Oh, Romantics, please listen to Stephanie Coontz’s brilliant observations in the first half of this lecture (before she starts giving measures of ‘remedies’ for our culture, which I find less convincing):
Her founding thesis, which I think is entirely correct:
Marriage was never for love. It was always, in the Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman, Assyrian-Babylonian world… for Business. Marriage, as Stephanie explains, was Wall Street. It was the “marketplace,” the business law office, the patent office and the bureau of citizenship. It was where you chose the most important thing in your (the man’s) life:
Your IN-LAWS. The people you would be joining a business with for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Yes, the people you avoid and hope to ignore forever — these were the people that for all of western history, you were truly “marrying.”
I know. I know! I know…
Marriage, which was never for love, became endangered by the late 19th and early 20th C. when the public conception of it changed. (Why did it change? Because labor was being done my machines – but that’s my thesis, not hers). It then was altered – it became, in our popular culture, songs, novels, plays and movies about ‘love.’ The love which had been reserved for courtesans and prostitutes. For affairs and trysts. That ‘love’ moved into the center of the concept of marriage. And that was the beginning of the end. Why?
Because love is changeable. Romance is fleeting. When people married for love – and not business — at that point, for the first time in history, it was possible for marriage to be ended by the internal parties – by the man and woman – because they felt that they were not receiving ‘sufficient love’ in the relationship.
Prior to marrying for love, the idea that you were supposed to get your emotional needs met by your ‘partner’ did not exist in law, in poetry, or in promises.
Marriage as we have it is a very late Victorian invention — but, remember, the Victorians allowed liberal use of prostitutes by men, to protect ‘good women’ from lust.
Funny stew we’re in.
- The MP3 lecture: millercenter.org
- The lecture webpage: millercenter.org
- An excerpt from Stephanie’s fantastic work: stephaniecoontz.com/books
Liam Scheff is author of Official Stories – because official stories exist to protect officials; drilling to the core of the gooey religious center of science.