Tag Archives: happiness

Why We Should Question Marriage

 

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Richard Burton Elizabeth Taylor

 

matrimonialism (noun): the ideology that embraces marriage as a cultural norm.

Cultural institutions, especially ones as deeply revered as marriage, are rarely challenged. Marriage is thought of as inherently good. When someone announces that they’re getting married, we never tell them not to. But we should. We could save a lot of lives that way (and lose a lot of friends). We never ask them why in the hell they’re marrying the toothless lumberjack they met at Middleton Sports Bowl; we never let it slip that perhaps they can do better than the obese schoolteacher whose hobbies include paint-by-number and video golf. We don’t say anything because it’s not the person that they’re marrying that we’re celebrating. It’s the institution itself. And that’s the problem. Marriage is considered a social good. Even if the people getting (or staying) married don’t love each other or stopped loving each other three decades ago.

American culture is overflowing with matrimonialism in every form of media. Think of the bridal magazines, the New York Times Sunday wedding pages and that apex of matrimonialism: eHarmony, whose website touts: “On average, 542 people get married every day in the United States because of eHarmony; that accounts for nearly 5% of new U.S. marriages.” Side note: I’m guessing that eHarmony accounts for an even higher percentage of divorces.

To clarify, marriage isn’t inherently bad. It’s our uncritical celebration of marriage as a category that’s a problem. While our cultural contract allows us (and in some cases even requires us) to criticize and question the single about their lack of a partner, we can’t ask similar questions to marrieds. Turn the usual questions on their heads and you’ll see what I mean. There’s nothing unacceptable about asking a single person why she’s not in a relationship.  But if a woman tells you that she’s been married for 25 years, you’re not allowed to interrogate her. You’re supposed to effusively congratulate her. You can’t ask her: “Why have you spent the last quarter-century with that man?” or “Do you ever wish that you’d never gotten married?” Continue reading

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Why Monogamy Should Be Classified as a Paraphilia

Married Couple

Do these people have a paraphilia?

Imagine this scenario: a friend (we’ll call her Rene) says to you that she plans on spending the rest of her life having sex with the same person (we’ll call him Tom). Rene claims that for the next fifty or so years she will flirt only with Tom, fantasize only about sex with Tom, stay with Tom even when he gets fat and sick and old. This will make her happy, she thinks. It will make her so deliriously happy that Rene must celebrate by inviting all their friends to an expensive, drunken party where she declares these intentions while her friends and family cry, not out of sadness for her misplaced ideas about happiness, but with joy, with the hope that unlike the majority of married couples, she will continue to have a great sex life with Tom. But in all probability this will not happen. There’s about a 50% chance that there will be cheating in the relationship and a 15% chance that they will stop having sex altogether. And most likely even if Rene and Tom are still having sex, it will be of the routine, robotic variety. Yet our society continues to perpetuate the myth that lifetime monogamy is a normal state for most human beings and that it leads to happiness.

It’s such an ingrained societal belief that deigning to question it is seen as heresy, which has created a situation where people who question monogamy are too scared to openly discuss it because they fear social reprisal. They then assume that most people are happy practicing monogamy, since few people are saying otherwise. Communication theorist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann called this phenomena the Spiral of Silence, which is succinctly described by Wikipedia as “the process by which one opinion becomes dominant as those who perceive their opinion to be in the minority do not speak up because they fear isolation from society.”

Side note: The Spiral of Silence is controversial among some because of Noelle-Neumann’s connection to Nazism. Having tea with Hitler and writing for Das Reich, a newspaper founded by Joseph Goebbels, isn’t the best way to endear yourself to the academic community. Some scholars believe that her theory is “riddled with totalitarian ideology gleaned from working as “Germany’s leading pollster.” Continue reading

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