Thursday, April 4, 2013

What Is Marriage?

Much has been said on the topic of marriage and divorce and all sorts of theories are put forward as to why the divorce rates keep increasing. The problem is a complex one and it's impossible to make a comprehensive analysis of it in a short blog post. There are legal, economical and cultural factors contributing to it. The legal system as it is now, makes divorce easy to get and doesn't punish the party guilty of breaking the marriage contract (marriage contract??? what the heck is that?).

It brings us to the problem of the chicken and the egg. What was first? Did the changes of the marital laws encourage people to divorce more, or did the changing attitudes of people towards marriage cause the change of the law? If we look at the 19th century, the laws still supported the traditional marriage as we know it, and divorce was difficult to get, however it seems that a lot of people were not happy with it.

We see the examples in the literature of the period. Take Jane Eyre. Though the novel is very popular still, I have never liked it. I always found it subversive. Though it doesn't openly come in favour of divorce, yet the reader can't fail to sympathise with the sufferings of the poor Mr Rochester and Jane who love each other so much and yet the cruel laws don't allow their happiness. Of course, the traditional wedding vows included that part about in sickness and in health and till death do us part but the novel informs us that Mr Rochester was duped into marriage by his family so the wedding vows didn't count. Or something to the point.

He even goes so far as to tell Jane that if she went mad, of course, he would stay with her and nurse her, because you see, it would be very different than with his first wife...The novel doesn't openly say that it's OK to break a solemn vow given before God and men. Instead it appeals to our emotions. Jane and Mr Rochester love each other soo much! Don't they deserve happiness? It's cruel to deny it to them. Society should change to accomodate the hard cases, like theirs, because every human being deserves to be happy!

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Just look where this attitude has brought us today. I believe that the mess we have nowadays can be directly traced to Victorian attitudes about the meaning of marriage. You see, before the 19th century people used to view marriage as an institution which existed to provide men with the legitimate offspring and women with the roof above their head. There was very little romance about it. You may not believe it, but just like it currently happens in Islamic countries, the family often chose spouses for their children.

We see the same system in the Bible, both Old and New Testament. Now I'm not going to defend the system of arranged marriages, though it hardly could work worse than the mess we have now, and I don't want to defend gold-digging, when the woman marries a man purely for money. However, our current system, based entirely on romantic feelings doesn't seem to work that great, does it?

The change started creeping in during the 18th century. For instance, in Friedrich Schiller's famous play Intrigue And Love the main conflict is between a scheming father who is trying to push his romantically inclined son into marriage based purely on financial interest and the son, who is determined to marry the wife of his own choice, even though he is an aristocrat while she is a commoner.

Father does everything possible to separate them and manages to get the son to believe that his sweetheart was unfaithful which ends in tragedy as the young man poisons the girl. Before she dies, she tells him the truth. In the end, when the young man is arrested and taken away (presumably to be executed for murder) he openly denounces his father.

This father-son conflict spilled over into the next century and gradually everybody got accustomed to the idea that marriage should be based entirely on romantic feelings and not on such low considerations as can my future husband hold down a job? or will this girl be a faithful wife and a good mother of my children? In the 19th century they still called it romance while nowadays it all boils down to do I find him/her hawt?

It's pretty obvious that you can't build a family on such a flimsy foundation. While we don't necessarily have to return to the Middle Ages, the modern attitudes about marriage have to go if we want to have stronger families. The fight against divorce starts by choosing a spouse properly, but also by understanding that marriage is not about being happy all the time or experiencing some powerful emotions or being for ever in love (as opposed to actually loving someone).

Marriage is an institution which gives financial security to the woman so that she can, in turn, devote herself to creating the safe haven for her husband and children. It's being together for better for worse, till death do us part. If you disagree with this idea, it's probably better that you don't marry at all.


  1. Love it! Well said.

    On a different subject. You had a posting where you made a link available to a crochet site of a lady that has fun and colorful crochet ideas and she is located in Portugal. I was looking through your site trying to remember where I saw it but I failed to locate it. Would you be so kind and point me to the post that has this link?

    In turn here is a terrific link that I happened upon:

    This link has a HUGE library of antique needlework books ALL for FREE download! Yay! There are so many great books!

    Ok, back to love and marriage. Well, after the romance wanes you are left with real life. Some people are learning that the hard way and it need not be so. They think they have failed in relationships when in reality the fantasy of romance all the time every day and every minute of the day, always feeling good, never fatiqued, never unpleasant, always sunshine, that has failed because it is not based in the real. But then people can go to far the other way too and be totally cynical about marriage and vow never to marry thus not having the skills to be married!! Further demoralizing society.

    Real life is an all encompassing combination; a little romance, plenty of practicality, a lot of liking the other person, sometime up, sometime down, but always moving together as a team. That is when true love develops and grows strong with each passing year.

    Marriage and family is the first government.

  2. Shaolin, the lady is in Brazil and her blog is called Elaine Croche. If you check the label crafts, you'll find the post with integrated links, to her blog and to her YouTube videos. It was the earliest post on the topic, so it will come up last. Thanks for the link, I'll surely check it!

    As for marriage, it's not that I'm totally against romance or despise romantic fiction (it can make for great drama!:), it's just that I'm sure one needs to combine feelings and emotions with some pragmatism while choosing a spouse. Marriage between the people from totally different backgrounds and with different ideas on essential things are seldom successful.

    Also, people shouldn't expect too much out of marriage, like for instance that life will always be thrilling, or that they never will be bored or that they will encounter no serious problems. IMO, marriage is something which needs to be cultivated.

  3. Thank you for the info! I agree with you about romance; you didn't seem against romance at all. I enjoy romantic fiction too like Pride and Prejudice which I watched again the other night. I especially like the clothes, speech and mannerisms.

    1. You are welcome! I'm a fan of Jane Austen, too, and English literature in general. Pride and Prejudice is a nice TV series to watch while knitting:)