Defense of marriage

Chani wrote a fabulous post about this topic yesterday, and my response was way too long for a comment.

            I have been married for seven years, and I have never really been tempted to dabble outside of my marriage.  Now, that may be because I have been perpetually exhausted by school and work and kids for those seven years, in which case we should look for me to start shopping around for an affair sometime around 2023, when I have finally had a good night’s sleep.

            However, I suspect there is more to it than that.  Monogamy was not a choice for me.  We talk about marriage as though it is elective, but the fact is that, like gender, it is a social construction we have reinforced time and again from the moment we are old enough to recognize that Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are raising their ducklings (Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack, and Quack) together.  Sure, we notice that plenty of adults get divorced, but that is supposedly a failure of the institution we all are very much invested in seeing succeed. 

            The fact is, I did not choose to believe in marriage any more than I chose to believe in shaving my legs, wearing clothing in hot weather, or admiring thin people.  It is just one of many traditions that I have absorbed as “right” because that’s what my society is doing.

            I have often pondered my willingness to fall in line with so many accepted norms of society.  Am I weak-minded and unable to think for myself?  If I had been around 200 years ago, I wonder, would I have just gone along with another of society’s “peculiar institutions”?  Or would I have had the imagination to realize things could be different?  

            I hope the answer is that I am able to think outside of the box when injustice is involved.  My idea of marriage is a smidge different from the one that I saw all around me as I grew up.  In my mind, marriage is exclusively between two adults who love each other and have chosen to be legally bound to each other.  Almost sounds like the prototype, except I can honestly say I ascribe no gender to those two adults.  Yep, I kicked off one aspect of the societal definition, but when I say that of course I support gay marriage, I am backing the institution all the more.

            If I were really able to think outside societal definitions, I would not even see marriage as a preferred state of being.  I would assume relationships are just as they have been built by the people involved, and I would have no judgment for polygamists, cheaters, and men who cannot commit.  Instead, I cannot imagine why those who are trying to bolster family values do not get behind gay marriage.  More people for the cause!  10% more of the population underscoring the value of marriage!  Woohoo!!!

            Yes, despite all my jabber about gender norms and not wearing makeup, I am a good, old-fashioned conformist.  However, I suspect that my lack of interest in extramarital nookie is deeper than that.  After all, nowadays, sometime it seems like cheating is a part of half the marriages out there.

            No, I like monogamy because it has been good to me.  My partner and I have grown towards one another.  We are tense, we are tired, we are moving way too often, but we are so much a part of one another that intimacy with anyone else seems absurd.  It just could not be like the intimacy we have, that is born of sharing a life so fully together.

            So, Chani asks if monogamy is natural.  I say, who the hell knows?  Probably not.  It is probably a convention that, like all conventions, serves some of us better than others. 

            As I sit here writing this, two little boys in bed, a little girl growing inside me, a husband across the country (where are you this week, babe?), and a picture of the four of us on the shelf in front of me, I can honestly say it has been pretty good to me. 

            It may be, however, time to start rethinking that whole absurdity of wearing clothes in hot weather.

18 responses to “Defense of marriage

  1. Love it! Thanks for presenting an alternative view to mine. It’s not that I believe in “cheating” though. Actually, I believe in honesty – even when it’s uncomfortable. Perhaps that’s why I question everything.

    I support marriage, gay marriage, polyamory – in short, whatever works for the individuals involved.


  2. this was a great piece. I, as you know, am all for gay marriage. I understand people who don’t do the monogomous thing, but I think promising to do it and then cheating is a different story. And polygamy? SO not for me, and of course it has really been abused by some groups, but morally? If everyone’s OK with it, why not ?(but of course the government would go nuts with it, because who do you insure? who gets benefits? it might cost us MONEY!! ack!!) It’s even biblical, for Pete’s sake.

    While I’m very glad that I got to choose who to marry, it’s a fairly recent thing, and obviously still not in all cultures. I think, though, that there is inherent value in commiting yourself to one person, and struggling through things together, and creating a stable family for you children. I think that too many people take that commitment too lightly (in which case I say, be honest and just don’t MAKE that commitment, but our society does push us towards that commitment, without really giving us much support to stick with it)

    oh, this is turning into a post on it’s own….

  3. I loved what Slouching Mom said on Chani’s original post. She seemed to capture what I think about marriage or committed relationships (because I don’t think legal marriage is that important). This may paint me as conventional, but I really do believe there’s something emotionally rewarding in sticking it out, through change and difficulty. That isn’t to say that I condemn people who make different choices than I do. That’s not really my business.

    I know, too, that I can only control myself and my own actions and decisions. If one day my husband turns out to be completely different than I’ve known him to be for the last 18 years, we can talk again about this.

    For me, love is a choice I make every day, sometimes more than once a day, and sometime it’s a really easy choice and sometimes it’s really hard. But it’s a choice that is worthwhile for me, so much more worthwhile than exploring other sexual interests or going it alone.

    I think our culture has this schizophrenic way of lauding the virtue of commitment while doing everything within its power to undermine it by bombarding us with images of relationship that are unrealistic and damaging.

    I will be honest and say that when people use the behavior of other animal species to support or disprove the notion of monogamy, it feels like a spurious correlation. No matter how closely related I am genetically to chimps, I am not one. And until I start playing with myself in public while picking the nits off my companions and eating them, I’m not going to take any direction about how to lead my emotional life from them.

