How important is marriage?
I’m currently reading Sex & God by Darrel Ray EdD. Ray discusses the many disturbing and harmful ways religion affects sexuality, and while I’ve never been religious, I can see how it has affected my own views.
I’m learning that while I’ve never really felt shame or guilt towards sex, I grew up with a strong desire to be in a traditional marriage. I didn’t think there were any other options.
I met my husband at 24 and we married when I was 27 and he was 32. I gave birth to our daughter at 33.
My husband is amazing and I don’t regret anything, but when I think back, I was really pushing for a traditional marriage. It wasn’t as important to my husband.
Could we be better off in a different situation?
Marriage is very practical for us when it comes to money and insurance etc., but is it necessary for anything else? We love each other so what else matters?
My husband and I have a good sex life, but sometimes we have discussions about having sex with other people. We’re both open to it with rules of course.
So there’s another question — how important is monogamy? I’m beginning to feel it’s a little unnatural.
Sex & God really has me thinking about my own life and sexuality. I highly recommend this book.
What are your thoughts?
I tend to think that, when we see a trait that has independently evolved in many disparate societies, our default assumption should be that it provides a benefit to the societies that have it, or at least it did provide a benefit at some point in the past.
In the case of marriage, it’s probably beneficial to kids to have as many stable adults as possible in their lives, and marriage provides for at least two. Of course single parents can do fine, but the job is a lot tougher solo.
Various types of polyamorous groupings can work fine for those inclined that way. Some seem to be more stable than others, but again, I think that’s only an issue when kids are involved. If you don’t want kids, go crazy! I know that isn’t an option for you, though.
Full disclosure for myself: I never had a particularly successful dating life before getting married at 37, and have never gotten tempted by anyone in the 20+ years since, so monogamy has been dead easy for me — there was never any “free and easy” bachelor life that I felt I was missing out on. Also, I think that having kids was the most fun thing I’ve ever done.
I don’t view monogamy as a virtue. However, I have found out that I cannot handle multiple serious relations at once. And that I don’t enjoy sex without some kind of love. So that kind of makes me monogamous.
My first time sex was my one and only one-night stand. Drunken. I’m afraid I feel a bit ashamed, not least because I’m not sure I would have recognized her in the street anytime after that.
While a year-and-half realationship was breaking up – she insisted on a break-up in a kind of “parole” way – break up but if we can manage to still want to we’ll be back together after some months – I found that she had cut the living nerve of what connected me to her and I actually only was too cowardly to admit it to myself and to her at first, and when a woman I’d known for some years and whom I had fancied a bit for all that time – always with a kind of reserve that I only figured out much later – came onto me, I went with it.
Two romances, two relationships at a time… I’ve learned that I can’t handle it. In the end, I lost sight of both of them.
I hurt a lot finding out about myself. Myself and others. No kids were involved though. Still there’s some guilt there, and no Forgive-o-mat (aka God) in my life to give me an easy out.
You probably tick differently. Explore. But keep in mind that it might cost you.
Most humans have been raised and influenced by the culture that was around them from birth. How could anyone decide if it were more or less “natural” to be raised with zero cultural influences (if even possible), or to somehow “choose” a culture to be or to have been raised in? Even if the question could be answered, I don’t think there can be such a choice in practice. I think, realistically, that the always and only choice is for each couple or expectant mother to choose to live in a culture they guess is suitable for their future kids.
If one believes surveys that say, say, Denmark or Norway is the happiest country, does that mean it is less moral to live in one’s own country, rather than to work to live there?
John Morales says
If the et cetera includes familial and societal acceptance, then in my opinion, not really. But yes, for practicality, it’s super useful.
I think it’s just a matter of personal preference, and separate from fidelity.
Too many people conflate the two.
Me, I’ve discovered I am monogamous by nature; there’s also the principle of reciprocity, of course — what’s called the golden rule in Christianity.
Some Old Programmer says
Insofar as marriage is concerned, I may have a somewhat different perspective. I’m a gay man in a nearly 30 year relationship. We’ve been “roommates”, entered into a civil union, married for the purposes of the state but not the federal government, and, finally, had our marriage recognized at both the state and federal level. (NB: I’m a resident of the USA).
A lot of things change in the law between married and unmarried partners; a quick google search can give you a better summary than I can. Wikipedia even has a page on the rights and responsibilities of married couples in the US.
Some things that have come up for us include me shutting down a conversation when by boyfriend was upset because he’d been served with legal process. I told him flatly that married couples can’t be compelled to testify against each other, but if he told me any details about the case that I could possibly be called as a witness against his interests.
It was great to be able to be covered under each other’s workplace benefits as domestic partners. But, as we weren’t married, those benefits were taxable, so I learned about imputed income (I do our taxes). Oh, and extra special was when the feds didn’t recognize our marriage but the state did; I got to do our taxes 6 times(!). When our marriage is recognized, I do two tax returns, federal and state. Not married for federal purposes? Do federal for me as single. Same for husband. Do mock federal return as married, which drives the state return. Do state return as married. Do mock state return for me to determine portion of state income tax paid attributable to me (affecting itemized deductions). Do same for husband.
