Saturday, February 14, 2015

How marrying on "instinct" replaced "reason"-based marriage, and what to do about it

One of the nine thought-provoking points made in this article:

Five: Instinct has too much prestige

Back in the olden days, marriage was a rational business; all to do with matching your bit of land with theirs. It was cold, ruthless and disconnected from the happiness of the protagonists. We are still traumatised by this.

What replaced the marriage of reason was the marriage of instinct, the Romantic marriage. It dictated that how one felt about someone should be the only guide to marriage. If one felt ‘in love’, that was enough. No more questions asked. Feeling was triumphant. Outsiders could only applaud the feeling’s arrival, respecting it as one might the visitation of a divine spirit. Parents might be aghast, but they had to suppose that only the couple could ever know. We have for three hundred years been in collective reaction against thousands of years of very unhelpful interference based on prejudice, snobbery and lack of imagination.

So pedantic and cautious was the old ‘marriage of reason’ that one of the features of the marriage of feeling is its belief that one shouldn’t think too much about why one is marrying. To analyse the decision feels ‘un-Romantic’. To write out charts of pros and cons seems absurd and cold.... The recklessness at play seems a sign that the marriage can work, precisely because the old kind of ‘safety’ was such a danger to one’s happiness.


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

In response to the previous comment...

I'd be curious to know what you think of the famous "36 Questions" that the Times has been publishing recently. It sounds like a semi-terrific idea to me, the "semi" part being that if you can fall in love with almost anyone by doing the exercise, its long-term potential may be just as illusory as that of marrying for romance. Anyone, performing for a couple of hours within an isolated frame, could disclose appealingly intimate thoughts, revealing only that we're all human. ("We laughed, we cried...") It could be just a more fastidious way of finding love at first sight. Yet I wish it had been around in my day. Maybe it is!

John Althouse Cohen said...

I flagged/removed the first comment as spam.

I'm sure a couple that discussed all "36 questions that lead to love" would learn something about each other. It seems like the point is to convince NYT readers that they could memorize some of these and ask them on a date to skip over small talk and try to quickly generate a deep conversation. I'm not particularly impressed with the NYT list — if you asked me who I'd most want as a dinner guest or how I think I'll die, I'd have to come up with some fairly arbitrary choice just for the sake of answering the question. I doubt my answers to questions like that would say much about me.