  4. Gwen’s comment on this is SO good! I agree that the culture (can’t say “mine”.. sorry.. just.. can’t) does undermine the very thing it claims as a virtue. But then – love is a verb – a choice – and people need to frame it in a way that works for them.

    The deception is what amounts to ‘cheating’. – not the act of having multiple partners.

    Okay. No more comments for me today. 🙂 Sorry.


  5. Maybe these social conventions are merely the result of ‘trial and error’ – over time, we find what ‘works’ and then stick with it. A form of learning from others even if we never knew the others , why they learned what they did and how they still came to the conclusion that clothes in the summer makes sense.

    I offer this point as a counter-balance, having been raised by a father who was/is the complete contrarian. His MO is to assume everyone is an idiot about everything all the time.

    Having been taught this was a double-edged sword. The confidence to question is great but if you spend your time questioning everything, you never get anywhere and may even go backwards.

    The trick is knowing what to question and challenge, and what to accept.

  6. I started to get into this long comment about making decisions about big issues and then decided it wasn’t on pointe.

    Instead, I’ll go with the though that occurred to me while I was reading this post. Regarding monogamy, there have always been those arguments about men having a biological imperative to spread their seed, yada, yada, yada. I wonder, though, how much of the desire to stray from the oath of marriage comes from the fact that we are told not to. (I know there are complicated situations out there and I do not want to overgeneralize this statement.)

  7. It is a shame that only monogamy is legal. I help men get around it as best I can, because I find men agree to exclusivity for just the reasons you name, that they have to agree to be part of society.

  8. I support gay marriage, people living together as partners forever without getting married and monogamy. I so believe in monogamy. It’s just what’s natural for me. But I married the love of my life, so it’s easier for me I suppose.

    I truly believe that what other people choose to do, as long as it doesn’t hurt the other one is their deal, not mine. But for me, I never want to be with someone else. In fact I never have been, as I married my HS sweetheart. Dated him from 14 years old on. Lame I know, but for us it just worked out that way.

  9. Hmmm. I don’t think I said it better at all. On the contrary, you said it without all the emotional melodrama, which means, your point was not lost amid the “awwwww” factor.

    Well said. Truly.

  10. I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while now, and I am always inspired by your writings! My husband I have 2 boys, and we are getting ready to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary next week. Your words hit home with me.

  11. kindredspirits1960

    Believing in marriage and monogamy was not enough in my life because my ex-wife did not believe in them. That did not change my opinon though. After getting over the shock and depression from her affair I spent many hours contemplating monogamy and love and came to the conclusion that love is not just a feeling but a commitment.

  12. fascinating discussion. i wrote recently on this topic in relation to the john Edwards affair. What bothered me about him was not the act of infidelity or even the fact the he did it while his wife was battling cancer, but the fact that his whole political persona was a lie and he always jumped at the chance to judge the conduct of others.

    Don’t get me wrong – cheating on an ill wife doesn’t sit well with me (I’ve been stung by infidelity in a very shocking way and it hurts) – but to fall short of perfection is to be human. To judge or throw stones or pretend we are not also capable of failures, moral or otherwise, is the height of hypocrisy, and in the end, a much greater failing.

    My own opinion is that monogamy is a social construct that has served this species well, but that the search for sexual variety is also an important and ‘natural’ part of being human.

    If both parties can be okay with the idea that that means involving other people in your sex life, either as a group or separately, then I say live it up. it’s not cheating or infidelity if both people know what’s going on.

    honestly, I think that’s tough for many people to be comfortable with, so for those couples I would just encourage keeping things interesting by being very open and honest and experimental about other sexual fantasies that can be explored together as a team. spice of life and all 🙂 .

    anyway, well-written post. now go get a good night’s sleep!!

  13. btw, does anyone know proper commenting etiquette? is it OK to link to an article you wrote if it’s relevant?

  14. I think marriage really alters a relationship. I think you can live with someone for years and years and then, when you legalise it, something symbolic cleaves the couple – literally, binds them together and splits them apart. It requires a lot of negotiation to deal with that symbolic dimension and affairs are often a kind of structural prop, a flying buttress, that hold a difficult marriage together. It’s better, saner, more grown-up, less traumatic in the end, to try to work it out with the other person, but goodness only knows we’re only human, and I’d never judge someone for infidelity. Marriage is a hard event to turn into a reasonable narrative, and no one really understands what goes on in another relationship. Sorry, this is a bit of a ramble, but it is a fascinating question!

  15. Who DID decide we need to wear clothes at all, let alone in hot weather?

  16. Very, very well said. I agree. 🙂

  17. Fabulous post.
    I haven’t read the comments yet, but there’s one thing that struck me.

    Is “cheating” normal? And what *is* “cheating” anyhow?
    To my mind, cheating involves betrayal, breaking a promise. But an extramarital affair need not(theoretically) always be that way. I would judge anyone who cheated me in any way, but if two people found it suitable to live together but have sexual relations with others I don’t see anything reprehensible about it. Same goes for commitment phobics. Not committing is one thing, but promising to commit and then breaking that promise is another.
    Iffy territory.

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