marriage, a history

I just finished this book. It was a very fast, compelling read and I have to say that I agree with Coontz's central premise: that marriage as an institution became somewhat doomed in western culture when romantic love became the defining characteristic of marital relationships. Before the Enlightenment, romantic attachment was considered far too flaky a foundation for something as important as marriage.

Marriage was for economic stability, childrearing, community structure ... not for romance.

Romantic love is almost always time-limited. Sometimes that time frame is two weeks and sometimes it's twenty years, but it's rare for two people to stay "in love" for a lifetime, especially as people are living longer and longer. And Coontz argues that this is why so many marriages fail today. I tend to agree with her that this is one major reason.

But she doesn't suggest that we go back to arranged marriages. She says romantic love as basis for marriage is here to stay and so is our high divorcerate. She sees a marital future that supports serial monogamy in a healthy, economically viable way for adults and the children they raise.


Anonymous said...

this is a pretty sad state of affairs. there have always been a lot of people who just dont "get" times past people had thier romanctic just wasnt with thier spouse. which is equally messed up although different from serial monogamy. the standard set forward in the bible is one man + one woman = one lifetime marriage. hard to achieve. you betcha. requires a lot of forgiveness. this ideal was there even when people were marrying lord so and so for money while maintaining the hot stud servent boy on the side. just because large majorities of people did not follow it does not mean the ideal was not there and that it is unattainable so why even try. read "song of solomon" if you think the idea of romance is "new" and "flaky".
on the other hand, modern women who select partners based on something as shallow, as oh, thier taste in music or their clothes, might do well to consider the generalized sexiness of a man with a stable job who wants to provide for and protect his family. if you pick someone for a very shallow reason dont be too surprised when serious character flaws that you missed while you were focusing on his awesome taste in new edgy bands and his great haircut begin to surface.

katie allison granju said...

I don't think romance is new or flaky.

I think Coontz is right that making romantic attraction the central organizing tenet behind the institution of marriage is a relatively new social construct, as well as at least partially to blame for why marriage as an institution seems to be losing steam in the western world.

And I select my dates based not on their haircuts, but on their shoes.

And I'm not lookin' to get married anyhow.


Mia Storm said...

So, she states that a romance-oriented approach to marriage has failed miserably but recommends that we stick with it anyway? After all, that's what "serial monogamy" amounts to.

Give thou me a break. Rather than sticking with a failed program, maybe we should instead encourage people to understand that no matter the way the marriage was entered, it is a lifelong commitment that may go through dry times romantically but demands self-sacrifice rather than selfishness when aridity strikes.

Anonymous said...

thank you mia. I think this book is a bunch of BS too. now I do think that the idea that the sole purpose of our lives is for us to be "happy" is a new one. ..thru all of human history, until sometime in the last century..not sure exactly when it started so dont pin me on this...but up until then, the idea of sitting around mooning about whether you were "self fulfilled" or not was just beyond peoples comprehension. they didnt expect life to be one big long happiness fest but perhaps they realized that their level of joy had a lot more to do with thier attitude towards circumstances than the circumstances themselves. if people today are miserable the usual response seems to be to change something external rather than internal. a lot of times this results in people changing spouses the way some people change thier underwear. or some people just chucking the idea of marriage altogether and going for the sex alone. maybe there is something more to life than our moment by moment happiness. maybe there is satisfaction in the end of knowing you did the right thing and then you get to reap the benefits. I have had a very very difficult marriage. until the past couple of years there was not even a glimmer except some hope I had in my heart that things would get better. now I am reaping the fruits of being willing to be miserable for a season. we are getting there. and its so much better than if I had decided I had made a mistake and cast aside my husband and decided he was the problem rather than working on myself and committing the whole thing to God. this isnt a very hip idea in our culture you know. because of course, mainly others exist for US and what they can do for US. I think even a lot of altruistic seeming charity work is really so we can feel good about ourselves rather than really serving others. everything in our culture today screams immediate gratification. whether its people demanding a marraige thats just fulfilling in every way instead of looking for what they can give to another human being. or whether its recent college grads demanding that great job right out of school instead of doing some time making coffee and sorting mail or whatever it was previous generations did to work their way up the ladder (or we might add the inverse of that companies discarding older people who have served well for someone who will give them a better bottom line).
as for this book, so we have some intellectual who can use a lot of big words and relate us to some intellectual sounding theory to excuse her and her contemporaries of their failure to do the right thing? I also fully expect an attack calling me stupid and assuming I sit around in a trailer park listening to Jimmy Buffett all day because I dont think that just because someone with a lot of letters after thier name says it doesnt make it true.