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To talk about the institution of marriage! Finally. What is marriage? What guarantees a successful marriage? Is it just a partnership or is it something more? In Western society's today you have more cohabiting couples, but cohabitation isn't marriage. Is marriage an ancient relic or is it fit for the twenty-first century?


 
Home / Lifestyle Experiments  /
Does The Institution Of Marriage Belong In An Institution?
institution of marriage

How sound is the idea of shacking up with someone until death do you part?


A psychotic but intelligent girlfriend I was regrettably with once asked me who invented the institution of marriage:  men or women? 

She thought that men did.   Marriage was a way for men to entrap a woman legally so that she would have to cook and clean for him and do his bidding.   I agree with her on one tiny point.  I think that since early societies were run by men, it was men who passed the law establishing marriage as fact.  I mostly disagree with her, because I think it was women who planted the seed of the idea in the men who then made marriage a legal state of being.

Women, more than men, have benefited from marriage, so it's more sensible women would've pushed for it.   Every organism's biological mission is to propagate its DNA into succeeding generations.   A man's best chances for promoting his DNA into the aeons is to impregnate as many women as possible.  Celebrities like Clint Eastwood prove this point exactly.   A potent man could populate a small village in a year if he had control over a large enough segment of fertile women and  continued doing this for his entire lifetime.  He truly maximizes the chances of an ideal DNA combo, as he mixes his DNA in countless combinations with a variety of females.  Women, on the other hand, can only mix their DNA with one male at a time and have only until menopause to do it.   

Women make a larger biological investment in the DNA mixture.    With their limited supply of eggs, they must wait 9 interminable months to bear the child before a new DNA mix can be undertaken.  While she is nursing the newborn, she needs someone to gather food for her and her offspring.   Think in caveman terms here, people.  If the man is free to serially impregnate again and again, he doesn't have to stick around and support the female and the child.   Women required some sort of legal framework to force the man to stick around and honor his responsibilities, particularly after they were no longer able to bear children.  Hence, the institution of marriage and the still accepted notion of propagating only within that institution.  Though in North America, Oceania, and Western Europe, it's now permissible for unmarried couples or single women to have children, most of the rest of the planet considers it a stigma for a woman to get pregnant outside of marriage.

I'll admit that what I just wrote is a theory.  When I went on the internet to investigate who invented the concept of marriage, I couldn't come up with anything concrete.  Sure, there were plenty of born again Christian web sites proclaiming that G-d invented marriage.  "G-d gave Marriage to the human race as a demonstration of His divine love," one site says.  Sorry, I don't buy it.  If there is some Heavenly Father, He didn't whip out a heavenly pen and draft a marriage code.   I'd sooner believe an answer I read on Yahoo, which said that photographers, videographers, florists, DJ's, and other wedding venues invented it to create business for themselves. 

I don't believe marriage was an invention along the lines of fiber optics and air conditioning.  No one had to spend years in a room performing experiments to come up with it.  More likely, the idea in one form or another was discovered and accepted because it's the way people naturally come together.  Throughout mankind's existence, virtually all women have been attracted to men and virtually all men to women.  In very primitive societies, it would've been possible for one man to be associated with multiple women and impregnate them.  It's still possible in West Africa, Sudan, and South Asia; and in China and Hong Hong, although polygamy itself is illegal, the practice of having concubines on the side and reproducing with them is permitted.  As societies became more complex and likewise, more expensive, the average man simply did not have the time or the cash to support multiple women and families.  One woman to one man became the norm.   

Today, governments have stepped in to define marriage laws for the purposes of taxation and inheritance  and have supplemented those with child support legislation.   Even if governments hadn't gotten involved, a state of marriage with one partner is how the majority of people would wind up living.  So why should anyone, including myself, be against the idea of marriage if most of us, including myself, find themselves living in just such a state?

I had a talk recently with a Dutchman, Baltje, on a riverboat cruise in Cambodia.  He told me he was married, and so I asked him how long he'd known his wife before they got hitched, did they live together before marriage, and what motivated them to finally marry vs staying a cohabiting couple.   He said that his wife was more into the idea of marriage than he was, but he went along for the ride.  It turns out he was actually separated from his wife.  He had lived with her for 7 years before getting formally married.  Three years after the marriage, things went south. 

