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joy faber

recycling artist, Read "Write" Literacy of Torrance County

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Do you think marriage, as a social commitment device, still works? Or did it ever work?

I'd like to see what people think of marriage as a social commitment device.

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  • Dec 21 2011: Yes, it definitely did and continues to do so successfully where there is mutual trust. The fact that one is committed to someone and vice versa makes him/her connect to his/her future self with clarity and help rise above mood swings and impulses, which are inevitable in anybody's life. Commitment is a continuous hope and hope is what life is.
  • Dec 22 2011: It works for children and that is the point. Children have rights. Adults have responsibilities. We seem to have forgotten that. One of the rights of a child is to be raised by both his/her genetic parents (twin studies show our attitudes are 60% nature and 40% nuture) unless truly tragic events take place.
  • Dec 22 2011: I am no longer a believer in marriage. I have been married and divorced twice and now live with my partner of 15 years. Every day we "choose" to be together and work at it because we want to not because we "have to" according to a government contract we signed. Between the two divorces I was the one who lost everything and I will no longer allow anyone to be in charge of my money but me. Marriage is about finances, not about love and it's a business contract that needs to be addressed and worked out according to the needs of the individuals. There are so many "old fashioned" concepts and rules that no longer apply but people still try to fit themselves into them only to find themselves in a mess when it doesn't work out. I suppose I'd feel differently of government was taken out of marriage and it was only a matter of a celebration of commitment between two people who choose to be together but the mess of divorce is enough to keep me away.
  • Dec 21 2011: IMHO, the traditional structure of marriage (legally, emotionally etc) is outdated and has not kept pace with the speed to which our society is evolving. All around us the world is changing and evolving and new structures are created with new dynamics, but we hold onto the marriage structure out of tradition, religion, guilt, family and social pressures. The current structure has a variety of strong points that others have noted, but a lot of issues are developed as well. If marriage were the ideal structure (if structure is even the correct format), there would be no need for marriage counselors, costly legal agreements and arrangements like pre-nups and divorce court. Individuals today are exercising more freedoms in their personal choices in all other areas of their lives. To assume that one decision made early in a persons young life should be a final decision, simply does not flow with the current evolution of social consciousness that is occurring. People are different, life changes along the way, new learnings occur, desires change, and experiences add to more experiences. How can we believe that one format could possibly be designed that fits all?
  • Dec 27 2011: I think the institution of marriage can be viewed as having "external" and "internal" effects on an individual's psyche.By external I mean those influences that effectively enforce it - the legal contract is messy and expensive to get out of, for the religious there may be deepy held reasons of faith to avoid divorce, in times past the weight of societal disapproval was a very effective deterrent. All lof these are external pressures to stay in a marriage and In modern western societies all are much weaker than, say, 50 years ago.

    By internal effects I mean the making of a personal comitment. The actual service (religious or civil) may be the visible ritual but if the individual treats the commitments made as binding on themselves then their standpoint on the relationship changes. If the decision "for better for worse, til death do us part" has been made then the standpoint on any subsequent difficulty has to change from "this isn't working" to "how can I make this work" because other options don't exist. This willingness to make a long term commitment also seems to be weaker in our quick fix society but we're poorer for it.
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    Dec 27 2011: In some respects marriage seems to act as a reflecting mirror of other societal 'contracts'.

    It used to be that employers took care of their employees and that these in turn tried to protect the interests of 'the company'. (I remember my father's insistence we buy American Cyanamid products like Breck shampoo or Lederle drugs since they were 'company products'. The way one rose in an 'old style corporation' was by tying oneself to a mentor. He would look after your interests and you looked after his. There was therefore 'commitment to the team'. (Side note: This has survived in Japan, though there too it's a waning view).

    In the U.S. many people approach marriage just as they do the 'job market'. You find an employer who offers a good 'benefit package'. If he finds you inconvenient or finds someone more to his liking, you get a few hours to 'clear out your desk'. If there was no written agreement for a 'termination package', you head out the door to find a new employer. Likewise, if you find yourself a new job that pays better, you arrange for a starting date, and then -- if you feel like it -- you tell your existing employer you found 'a better deal.' If there are uncompleted projects, you leave the mess for him to clean up.

