Marriage: An Irrelevance For The Thinking Person

 

Marriage today is a simplistic and often patronising institution that is irrelevant for the thinking person, argues Simon Camp.

Now – before I defend the above statement, bear with me while I explain what I do not mean. By ‘marriage’, I mean the social institution, not the legal one. I have no issue with signing a piece of paper that gives me visiting rights if my partner is in hospital – that’s really about as serious as giving someone a front door key. And I am not speaking in ignorance of the numerous studies that catalogue marriage’s effects on the stability of the family unit. I am well aware that a public promise can put pressure on couples to maintain the nuclear model for the sake of their offspring, and I suppose that’s all well and good (if rather coarse and unromantic). I also might have included the word ‘outdated’ in my opening, but I’ve been firmly set straight on that front by friends I’ve discussed this with. No, it must be admitted that marriage is not outdated: it is, unfortunately, very much alive in the social consciousness (if not quite kicking). Finally, I am assuming the religious element of marriage absent, for this discussion at least. If a ceremony ‘in the eyes of God’ is important for you because of some belief system or other, then I suppose you have a somewhat shaky excuse for saying ‘I do’.

Good, that’s out of the way. If you’ll stay a while longer, let me define the institution as I see it. Two people (it actually doesn’t matter at all whether they are of the same sex or not) enter into a relationship which turns romantic. They decide, on some unspecified basis, that they want to ‘spend the rest of their lives together’ and so make a promise in front of their family and friends to do this, that and the other as long as they both shall live, so help them God. Henceforth they are known officially as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, and so long as they fill the form out properly, they can share assets or something.

If it sounds a little businesslike and contractual, that’s because it is. Historically, marriage has primarily been a mechanism for binding social groups to one another, and for establishing a secure environment in which to produce offspring. Everything about the ceremony, right down to the father walking his daughter up the aisle so as to ‘give’ her to a suitable heir screams symbolism and statement. Consequently, there is not a great deal in the idea of marriage that seems modelled around how humans actually engage romantically. As it is, it perpetuates a naïve and simpleminded understanding of love and human relationships.

Love is not a series of stages: it is a continuum of ups and downs, of unspoken agreements and tacit commitments. If I had been in a stable relationship for several years, it would frankly be patronising to suggest that I were somehow less serious because I hadn’t said a promise in front of witnesses. Business deals are like that, but loving commitment is not. And if we do maintain that people in a stable relationship are indeed as committed as married couples, then what is it for? Is there a single thing that a married couple could do by virtue of that status that a cohabiting, non-married couple could not? If, as I said above, all the legal rights were the same, as they should be, then surely the answer would be ‘no – not a single thing.’

It isn’t even that useful for telling you what a couple’s relationship is like. Some people are in a happy, balanced marriage while others are dreaming of deliverance in the form of divorce papers. Still others are secretly screwing their colleagues then picking the kids up from playschool in time for Mama’s home-cooked meal. It’s almost as though marriage had been designed to assure something other than the romantic status of a relationship – although that last may be crazy talk.

Picture this: marriage as a concept doesn’t exist. All the people you know who are married are not. Nothing else changes; they just haven’t had the ceremony. What have we lost? Perhaps a few honeymoon snaps and some memories of a white dress. But really, we have only gained. The relationship between two (or, God forbid, more than two) people is no longer digital, no longer one-or-the-other. No more is there the smug little section on the census that maintains that if you aren’t ‘married’ you are ‘single’. Instead, human partnering is seen for what it is: analogue. Dynamic, changing, even volatile. People would not make ridiculous lifelong contracts with other people that they would stay together for ever and ever, Amen. Instead they might have more of a year-to-year rolling contract that took into account the undulating nature of the romantic graph. It might be a little more difficult to tell at a glance who was in a serious romantic relationship, but this slight inconvenience would be a small price to pay for the honest appreciation that everyone’s partnerships and friendships are subtly different – and that perhaps they might not fall neatly into place under the purview of some ancient tradition that was never really about love in the first place. Tradition always was a terrible reason for making a supposedly life-changing decision anyway.

