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The Monogamous Gulag
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An interesting book review in Slate, on a feminist rant against marriage called Against Love: A Polemic (what a lousy name, by the way).

The author asks:

Why has marriage (which she defines broadly as any long-term monogamous relationship) remained a polestar even as ingrained ideas about race, gender, and sexuality have been overturned?

Kipnis' answer is that marriage is an insidious social construct, harnessed by capitalism to get us to have kids and work harder to support them. Her quasi-Marxist argument sees desire as inevitably subordinated to economics. And the price of this subordination is immense: Domestic cohabitation is a "gulag"; marriage is the rough equivalent of a credit card with zero percent APR that, upon first misstep, zooms to a punishing 30 percent and compounds daily. You feel you owe something, or you're afraid of being alone, and so you "work" at your relationship, like a prisoner in Siberia ice-picking away at the erotic permafrost.

Hmm...I could easily buy the argument that marriage (in its current form) is an outmoded social institution, but not on the grounds that it's some sort of capitalist conspiracy. Give me a break.

The connection between sex and love, she argues, doesn't last as long as the need for each. And we probably shouldn't invest so much of our own happiness in the idea that someone else can help us sustain it—or spend so much time trying to make unhappy relationships "work." We should just look out for ourselves, perhaps mutually—more like two people gazing in the same general direction than two people expecting they want to look in each other's eyes for the rest of their (now much longer) lives.

Well, sure...taken to an extreme. I don't think it's emotionally healthy to invest so much in one person. I think the flaw of marriage is the inflexible, unrealistic expectation of lifetime bonding and fidelity.

People should probably go into marriage with the understanding that it most likely will not be a permanent venture. Maybe that's becoming more the expectation now, but most people still recite the whole "Til Death Do Us Part" litany, which really is quite a ridiculous expectation. Hardly anybody takes it seriously anymore, so why do people keep vowing it?

Also, I wish our society would become more progressive in terms of allowing more flexible social arrangements. We're remain almost Puritanical in our worship of lifetime, monogamous, heterosexual pairings as the only legitimate, socially-acceptable arrangement between adults. It's nonsense.

I think especially in a society in which women have equal rights, and many wish to pursue careers, a household in which both parents work is, by its nature, going to leave much less time for any children the couple might have. A household with more than two adults would generally be more flexible, in terms of allowing some to work while others stayed at home. For example, a household with five adults (say, three males and two females, or vice versa) could easily be supported with three adults working and two staying home to raise the kids.

Of course, social institutions change with the rapidity of thawing glaciers. Unlike the author of Against Love, I don't think marriage should be abolished. I think it should be transformed, its definition expanded, if anything (but not by the government). I think it'll take a while, though.

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