Also, when not married for federal purposes, I tried to keep careful track of our individual finances, because significant transfers between us could have left us open to gift taxes. You don’t want to know. Married couples don’t have to worry about that.
And, while I didn’t have to deal with it (much), inheritance can be a big issue. Some gay men during the AIDS crises were disposessed by the hostile family of a deceased partner. Without legal proof of ownership, vindictive legal heirs can try to claim anything from a joint household.
To me, marriage is a (mostly religious) contract that formalises a promise you’ve made to each other. The form of the promise can vary, but it’s usually something like monogamy + “we’re in it for the long run.”
It’s the promise that’s important, the civil/religious/whatever contract is for show.
That said, once you’ve made that promise to each other, that’s something! A marriage ceremony is a way to tell your friends/family, and can be a great excuse to throw a party.
When I was in my twenties, I considered a marriage licence nothing more than a “licence to fuck”. But as I got older, I realized that it serves as a legal protection for the weaker member(s) of the pairing–usually the woman and kids. If two people truly love and respect each other, marriage isn’t necessary, at least until that love and respect falls apart. If you want an open marriage, both partners must go into it with eyes wide open. Caveat: the grass is always greener/be careful what you wish for/the road to hell is paved…etc. And remember, the kids are ALWAYS the first to get hurt.
Pierce R. Butler says
Somewhere sff author Paul Di Filippo describes marriage as “erotofiscal partnership”. Wonderfully concise – doesn’t leave anything out (except for kids – but then we probably need the word “family” instead).
For us the reason we got married after twenty odd years of living together was being each others next of kin for health purposes. One of my brothers was unexpectedly quite seriously ill, and while none of us would have excluded his partner, and in fact the NHS treated them as if they were married, it brought home to all of us that without that piece of paper the partner could be excluded from things like treatment decisions when the patient was unable to make decisions for themselves.
A lot of these positives about marriage (Publicola @7, what you say in the post) are just the consequences of legal/social pressure trying to force people to get married. They might be good reasons to get married, but they aren’t reasons for marriage to continue to exist.
And Publicola’s point about caring for the weaker members of society is something we need to pay attention to when changing this.
IMO, both marriage and monogamy existed to control women and children, and need to be denormalised. It’s fine if people want to do that on their own, but it shouldn’t come with legal or social status and shouldn’t be an assumed aspect of relationships.
I agree with Publicola. I’ve worked with too many Boomer and conservative men who demanded the wife stay home with the kids, then dumped the wife and kids for the trophy wife and did everything in their power to avoid paying child support for their own kids. Additionally, the same men tend to vanish like mist if any of their own children have any type of disability, leaving the wife (who often hasn’t worked in years) the sole support of the family. If there’s a marriage license, it’s more possible (but not easy) to get the deadbeat dads’ paychecks garnished for child support.
Marcus Ranum says
You seem to be segueing between “marriage” and “monogamy” – they’re not the same thing. It’s a part of a christian agenda to make that connection, for doctrinal reasons, but in the real world, it’s all bunk. Christian men cheat on their wives at more or less the same rate as anyone else and, it turns out, men and women report different infidelity rates (or used to) probably due to social stigma. As my dad once asked, “who are all those christian men cheating with?” (also, monogamy and marriage had been invented before christianity)
When I was a kid (late 60s, early 70s) the assumption was that everyone would eventually get married and have kids. That pressure appears to be fading but it’s still there – the government appears to feel it has an interest in promoting marriages and that “children born out of wedlock” are still an issue.That’s all left-over christian bullshit – it’s not part of some instinctive imperative in humans. Monogamy probably works because it’s better than the alternatives, which are tribal pack-leaders that monopolize all the sex, or there is endless conflict over sex (and murderous incels who opt out) – monogamy may simply be a game theory answer to avoiding conflict over sex. So much for the magic.
heidi upp says
Lots of interesting comments here!
Before my husband’s 1st wife died, they had some sort of open marriage agreement, so I was ready for it in our marriage–but I don’t think either one of us ever had other relationships. (I know I didn’t anyway.)
I don’t think strict monogamy is workable unless both partners are on the same page. I think the “cheating” label is outdated, depending on the 2 individuals. That said, having a fling or a poly relationship seems unspeakably difficult to navigate for me. Especially if you have kids. Dan Savage calls his relationship with his husband “monogamish.”
A friend is a 2021 “swinger” with her husband, and they have rules about who can do what with whom to keep both of them happy. Oddly, she is a christian, anti-“adultery” and anti-“home-wreckers” but enthusiastically participates in various group sex events. As far as I can tell, they have a great marriage.