths associated with radical individualism that have become so dominant in our culture. It is a short slide from the sunum bonum of this age, self-actualization, to the crass position of “you gotta do your own thing.”

The problem is that “doing your own thing” ends up affecting many others besides you.

Consider for instance, the emptiness felt by children raised in single-parent families whenever they see a childhood friend receiving hugs and affection from both father and mother together.

Anyone with a drug addicted relative or friend knows first hand that when an individual does drugs it is the beginning of a long, long road of pain and disappointment to everyone who cares about them. Ditto numerous other social ills so rampant today. Such events cast a shadow over the lives of all of the friends and loved ones connected to the individual who has chosen those paths.

Even if it were not immoral behavior — an old fashioned concept these days — cohabitation, by its very nature, is an exercise in foolishness.

For the woman, there are the risks to health and personal safety of living with a man not emotionally equipped to make the commitments required of a husband and father. Even if he has good looks and charm, a “nice” guy does not take advantage of the “something-for-nothing” deal that cohabitation entails. A young woman’s heart is a delicate, priceless treasure and any male who is a real man — someone worthy to be the father of her children — does not take something of such value unless he is willing to give something of equal worth in exchange, namely the life-time commitment of marriage.

But that is not the world we live in today and we are all so very much the poorer.

My heart ached that morning as I left the Butterhorn Cafthinking about our waitress and the millions of other young women like her who are headed down a dead-end road. Theirs is a blighted future. They are forfeiting the priceless joys of marriage to the love of their lives.

None of us lives life without a few bumps along the way, but a life full of positive and happy times that become cherished memories is possible only in the secure bonds of a firm “till death do us part” commitment — marriage. As I think about all of the young women who have thrown away their virtue — another old fashioned idea — I am deeply troubled.

I like the challenge of “doing our own thing” crossing treacherous Rocky mountain passes, but I am compelled to accept another, more important, challenge — combating the dangerous trends of today when young people “doing their own thing” end up broken and deserted at the bottom of the treacherous passage from youth to maturity.

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