    Likewise (many marriages). It's all about 'shopping for a better deal' or 'getting rid of deadwood'. I have no idea how the 'new model' for both marriage and for work relationships interrelate, but I suspect they're both the result of more options, optimism that one can 'improve' one's station in life, a disregard for the interests/feelings of others, and a basically self-centered and individualistic approach to 'the world'. It's just more and more Gesellschaft and less and less Gemeinschaft.
    • Dec 28 2011: Sadly, I can't say I disagree with your job market analogy and thus my pessimistic view of marriage. A lovely dream grossly exaggerated by Disney...
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    Dec 24 2011: "Does marriage still 'work'".... What a curious phrase! Work for who? For the husband? For the wife? For the children? Over what time period? .... And what precisely *is* 'marriage?

    If a man and woman (etc) decide to make a 'commitment', is it done in the eyes of the State, i.e. a civil marriage? In the eyes of the Church and/or God, i.e. a sacramental marriage? Is marriage a contract, as in the (cf. ketubah and get in Judaism)? Is it an arrangement of purchase (normally of a woman) so that a man has a domestic employee (as in much of the world)?

    Who are the 'interested parties'? The parents of the bride -- who no longer have to feed and house her? The parents of the husband -- who now have one more person in the extended family to help with cooking, cleaning, child care, and so on?

    Is marriage a way of binding alliances between extended families? Of resolving disputes between clans?

    And what are the arrangements for terminating marriages once they have served their purpose(s)?

    Without a context, the question 'does marriage still work' is essentially meaningless.

    (Note: I'm married. I've only been married once. My wife and I (mostly) get along. I think of us as Tevye and Golda in Fiddler on the Roof -- or as two oxen in tandem. I have a son who seems to like us both. And I have two grandsons who seem to adore me -- which proves they're either uninformed or prone to exaggeration). Sometimes marriage seems as if it's working for me; sometimes not. I suspect my wife feels the same way -- but you'd have to ask her. I don't dare.
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      Dec 27 2011: I think that's a great point. The question doesn't really make sense without context. We first both have to define what "marriage" is (or what it should be) and it's intended function to all parties involved to determine whether or not it "works".

      I am strongly opposed to the judeo-christian conception of marriage, because it is founded in mythology. I do however, think such arrangements can still serve a valuable role in society.

      I think marriage can still serve a valuable purpose by defining committed monogamist relationships (on one end of the spectrum...and it should be understood that there is a spectrum of relationships) and distinguishing them from casual couplings (on the the other end of the spectrum). Ideally, a marriage partner is someone who is bonded not only to an individual, but to that individual's family as well. Through marriage, families should acknowledge an individual as a member of the family, and someone who will value their commitments as a family member. Ideally, marriages represent a type of partnership in which individuals contribute to one another's happiness and well-being. Ideally, marriage partners work towards common life goals as far as raising a family and supporting one another's ambitions. Of course, as human beings we always fall short of our ideals, but our ideals are worth having and worth working towards nonetheless.