You'd suppose that a couple who'd been together for as long as they had before marriage would be poised for marriage success, and yet the research seems to suggest that living together before marriage is a detriment, not a benefit.  Baltje said that his wife's attitude changed after he married her.  She held him on a tighter leash and he didn't like it.    I have no way to prove this, but I believe that it's this attitude shift, not the cohabitation before marriage, which jeopardizes the unions. 

If I go into a business partnership with another person, the two of us do so because we believe the partnership will be financially profitable for us both.   We proceed to fill out the legal paperwork and establish our business.  If the business doesn't work out, we can sever the partnership at any time.  Marriage is also a legal partnership, where, ideally, the goals for both are increased fulfillment and happiness.  Unlike a business partnership, when two people get married, they do so with the idea that it's till death do they part.  Shouldn't marriage, from the onset, be considered a partnership for happiness and fulfillment profits?  As long as the union continues to bring in the profits, it continues.  If it doesn't, it ends, with no negative judgment passed or sense of failure felt.  If several marriage partnerships wound up being established over the course of a person's life -- say, early adulthood, middle age, and old age -- shouldn't this be thought of as normal?

Unfortunately, that's not the case.  No one, except possibly Hollywood celebrities, gets married with the expectation that they'll be back at the altar with a new partner at a later date.  It's still supposed to be something you do only once, possibly twice if you got married too young the first time.

I continue to be surprised at how many marriages do work out.  Men today are, on average, 26.8 years old, and women 25.1, when they get married.  I think back to when I was about 27 years old.  Would I have been able to pick a partner at that age who would have continued to grow in the same direction as I for a lifetime?

If a marriage is going to last for a lifetime (or at least the next two decades), people have to get married for the right reasons.  We all know people get married for less ideal ones, such as loneliness, the desire to have children in an accepted societal format, familial pressure, etc.   Too often, one party feels they need to reign in the other; a legal piece of paper in hand acts as the leash.   The language and images we're constantly exposed to perpetuate the myth that we can control or own someone else.  Take these lyrics from the famous Elvis Presley song Don't Be Cruel:   "Let's walk on to the preacher and let us say 'I do.'  Then you'll know you have me and I'll know that I have you" or the oft quoted cliché in numerous songs  of "I'm going to make her/him mine."  I'm reminded of the old adage that "if you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it's yours, and if it doesn't, it never was."  It's quite ironic, but the marriages most likely to succeed are made up of married couples who felt they never needed to get married in the first place.  They live together as two free people who came back to each other.  For such people, I don't believe that living together before marriage sabotages the chances of the marriage working out because the formalized marriage, in the end, is unnecessary. 

My own girlfriend was fixated on us getting married or at least engaged after two years of being together.   Actually, it's a very reasonable request.  She wants some confirmation that the relationship is going somewhere.   What I wasn't comfortable with was equating marriage with the idea of 'going somewhere.'  I have been witness to plenty of bad marriages going nowhere.  She originally suggested what amounted to an ultimatum, which put me in a very tight spot.  Although I love her and could see myself eventually married to her, I felt the marriage had to come about naturally, not as a result of me being pressured to step up to the altar.   Something in my gut just told me that if we wound up married in these circumstances, the state of marriage would alter our relationship, like it had Baltje's, and we'd be amongst those couples whose chances of marriage survival declined because of prior cohabitation. 

I have to respect the fact that for many, including my girlfriend, marriage is a cultural thing not easily abandoned.  If a couple have been together for X number of years, particularly if they're living together, then for these people the end game had better be marriage or else.   For them, there is no other way to look at it.  Marriage is commitment.   A lack of a marriage is no commitment.   My girlfriend's first marriage was doomed from the start and a marriage certificate did nothing to alter that.  If you're married for the wrong reasons, then you could have four back-to-back wedding ceremonies performed by the most famous rabbis or priests.  It won't make the union any more solid.  

The number of cohabiting couples has increased 800% since the 1960's.  The facts are out there: it is far more acceptable today to live together before and instead of marriage, in Western countries at least.  If people can view their work, male-female gender roles,  family, and the world a lot differently than they did 50 years ago, then I wonder why can't they see marriage differently, too.  

It's time that the institution of marriage be updated to fit in with the twenty-first century.

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