“There is no such thing as ‘a real marriage’ as distinct from any other kind of marriage.”

This is a comment by wellokaythen on the post “Is Marriage Obsolete?”

I can’t answer the question until I know what we’re actually talking about.

There is actually no such thing as “Marriage with a capital M,” meaning there is no single, universal, agreeable, self-evident thing that is the same for everyone. There really is nothing very deep you can say about ALL marriages that can be covered by the expression, “that’s what marriage is.” There are lots of marriages of all kinds. Marriages exist, but “marriage” as a concept is something people define for themselves within a marriage. They may let other people define what marriage means, but that’s still a choice.

This also means that there is no such thing as “a real marriage” as distinct from any other kind of marriage. Maybe one marriage is more sustainable than another, but that doesn’t make it more real. Every marriage that exists is a real marriage. The article is asking whether something is obsolete without bothering to say what the thing actually is.

This is like asking, “Is technology becoming obsolete?” Well, some forms of it are obsolete, some are becoming obsolete, and some seem to be going strong. Marriage forms are a type of social technology. Different societies at different points in history set up different kinds of marriages, though they may not have used any word comparable to “marriage.” Some kinds of marriages seem to be disappearing, while others are becoming more common.

It’s like asking, “Are contracts becoming obsolete?” Some are, some aren’t.

If the question is, “Is the ‘til death do us part’ kind of marriage disappearing?” then I’d say yes. That’s just one definition of marriage, though. People who are married for 10 years and then get divorced had an actual marriage. That was a “real marriage,” like it or not. If one or both of them remarry, that will also be “real marriage.” 

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  1. wellokaythen. Ithink your response was ‘dead nuts on’! Although I’m conservetive Politically, I think this ‘Defense of Marriage’ act was an abomination. How can anyone say that Polymorus and ‘Swingers’ can be legally married but manogamous gay couples can’t be? Marriage is somthing private between the 2 people involved. Whilr I agree that you should respect religious beliefs and not force them to go against their core beliefs, there is no reason , in a legal and civil sence, ANYONE who wants to enter into marriage, should not have the legal right to do so!

    • Polyamory and swinging works for some people. Just because it doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean that their bonds aren’t just as sacred–just in their own way. You can have a committed relationship with 3, 4, whatever people as long as everyone is on board. This might not be easy, but many people make it work. It can be just as meaningful and intimate. There will be jealousy, but there’s jealousy in almost EVERY relationship. If my partner got another girlfriend, I’d hope that it’s a mutual decision and that we *both* like her and have chemistry with her, since we’re entering a partnership. Practically, there are some problems with polyamory, since in reality, there are a lot of stories of child brides and women who feel like they have to consent to it even if they don’t want it–but if everyone truly wants it, what’s the big deal? As for swinging, that’s up to each couple to decide. As long as there’s no hypocrisy on either end, I don’t see the problem. Just another way to spice things up.

      • My point wasn’t that some types of marriages shouldn,t be allowed. My point was that Marriage is something between the 2 people involved in it and ONLY between them! It’s not right for you, me, or anyone else to say ,Well allow this and this kind of marriage, but not that kind. Look, I’m no fan of marriage in the modern wold and I’ve said on more than 1 occassion that if I were young and single today, I’d see no reason to get married PERIOD! But that’s about me personally and I also feel that no one has the right to stop anyone from entering into a relationship or marriage if they choose to do so!

        • Just out of curiosity, is there an alternative to marriage for someone who wants to be committed to someone and also have a big party celebrating it? There should be events like celebrations of love or something like that, legal or not. I guess legal marriage protects the partner who devotes themselves to the household and sacrifices a career (which nowadays isn’t just the female). Personally, I wish that I’d never gotten married. It’s made me lose a lot of money, ruined my credit score, and I don’t think I even married the right person for me. At the same time, I’m a huge romantic at heart and completely understand the impulse to make things “official.” To really give yourself to someone you love and who loves you.

          • I think about my mother, too. She left her family, including a dying father, and crossed an ocean for my dad. She abandoned her career (she was very bright and a professor in a very scientific field) to move to a country where she didn’t know the language to be with him and to raise her children. She took care of every practical thing ever for my dad–from finances to cleaning to booking hotels to taking care of the cars to cooking, etc. If, for some reason, my father were to decide to leave her, had they not been married–she’d be f*cked. A 50-something year old woman out on the street after devoting her life to make things easier for my father. She would absolutely deserve the benefits of marriage.

