Jul 052002

The charming (and lovely, I’m sure) Susanna Cornett, proprietor of the charming and lovely Cut on the Bias, writes:

Now, what I want you to blog about…What it is about women that you don’t understand, do understand and appreciate, and do understand and don’t appreciate. This is not limited at all to romantic involvements, although you can go there if you wish. Also, how a society run by women would look and act. You can’t crap out in two graphs, either.

Fortunately Susanna forgot to ban doggerel.

Hogamous, higamous,
Men are polygamous.
Higamous, hogamous,
Women are monogamous.
–William James

George Bernard Shaw argued in Man and Superman — Shaw argued a lot in his plays — that because women derive all the benefit from marriage they ought to chase men instead of the other way round.

Shaw has a point. Marriage offers women companionship, economic support, sexual fidelity and child-rearing assistance, including sperm donation. Marriage offers men companionship and a steady sex partner. Of course these benefits are theoretical; your mileage may vary. And while it’s true that economic support isn’t what it used to be, it’s also true that steady sex partners are a lot easier to find out of wedlock these days. (Women used to be able to encourage men to marry by withholding sex. But that was before the sexual revolution. Of all the stupid things the feminists did to damage women, encouraging premarital sex in the name of “liberation” may have been the stupidest.) Marriage was a bad deal for men in Shaw’s day and it may be a worse deal now. So you have to wonder, why do men marry at all?

Three reasons (you need three, that’s a rule, right?): inertia, companionship, and the fiction of romantic love. Inertia, or tradition, is an underrated force in human affairs. It is difficult not to do something you see your parents, neighbors and friends all doing. You think there must be something in it. Even Descartes, the most rigorous of all skeptics, recommended deferring to tradition unless you could think of an excellent reason not to. Descartes never married, however.

Clever men marry for companionship. No one wants to grow old alone, and marriage is insurance against that. Few things are pleasanter than to have a woman who understands your jokes to talk to at dinner, especially if you can induce her to cook it too. But this requires only cohabitation, to which little stigma attaches these days, not marriage. (Full disclosure: I’ve lived with the same woman for fifteen years and we have no plans to marry.)

Now romantic love, as I, or more precisely Stendhal on my behalf, argued earlier this week, is lust in favorable circumstances. It is a very foolish reason to marry, far more foolish than, say, money, which as an index to character is pretty loose but beats a smoldering glance. Most women are too sensible to believe in love; it’s men who are the suckers for it. Watch a couple prepare for their wedding sometime if you don’t believe me. The bride is obsessed with the details — the reception, the cake, the guests, the church — all the trappings that disguise what’s really going on. The groom can’t be bothered. As far as he’s concerned they’re getting married, memorializing their love, and that’s all that matters. When men discuss marriage among themselves they actually talk about love. Women — so I am told by several unusually frank representatives — don’t.

Hello again Susanna. Was this what you had in mind?

  7 Responses to “Women and Marriage”

  1. In a manner of speaking, yes. That is to say, I was interested in your views, although you skipped out on the whole "women as rulers" thing. And somehow you also skidded past the "procreation" as a reason for marriage thing. Overall, remarkably cynical, but charming. In other words, pretty much what I expected.

    And thanks :) for taking the time. Only three more to go. Then, remember, you get to take a shot at choosing a topic for me.

  2. I just want to warn you now that when my readership exceeds two dozen, which Sales tells me we’re on track for in the next six to nine months, I will no longer be able to accept personal requests.

    Hmm, so I have to blog on four of your topics before you blog on one of mine? Wasn’t I just complaining about some deal like that?

    I skipped out on women as rulers because I like women as rulers. My favorite of the 20th century, at least post-WWII, is Mrs. Thatcher. Women may well make better rulers because, as I implied, they have a much clearer idea than men of where their bread is buttered.

    Procreation is just one of those things that interest women more than men. I think, however, that artificial insemination tilts the playing field back toward women, because they will no longer need to rely on a particular man as a sperm donor. They will regain some of the ground they lost in the sexual revolution, and I’m all for that.

    I don’t mean any of this as cynical, even if it sounds that way. I think the happiest way for most people to live is in a sexually monogamous relationship with shared property; it’s how I live myself and I recommend it highly. But we need to demystify love and sex and put a lot more emphasis on shared values. My jejune theory along these lines is that the man and woman whose aesthetic taste is the most similar will be the happiest together in the long run. And I completely agree with the recent article in Slate celebrating Internet matchmaking sites like Nerve and Match for letting people learn something useful about each other before they go and do something precipitous like get married.

  3. Okay, give me one to blog on and I’ll do it before I leave tomorrow. Just has to be in my email box by 10 a.m. ;).

  4. I’ve been married for 8 going on 9 years (in August).

    My wife is my best friend, and I know I’m hers. I know I love her and I have no reason to doubt that she loves me.

    And the sex is still good, btw.

    Does that mean we don’t have hard times, rocky times, disagreements? Of course not. Does that mean we aren’t really friends? We aren’t really lovers? I don’t think so. But if we just co-habitated, would we still be together? Maybe. Maybe not. I think during the rocky times, and we’ve had some prolonged difficulties because of external circumstances, it might have been very easy just to ditch this relationship thing. But we both take our vows seriously. To us, our vows are part and parcel of growing old together and it makes the lasting so much sweetier. We’ve been togther for more than 10 years, but it is our wedding anniversary that really matters.

    That’s not to knock what you’ve got or what others have in their non-married relationships. I just wanted to defend marriage as something more than a romantic fiction, a social contrivance and an act of expediancy.

  5. Another reason to get married is to provide a stable base to bear and raise children. Some few of us think that such old-fashioned, two-parent families are the best basis for a good society. We also wish to inculcate such values in our children–a task at which I have obviously failed.

  6. Aaron’s father, I really like you.

  7. Then there are those women who perceive all the benefits of marriage being on the side of the man. The man who gets taken care of, cooked and cleaned for, fucked and nursemaided, etc, while very often the woman involved is molding her needs and desires to what works best for him, even if in the name of ‘equal partnership.’ I’ve always been deeply suspicious of marriage and am just grateful to live in a time/place where I can get along perfectly well without it.

    I understand it’s different for women who want kids. But even then, I feel marriage in general skews more heavily to benefit the male partner.

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