Sunday, February 04, 2007

Love and Marriage

Click for larger image

Why do we have marriage contracts, but not friendship contracts?

Why is asking someone to marry you any different than what Calvin is asking Hobbes in the above cartoon?

I confess to not understanding marriage’s allure. Some might conclude from this that I must not be much of a romantic. However, I would counter that perhaps my misunderstanding is due to a genuine romanticism on my part. After all, what is the defining characteristic of “marriage”? It’s not love. It’s not commitment. Love and commitment are beautiful, romantic things to be cherished and encouraged—and even celebrated and announced publicly to friends and family—but these things are not the same as marriage.

Marriage—stripped of its religious aspects, which, as an atheist, I of course find utterly meaningless—is simply a contract, isn’t it? And not just any contract. It’s a contract designed to make it difficult and expensive for one party to leave the other. Why would anyone do that—especially to someone they love? How is binding someone to you, even if only figuratively, in any way romantic? Why create a situation in which there is any doubt about the motivations behind your spouse’s (for lack of a better word) sticking by you?

Thoughts on this issue are encouraged and appreciated. You can find more food for thought in this essay written by the egoist John Beverley Robinson in 1889.


Jim Lippard said...

One of the key aspects of the marriage contract is that it creates a new legal entity, a married couple, which has a number of specific rights and privileges that unmarried couples lack--which is way gay couples want the right to marry.

You should factor into your analysis the types of issues that have arisen for unmarried couples. Check out the October 21, 2006 update on this post.

Jim Lippard said...

"which is *why* gay couples want the right to marry" is what I meant to type.

Einzige said...

But are those truly the reasons why men get down on one knee, women stress over what dress to wear, etc.? Are newlyweds all atwitter because they get to share in a new legal entity and tax savings and they won't have to worry about getting hassled by hospital staff--or could something else be on their minds?

I can certainly sympathize with those people who had the legal difficulties you mentioned, and it's sad that hospital staff have been so callous, but these issues seem outside the basic marriage question.

Why is it that "He/she's my husband/wife/brother/sister" are magic words in a hospital, but the words "I have power of attorney" are not? What if the person is simply a liar in the first case? How are you going to prove, in the space of 5 minutes, that, e.g., you are your sister's brother?

I guess what I'm getting at is this: I agree your reason is a practical one, though the problems of unmarried couples don't seem insurmountable outside of actual marriage. However, it remains devoid of any romance.

This is, I suppose, my main point: Marriage is supposed to be romantic, isn't it? Yet somehow its legal aspects seem inextricably bound up in it. Furthermore, are these legal benefits truly enough to compensate for the costs that I've already mentioned?

I guess the answer to that question depends on who is being asked.

steve said...

Interesting topic and yeah, it really does depend on who you ask. i was recently best man for a good friend whose marriage was devoid of any religious ritual. He's agnostic while his wife atheist. Yet, I found it--the marriage ceremony extremely moving--I feel like a sucker but I welled up. I see a lot of goofiness (for lack of a better word) in marriage but I also think, despite all the crazy legalities and whatnot, it goes back to the ritual and perhaps desire for a formal ceremony and celeration that can be traced back to early civiliations in one form or another, though much different than what we consider marriage here in modern Western civilzation. I can see how marriage can sometimes bog love down though, with all the crap that can go along with it.

Einzige said...


Here are a couple hypothetical questions for you:

What if I were to tell you that the friend you described went through all that ceremony and ritual, but did not get an actual marriage license? Would you still consider him to be "married"? Explain your answer.

Imagine you had known before the ceremony that they were not planning on getting an actually marriage license. Would you have found the ceremony somehow less moving? Explain your answer.

Dikkii said...

Marriage is a contract, you're quite right.

It's a promise of many things - for me it was to provide companionship, fidelity, financial support and the odd ice-cream or two.

In return, I get the occasional cuddle, sex, financial support (yep, we all need it) and housemate.

I also get the tax advantages that married couples get.

But is it necessary? Well, for an unmarried couple that live in two houses and give each other a lot of space, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell are generally regarded as the happiest pair in Hollywood.

OK, one couple does not a statistical sample make, but even though I took the plunge 5 months ago, I don't really support marriage as an institution.

And don't tell anyone this, but we got married to make our parents happy.

Mission accomplished.