Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Know your (marriage) history!

Been a long summer, but I'm looking forward to more discussions after a good book. I'm only a third of the way through Marriage and it's slow going, but I find something interesting on every page. For example: the Church respected a tradition of "marriage by promise" when a couple agreed that they had made an agreement to marry, for over 1000 years, only modifying it to include a requirement for consummation in the 1500s! (p106). Getting out of a marriage required proof there was no sex, hence the hilarious tale of "wise women" attempting to arouse a man with a "highly erotic temple dance" to disprove his claim of impotence. Of course, I am still in the first part of the book where people are very sensitive to the influence of the kin and neighbors. This was due mostly to the fact that marriage was much more of a property arrangement than a free choice between individuals to combine their households. Choosing someone more (or solely) for love and less for economic or political advantage is clearly yet to come, once modernity and women's independence allows sufficient earning power for a person to go their own way and completely disregard their parents' wishes in choosing a mate. I am reminded in this of my old friend from high school who is now somewhere in San Francisco but since becoming a serious goth (living it fully and getting married in a cemetery, etc.) has completely severed ties with the rest of us. that sort of self-exile wasn't possible in the middle ages where you had to serve somebody. How this transition happens is important for me to learn. I want to know this history as I attempt to explain to a skeptic about my relationship choices how marriage is not an eternal, immutable institution, but a rational choice people have been making for their own self-interest since forever.

I don't suppose any of you are interested in running the matriarchal household where the men do all the child-rearing? How about this one on p 40: "One of [marriage's] crucial functions in the Paleolithic era was its ability to forge networks of cooperation beyond the immediate family group or local band." How many of you have gotten married because you like the potential in-laws so much?