Perhaps not coincidentally, I’m thinking a lot about marriage, (mine is fine, thank you. It’s a combination of the kid getting married and seeing a Peterson lecture on it, mostly.)
Mostly I’ve been thinking — a lot — on the changing nature of marriage. We won’t go into same sex marriage, because I don’t want that donnybrook in my comments again and also today, fundamentally, I have a wall to paint and this would distract me.
But the thing is that those who hold onto the traditional definition of marriage, as it exists now, beyond the sex of the people engaging in it are, with few exceptions, holding on to a dead form.
Look, two things have fundamentally altered the nature of marriage. Four, except for two being subclauses of the other, which make the marriages we contract, and our understandings of it completely different from what it was, say, 100. years ago. Note I’m not saying this is better (in many ways it’s not) nor that a lot of us aren’t doing our best to hold onto traditional marriage. But even then, the bits and pieces of the “real” (secular) world intrude as they can’t help doing. Because marriage, while a contract between a couple is also a contract with the wider society. It’s a contract upon which other contracts are formed, the smallest grouping that is fundamental to society (including the creation of new generations. Something on that later.)
The fact that it’s in flux is a lot of the problem. In fact, societaly speaking marriage right now might not be functional in any sense, including traditional and modern.
In the traditional sense marriage was ordained to make two into one: “for the procreation of children, as a remedy against sin and for the help and support the two would have of each other.”
Part of that, ultimately, ties in to the idea that in Eden woman came from man, i.e. we are pre-ordained as a dual being. Something like that. It’s hard to explain mystical concepts in every day words. Interestingly that idea pre-dates Christianity and is central to a lot of very old myths: the idea that we’re always two meant to be one, and that the two halves of one person have to find each other to be complete. If you’re a believer, this is very old because it’s right. If you’re not, it’s because the very duality of humanity suggests it to the human mind.
That idea is under attack on several points.
First of all the procreation of children: it seems a lot more people avoid that, and it’s easier to avoid by several means, mostly the pill or course, but others as well.
A subclause of that is that we have more means of entertainment than any of our ancestors. I see people lamenting that younger people are having less sex, as well as looking for physical reasons for this up to and including lower testosterone in males. And that’s probably part of it, (the lower testosterone, btw, might be induced by the role of males in society right now, since a lot of testosterone production comes from perceived victories. This would also explain higher testosterone in women. In which case all the current nonsense is not just annoying and a bad idea, but leads to extinction.) But the other part of it is probably that we — in Freudian and therefore not quite right terms — can sublimate our sexual impulse into a lot of other things. And the more creative you are, the more you do so.
I think our ancestors defaulted into sexual activity a lot out of boredom and a need for connection, while we’re fueling pursuits not-sexual from the same needs.
Second subclause is that women are — because contraception is a thing — expected to work outside the home and put at least some of their self-worth into a career rather than “the procreation of children” and their upbringing. This makes marriage… subtly different. You’re two independent people coming together and the terms of union are not the same as they were in most of the past. Possibly the forms of marriage first appeared to protect the pregnant woman/the infant. While that’s still sought out by those of us who want children, the game has changed.
The other major change — not a subclause — is longevity. For reasons known only to the psychiatrists they desperately need it has become fashionable on the left to deny the advances of longevity over the last hundred years. This might be because they desperately want us to believe we can sign onto something like the Green Nude Heel, or give up all our health autonomy to the government and we’ll live “about as long.” I’ve learned to be suspicious of this type of squid ink in the cultural water and ask myself what they’re trying to obscure.
Pish. And tosh. I was 14 the first time I met an 80 year old. He was barely connected to the world and had constant tremors.
You’ll say “ah, but that was selection bias.”
Hardly. I lived in a village. I met people of all ages. 75 was considered VERY old. Hell, 60 was the beginning of OLD and 65 was “old enough to die with no remark.”
Portugal was not a third world country. It was at least second, maybe first and a half.
And when I became conscious of such things it was at least the mid to late seventies.
I’ve mentioned here before that once you got the kids married/out the house people “prepared to die.” This was not subtle. They basically shuttered all interests, except grandkids. Consider that born when parents were 28 and 31 I was considered a very late child, almost late enough to be my parents’ grandkid and you’ll see when that “get kids out of the house” was.
