Since my second divorce, I have given a great deal of thought to marriage. What it is, where it came from, what we expect from it, and is it really possible as we currently conceive it. I touched on this briefly in a previous post, D.I.V.O.R.C.E., but I thought I would discuss it further.
Marriage in one form or another, has existed throughout most of human societal history. It certainly had different names and parameters, but there have always been some commonalities.
First, we must separate marriage from bonding. The latter is individual and spiritual. The former is not necessarily so. In some instances marriage gave dominance by one individual over another, or involved the exchange of chattel, or sealed the connection of one group to another.
In the last few centuries marriage took on the air of being the ultimate symbol of romance. Instead of marrying for land or the exchange of goods or services, marriage was performed between lovers. However, in all cases, marriage is merely an agreement between the local authority group and the wed. The agreement being that at times, under certain conditions, the wed individuals will be treated or considered as a single individual or as a related pair or group.
In short, marriage is solely a contract. It bears little difference from the lease on your car or the mortgage on your home. It is not an act of a god, though some societies attach religion to it. It is not a natural or biological process, though some societies attach biological processes to it. Many people put a great deal of importance on marriage. That is understandable and elevates it to a special status. However, in cold hard fact it is a contract and nothing more.
As an aside, in light of this, all the ranker over gay marriage is incomprehensible. We allow LGBT’s to lease cars, enter into mortgages, and a host of other contractual agreements. That we would not allow two people, regardless of their sex and sexual preferences, to enter into a single, particular contractual agreement between themselves and the state is not only two-faced, but inexplicable.
Returning from the aside; another one of the more common characteristics of marriage is that the contract is generally considered to last for the duration of the life of one or more of those entering into the agreement, the bride, groom, or state. While this had, in the past, served the marital concept fairly well, I believe this is becoming a primary problem with the institution.
Let us look back to the 18th century, when marriage was making its transition from prearranged property swaps (for the most part), to romantic seals. At the time, the average person was born into their career. The farmer’s daughter likely married a farmer. The blacksmith’s son was likely going to be a blacksmith, and so on. Even in the upper classes station was pretty well determined, with statesmen marrying their daughters off to the sons of statesmen, and the sons of statesmen were groomed to be statesmen. Careers were generally fixed and for life.
Similarly, the average person was born, lived, and died within the same geographical area in which their parents lived. Farms were handed down. Blacksmiths inherited the shop. Young Gentry took over the land. Certainly there was some movement. The expanding world did allow for some to reach beyond their childhood playgrounds. However, when a family did move, as they rolled in their covered wagon out west, they brought with them the idea of putting down roots and planting their children with the concept of staying close to home.
But of greater importance is the simple consideration of the average life expectancy. In the 18th century I would be considered a very old man looking at the end of my life – more likely I would have died a “natural” death about 20 years earlier. Certainly some folk lived long lives. Ben Franklin lived to be 85, but he was a member of the aristocracy, the privileged set. Statistics vary, but the average life expectancy (male) in 1750 was between 30 and 40. Women, often dying in child birth, had similar statistics. Life spans have not changed, but life expectancies have.
In the modern era, the average person will have five (5) careers. With new careers come new interests, new peer groups. Mobility is common place. Often it is a requirement of some of the several careers an individual will engage in. The current average life expectancy is 69 years worldwide, and higher in developed countries, where life expectancies exceed 80 years.
So marriage is based on the concept of individuals who live close to each other, and will continue to live close to their peer group – assumes that the individuals involved will exist within a similar status, and will stay within a common career set – and will extend to a death that will occur within about 20 to 30 years of the inception of the contract. In short, marriage is between people who have little chance of changing over the time allotted for the execution of the contract.
This same concept we now bring forward to a time of high mobility, where individuals will move in and out of several different careers – and possibly status sets, and we require it to extend for the equivalent of two or three lifetimes of the previous standard. In short, there are large motivations to change, and more time for that change to take place.
Is it even remotely possible we can bind that older form to these new conditions? I do not think so. In the past, about the time a person felt the need to change, they probably died. My previous marriage lasted 18 years, a time that was an average lifelong marriage in the 1700’s. Now I find life has changed. I am single, and yet I am still a strong, viable, growing individual, with the equivalent of one or two more lifetimes yet to live.
In the light of the discussed considerations, marriage as we currently consider it, may not be realistic or possible. That we push ourselves to obtain what may actually be unobtainable is a shame. Why would we willingly enter contracts that extend over such a long period, when we know things will change? Few people fulfill their 25 year mortgages – can we expect to maintain a 50-year contract to the same bank? Why would we set ourselves up to be heartbroken and hurt over a contract? If we went into the concept with a realistic view of its potential and possible outcome, we would fair far better.
I believe that we have physically moved past the institution as it was previously specified. We need to re-evaluate the contract to fit not only our modern life and its wide variety, but also our modern life expectancies. We need to redefine marriage in the modern age.