But it still feels as though we’re missing something. A ceremony, maybe? If only there were a clear, predefined point to celebrate the length and success of a partnership. An ‘anniversary’ of sorts. Actually – that’s a fabulous idea. Why not call all your friends and family together and have a big party to celebrate the fortuitousness of the last decade or three? You could both talk about how much you love your partner and how dearly you hope for (but, of course, cannot be certain of) many more years of like companionship. You could even take a little break afterwards on some Caribbean island or other. Just please don’t wear a white dress. We don’t want anyone to think you’re getting married.

 

Simon Camp is a Philosophy student, who also writes here: on.simoncamp.co.uk

25 COMMENTS

    • You can’t be that old as you are a philosophy student wasting three years of your life being indoctrinated by leftists. You will probably not be fit for marriage anyway, because no one will want to hire you after you finish your degree so you will barely be able to support yourself, let alone a wife and any legitimate offspring you might have with her.

      So, what you cannot have you might as well denigrate.

      • “Marriage is not an end in itself but must serve the greater end, which is that of increasing and maintaining the human species and race. This is its only meaning and purpose.” p229

        • Yeah, I know liberals and atheists only care about getting sex NOW and don’t give a toss about the long term national interest. That is why they say it is OK for women to be bastard-breeding sluts. They protect these irresponsible women who are stupid and promiscuous bad mothers by giving them welfare encouraging them to breed even more bastards, thus contaminating and lowering the quality of the gene pool.

          Did you know that most babies in Britain are bastards now?

          But Liberal men don’t care, and only care about getting cheap sex from easy women who give it for free. These liberal philosophy students will never be able to afford a wife anyway, so they want the price of sex to be nice and low and preferably free.

          That is why they encourage women to be sluts and for gay sex to be socially acceptable.

  1. As always, Simon, your point is eloquent, well-reasoned, and delightful to read. That it made for an excellently-written article doesn’t defy the fact that actually, a lot of the things you seem to acknowledge, you don’t develop on in favour of marriage.

    For example, the wealth of research that suggests marriage in and of itself promotes stable households for children, which you allude to, and accept, but don’t develop. Therein lies a positive consequence of marriage, that is useful to more than just the participants in the marriage ceremony. But let’s look at how it achieves that- how does marriage mean that people are more inclined to stay together? Because if we can find other ways to achieve this, then there’s no reason to get married. There’s two reasons – social stigma, and financial costs. People feel they are going to be judged if they get divorced, which of course, is unhelpful, but this element is intrinsic to marriage, and could not be replicated, because it’s BECAUSE of the importance of marriage that people feel this way about divorce. Secondly, is the fact that by virtue of being married, both partners gain claim to the belongings they share, and it’s clear at least legally that their assets are combined – which makes divorce a costly (and for some individuals, loss-making) exercise. This second distinction is not exclusive to marriage, you could achieve it by signing a contract with someone to that effect, without actually marrying them. And yet, as you’ve said, contracts aren’t something to praise here, they’re not something that accurately reflect the social nature of love. No, but modern marriage does that. Perhaps marriage was never intended to be a unity of love, but there’s no denying that’s what it now is – two people openly declaring their love for one another, and in doing so, achieving the shared asset position that entrenches their chances of staying together.

    What does it matter if people stay together? Well, for the children, a lot. it’s very easy for people who have grown up in a married family to take for granted the positives that come about from living in a stable set-up characterised by the lifelong commitment the two most important people to a child, have made to one another. But you should be careful to explore the other side. Anything that helps to generate these benefits for children should be embraced wholeheartedly. As long as marriage does that, it should be embraced.

    You mischaracterise marriage as being the distinguishing factor between people that are committed and not committed, and suggest that marriage patronises relationships by suggesting that upon marrying someone is the only time you are committed to spending a lifetime with someone. This is patently untrue. Nowadays, we don’t see unmarried couples as uncommitted, but it’s true that we see married couples as committed. Perhaps once a lack of rings on fingers suggested a less than genuine intent to the person you’re with, but can you provide examples or statistics to suggest this is the current tone? It isn’t. Of course, it’s easy to see commitment if they’re married, and harder to identify it if they’re not, but we don’t *assume* they’re not.

    I get the impression you take umbrage with the concept of marriage as it was originally intended. Make no mistake that this is NOT how modern marriage is understood. Perhaps your argument stands with regard to its archaic origins, but I’m reluctant to say it’s accurate compared to the modern trend and opinions.

