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Marriage & Relationships as Social Convention


kamurj

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Excerpted from
The Future of Love
By Daphne Rose Kingma

Ours is a marrying culture, and since marriage is our traditional picture of a relationship, if we want to be loved in this culture, sooner or later we have to get married. We don't say this, of course, and we have many actual relationships that are not marriage, but in our hearts we hanker after marriage, and in our society "marriage" is the relationship norm. Given the power of marriage in our culture, if you want to be loved, you have four options:

1. You can be married.

2. You can be waiting to be married.

3. You can be a person who has suffered divorce and is subsequently waiting to marry again.

4. Or, God forbid, you can be a person who is single and was never blessed with an opportunity to many in the first place.

It isn't socially acceptable not to want to "get married" or not to "be in a relationship." That's because the longing for marriage is so entrenched in our collective unconscious that it is one of our most powerful personal motivations. It's the way we both inspire ourselves and beat ourselves up. We inspire ourselves because the thought of marriage brings us joy, and we beat ourselves up because so often we "fail" at marriage: we never find a suitable marriage partner; if we find one, we can't seem to make our marriages stick; or by being gay we are perpetually standing outside the walls of conventional marriage.

All our intimate relationships are measured by the marriage model. We see it as the union we desire; the sacred union for lovers; our relationship of record, and the form of relationship that will give us the most comfort and offer us the most love. That's why even after communes, free love, and women's liberation, marriage is seeing a huge resurgence. And that is also why people excluded from it-gay people who want to marry, for example-want to partake of it, and why many heterosexual people feel threatened by the thought of its being encroached upon.

Why is the archetype of marriage so potent? Because it's so ancient, because it's been with us for centuries. In fact, marriage has been around for so long that most of us don't even know where it came from. Ethnologists tell us that the earliest forms of marriage were a sort of communal gathering together for the purpose of ensuring the survival of the species. People cleaved to one another, not because they "fell in love" or because they could discover or fulfill themselves in "a relationship," but because their joining assured procreation and protection for the young, and thus secured the survival of the species.

How we have lived our intimate lives over the past two millennia at least and how we think of relationships now in our hearts are the long inheritance of this primal need for survival and of our social need to be gathered and protected. It is out of these very basic human concerns that the beliefs we hold about our intimate relationships developed.

What began as a tribal gathering in which specific partners were often chosen by the head of the tribe or the parents of those who would marry, was later made sacred as marriage in Christian culture and, through the rise of the concept of romantic love, became that passionate joining of a man and woman that we have come to cherish as marriage. Over time, the concept of marriage has been woven more and more deeply into the social fabric in such a way that it both encourages the creation of such relationships and supports them in their being. (A simple example of this is that the U.S. government supports marriage by giving tax incentives to those who are legally married and not to individuals or to individuals merely living together.)

As the centuries passed, laid over the issue of survival was the notion of romantic love, the idea that love was a matter of sexual attraction and a swooning of the heart. Deep feelings of passionate attachment were considered appropriate between individuals, in fact they became the raison d'etre of "a relationship." Eventually, marriage, which had originally been created purely for survival reasons, began to be the container in which all such romantic feelings were also to be enacted. Love, a matter of the heart, became enfolded with social convention.

Now, although relationships have evolved far beyond the need for protection and survival-childbearing women of the 1990s don't need the same kind of protection that cave women once did, and we certainly don't need any more people on the face of the earth-these deep memories of our need for survival and our desire for romance still reside within us. So no matter how far our relationships have actually progressed, no matter that millennia have passed, or even that we've spent the last century exploring our psychological selves and are now emerging as spiritual beings, deep down inside we're all still operating by beliefs about our relationships that were coined when our survival depended upon them.

Marriage and Society The stability of marriage-the idea of two people cleaving together for life-has been so important for our collective survival that our beliefs about marriage became one of the cornerstones of society. Indeed, keeping our relationships on an even keel, having our marriages function as steady, reliable units, whirring cogs in the spinning machinery of our little communities, is what makes "society" what it is, and society is what encourages marriage to be what it is.

In order to create social stability, there's an unspoken demand, a sort of atmosphere or fragrance in the air that tells married people to stay married, to behave themselves, to care about the larger things society has to offer, and not to do anything too disruptive, like choosing to live in a commune, running off with the next-door neighbor, or deciding not to pay taxes.

But because this unspoken demand is a function of our social rather than our personal consciousness, it compels married people to abide by external values, to participate in a generic rather than an individual or visionary consciousness. Instead of diving to the internal depths where we might find the wisdom of our hearts (and perhaps come up with startling social solutions or unusual relationship forms-a part-time transcontinental relationship or a once-a-week monogamous commitment, for example), we become like sheep who waddle along with the Joneses. The truth is that marriage-as a relationship-has been appropriated by society, and as it serves society, it often suffocates the individual vivid soul.

Duty, responsibility, and social convention, as important as they are, often take us away from our deepest natural connection with one another-our heartfelt connection-and so, while trying to serve the whole, we can betray or abandon ourselves.

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