Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

A Brief History of Marriage

Just a kiss to say goodbye... Marriage is so 8000 BCE. Think about it for a minute. What’s the point? Tribal alliance, off spring (to work, hunt, fight, etc.), mutual benefit from labor. But love? Hot sex? Soul mates? Sorry. Not unless you were incredibly lucky, ridiculously rich, or lived in the later half of the 20th c.

So, as we run head long into the 21st c, what does the institution of marriage mean? When was the last time you were at a wedding that functioned as a political alliance? Or, when did your best friend have 10 children to work the farm, or fight in the militia? The institution of marriage no longer carries the same weight as it used to; its purpose is outdated.

What does it mean anymore? All that I’ve heard from folks is ‘what-marriage-means-to-me’ kind of language. But, if its in a total state of redefinition, should we bother redefining it? Or, should we just drop the term and concept altogether? And move on to serial monogamy like civilized folk? Is that what the 21st c has to offer?


  1. I can understand what you’re saying about culture and marriage, but there is one aspect of culture I think you are IRONICALLY forgetting: CHURCH, as well as other major faiths traditions. As a married, churchy person, I believe that marriage in its ideal is elevated to sacramental status. We are giving this sacrament to each other in a marriage. In the US, marriage receives privilege from the state, but it is fundamentally an institution of the church/faith. As for the question of monogamy: is there not enough mystery in a human being to last for a lifetime?

  2. I agree with Heather that marriage has it’s roots in the church. However, not necessarily in all major religions. For example, matriarchal religions have a very different view on love unions. So that begs the question, is marriage the brain child of religious males? And then back to your question. What is the marriage of the people? What do we all really want out of relationships?
    I do think that with our country being so economy driven that marriage has to be seen as a business partnership. You both put money into a mortgage (buying a house), raising your product (the kids), and investing into your future wealth (401k’s and ira’s). So you both need an assurance that if one of you decides that business isn’t going so well, or you want to go another direction that you get your share of the profits. Not romantic at all. But realistic. And a necessity for the future well being of both parties.

  3. i think pebble is exactly right about the business partnership definition of marriage – that is exactly how the state views and defines it. as to what it should be…since church and belief are changing drastically in recent decades, marriage has been forced to change with them. as an example, the 5-figure (or 6 or 7) wedding is a very recent development-clearly a reflection of the rise of the importance of entertainment. but my main point is that marriage, which has its roots in religion, will always retain that association. its non-legal meaning will arise directly from the importance (or lack thereof) that each individual places on their religion. and unless the 21st century diverges greatly from the 20th, individualism will continue to be the nominal pursuit of western culture.

  4. Marriage as a sacrament is something that makes me a little uncomfortable–two things are embedded here, let me explain. First of all, I like your last statement about there being enough mystery in a person to last for a lifetime. Mystery for me begins to fall apart when it is ‘elevated’ to sacramental status. The greater mystery of human sexuality seems to lie in the fleshy parts rather than the spiritual ones, or failing that, the fleshy parts seem to be the access point to the spiritual ones. This leads to the second part, sacrament. Sacrament has tended to function as an abstraction of viscera. I’m beginning to wonder–scratch that–I think that there is an appropriation mystery through the viscera, and a contemplation of mystery through abstraction. In short, the Real permeate our viscera in a way that it can never touch our minds.