I’ve talked to people my age who grew up all over the world and their experience is similar. Right now my 60 some year old friends consider themselves late middle age. (Or sometimes middle, middle age) and some are studying for or embarking on new careers. There’s a whole second life after your raise the kids. And 85 is considered old, but certainly not decrepit for at least half the people, who are active, engaged and might have businesses. I know losing friends at 80 some feels like “well, they were old/not very well, but d*mn.” Losing someone at 65 incites “so young” comments. And medical son tells me getting 100+ year olds in the hospital isn’t even unusual. I remember a long discussion in the mid 80s about whether 100 year olds existed in any numbers or it was just bad record keeping. It seems silly to argue that now.
What does all this mean, and what does longevity have to do with marriage.
Look, marriage was a bond for life, but you didn’t have a ton of life past your reproductive age. Now you might have half your life after that, as a couple.
Add to that the “more entertainment”thing which includes more spheres of action, and what you get is “more identities”. Depending on what people work in/get fascinated by or the causes they adopt, people might have many identifies in a life time.
One o the enemies of marriage is changing the rules of the game. Say (I’ve seen it) a woman becomes an all-in feminist activist in her late 40s and this affects her relationship with her husband to the point of questioning minor things such as whether sex is patriarchal oppression? Or take something seemingly less crazy, like someone decides to pursue a passion for… piano playing or crocheting in middle age. Even if they don’t quit the day job, and simply channel all their energies to breaking in to the new field: that’s going to affect the couple’s options of work and play and what they do together to the point it might break them.
At some point, because marriages were breaking anyway, no fault divorce seemed the logical answer to all of this.
If Peterson is right, it was rather a step in the WRONG direction. The reason he claims marriage is essential to happiness goes around all those definitions of marriage as was (but not counter them. While having a fairly traditional marriage, this applies to us, with hobnail boots on, for instance) is because it is an indissoluble association. That is, the fact that you can’t run away from each other makes marriage THE safe space where you can see each other without veils, and be each other and have someone else accept you.
Because we’re all broken (or as Peterson puts it “full of snakes”) it is important to working on our brokenness to know there is someone who knows it and can’t run away. It’s easier to deal with secondary effects if our back is protected.
Mind you, in the age of divorce this is not true, which makes marriage fairly worthless. Also, no one tells anyone this as a real and very needed reason to get married, which means it took Dan and I a couple of decades to find that this was one of the very important things in our marriage. We could be ourselves, even the parts we didn’t like very much, because the other one was here for keeps. And being able to be ourselves allowed us to improve ourselves, if that makes sense.
Sometimes I wonder if all the necessity for “safe spaces” is because we lost that one, fundamental safe state, where we could take off the armor and let the other see the cracks. I know, since we were recently reviewing insurance and what the plans for the other would be if one of us woke up dead tomorrow (yes, I know, but that’s how grandad said it) which in turn affects the amount of insurance. My thought was that don’t know if I can go on without that one place I can be me, and that one person who still loves me (mostly defined as sticking around) despite knowing me.
It amused me highly this morning, while doing housework to a Rex Stout audio book (I’ll resume it while painting. It’s Homicide Trinity) that bizarrely Nero and Archie fit the Petersonian definition of marriage. I.e. lifelong, indissoluble union where you know each other and still stay.
Note nothing is said about sex in it. I don’t know if sex has anything to say in that definition, except that if you’re both seeking it elsewhere it tends to send your loyalties elsewhere too.
I also don’t think it works with more than one person. I think revealing yourself wholly to multiple people at once would be impossible. The necessity to manipulate your image to different people (even with friends we do that) would make group marriage untenable as a safe place and a life-long union.
Which means Heinlein correctly diagnosed the stresses on marriage, but went in a completely sideways direction, at least if we agree with Peterson’s thought. I agree with it more than with Heinlein, which doesn’t detract from my admiration from Heinlein on most things. Making predictions is hard, particularly when they’re about the future. He got the nature of man more right than not.
Again, mostly I’m going on my own experience, which leads me to believe that whether you believe in traditional marriage or not, the most important nature of such a union is that it be permanent and indissoluble.
I’m not telling you that’s how it should be. I just think that in the long run we’ll find for society to persist and civilization to continue that’s the most important thing of all. Perhaps even sex between spouses doesn’t matter as much (I know married couples who had to give it up usually for health reasons, and yet continue to function as married people. Which means the seventies obsession with what’s happening in bed for the functionality of marriage was probably wrong.) as the ability to be “naked” in a metaphysical and psychological sense before each other.
In which case our years will be considered even crazier than not.
As in all things, I only know how this works for me and some friends close enough to give me some insight into others’ lives.
But I thought it was worth pondering. (Besides giggling at the idea of NW and AG as a married couple, mostly because I can see both gentlemen glaring in my head. 🙂 )
Now I’m going to paint walls. Try not to burn anything down.