Sep. 24, 2010, at 12:39pm
Maggie Gallagher’s excellent National Organization for Marriage regularly sends subscribers a “marriage news” email comprised of links to recent articles about marriage. One in particular caught my eye today.
Here’s how it starts:
Putting the ‘hopeless’ in hopeless romantics, a new study of more than 1,400 spouses concludes that one of the flimsiest foundations for a marriage is, incredibly, love.
This sort of thing makes me crazy.
It goes on.
It seems a heretical claim to make at a time when two-thirds of the population believes in soulmates — those rom-com-anointed pairings viewed as “meant to be.” But researchers find marriages based on that ideal, although happy, are so fragile as to be 1 1/2 times likelier to end in divorce than unions steeped in traditional values — think child-bearing, fidelity and interdependence.
Note the implied definition of love. Note how it’s contrasted with “child-bearing, fidelity and interdependence.”
Most articles that begin this way proceed to suggest that variations of arranged marriages or marriages based on “reason and compatibility” are better than marriages based on romance. This one, happily, is better than that. It advocates a “both/and” approach.
The study, which appears in the September issue of the journal Social Science Research, finds that the highest-quality marriages combine the “new” and “old” approaches, leaving neither entirely behind at the altar.
This hybrid is defined by an embrace of the traditional norms of marital permanency and gender roles, coupled with a focus on the expressive dimensions of married life seen in soulmate partnerships. The caveat is that both spouses need to be embedded in shared social networks and religious institutions.
But I’m not satisfied. What we need to do is reject the reductive notion of spousal love assumed throughout—as if, in itself, it’s nothing more and nothing other than romantic attraction. Romantic/sexual attraction is the usual starting point for love; it gives conjugal love its distinctive form. But it’s no more the totality of love than the seed is the totality of the apple tree.
Nor can ever so much “reason and compatibility” compensate for the lack of it.