The Personalist Project

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.

Comments (2)

Scott Johnston

#1, Sep 25, 2010 3:47am

Katie, I wonder if this sort of thinking is a hold-over from the 70’s era in which it seems to have been a huge fad to proclaim “feelings” as the be-all, end-all and highest locus of that which is most valuable in human life. And when I say “feelings,” here, I mean a rather thin, very animalistic understanding of feelings, quite removed from a rich and deep understanding of human affectivity such as found in von Hildebrand. 

If one has a shallow, thin, animal-like understanding of feelings, and then takes as the greatest truth one can state about love, that “love is a feeling,” you get the result concluded by the author. Of course, the problem being that “love” as a (superficial 70’s era) feeling, and genuine love that takes up and engages the breadth and depth of the human person, are not the same thing. Concluding that the former is thin gruel upon which to ground a lifelong marriage does not say much about marriage based on the latter. 

I think part of the problem is a very reduced view of the human person. The depth and breadth and splendor of the human person is simply not recognized by so many in today’s society. If we don’t know what we are, we can’t appreciate what we can do (i.e., love with a truly human love).

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Sep 25, 2010 4:27am

Very well put, Scott.

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