Love is out

The Case for arranged Marriage

Essay by: Richard Stengel

Romantic love is a supreme fiction; marriage for love is the consequence of that fiction; and divorce is the painful evidence of that initial delusion. The history of romantic love is the continuing ironic testimony of the power of our minds to mesmerize our bodies, and romantic marriage is the most recent and least successful stage in the history of matrimony.

Now that the census Bureau has estimated that almost one in two marriages will end in divorce, it is apparent that the solution to the troubled state of matrimony is a return to the tradition of arranged marriages.

The sentimental sanctity of love was the invention of the Provincial poets of the twelfth century, and they saw it as the exotic refinement of a bored aristocracy. Since then, however, courtly minority but the expectation of every man and woman. Indeed, the joys of romantic love would seem to be the birthright of every American, for the Framers of the Declaration of Independence declared "the pursuit of happiness" to be an inalienable right of all men and women.

Love, though, is neither a right nor an instinct, but a learned form of behavior; it is not a spontaneous feeling but an artificial ritual. It is a response that we have learned from literature and from its contemporary handmaidens, the news media. As lovers, we are all actors we imagine ourselves most spontaneous when we are most imitative. We learn how to love from movies, television, novels, magazines, and advertisements. We learn to adore love, to idolize love to fall in love with love.

To most Americans, love is romantic love. It is a drive or state of tension induced by our prevailing romantic myths. The lover’s nourishment is the expectation of bliss. Love is a competitive and covetous game; Competition for a mate brings out the "best" in an individual. To be alone is not considered a self-imposed choice but evidence of failure in the contest of love.

During the Industrial Revolution, arranged romantic marriages gave way to individual love matches. The monotony of work and the impersonality of the city led people to escape monotony in personal relations and retreat from impersonality to the emotional fortress of marriage. Urbanization caused the "privatization" of marriage so that intimacy of wedlock became sanctuary from a world where all intimacy was excluded.

Yet romantic marriage could not last. More and more pressure was forced on marriage to be a haven in a heartless world. In earlier more structured societies, married partners were externally oriented and did not have to rely exclusively on each other for emotional gratification. They could find that elsewhere. Romantic passion had always existed outside of the marriage and had little to do with wedlock. Contemporary society forces couples to depend on each other for permanence and stability, functions that were formerly provided by a large familial and social network. Today, marriage has not lost its function; it suffers from a surfeit of functions. The marriage partner must not only be a lover, but a friend, a colleague, a therapist, and a tennis partner.

Traditionally, the selection of mates has been determined by social, political and economic considerations directed either toward establishing new ties or toward reaffirming old ones. Every arranged marriage was the formation of a new society a merger of a network of family and social relationships. Marriage was a duty. Its purpose was procreation. Children were best raised in a congenial home, and a congenial home was best created by a reasonable arrangement between congenial people. Marriage was contracted according to a principle other than the self-interest of the participants, and emotional satisfaction was neither the origin nor the purpose of marriage.

The concept of arranged marriage is based on a positive view of human nature. Its guiding principles are that marriage requires a more durable foundation than romantic love, that wisdom is more important in the choosing of a partner than passion, and that everyone can find something to "love, honor, and cherish" in anyone else. Romantic love is fundamentally narcissistic; we either choose someone who resembles ourselves (the selves we’d like to be or think we are), or we choose someone who complements us. Romantic love is self-indulgent; arranged marriages look outward, beyond the solitary self, toward numerous others.

Romantic love allows the reverie of imagining what the other person is like, whereas arranged marriage forces us to acknowledge truly another human being. An arranged marriage teaches us how to live with an individual instead of falling in love with an idealized one. The myth of romantic love teaches us how to fall in love. Perhaps when marriages are arranged, we learn how to love.

Essay by: Richard Stengel

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