Friday, March 31, 2006

The purpose of marriage (appendix)

I had a fascinating discussion with one of my quasi-bosses today. He came over from India the better part of two decades ago. Somehow, our conversation turned to the sad marital statistics in this country these days. Being an old-school Hindu, his marriage was arranged with a woman he didn't even know at the time.

Such marriages, while not unheard of here, are quite alien to most homegrown Americans. Who could imagine leaving such an important decision to the judgment of, well, anyone else?

It's certainly intimidating, but in India, trust and obedience are still more highly valued than they are here, so I'm sure there's a lot less angst about ending up with someone who turns out to be a bad match, and while parents sometimes make bad calls, I imagine the rate of bad matches revealing themselves in the first five years of marriage is probably far lower than 50%. They have fights now and then, too, but occasional marital stress just makes them normal, like the rest of us. Somehow, they keep on keepin' on.

I think there's something to this old school stuff, and I don't mean the higher stigma of divorce, although there's something to be said for being reluctant to just give up when things get tougher than you expect.

Imagine yourself being presented with a marriage arrangement. The people who know you best have selected someone for you to build a life with, someone brought in by the people who know her or him best, someone who has the same expectations and reservations. While you may lack the motivation to bond of a preexisting relationship, you also lack the illusion that whatever feelings you happen to have right now constitute all the foundation and effort needed to make a marriage work. You're not going into it just to up the ante on commitment as a sign of love. You're not going into it just looking for a legal rubber stamp on whatever you're already doing with your girlfriend or boyfriend.

What you are doing is going into marriage knowing what its purpose is. Sure, Americans might have a head start on the unitive angle, in practice if not in principle, but people like my quasi-boss harbor few to no misconceptions about the importance of the procreative angle.

I'm not saying we have to start arranging all our marriages, but I think we could learn something about the way the marital priorities are emphasized. Something all too easily forgotten in western society.

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