    • The reason I didn’t develop the point about the pressure to stay in a family unit when you’re married is because I don’t think it stands on its own as an argument for marriage. Perhaps it strengthens the argument if there’s already one to be made, but if all the other reasons that people think make marriage important are dispelled, no-one will support marriage *only* because it promotes pressure. I am not against contracts in general. I am merely against contracts for things that shouldn’t be contracted. Assets should; love shouldn’t. Simple.

      I agree that it is possible to see unmarried couples as committed. But you highlight the exact problem when you say that we do see married couples as committed. Why? I hardly need to make the point that married couples often aren’t the picture of commitment.

      I support the family unit. I also support contracts. But I want these things to be undertaken for the right reasons and in the right contexts. I take umbrage with marriage because it does neither. If I am taking issue with a concept of marriage that is too archaic for you, my suggestion is that your picture of marriage is too far removed both from what it originally meant and from the viewpoint of the majority of the population. If I were you, I’d call your concept something else so that people don’t think you mean marriage.

    • The point of getting married is to avoid having bastards, which was considered a disgrace. Remember when it was not OK for women to be sluts and not OK to be a bastard? Simon probably doesn’t cos he is only young.

      Why was it not OK to be a bastard? Because bastardy condemns three generations of people.

      1. Being a bastard means that your mother was a slut (and all sluts are by definition stupid).

      2. The fact that your mother was a slut means her parents did bring her up properly.

      3. The fact that you are a bastard means that you will be socially, economically and intellectually disadvantaged both environmentally and genetically by being brought up and being the offspring of an SSM.

  2. I very much enjoyed this, good work.
    I think, however, you’ve overlooked the deep seated value humans place in ceremonies, and, dare I say, a bit of pomp.
    Coronations, initiations, parades, graduations, funerals…humans love a bit of theatrics. It bestows an element of importance, of substance, onto what would otherwise be rather dull administration.
    We’re getting into the realms of anthropology here, but I think there’s something to it.

    • Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. I recognise the need for theatrics, and I think there are plenty of opportunities in life for celebrations and ceremonies. But while all those things you mentioned mark a milestone, marriage shouldn’t. It simply misrepresents what it is supposed to exemplify. I am all for celebrations of love – in fact, I think you should have more than one! I just think we would be better off without this ancient one that only serves to mislead us about the reality of human relationships.

    • Liberal atheist feminists can be considered a tribe worthy of anthropological study, being peculiarly stupid, stubborn, destructive, ignorant and arrogant. This tribe will promote anything that is the opposite of social conservatism because their evil ideology is geared towards destroying all the important human institutions of marriage, family and religion.

  3. I can’t help thinking that you’ve gone for quite a sensationalist title, and then spent the next dozen lines back peddling to a less extreme position.

    Equally, if marriage has a positive impact the stability of the family unit, as you imply in your introduction, then I struggle to see why it is so irrelevant for anyone, least of all the ‘thinking person’.

    • Why is the title sensationalist? I mean exactly what I say, that given the arguments, marriage, such as it is, is an irrelevance. The legal aspects should be just as important as doing taxes (and therefore nothing to celebrate).

      You’re right that I didn’t go into your second point. I simply mean that while it may be true that social pressure keeps couples in family units, I hardly think people would support marriage if the only argument in its favour was social pressure. Certainly a thinking person would want to stay in a relationship for reasons of love and happiness and commitment. Besides, I think the suggestion that this pressure is unique is actually false. I’m sure cohabiting, long-term couples with children feel just as much pressure to stay together for the sake of their offspring.

      • The fact that marriage promotes family stability is merely an incentive for marriage, and not ‘some institutionalised pressure’. Marriage offers an appreciated and easily acknowledged celebration of a relationship between two people, that also has the proven, but not decisive, effect of increasing stability within a family. Sounds like the sort of thing a ‘thinking person’ would surely subscribe to.

        • But as I said in the article, this ‘celebration of a relationship between two people’ represents an unrealistic and patronising view of partnership. I would choose not to marry someone *precisely because* I love them: I would not want to patronise them by making ludicrous promises and implying that I was now definitely committed, and that all of what came before was just prelude.

          Again, contracts of this nature make sense in business terms, but not on the scale of romantic human engagement. Given that, whatever family stability it might promote constitutes the only real argument for marriage. And I don’t think people would be willing to support it purely on that basis. It would undermine what people believe marriage to be – a declaration of love.

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