When Did Marriage Become about Love?


When did Marriages become about love? For centuries, marriage was viewed as a practical
arrangement between two families. So, what changed to make love the basis for
the institution of marriage? So a lot of people across the U.S. have grown
up thinking that “love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.” But besides being the lyrics to the catchy
opening theme song of “Married with Children”, and a popular song by Frank Sinatra, I wanted
to know: when did love become the primary rubric for choosing a life partner? Now, before we get started, I would like to
point out a small disclaimer that this episode isn’t intended as an endorsement of any
particular type of marriage or as a negation of the wonderful institution of love. Rather, I wanted to do some deeper research
into how “love matches” became the ultimate sign of a healthy or strong marriage in the
U.S. and when we started to see the shift from marriage as the joining of two lives based
on the choices of families and parents, to marriage as a choice driven by love at the
center. Because even though love wasn’t always considered
the central criteria for getting married, today love is the key factor in how Americans
choose to enter into marriage, with a recent study showing 88% of Americans listing it
as a very important reason to enter into marriage, over the 81% who listed making a lifelong
commitment as very important, the 76% who listed companionship as vital, 49% who thought
having kids was key, and the 28% who thought financial stability ranked high marks. But as you can see from these numbers, many
of these considerations (love, companionship, financial stability) overlap, so even if someone
thinks love is key, that doesn’t mean that they consider it to the exclusion of everything
else. So to start of this week’s topic, we should
first ask ourselves: When did marriage start and what were the
primary rubrics for choosing a mate before love came into the mix? Well if you haven’t gotten a chance to watch
our episode on the origins of the Nuclear family, hint hint 😉 Here is a short recap
on the marriage portion: Marriage is a custom that dates back thousands
of years and is practiced in cultures the world over. And marriages haven taken a variety of forms,
including the arranged marriages sanctioned by parents, religious marriages, monogamous
marriages, plural marriages, and marriages that involved licenses and other legal documents
issued through the state or government. Also since divorce and annulment were considerably
less common until recently, either due to a lack of legal recourse or because of the
social stigma, marriages often lasted longer (although that doesn’t note whether they
were more functional, happy, and harmonious unions). But according to Stephanie Coontz author of
Marriage, A History, the love match is a relatively recent phenomenon in Western marriage customs. She says that “What marriage had in common was that it
really was not about the relationship between the man and the woman…It was a way of getting
in-laws, of making alliances and expanding the family labor force.” So not exactly hearts, roses, red boxes of
chocolates, and warm fuzzy feelings. But it brings us to our next question: When did love start being considered the primary
reason for marriage? Well according to Dr. Aparajita Jeedigunta’s
blog, some of that has to do with marriage laws and property rights. In early marriages in societies that established
property laws through children, Jeedigunta notes that monogamous marriages were a way
of legitimizing children, with men claiming their offspring and wives as part of their
household and “property” (charming really). This ensured that any family wealth was passed
down accordingly. But starting in the 10th century in Europe,
the concept of consent in marriage became more vital, with the idea that unions between
two consenting parties should be approved by a religious body and before God. So love before the union began wasn’t considered
the only focus, but consent and family approval often were. And the idea of a married couple growing to
love each other or providing companionship after years in a relationship wasn’t so
outside of the cultural imagination. It was just viewed as a potential part of
married life, rather than as a prerequisite of getting hitched. But throughout history people have gotten
married for a variety of reasons, and love was sometimes one of them. However it wasn’t such a common practice
in the West that it became a well known truism. That didn’t start until the 18th century
when the idea of marriages based on romance as an ideal started to slowly emerge. And this trend continued into the 19th century. Because businesses and factories weren’t
the only thing that the Industrial Revolution… well… revolutionized. As people began to move away from family areas
and into more densely populated cities, we saw the rise of Enlightenment era ideals that
focused on individuality and the happiness of the individual. As a result, in Europe and the US, some folks
were picking their own partners for the first time, rather than relying on, or considering
the larger family structure. So with people moving away from the influence
and protection of their parents households in order to make livings in large cities,
all of this new fangled Enlightenment talk about the individual as opposed to the group/collective
is theorized to have impacted marriage trends (which was followed by similar trends throughout
the Romantic era that centered inspiration, strong emotion, and the individual instinct). As a result, during the 19th century in areas
and countries such as Europe, the U.S., and Australia we started to see the rise in the
love match (and not just as words associated with tennis). Which wasn’t as long ago as we might originally
think. But this perspective isn’t universal. For example, a contemporary study of populations’
attitudes towards marriage in India, Pakistan, Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Hong Kong,
the Philippines, Australia, England, and the United States by Robert Levine et. al found
that love isn’t considered the number one factor in choosing a life partner in some
contemporary Eastern cultures, whereas it ranked as the highest consideration in the
West. And arranged marriages aren’t a relic of
the past. They still exist widely across cultures, from
Jewish and Hindu matchmakers to celebrity matchmakers with reality TV shows. So how does it all add up? Well even though marriages being chosen based
on love is a relatively recent occurence in some countries, such as in the US, it still
doesn’t remain the norm everywhere. And while there is evidence that suggests
that love matches are more likely to end in divorce than marriages that are arranged,
we should take both of those facts into careful consideration. Divorce rates alone cannot tell us about the
happiness, or functionality of a certain relationships. So just because a marriage is passionate at
the onset doesn’t mean that it will last forever or that it will fall apart. And a marriage born out of love can become
dysfunctional or breed a love that lasts a lifetime. And although arranged marriages tend to last
longer, Coontz also notes that some arranged marriages can be coercive or oppressive if
both parties aren’t consenting. So while many people in marriages that are
structured around family approval, long term security, and shared values can lead to supportive
and loving arrangements and long term companionship, there are also instances of bad matches in
these cases as well. So if love matches and arranged marriages
both have their pluses and minuses, then, where do lasting marriages come from? Well this is a history show and not a love
advice show, but it seems that early configurations of parties giving consent is the easiest formulation
to see how to build a marriage with the potential to last. Marriages built around consent and not coercion,
where all parties have shared goals seems to be the real ideal here, whatever form your
actual marriage contract may take. So what do you think? Any evidence to weigh in on why or why not
the rise of the love match happened in the U.S.? Drop them below, and see you next week! Luckily everyone in our audience appears to
be on board with hand washing (that’s a big sigh of relief) so here’s what some
of you had to say about last week’s episode: Adam Marentes on Youtube pointed out that
the story about the discovery of the effects of the Helicobater Pylori bacteria on gastrointestinal
problems and ulcers is a pretty good case of the “Semmelweis effect”. Check out the links below for more info on
the two researchers who championed different methods of treatment, Barry Marshall and Robin
Warren. Thanks Adam! And Ryan the Raptor Guy (cool handle and page
by the way!) notes that geologists J Harlen Bretz’ theories and research about Lake
Missoula and the Lake Missoula Floods were often refuted by other geologists because
they didn’t align with his contemporaries. So the Semmelweis effect strikes again! Read more about it in the works cited section
and thanks for sharing Ryan! That’s all for questions, like, share, and
subscribe to all our content and remember: rub a dub-dub, when it comes to hands, be sure to scrub, and we’ll catch you next week!

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