On Valentine’s Day, American husbands and wives of every age, faith and region will shower their beloveds with symbols of undying affection — flowers, chocolates, moonlit dinners, kisses.
The annual Feb. 14 lovefest is also a popular time for elaborate engagements, with picturesque proposals and pricey jewelry.
Adam & Eve, husband & wife
“And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
“And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”
But any link between love and matrimony is relatively recent, says Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
And a radical one at that.
"Through most of human history, love was not at all the point of marriage (maybe the gravy but not meat and potatoes)," says Coontz, "Marriage was about getting families together, which was why there were so many controls."
The notion that a couple would marry for love was considered almost anti-social, even subversive; parents could disown their kids for doing it.
"The Greeks thought lovesickness was a type of insanity, a view that was adopted by medieval commentators in Europe. In the Middle Ages, the French defined love as a ‘derangement of the mind’ that could be cured by sexual intercourse, either with the loved one or with a different partner," Coontz writes in her 2005 book, "Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage." "As late as the 18th century the French essayist Montaigne wrote that any man who was in love with his wife was a man so dull that no one else could love him."
Couples wed to make political alliances, to raise capital, to expand the workforce and for a whole array of practical purposes.
"Too much love was thought to be a real threat to the institution of marriage," she says in an interview. "Earlier proponents of marriage were as horrified by the idea of a love match as late 20th-century people were by idea of same-sex marriage."
Physical attraction between two people has existed as long as marriage, explains Don Herrin, who teaches a course on "family belief systems," at the University of Utah, but how that is expressed — or controlled — varies from culture to culture. So does the relationship of parents to children.
The women of the Tibetan Na people have sex with men from a neighboring village to get pregnant, but rear the children themselves, with the help of their brothers, he says. There are no active fathers.
And there are tribal societies in which the kids belong to the whole community, not to a set of parents, Herrin says. "Some moms are bearers and some are feeders."
Love is inherent in being human and these groups have that, he says. It just takes a different form.
Of course, polygamy is the planet’s most enduring form of marriage.
"If you really want to go traditional," he says, "let’s legalize polygamy."
From the first couple • You could say that the biblical Adam and Eve had an "arranged marriage" — that is, a spouse they didn’t choose for themselves.
The Bible does speak of love matches, of course, but those are not all monogamous — think Jacob and Rachel, and her older sister, Leah. Kings David and Solomon were said to have scores of wives.
Figures in that Judeo-Christian text, like most preindustrial people, were very concerned with fertility. They slept with servants to get an heir or renounced their wives to take a separate wife or a concubine.
"It was considered part of the way the Old World operated," Coontz says. "You had to have babies."
Jesus Christ uttered little about marriage, but what he said, according to Christian scriptures, was "radically egalitarian," Coontz says. "He was interested in women as potential recruits to his movement and marriage would tie them down. He didn’t condone divorce or extramarital affairs, but it didn’t concern him."Next Page >
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