      I think so many marriages fail these days because too many people have the fairytale conception of marriage in their minds and only consider their emotional states and not the practical function such relationships serve. You shouldn't stay in a marriage that makes you miserable, but you shouldn't ONLY consider happiness (or instant sexual gratification) when choosing a partner either - a guy or girl might be hot, but if they can't take care of themselves, they will always be a burden. Many people also don't understand how to work together and compromise to promote each other's happiness
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    Dec 23 2011: It is one of the strongest link and cell in Chinese society, in some way.
    The basic network has changed since one child policy, which strengthened the marriage power.
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    Dec 22 2011: As a "social commitment" it would work as well as the environment it existed in. As a personal commitment, bound by belief that the marriage is accountable to a supreme power that will evaluate the integrity and fidelity of the participants at some future time, it will work far better. We attempt to adhere to the values we believe in. If those are societal, the society will be reflected in our commitment as we are not held to any rules that supersede those of the people we interact with every day. Why do better if we don't have to? If we believe that, even if it is our own creation of a higher authority that we must attempt to please, someone or something is going to judge us at the end of our commitment, we tend to be more tolerant, suppress our own desire to dominate and generally act in a way that works toward the solidarity of the relationship. Social commitment? Does and has worked. Personal commitment? Has worked better.
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    Dec 24 2011: Marriage works if both partners work towards making it 'work' ! Its not the job of just one of them to make it successful.
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    Dec 23 2011: Marriage is the dominant social commitment device. As such it is an effective barometer of the health of a society. It is well known that when marriage is in decline it does not bode well for a society. If marriage did not used to work, then we would not be where we are today in Western Culture. Traditional Marriage has always been a covenant between a man a woman and their God. The majority of marriages would work out if divorce were only considered in cases of infidelity or violence. It's becoming increasingly clear that divorce is usually instigated by those who are unwilling to address their personal problems, this helps to explain why second marriages are even more likely to end in divorce.
    • Dec 24 2011: I disagree that 'traditional marriage has always been a covenant between a man a woman and their God.' First, marriage has existed for thousands of years and, doubtlessly, before the covenants of the Jewish faith. Other religions incorporated religion into their ceremonies as often as not. Second, in many cultures marriage does not have to be between one man and one woman, or heterosexual. There is reason to believe Neandertals paired off as in marriage. Therefore, I agree that marriage works as a socially binding force since it has existed for so long. However, I cannot say how effective it has been on the happiness of the people involved now.
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        Dec 24 2011: Traditional marriage, like western culture itself is defined by judeo-christian values. I am not referring to any sociological factors pre-dating this period. As far as happiness is concerned, the purpose of marriage is not the happiness of the parties involved. Misunderstanding of this one point is the cause of many failed marriages. However, recent studies have proven that those who choose to stay married are happier eventually, after they have taken the time to work out their problems. Those who take the easy way out, and sever their relationship rarely resolve their problems and take them into their second (usually doomed) relationship. I have been married for 24 years and have 5 talented children, so I have some idea of what it takes to make it work.
  • Dec 23 2011: Yes. I now refrain from self-gratifying decision-making, take longer to make general decisions, and put myself last on the list as compared to when I was single. (I am also not working where I want to work because of the salary and family benefits). To balance this, I have chosen to be happy only when my little ones and spouse are happy instead of whenever I feel like it. And although I make much-much fewer public commitments, they are now much-much longer termed. My marriage has now outlasted a past business partnership because when we hit rock bottom we now wait since quitting is no longer in the vocabulary.
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    Dec 22 2011: Marriage, from an anthropological perspective, is not one thing per se, but has historically served some universal functions, such as what Ferraro (2009) described as a series of customs formalizing the relationship between males and females and a socially approved union that regulates the sexual and economic rights obligations between two or more people, involving an explicit contract or understanding entered into with the assumption that it will be a permanent union (Applied Anthropology, p. 209-211). The concept and practice of marriage are also inextricably linked with systems for residence and the establishment of the "family" unit in communities small and large. My thoughts are that acceptance of the constant evolution of the marriage contract and its purpose in all societies over time in all places can only occur with education and self-awareness. I find the more educated people (not necessarily intelligent, but educated) tend to grasp that marriage is a contractual social commitment and economic arrangement device, and, to specifically address the question of whether it worked, seems that depends on what we are defining as the benchmarks of success or "working". Yet, interesting question nonetheless!
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    Dec 22 2011: Without marriage, wouldn't we inevitably leave the state to raise our children? Does that sound like a good idea?
    • Dec 24 2011: How did you reach that conclusion?
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        Dec 24 2011: Because, as a broad generallity, if men could have children with women, leave them, and not lose half their stuff... They would. The marriage contract is designed to protect women from the fact that men care about women, not children. It is obvious, that not all men fall into this category, but it is biologically built into us to desire as many sexual partners as we can get...

        If women let us... They'd be single parents, who have to work... So who would raise the children? Again, I'm not saying this is all men, or inescapable, but enough men would choose anonymous sex, and leaving their children fatherless, that we felt the need for the state to contract men to pay for their children whether they stay with the woman, or not.

        If a woman is a single parent, and has to work 40-80 hours a week to support their child, isn't the state raising them?
        • Dec 27 2011: Mr. Hamilton,
          On several threads I have seen you express sentiments which call into question the premise of 'gender equality' by stating emphatically that the two genders are different in needs and desires, unique, and complementary of each other.

          Speaking as one romantic to another (for who appreciates the feminine mystique but romantics?) - am I alone in thinking the sole redemption of this tragedy is it's beauty? Once women take the stage, we men feel compelled by the sheer pleasure of the spectacle to allow the show to run its course, even if the plot is lacking for any purpose. That the feminist movement, despite its waging war on all that I feel elicits value in woman, above all is interesting gives me hope that the allure I cherish might persist in some, albeit diminished, form.

          But, really, has the time not come for us to rise from our seats, shout down the music and cut on the lights? Is it not time to take them off the stage and to take them - back home? Are we not responsible for saving them, like children, from themselves?

          What I find most puzzling is this: if woman wishes to 'better' herself can she not find a better goal to ascertain than manhood? And is the fact that woman defines her equality under masculine pretenses not indication at just how psychologically dependent woman is on man? Woman gives man's world substance, man gives woman's world shape.

