I’m reading a review copy of More Than Two* by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, and being a book about polyamory, of course it discusses non-conventional marriage. I know you’re thinking, “Of course it discusses non-conventional marriage. It’s about people humping lots of other people like bunnies, and marriage is about monogamy!”
One of the amazing things it discusses is the nature of marriage, partnership, and romance – about how and when they’re intertwined in our mental landscape, and the nature of partnerships.
Humans form partnerships. It’s at the very core of our nature and how we evolved. I think, however, that we’re tripping up badly in our more recent view of marriage. There seems to be this idea, and I’m sorry to say at least in part it comes from some of the rhetoric behind legalizing gay marriage, that marriage is about the legal sanction of a romantic/sexual relationship.
Maybe it’s evolving that way, but it wasn’t historically the point. More to the point, the idea of legally sanctioning feelings and personal relationships makes me twitch, so I kinda hope that’s not where things are going.
Historically, marriage was about property – its preservation, its maintenance and its growth. It was about producing another generation to give that property to. If this looks like marriage was really more for the upper classes, in many ways it was. However, even in stratified societies, social mobility through marriage was usually the best option for a workaround.
If you’re squinting at this and asking about love, I don’t blame you. While yes, humans are humans, and goodness me yes, we fall in love, that wasn’t part of the contract. All that courtly love, stuff? It wasn’t supposed to be sexual and it sure as shit wasn’t part of being married! (The Duchess of Aquitaine was one of its strongest proponents, and if you want a strife-filled political marriage, look no further than Henry II and Eleanor) Oh sure, it got sexual, humans being humans and all. Moreover, they even had a special descriptive for the relationship – adulterous. You were putting grave doubts on successions, baby, when you did something like that. It could and did cause actual, no-kidding wars.
One of the huge problems with marriage, and it’s only changed legally in the last century, is that the entire paradigm revolves around women as livestock to produce heirs. Oh, it gets prettied up, and many humans love the humans they live with as well as their children, but the law wasn’t that way.
If you think I have profound issues with the legal precedents and concepts around marriage, you’re right. I do. Yes, I’m married, and like being married. That’s where we run into problems. Forming deep, intimate partnerships is the way humans are built. We’re social creatures and we form partnerships – not necessarily romantic or sexual (though often so), but we do best in our intimate networks of various sorts.
The fundamental concepts behind marriage have not really caught up well with several recent concepts:
- Women as humans – meaning that the commodity of sex and its packaging and ownership within a marriage is going away.
- Birth Control – separating our mental concepts of sex from procreative activities. Did this help down the idea of gay marriage because sex /= procreation in a large majority of the population’s mental landscape? You bet!
- Being able to simultaneously earn a living and rear a child. That’s very new, indeed, for anyone but the moneyed and educated few to be able to pull off with anywhere near the success we with our dishwashers, washing machines, and ready-made clothing could do.
Why do I bring this up?
People are arguing for poly marriage. For those that want the legal protections? I get it. I don’t get the same tax breaks saving for my daughter’s college that I do for my son’s. And yeah, talk about a mild and privileged example. Hospitals can and do bar people without legal relationships from seeing relatives or making decisions about care. Living wills and care directives help, but in the heat of the moment, you’re at the mercy of understanding medical professionals that one hopes are truly understanding and not power-hungry sociopaths who found a socially acceptable channel for their tendencies.
But do not ever make the mistake of calling it a legal recognition of one’s passion. A) It’s never what the legalities of marriage were about and B) even the most loving marriage is totally a business relationship as well. I suspect the successful ones are the ones smart enough not to forget it.
* If you have the cash, Mama Java wants you to go ahead and click on the link to pre-order the book. This is sound, practical, and thoughtful relationship advice. In fact, like any truly good poly advice, the relationship and personal advice works well for monogamy and even non-romantic relationships. Oh, and it’s an entertaining read. Knowing the tendency to copious verbiage on the part of one of the authors, I’m guessing it took at least a whip and chair on the part of the other author to get it so clearly and fluidly on topic. J Well, it amuses me to visualize the whip and chair, anyway.