Love and marriage are as different as night and day, so why would people choose love as a basis for marriage? This is the question that Stephanie Coontz attempts to answer in her book “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”
Romantic love consists of intense emotions such as passion, desire and jealousy. It is a fantasy that one constructs of the partner’s ideal qualities, a fantasy that is intensified by the unattainability of the partner (Romeo and Juliet). Love drives one to be obsessed with another person and sacrifice his or her own identity to become part of the couple. Unfortunately, love is as fleeting as it is powerful.
Marriage, on the other hand, is a contract, a long-term commitment. Marriage is a social construct put in place to counter the biology mating. This unique human institution helps to ensure that men stay to provide protection and economical stability for the woman and their offspring. Marriage is essentially an economic arrangement, which holds especially true for South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures that still practice arranged marriage.
In the Western world, there’s still reluctance to admit that one gets married not for love alone, Huffington Post’s Vicki Larson suggests. She points to women in their 20s getting married to become mothers, 40-something divorcees find partners for financial stability and wealthy 50-year-old men wedding trophy wives for social status. Larson also wonders, if people insist that love is the sole reason they get married, are they entitled to a divorce when the love is gone?
Coontz says the notion of marriage being a result of romantic love dated back to the 18th century. Individual rights movements led Europeans and Americans to begin supporting marriages that are based on love and personal choice, not the family’s political, economic and reproductive interests. Since then, a whole set of values is formed where people increasingly expect marriage partners to meet most of their needs of intimacy, affection and sex. Maybe this is the reason why those who marry later in life to obtain education, stable employment and savings typically have higher quality marriages and are less likely to divorce.
Moral of the story? Listen to your heart but also your head. You should still choose to wed someone you love, but know that love alone may not help sustain a happy marriage.