          To construct a political movement to imitate masculinity seems to be a bit of superfluous flattery on their part, in my opinion.

          The music is so nice. The dancers so pretty. And ironically the program states the show is being performed in - honor of us.

          Regards,
          SEP

          *I tried sending this as email but it was too long and have thus posted it here instead.
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        Dec 27 2011: This is a particularly well written line, that I've always had difficulty expressing to female counterparts "What I find most puzzling is this: if woman wishes to 'better' herself, can she not find a better goal to ascertain than manhood?". I would wholeheartedly agree yes, of course... But, there's a part of me, that would actually argue, they already had a better place in society, then manhood ever represented, they were our parents.

        I think you and I may disagree in two major ways however. One, is that, I don't think there is anything inherently limiting a woman, from being a brilliant leader, from being on a stage, and granting it both form and function. I believe women had the right to fight to put their best and brightest, center stage. I think there are women, that really do deserve positions of leadership, and can actually be competent "world shapers", in some ways even enhanced by their femininity. Women are better multi taskers than men, and historically they are more open to unusual ideas, their egos tend to get in the way less. Again, and this may be where we have subtle differences, I don't believe any generallity about men and women can be applied to the individual.

        I don't want to take women off the stage... I want the women that want, and deserve to be there to be there... Just as I want the men that want and deserve to be there, to be there... but I want to stop pretending that it's a better place to be, for everyone.

        When I talk about gender neutral single parent incomes, what I'm trying to create is a society where lots of women will choose to go back home and raise children... but also men will have that opportunity as well. All men aren't "world shapers", lots of us are just little narcissistic, emotional jerks.

        It's not easy or fun to truly put the weight of the world on your shoulders, but if women are willing to help us lift the burden, I'd be happy to benefit. I don't think we've really been honest in presenting that choice
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        Dec 27 2011: Another place we may disagree, is that I truly acknowledge, that it is at least theoretically possible, that women will make better men then we ever did... I doubt it, and I understand why most "old school" men, completely ignore that possibillity... but I don't think we have yet proven they can't.
        • Dec 27 2011: David Hamilton and Seth Powell, your premises about gender identification and roles, and their results, are stunning.
  • Dec 21 2011: Living with someone for the creation of a family, a place where the children are safe to develop happy and strong is a damn good idea. Declaring it In a social manner publicly, following a tradition and inviting friends relatives and whomever wants to contribute in their good will and wishes is also a very civilised and brave move. Calling upon your beliefs to bless and bare witness of this conscious decision between two free minded people is also a strong statement. If the purpose is to do what it's expected by others and who knows what, maybe have a stag night and get sloshed, then it's an expensive party... It could be cheaper...
  • Dec 21 2011: I think the concept of marriage works stronger in societies where gender roles are unequal. For example, when women could not work or support themselves (without a man), marriage was necessary. Today, it's not. Societies, where people have more social and economic options, probably divorce more.

    Does marriage work? I don't know. Does religion work? They've been around forever, so that's saying something.
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    Dec 21 2011: It definitely used to be a social commitment but it no longer is one for a large majority, the high rates of divorce show this.

    Sure you can argue that in the past married couples also were often unhappy but that due to the pressure of society they remained together, however I think the decline of marriage as a contract was and is also caused by a decline of moral values in out society.
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    Dec 27 2011: The original purpose of marriage was undoubtedly to commit the man to the support of the woman and the children, as he might otherwise be on his way, leaving the society with the problem of destitute mothers with children. I think the institution has largely functioned to secure that end, and did so up through the middle of the 20th century.

    Changes since then in law and employment patterns may be making marriage irrelevant, though the legal responsibilities of both father and mother for the welfare of the children must still be ensured. Perhaps a future marriage-like arrangement will be for a man and a woman who plan to have children to sign a contract requiring cooperation and support for a limited period, until the children reach a given age or are on their own, at which point the parents would be free of their obligations both to each other and to the children.
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    Dec 26 2011: Thank you all so much for your thoughtful comments and (in a few cases) sharing your life experiences. When I wrote the question I guess I was mainly thinking of marriage in the US (culture bound me). I learned a bit about other cultures from this discussion and I am grateful to everyone who shared.
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    Dec 25 2011: Marriage does not work anymore. It can't. At least, at a young age, we are taught now to believe in the idea of marriage which is "come together and build a nice life together and be patient, and all that.." Now, we are taught to be self-reliant, go one one's desired path, and do not let anyone mess you up. We are taught to look only for ourselves, so the idea of marriage totally contrasts our functioning.
  • Dec 24 2011: Isn't love part of the equation? Importantly, how to love ones partner until the end.
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    Dec 24 2011: Sometimes I feel marriage is a commitment. Sometimes I feel as if I had been committed. Kinda like a minimum security prison where I always have a bunk and food.
  • Dec 23 2011: Marriage is a complicated issue; there’s the religious influence, the societal expectations, the financial agreements, the legal aspects and the government involvement. Each one of these areas has their own rules attached to the institution and they don’t always support each other.

