“I obviously support gay marriage under the principle that why should only heterosexuals suffer.” Jeffrey Eugenides.

“In thickening thighs and boring anecdotes, I now pronounce you man and wife…” Kathy Lette.

Watching the Writers Festival panelists on Q&A discuss the question of marriage, I was reminded of some old musings. I thought I’d already blogged them, but discovered I hadn’t…

There are two very different uses of the word marriage, which I think we often confuse: the socio-legal institution and the long-term relationship:

‘The debate about marriage rests on a fundamental confusion. The word “marriage” has two quite different senses. One is the socio-legal institution, which in effect amounts to a tripartite contract between a man, a woman, and the state. The other is the long-term committed relationship entered into voluntarily by people who, because of their affection for one another, wish to pool resources and share the joys and burdens of life… Most people who wish to marry in the second (relationship) sense assume they must do so by marrying in the first (socio-legal) sense.’[2]

In this day and age with prenuptial agreements and high divorce rates, is socio-legal marriage an obsolete construction? In a way, yes. But it still has some uses.

I think most people are more interested in a long-term commitment (though not necessarily till death) than the socio-legal institution. Of course there are others who are more interested in institution, often more so from a religious sense which defines marriage as between a man, woman and “God” (which let’s face it, tends to include a subtext of Church and State).

Why do we continue to involve the State? For the tax benefits, working visas, and security blankets?

Grayling connects the roots of socio-legal marriage to a ‘profoundly sexist financial arrangement’ originating with an aim ‘to constrain women’s sexuality and fertility so that men could be sure they were bequeathing their property to their own offspring.’[3]

I think these days the security blanket (and thickening thighs that often develop under it it) goes both ways, at least in countries where women have rights.

My favourite approach to marriage is a touch unconventional: a five year marriage. I think it should be a legal requirement that marriages need to be renewed every five years. It would mean that no one gets too comfortable and lets their anecdotes get too boring. I actually think divorce rates would decrease as people wouldn’t feel obligated and resentful toward the contract the self of their past once made. It would also mean that commitment phobes would relax, so maybe even the number of marriages would increase.

A good friend who married her German lover to make it easier for him to stay in Oz. Two years on they are still in love. A whimsical, risky, spontaneous marriage, using the socio-legal version for their own benefit. A realistic vow: “let’s see what happens”… If it doesn’t work, what harm has been done?

“I think we need to be more realistic about our wedding vows because usually it’s not, you know, in sickness and health and all that that breaks up marriages.” Kathy Lette continued to suggest. [1] I think it’s more realistic vows would be a big help. There’s only so much that the you in this moment, can promise for the you that will be in the moment in ten years time. You can do your best to honour the promise you made ten years ago, but I think it’s important to forgive one another if the terms of the promise, held in another time, are better to be broken.

As Grayling points out, ‘Marriage as a mutuality of true minds and tender hearts, so long as it lasts, is the happiest of states, whatever the number and gender of the parties to it; and the only effect that marriage in the socio-legal sense has had on marriage in this deeper sense, is usually to spoil it.’ [3]

I guess in my friend’s case the opposite occurred: the socio-legal allowed the long-term commitment to be given a chance.

According to Jeffrey Eugenides (author of The Marriage Plot) part of the problem is the disappearance of “limerence” which are the endorphins that make romance work at the beginning, but which have a used-by-date of two years, three at most. Jeffrey Eugenides notes “then you have to develop some other kind of attachment and if you don’t you really won’t make it together because you won’t have that dizzy, you know, crazy love feel the whole time.” [1] I think there are ways to keep limerence alive, but maybe that’s because deep down I’m a romantic and an optimist, and I don’t want to believe the passion might one day end.

I’m also part-realist. Whether we find more than one kind of attachment will probably be a determining factor when it comes to the Exit from the Relationship Freeway that we choose to take:

Barney Stinson: Freeways have exits, so do relationships. The first exit, my personal favorite, is six hours in. You meet, you talk, you have sex, you exit when she’s in the shower.
Robin Scherbatsky: So, every girl you have sex with feels the immediate need to shower? Actually yeah, I get that.
Barney Stinson: [ignoring what Robin just said] The next exits are four days, three weeks, seven months – That’s when you guys [pointing at Ted and Robin] are gonna break up, mark your calendars.
Ted Mosby: Hey!
Robin Scherbatsky: What?
Barney Stinson: Then a year and a half, eighteen years, and the last exit: death, which, if you’ve been with the same woman for your entire life, it’s like “Are we there yet?”

I already wore my wedding dress – in a Yumi Katsura fashion show in 2006.

[1] Q&A Monday 21 May, 2012 http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3502530.htm BTW am I the only one that didn’t know Mark Zuckerberg ended up marrying his college girlfriend?

[2] A. C. Grayling, Life, Sex, and Ideas : The Good Life without God (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). pp. 43-44.

[3] Ibid. p. 44.