Is marriage a contract or a romance?
Commenter Anna asked the question recently, and it deserves an extended response.
First, marriage is a contract. It is always a contract. It has always been so.
Second, throughout the course of human history the vast majority of marriages have been social and economic arrangements.
Third, we are all happy when marriage includes romantic love, but the notion that it must is very recent in human history.
Fourth, marriage is not the ultimate expression of love. Romantic love is consummated in what we call making love. Making love is not the same as marriage.
Fifth, marriage is a social institution. It has been designed to produce and to raise new members of the community and the species. It need not necessarily produce children but it must include the single act that makes reproduction possible.
Sixth, a contract implies duties and obligations. Romantic love involves spontaneity and surprise.
So far, so good… or bad, depending on your perspective.
But, what happens to a contemporary marriage when love dies? Does it mean that the marriage has to end? If love has been banished from you marriage, can it ever return?
When it happens the experience is radical and soul-wrenching.
Shanae Hall describes such a moment in a recent post:
The person that used to give you butterflies at the slightest touch now makes you sick to your stomach. Their jokes are no longer funny, their cologne/perfume makes you want to vomit and you would rather pull out your own wisdom tooth with a pair of tweezers than to make love to them.
Six years into our marriage, I pulled into the driveway of our beautiful, 6,500 sq. ft home and sat still in the driver’s seat of my Lexus SUV, realizing that I was no longer in love with the man I said "I do" to. It was one of the saddest days of my life. How did I get here? Who should I talk to? Why do I feel like this? How will my kids deal with this? By that point, too much damage had been done behind the wrought iron fence. The crushing e-mails and sexy text messages from other women that I had seen over the course of our 13-year relationship had become too much. I had cried enough over the years -- my body wouldn't even produce another tear drop. The end was here and I had to face the music head on.
Hall’s marriage had been deteriorating for a number of years. She fell out of love when she said to herself that she could no longer invest in a losing cause. It was a tipping point, one that is best understood in terms of investment.
When Hall cannot shed one more tear, she means that she is no longer going to throw, as economists say, good money after bad. It’s called Gresham’s Law.
But, how did Hall manage to see all of the “crushing emails and sext text messages from other women?”
In last week’s Wall Street Journal story Lori Rothrock found out one day that her husband had been conducting an intense online flirtation. My post here.
Hall, however, has been continuously informed about her husband’s extramarital flirtations… assuming that they were merely flirtations.
Hall’s husband was a serial virtual adulterer… at the least.
I do not know the answer to this question, but I will speculate that Hall and her husband might have had an agreement that valued openness and honesty. Perhaps they thought that sharing everything made them closer. Perhaps she was willing to look the other way as long as the virtual affairs did not become real.
This is one of the ways people get in trouble with openness and honesty. It is bad to countenance disrespectful and demeaning behaviors because the other person is being open and honest about it.
If there was an agreement, neither party seemed to recognize that sharing such information was corroding their marriage.
If the traditional marriage vow involves loving and honoring one’s spouse, conducting serial virtual affairs and sharing them with one’s wife denies her both love and honor. It constitutes a breach of contract.
Love does not just die one day for no reason. As Hall points out, it does not happen all at once.
Years of abuse or arguments or disrespect reach a tipping point where love dies, or better, where the marriage dies.
Or else, constant drama and bickering become too taxing, and one or both parties conclude, as Hall did, that the marriage is no longer worth the investment of time, energy, and emotional resources.
Those who want to avoid the constant drama, should work on developing discretion and tact and consideration. That means, not sharing every thought or feeling you might have for a third person. That also means not engaging in a love affair, virtual or real, with a third person.
Otherwise, the best way to avoid drama is to create routines, well defined-roles, and daily obligations. Fulfilling these duties makes a household and a marriage run efficiently and effectively.
Some people consider that domestication kills romance. Done well, it might sustain romance.
A couple that spends its energy arguing over who is going to make dinner or who is going to do the shopping is going to end up killing their love.
If marriage is a contract, then it cannot survive when a man is constantly texting sexy messages to other women and showing them to his wife.
And it cannot survive when a woman suddenly decides to abrogate her responsibilities in order to live her dream of acting.
And that means Megan Draper and her feminist enablers. I mentioned the other day that Megan Draper was quitting her job and abrogating her marital responsibilities.
I said nothing about feminism at the time, but clearly, as this post makes clear, feminists cheered her initiative and her irresponsibility.