Summary: The Radical Idea of Marrying for Love
Stephanie Coontz is the author of the article, The Radical Idea of Marrying for Love. Coontz restates George Bernard Shaw’s remarks that the marriage institution brings two people together to take an oath on what he considers a “most violent, most insane, most delusive and most transient of passions.” (356). She adds that Shaw stated that marriage requires its participants to stay in a state of abnormal excitement until death separates them. These remarks about marriage were amusing since they highlight the unrealistic expectations of partners in marriage. Many experts believed romantic love to be an invention of the Western world but have concluded that people get married because they are in love. In the past however, many people did not marry for love since it was considered a threat to social order. Some even considered it contradictory to marriage.
Greek philosophers believed that love existing between two people was a wonderful emotion that stimulated honorable actions from the man. The past communities and societies had low regard for love since they believed that social ties were more important. Ancient Indians assumed that love was a precursor to antisocial behavior. The Greeks believed that it was some form of derangement. The Chinese believed that too much love in a married couple threatened the solidarity of the extended family. In Europe, adultery was idealized as the greatest form of love especially among the nobility. Many assumed that love could only exist between a man and his mistress. The distinction between love and marriage extended to the lower class populations.
Coontz further argues that past communities who believed that marriage was founded on love were still expected to control it (357). Public displays of affection were prohibited in ancient cultures. Many events in history attest to this. For instance, in ancient Rome, a man was dismissed from the Senate for allegedly kissing his wife in the presence of their daughter. Some people even argued that men who loved their wives with such intensity were adulterers. Coontz also says that couples who loved each other immensely were considered idol worshippers by Protestant theologians (357). Although Muslims were more approving of passionate sex in marriage, they opposed excess love and assumed it was a form of idol worship.
In Africa, certain tribes still frown upon love as the foundation of marriage. Despite love taking the center stage for marriage in certain communities, it is less common to find it as the main ingredient especially in polygamous marriages. Coontz says that being a “love wife” was a luxury that was not accorded to many (358). Many cultures view love as by product rather than precursor of marriage. Some even believed that if two people of exemplary character got married, they would eventually love each other.
Coontz however does not believe that members of the past communities exercised greater control over their romantic feelings that people do in present day (358). Like any person living today, they too were capable of love (Coontz 358). Various men and women in history however showed their affection and love for their partners openly despite its open rebuke. Anne Bradstreet for instance, the wife of a famous Governor in Massachusetts usually wrote poems to her husband. A famous diarist of the seventeenth century Samuel Pepys married for love. Pepys however fell out of love with his wife and later disinherited a nephew “for marrying under the influence of so strong yet transient an emotion” (Coontz 359).
Today, many people agree that in order for a couple to live happily, they must exhibit an intense attraction and affection for each other and must be inseparable even when subjected to outside pressure. According to Coontz, a married couple should share their most intimate feelings and secrets and most of all are best of friends. They should express their affection openly towards each other but also discuss and solve any underlying problems. They should also be faithful to one another.
Modern culture however proves that this combination of expectations seldom exists. According to the author, unhappy marriages have common patterns, as well as their own successes (359). Many people disregard sexually intimacy in marriage. In India for example, several brothers have sexual access to the wife of one of them. The Chinese believe that a wife should not bother her husband by confiding in him, but instead serve and treat him like a guest. Confucian philosophy suggests that the strongest ties in a family existed between two elder brothers or a on and a father rather than between the wife and the husband (360).
. The concept of fidelity in marriage is an invention of the modern day society (Coontz 361). The marriage institution has evolved over time. The husband’s role in providing for the family is quickly becoming a privilege and the wife is now assuming some of the husband’s former roles. Day labor replaced apprenticeships and women begun earning their own salaries (Coontz 363). This was followed by a period of enlightenment thus altering some of the dynamics of marriage relationships in general. Legal norms also changed over time. Domestic violence became prohibited in marriage or was considered a ‘lower-class’ practice. Modern regard of the importance of love breaks historical norms concerning marriage. Time has been the only factor that elucidates the changes in marriage and love norms.
Coontz, Stephanie. Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage. New York: Viking, 2005. Print.