          • wellokaythen says:

            See, now, this is what I’m talking about.

            To me, when someone says “I never should have gotten married,” the wiser thing to say would be “I never should have agreed to THAT KIND of marriage.” To say no marriage would ever work for you is maybe jumping to conclusions based on very simplistic thinking.

            There are different kinds of marriage. Getting screwed over in one kind of marriage doesn’t mean that all forms are horrible or obsolete.

            When someone says, “I learned my lesson and I am never getting married again,” that person is reacting to the KIND of marriage he/she had before and therefore making a decision about all forms of marriage.

            Or, when someone is asked if he/she will ever get married, one common answer is “if I find the right person.” That kind of answer shows another lack of awareness or lack of consciousness. It’s not just a question of the person but a question of what kind of relationship you are trying to build. It’s better to approach it as “if I find the right person and our ideas about our marriage are compatible enough.”

            There are people out there who get married and stay married and are happy with their marriage by negotiating just about any conditions you can imagine. You can agree to almost anything, mainstream or bizarre, in your marriage and possibly find happiness or at least sustainability. That’s why I say it’s “your marriage,” not “marriage as an institution.”

            And, like I said, a marriage that ends with divorce or separation is not necessarily a failed marriage or proof that marriage doesn’t work. You could actually create a marriage in which both people agree that it’s not necessarily meant to be forever. There can be amicable divorces and vituperative marriages.

  2. Michael Pokocky says:

    I think the point of discussing marriage is to address real life issues within a marriage. The definition is not important as most readers come here for answers to their marriage woes. It’s not a comment of the day because all it does is deflect one from responsibility and choice. This could get real messy in someone’s head if they are having trouble in their marriage. Step it up a bit and let’s assume marriage is marriage by any definition and start talking about problems and resolutions. Real life is not academic. Real life is suffering and pain and men want to understand their pain in some context so they leave here with a solution they can try.

    • wellokaythen says:

      I was trying to call for MORE individual responsibility and choice, not less.

      My point, which I awkwardly circled around, is that your marriage is *your* marriage. It’s the particular relationship between you and your spouse. It’s not the relationship between you and an institution. If you want to know what will work in your marriage, look at the specific relationship you have with your spouse right now. Look at the kind of marriage relationship that you want and the kind of marriage that your spouse wants. Look at the specifics of your relationship and figure out what works and what doesn’t work. You and your partner define what your marriage will be.

      Sure, it’s good to look around at other people’s relationships, look at what other people say about marriage, and see if there’s wisdom you can get from other people’s experience with marriage. That’s just a pool of information, though, and you can use or reject or modify what you need to. Ultimately a marriage thrives or dies because of the two people in it, whether “Marriage” is thriving or going obsolete.

      I’m calling for deeper thought than treating marriage as this thing that you’re just supposed to know what it means and act accordingly. When one spouse tells the other, “this is what marriage is, so that’s what you have to do,” then you probably won’t have a constructive conversation that makes your relationship stronger. Yelling your definition of marriage at the other person doesn’t work, but people sure try that all the time. When someone tells you “what marriage is all about,” they are not telling you any natural laws, and they may not be helping you one bit.

      If there’s trouble in a marriage, and the couples counselor asks you, “Do you still want to be married?”, then it’s absolutely crucial that you get clear in your own head what you define marriage to be. If you just have some vague idea based on what people tell you marriage is supposed to be, then you will not really be answering the question, and it’s the most important question.

      This is not just an academic question. This is important, practical homework. Your definition of marriage is what determines where your marriage takes you.

      There are plenty of people who file for divorce (some, not all!) because they never really examined their ideas about marriage. Some of them just accepted the universality of marriage as this thing that just is the way that it is, they failed to live up to the supposedly eternal code, so they have to end it. They excuse themselves by saying marriage is obsolete or I’m just not meant to be married or I made a mistake getting married, when instead they maybe could have crafted a different kind of marriage. Some spouses just dig in their heels and say “here’s what marriage is, take it or leave it.” THAT is also dodging individual responsibility.

      I don’t know how you work together to heal or strengthen a marriage when there’s no thought about what your specific marital goals are, and I don’t see how you can figure out what your marital goals are if you don’t give thought to how you define a good marriage.

      P.S. Treating my response as the Comment of the Day was not my choice.

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