kingshearte's Reviews > Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage

Marriage, a History by Stephanie Coontz
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's review
Jun 23, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011, non-fiction
Read from June 22 to 28, 2011

This was a really interesting book. One of the biggest things I learned from it was that the "traditional marriage" propaganda machine has to be one of the most successful ever, because although I certainly didn't buy into the notion that things had to stay that way just because they'd always been that way, I nonetheless did pretty much accept that it had more or less always been that way. But it really hasn't. The people who have been freaking out over how drastically marriage has changed from the "traditional" days of the 50s really need to become aware that that model really only existed for a few decades, and that marriage before that was just as vastly different and ever changing.

It provided a lot of food for thought, too. When I got married four years ago, I had concerns. Not because I wasn't sure I was right or anything, but because when you look around at all the other couples who presumably also thought they'd made the right choice, but end up divorced anyway, it's hard to find the confidence that you're right while they were all wrong. And sometimes I still think about that, and although things are good, it's only been four years, and there's still a lot of future ahead of us, and who knows what that will bring. In a way, this book simultaneously made me feel like divorce is more likely but also less horrifying. I'm not sure if that's good or not, but it does bring up a point made in this book: we expect so much of our marriages now, that it's kind of no wonder so many of them fail to live up to that. It's like marriage's evolution has consisted almost solely of adding expectations to it without taking any away. Initially, it was supposed to provide children and cooperation for various survival purposes. Then it was supposed to provide those things and last forever. Then it was supposed to be all that, plus your only sexual outlet (at least if you were a woman). Then you were supposed to love your partner on top of all that. These days, in addition to all that stuff, your partner is supposed to provide for pretty much all your emotional needs. It just doesn't seem that surprising that there's starting to be some trade-off. In some cases, people choose to pursue sexual avenues outside the prime relationship (either with permission or without). In other cases, it's that forever thing that goes by the wayside. And maybe that's not such a terrible thing. I can't quite go so far as to say it's desirable or anything, but I don't think it spells doom or anything. And if we're moving toward a more casual model of partnerships, well, it's been that way before. Why not again?

As for gay marriage, well, if you know me, you probably know that my stance on that is quite adamantly pro. And given the current state of marriage, I truly find it unfathomable that people disagree. I really do. These days, the only thing you really need opposite genders for is having babies, and if childlessness as a choice is becoming more and more accepted (and I can vouch that it is, at least among the people I encounter), then the ability to produce a child without outside assistance should not be a relevant factor in who can marry. I could go on, but suffice it to say that I have yet to hear a compelling argument against it that does anything to convince me.

Anyway, at the end of the day, this book could be a touch repetitive in some descriptions of marriage and its purposes, but was ultimately quite fascinating. I'd recommend it if you're interested in the subject matter.

One comment from other reviews, that is worth noting: this is a history of Western, especially white, marriage. It does not delve into other cultures' current marriage practices, so don't expect it to.

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