We are a funny people when it comes to love.
Most of us wouldn't even dream about getting married unless it was for love. But that creates an interesting dilemma once you've been married for a while. Any married person knows that love comes and goes over the years, rarely if ever returning to the level of a newlywed's can't-take-my-hands-off-of-you phase. As "The Secret Lives of Wives" author Iris Krasnow wrote after interviewing some 200 women on their long-time marriages, "I am constantly reminded of the eggshell-thin line that separates loving from loathing."
Sometimes, after x-number of years of marriage, we just don't love our spouse as much as we used to -- if we still love him or her at all, that is. But if we no longer love our spouse, can we split? Most people don't like divorce, for obvious reasons. It's emotionally draining, often damaging to the kids and expensive; it's "failure." We're OK with divorce only if something really bad is happening, like abuse, affairs or addictions -- even though a good number of spouses dealing with those issues stay married because they insist, "I still love him/her." Clearly, love can cloud our logic.
So, we have a good share of people living in loveless marriages. Isn't that odd? We insist that love is the reason to get married, but obviously we don't believe we need love to stay married. Instead, we stay married because we say we need to honor our vows -- the whole "for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and in health, until death do us part" thing. Or for the kids. Or because we can't sell the house for a good price right now. Tina Turner was right -- what's love got to do with it?
Love is a crappy reason to marry, according to Stephanie Coontz, author of "Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage":
"For most of history it was inconceivable that people would choose their mates on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love and then focus all their sexual, intimate, and altruistic desires on the resulting marriage. In fact, many historians, sociologists, and anthropologists used to think romantic love was a recent Western invention. This is not true. People have always fallen in love, and throughout the ages many couples have loved each other deeply. But only rarely in history has love been seen as the main reason for getting married. When someone did advocate such a strange belief, it was no laughing matter. Instead, it was considered a serious threat to social order."
So then why do we cling to love as the main reason to say "I do" instead of love being just one of the reasons? In truth, we really don't marry for love alone. We marry for love and then some. A woman in her 20s may be tying the knot because she's ready to be a mom. A 40-something divorcee may want to get hitched again for financial stability. A man in his 50s may wed a so-called trophy wife, a younger woman who offers him social status. A 70-something widower may be marrying for companionship.
Are those marriages any less valid that couples who marry for love? Of course not.
But, say out loud that you're getting married for, say, financial stability or social status? It's probably not going to go over too well. Just look at how Tori Spelling reacted when the tabloids deemed her marriage loveless because someone blabbed that hubby Dean McDermott was just after her "money and the fame." Men can be gold-diggers, too, according to a recent study that indicates many of us would marry for money, male and female, although 71 percent of 20-something women said they expected they'd get divorced, too. Even Pamela Smock, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who studies marriage and money, says she was somewhat shocked by that. "It's kind of against the notion of love and soul mates and the main motivations to marry in our culture," she said.
Right -- because our main motivation for marrying isn't just love, even if we don't admit it. So we should stop pretending that it is.
Because if love is the only reason to marry, then the end of love should be reason enough to divorce. In fact, a recent U.K. study indicates that falling out of love has surpassed infidelity as the reason couples are splitting.
We are entering proposal season; more men pop the question in December than any other month, including February. But before you say, "Yes!," you might want to ask your sweetie why he wants to marry you. If he says "Because I love you," you might want to tell him that's just not a good enough reason.
Vicki Larson and Susan Pease Gadoua are collaborating on a project on reimagining marriage. If you interested in being a part of their research, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org