Everybody believes it, to the point where most people have made it into dogma. We all believe that marriage is or should be an expression of romantic love.
Yet, anyone who affirms this point of view does not know what marriage is and has not studied its history.
At best, the merger of romantic love and marriage is relatively recent and relatively localized. It dates to the past few hundred years and it seems largely to be limited to the West. It has been most prominent in the Anglosphere.
Some cultures have thought it a good idea for married couples to develop some level of affection for each other, but they have rarely been willing to make the future of the species and the good order of society rest on the vagaries of adolescent or post-adolescent passion.
Stephanie Coontz has argued the point persuasively in her book, Marriage, A History. She opens a chapter about “the radical idea of marrying for love” by quoting George Bernard Shaw:
George Bernard Shaw described marriage as an institution that brings together two people "under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions. They are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part."
Throughout most of human history people did not marry for love. As best as I can tell, this radical and radically deviant custom began to develop during the Protestant Reformation.
When Martin Luther’s followers left the Church they were relieved of their vows of chastity. Bereft of property or power they faced an unusual challenge in finding mates.
If two individuals lacking either a dowry or a visible means of support meet and wish to mate, what could they be offering to each other? The solution: when you have nothing to offer, you offer your love.
When two young people have nothing to offer but their love, they are signaling their destitution, even their incompetence. The reason that nearly all human communities proscribed marriage for love was because they did not want families to embarrass themselves.
For that reason, most human societies throughout history have relegated romantic love to adulterous liaisons… whether through courtesans, concubines, mistresses or favorites. In the West women practiced courtly love, one of the few forms of institutionalized adultery where the adulterer is an adulteress.
It almost goes without saying, but in the past homosexuals have often engaged in arranged marriages and have sought romantic love outside of marriage.
You might feel offended that a homosexual has not been allowed to marry the person he loved, but, for the vast majority of humans, marrying the person they loved was never an option.
As you know, the institution of marriage is currently in turmoil. Homes and families are being subjected to a degree of disorder that has been rare in human history and that, most would agree, is not good for children.
Rather than argue the case for traditional marriage, I want to examine a new custom that is currently developing.
The New York Times reports that young people are now beginning to try out a new custom: arranged parenting. Two people find each other on the internet and contract an arrangement whereby they will, together, produce a child without benefit of love, romance, sexual intercourse or marriage.
You can imagine that some people believe this is completely crazy, but we do better to examine it more dispassionately.
Often these arrangements involve unmarried and unattached women whose fertility is declining. But they also involve gay men and women who would not be seeking romance with a partner of the opposite sex.
The couple produces a child without benefit of a marriage contract, but they often sign a contract stipulating rights and responsibilities. As the new custom develops more of such couples will be signing more contracts.
For the most part, the co-parents do not live together, but they do share responsibilities in roughly the same way that a divorced couple would.
The fact that these children will have two separate homes is hardly optimal. But, for many of the women, giving a child a present father is better than being a single mother.
But then, what about the gay men who are involving themselves in these arrangements? Some of them are involved in relationships or even “same-sex marriages” but their wish to involve themselves in parenting arrangements suggests that they prefer to offer their children two parents of two different genders.
Intuitively, it feels better for a child to have two parents who are not living together than for the child to be told that Daddy is really vial #93736287, or that having two Mommies and no Daddy is the same as having one Mommy and one Daddy.
It seems clear to me, at least, that the custom as we are seeing it is still in its embryonic stage. The next step for these families will be to live together. Arranged parenting seems to be a step toward arranged marriage. Many young people, having seen what happened to the marriages their parents contracted on the basis of romantic love, might find this an appealing option.