Marriage: What's Love Got To Do With It?
Before you start moving mad and screaming “if you’re not marrying for love then what are you marrying for?!?!” - I’m gonna need you to relax. This post is not written in repudiation of the concept of love, nor is it an endorsement for any specific kind of marriage. It is merely written out of a genuine interest in exploring how the definition of marriage and love has changed as the years have progressed. Namely, how the focus of marriage has changed from obedience to intimacy – particularly in western society. Marrying for love is a relatively novel concept that was only birthed two centuries ago, during the 18th century's Enlightenment era. In her book, ‘Marriage: A History’, Stephanie Coontz highlights that...
“In many cultures, love has been seen as a desirable outcome of marriage but not as a good reason for getting married in the first place.”
That’s not to say that people did not experience genuine love in the past – it’s just that it was seldom a reason to marry. Since its inception, marriage was viewed as a practical arrangement between two families with the primary goal being to create a strategic alliance for economic gain and social power. Historically, it was inconceivable that people would choose to base the foundation of their marriage on something as irrational and flimsy as love.
In fact, when someone did advocate for doing such a thing, it was considered to be a serious threat to social order:
In Ancient India, falling in love before marriage was seen as disruptive, almost antisocial act. The Greeks thought lovesickness was a type of insanity, a view that was adopted by medieval commentators in Europe.
During the Middle Ages, economic factors played a much larger role in influencing marital choices than did love. Marriages were based on arrangements and women had little say on whom they wished to wed. Husbands and wives were generally strangers prior to their wedding day. Instead of focusing on love, marriages were largely based on the creation of political alliances and birthing male children. This played an important role in the transfer of property to legitimate heirs.
Beliefs of male domination prevailed, with women being given very little rights and were treated more like dependents who were confined to activities such as taking care of the children, cooking, and cleaning – practices that were more evident in Western societies such as Greece and Rome.
Fast forward to the 1950’s, where marriage was viewed as requisite to happiness, and a great deal of societal pressure was placed on women to focus their aspirations on finding a husband. Marriage rates reached its peak in the US, with couples tying the knot at a much younger age...
To be married right out of high school or whilst in college was considered the norm. In fact, a survey conducted in 1957 showed that four out of five people believed that preferring to remain single is “sick” and “immoral”.
This is also where we see the triumph of “nuclear families”, where men were viewed as the head of the household and women were responsible for domestic tasks and childcare.
Today, the value of socioeconomic consideration has decreased, with love being seen as the ideal foundation for people to build their marriage upon.
Industrialisation and the entry of women into the work force has changed the nature of marriage completely. In modern society, marriage is viewed by most as the ultimate expression of love, and this has paved the way for many amazing things - from dream wedding days to homosexual couples being able to marry freely.
However, that’s not to say the focus on socioeconomic advantages has disappeared – for some, it may be a factor that makes falling in love easier, as a partner who is financially stable may appear more desirable and sexually attractive. Similarly, financial pressures have been found to be one of the biggest challenges to marriages.
Not everyone believes that marriage holds the same weight as it did in the past - people no longer view it as the only way to structure their lives! As women now have more control over their love life and and no longer need a husband to be financially secure, many take no issue with remaining single and living in solitude instead of being in a marriage where they are not satisfied.
For some, marriage is an outdated concept and is nothing more than “a piece of paper”. More people are getting married at a later age, there has been a rise in pre-marital sex, and more and more people are opting for cohabitation instead of marriage.
It's a phenomenon summarised in the following phrase: