Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Today in misguided nostalgia

-For the good old days before abortion was legal. There's a welcome cameo from Katha Pollitt in the comments. She says it all better than I could have.

-For arranged marriage: Love matches cease to be lust matches after X weeks of dating, or X years of marriage, at which point it's all just companionate anyway. So why all the fuss about chemistry? Why not just marry whomever? Why not an especially vibrant basil plant? (Goes the argument.)

If Pollitt intervened here as well, I missed it, so WWPD you shall have: While physical attraction may not matter to quite the same extent further into a relationship, there is probably a bare minimum that needs to be met for intimacy (as in sex, but also as in sitting across from someone at the breakfast table) to be appealing/tolerable rather than revolting/oppressive. Even if looks change with time, which they will, there will at least always be the memory of the person one once found so attractive, or so one sometimes hears from the old-and-happily-married. Marriages between Styles-demographic sorts (well-educated, mid-20s-and-older) are apparently quite stable, so divorce-rate panic seems misplaced. Clearly the fact that infatuation tends to wane does not doom the relationships that begin in that manner. It could well be, quite the contrary, and that marriages that began as a hook-up or fling are more stable than those that formed by the calm, rational decision of all parties tangentially/financially involved. But because love-marriage societies also tend to allow those who are unhappy the freedom to divorce (as commenters do point out), looking at which marriages "last" won't be of much use.


caryatis said...

I would point out that marriages/relationships that begin with attraction do not exclude the possibility of a rational examination of the compatibility issues involved. If you’re out there looking for a committed relationship, whether someone is attractive is going to involve unconscious calculations about whether you could imagine spending your life with this person, and what that would look like. Even spending a weekend with someone is better if you have shared values, interests, and assumptions. Hence why people rarely marry across classes, races, or religions.

And compatibility considerations are going to be especially important for feminists looking for a relationship, since we need to be wary of the tendency to marry up: it’s essential to look past the feelings of attraction or affection to come to as objective a judgment as you can of whether an egalitarian relationship is possible with a given man. Hence such heartless considerations as: is his career important to him? Is he older than I am? Is his personality more dominant than mine? Does he have feminist principles? And my personal favorite: did he grow up with a single mother? If so, he’s likely to be more willing to carry his share of household responsibilities.

Also: “the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University?” Since when does BYU have any credibility in telling us about family?

Phoebe said...

Oh, I definitely think that's true - a looks-based hook-up is probably initiated at a university, party, or bar where everyone knows more or less what everyone else's milieu consists of. And hairstyle, for example, is a very good proxy for milieu, meaning that what people think they just purely find attractive is of course actually class/milieu-specific.

But the borders shift when people meet in the larger world, in a way that's quite different from arranged marriage. People meet and have tons in common, but might well be two secular, ambitious individuals from very different backgrounds, who'd never have been set up by their parents, even if their parents (who sent them to college in the first place) perfectly well approve of the match. Also, re: "race," these categories are very different if we're talking arranged marriage (Orthodox Jews with Orthodox Jews, and from what I understand, Indians of one caste with other Indians of the same caste) than the general population, with its broad categories of "white," "Asian," etc. Lots of couples are bound to look same-race to outsiders, while having backgrounds that are anything but, "race" being, of course, subjective.

Re: feminist considerations, I guess? But I just don't seem to have run across any ambitious men who'd want their wives not to work, indeed who wouldn't actually prefer it if their wives were also ambitious. Of course, my cohort hasn't quite reached the parenting phase, so maybe this will change.

caryatis said...

But what happens when one spouse's ambitions clash with the other's? A man who is highly invested in his career is likely to support his wife's ambitions only as long as they don't hold him back.

Phoebe said...

Ambitions can't really clash if couples are OK with being long-distance for long stretches of time. That's one glaring reason why what I see among my own age-group is likely to be more challenging if/when kids are in the picture.

caryatis said...

I can't imagine many relationships surviving separations for years, even without kids. Sounds horrible to me, but I suppose others may feel differently.

Phoebe said...

This may be particular to academia, esp. fields that effectively require either lengthy trips abroad or multiple postdocs (i.e. the two fields I'm familiar with), but I probably know as many serious/married couples that are often long-distance as that always live together.

caryatis said...

Wow. Well, if they can stand it. Wasn't that why Anne-Marie Slaughter's husband and children lived in Princeton or someplace while she was in DC? And that distance was a big part of why she failed to pursue her career. If she had married someone less committed to his academic career, he might have been willing to move to DC with her.