Gay marriage isn’t the problem

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Gay marriage isn’t the problem, from a reactionary point of view — any marriage for love is the problem:

Before the twelfth century, in Europe, love between men and women was not regarded as heroic; it was instead considered a sign of weakness, the preoccupation of a person without character.

Why this change? Since the twelfth century, lovers have been consistently considered heroic in Western countries. The plot of the story of Lancelot and Guinevere written about 1170 and the plot of the famous movie Casablanca (1942) — perhaps the most admired Hollywood film of all time — are virtually the same. Why have heroic visions of love endured through all these centuries?

This is not just a question of literary images, because there is plentiful evidence that millions of people have experienced their love in this way.

During the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, it was thought that, when people were freed to pursue their desires without hindrance or moral condemnation, romantic love would fade out. The illusions and idealizations of love would no longer be needed to assuage feelings of guilt or selfishness. But the opposite occurred. Since the 1980s, romantic love has regained its old salience. It may be more important now than it ever was.

Love now dominates the institution of marriage as never before. In recent years, Hollywood has been pouring out wedding movies, while the average cost of real weddings climbs higher every year — now over $25,000 in the U.S., over 10,000 pounds in the U.K., over 10,000 Euros in France. (Just paying for the wedding is becoming a “heroic” act today.) High divorce rates likewise reflect the belief that, if love goes, the marriage must end. Why this surprising aftermath to the sexual revolution?

Outside of Western industrialized countries, there is little evidence of love heroism.

Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western psyche.

In our culture it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness, and ecstasy…We are so accustomed to living with the beliefs and assumptions of romantic love that we think it is the only form of “love” on which marriage or love relationships can be based. We think it is the only “true love”. But there is much that we can learn from the East about this. In Eastern countries, like those of India and Japan, we find that married couples love each other with great warmth, often with a stability and devotion that puts us to shame. But their love is not “romantic love” as we know it. They don’t impose the same ideals on their relationships, nor do they impose such impossible demands and expectations on each other as we do.

Romantic love has existed throughout history in many cultures. We find it in the literature of ancient Greece, the Roman empire, ancient Persia, and feudal Japan. But our modern Western society is the only culture in history that has experienced romantic love as a mass phenomenon. We are the only society that makes romance the basis of our marriages and love relationships and the cultural ideal of “true love”.

One of the greatest paradoxes in romantic love is that it never produces human relationships as long as it stays romantic. It produces drama, daring adventures, wondrous, intense love scenes, jealousies, and betrayal; but people never seem to settle into relationship with each other as flesh-and-blood human beings until they are out of the romantic love stage, until they love each other instead of “being in love”.

Romance, in its purest form, seeks only one thing — passion. It is willing to sacrifice everything else — every duty, obligation, relationship, or commitment — in order to have passion.

In imperial Rome, patrician men sometimes found themselves falling deeply in love with the slaves they met in brothels.

This love was a release from the oppressive obligations and rivalries found in arranged marriages and in the intrigues of public life. Roman poets idealized their beloved slave prostitutes as domina, literally reversing the role of master and slave.

… In other societies the dangers of sexual servitude were avoided by expediently guaranteeing the chastity of romantic relationships. The best-known examples are the Medieval Troubadours, who, in a transformation of the cult of the Virgin Mary, renounced physical contact with the women they worshipped.


  1. David Foster says:

    Surely, romantic love is more prevalent and important in societies organized around nuclear families as opposed to extended families?

    See this post. Also, the new book America 3.0 has much to say about the importance of family structure in the evolution of societies.

  2. Isegoria says:

    I suppose societies built on extended families and arranged marriages would look at our society’s attitude toward romantic love the way we’d look at a society that sang the praises of eating whatever you want. Sure, you want your food to taste good, but listen to your mother: you need to eat healthy food, not junk.

  3. David Foster says:

    Michel Chevalier, a French engineer who visited the US circa 1833, had some interesting comments. He observed that Americans were the most money-obsessed people he had ever met..but that, paradoxically, this obsession allowed them to be much more romantic than the Frenchman or Frenchwoman when it came to marriage:

    “I ought to do the Americans justice on another point. I have said that with them everything was an affair of money; yet there is one thing which among us, a people of lively affections, prone to love and generous by nature, takes the mercantile character very decidedly and which among them has nothing of this character; I mean marriage. We buy a woman with our fortune or we sell ourselves to her for her dowry. The American chooses her, or rather offers himself to her, for her beauty, her intelligence, or her amiable qualities and asks no other portion. Thus, while we make a traffic of what is most sacred, these shopkeepers exhibit a delicacy and loftiness of feeling which would have done honor to the most perfect models of chivalry.”

  4. Isegoria says:

    Michel Chevalier sounds like an interesting individual:

    In 1830, after the July Revolution, he became a Saint-Simonian, and edited their paper Le Globe. The paper was banned in 1832, when the “Simonian sect” was found to be prejudicial to the social order, and Chevalier, as its editor, was sentenced to six months imprisonment.

    After his release, Minister of the Interior Adolphe Thiers sent him on a mission to the United States and Mexico, to observe the state of industrial and financial affairs in the Americas. In Mexico he exchanged ideas with the mineralogist and politician Andrés Manuel del Río. It was during this trip that he also developed the idea that the Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking parts of the Americas shared a cultural or racial affinity with all the European peoples with a Romance culture. Chevalier postulated that this part of the Americas were inhabited by people of a “Latin race,” which could be a natural ally of “Latin Europe” in its struggle with “Teutonic Europe,” “Anglo-Saxon America” and “Slavic Europe.”[1] The idea was later taken up by French and Latin American intellectuals and political leaders of the mid- and late nineteenth century, who no longer looked to Spain or Portugal as cultural models, but rather to France, and who coined the term “Latin America.”

  5. Wobbly says:

    “Prejudicial to the social order” sounds like quite a crime.

  6. David Foster says:

    There is some evidence that women are subconsciously attracted to men who have immune systems complementary to their own, and that this has advantages in that any resulting children are likely to have stronger immune systems than if the mating had been between a couple with more similar systems.

    If this is true and the effect is reasonably strong (there are thousands of articles and blog posts on this, but it seems one would have to dig out the original research to get any idea of the strength of the effect), then societies which permit female choice would have a biological advantage over those with strictly arranged marriages.

  7. Isegoria says:

    This reminds me how little I know about 19th-century France. Let’s see, they close out the 18th century with the Revolution and Napoleon’s rise to power. Then Napoleon falls, and… then the French “paper tiger” loses a quick war to the Germans, and then… they fight World War I to a standstill. Oh, and somewhere in there a number of “republics” come and go. I’m sure I’m missing a few things.

  8. Isegoria says:

    I think the analogy to diet is a strong one, because our body has strong instincts that have been useful in the past, but which sometimes backfire in our civilized setting.

  9. David Foster says:

    Our “civilized setting” can change pretty quickly, though. For example, having a strong immune system might not have mattered so much among the upper middle classes in a European city in 1938, given clean water and dwellings, availability of medical attention, etc. but mattered a great deal 5 years later amid the wreckage.

  10. Lucklucky says:

    But is there any evidence that arranged-marriage cultures have less life expectancy? Of course it is also possible that the life expectancy that mattered in the past was the first years of children. So that would imply what women wanted was a good immune system for the children and not necessarily of an adult.

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