    The religious influence is as varied as there are religions but tend to dictate how a husband and wife should behave. These ideas had their beginnings centuries ago and don’t tend to get altered. They can be archaic and out of touch with current societal beliefs and cause conflicts when seen in that light. Of course cultural expectations are also incredibly varied as well with a no one fits all molds.

    As I’ve said before, marriage is also a financial contract that is probably more important than any other aspect of taking vows and is the cause of more divorces than infidelity. Infidelity may be the excuse but the problems usually start with money issues. This is the most ignored and the most entitled un-discussed area of marriage that somehow gets tangled with love and feeling for each other inevitably shutting the discussion down.

    So my summation is that no, I don’t think the institution of marriage as a social commitment device works anymore. People are very capable of making choices for themselves. Choosing to have a strong commitment to another person doesn’t have to include any other institution.
  • Dec 22 2011: I really have a problem with women having to change their names for marriage. Suddenly they are no longer attached to their own "tribe" and have to create a new identity with a foreign name. It forces women to erase their whole past when they marry and start over with their husband's name as though they were always a part of that family. My current name is Larson and I've had people try to establish what "Larson" I'm from and when I tell them that women tend to "collect" names they are offended. I was offended that they didn't ask my maiden name to know who I really am.
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        Dec 23 2011: You do realize that is arbitrary and not universal, right? Otherwise there would be no matriarchal societies anywhere.

        There's no inherent biological reason for this -- it is only a product of the way most men's minds work.
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        Dec 24 2011: Wrong. Matrilineality (the flower carrying the lineage of the "pot") has nothing to do with promiscuity.

        Where do you come up with this crap? Have you ever read a book?
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      Dec 23 2011: My personal observation is that that is shifting with the advent of the Internet (it was already shifting before). The sudden realization that you cannot be found by your early peers is causing women to hyphenate, drop the change, and/or just not change in the first place.
    • Dec 24 2011: I like the idea of having a family (last) name. I have no connection to my last name, so I'd gladly drop it for another. However, if I liked my last name or used it as the name people called me, I wouldn't want to drop it. As it stands, though, men are more likely to be called by their last names.
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      Dec 26 2011: I am newly remarried at 50 yrs and did not take his name. I felt as if I'd be giving up my identity, what I'm known by. I think he was a little hurt but he understood. I really like what you said here; "when I tell them that women tend to "collect" names they are offended. I was offended that they didn't ask my maiden name to know who I really am." This is so true.
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        . . 100+

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        Dec 26 2011: Congratulations Joy!!!! Wishing you steady happiness.
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      Dec 27 2011: You don't have to be a Larson or anything else. Just change your name back to your maiden name. Or something you like even better.
  • Dec 22 2011: It works for most people, and has throughout history. The big problem is the degradation of integrity and honesty in our culture. Then there is the fact that we live longer then those who first instituted the condition, many of us tend to grow up differently and thus apart. The classic example is the wife who puts a husband through med school and he grows to see her as a lesser person, whether justifiable or not.
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      Dec 22 2011: "many of us tend to grow up differently and thus apart"

      Indeed, and that, I would argue, is more a function of the diminishing significance and prevalence of homogenized ritual experiences. Ever increasing choice and variety of entertainment and "lifepath" in many post-industrial societies, at least, tends to allow for varied growth. I.e., traditions bind a people and for USAmerica and many societies that are similar to it globally in 2011 the traditions are in flux and therefore less cohesive and effective.
  • Dec 21 2011: This may not be what you intended but here goes...I think it does. I mean that it engenders an interesting and very real sense of obligation not only to the nuclear family but also to the community( the social circle within which you're integrated). The social circle is a part of your identity as a person and family. Teasing apart the person from the family unit is difficult, especially when you live within a community where divorce rate is low. Having recently divorced I've experienced the effects first hand. I know that one’s social circle changes as those around you, the people that make up the social fabric of your life, judge you.