Is love relevant to marriage ?
Did you expect any other answer from a non-romantic ?
To put my views on this in a nutshell, while I think it is a good thing if 2 people getting married love each other, it’s not a necessary requirement for a successful marriage. And, on the other hand, the fact that 2 people getting married love each other is not, by itself, any sort of guarantee that they will have a successful marriage.
Let’s look at those 2 thoughts separately.
Do you need to love a person to consider marrying them ?
My short answer is “no”.
To explore this further, it is perhaps a useful starting point to note that there are millions of successful marriages around the world now, as I write, where the parties who married did not love each other. In fact, in most of these cases, they didn’t even know each other at the time they married. None of these parties had the chance to ask “Am I marrying the right person ?”.
I am, of course, talking about arranged marriages.
Now there are 4 main possible outcomes of an arranged marriage:
1) it's a disaster and the marriage ends soon after it starts
2) the parties to it keep going, but neither party is really happy
3) the parties to it make the best of the situation, and while they never really fall in love, they accommodate each other sufficiently to be reasonably happy together
4) the parties fall in love, and the marriage is a happy one.
As far as I know, no one keeps statistics on the frequency of these outcomes – it would be a very hard thing to do in any event. But there are indications about as to the frequencies of some of these outcomes.
Now, given how important we think love is in the West, it is natural to think that the order in which I have listed these outcomes reflects their likely frequency. Putting 2 people who don’t know each other into a marriage is surely a recipe for disaster. And even if they somehow manage to stay together, the chances of them being basically happy together have to be minimal. And as for falling in love with each other, sure it might happen, but the chances are probably similar to the chances of winning a lottery, as after all, that’s pretty much what it is.
The only problem with all of that is that it doesn’t seem to accord with the small bits of evidence that are about. On the basis of that evidence, I would suggest that very few arranged marriages end in disaster, and that the majority of them, and perhaps the great majority of them, result in love, or accommodation, and happiness.
What gives ?
A few things.
First, in cultures where arranged marriages are common, there is a very strong social and cultural pressure for those marrying to stay together. Marriage dissolution would bring social, and perhaps financial, ruin on at least one of the families of the parties. Marriages in those cultures are usually enormous events with literally thousands of people attending. That sort of a marriage is hard to walk out of. In fact, realistically speaking, failure is not an option.
Second, although the parties to the marriage do not know each other, they have usually been chosen for each other in the belief that they will be compatible. They will also usually come from the same religious, social and cultural background. And if you have the mindset that you will eventually have to marry someone, not having to go to any effort to find that someone saves time, worry, expense, possible heartache, hassle and all the other things that trying to find a partner can involve. What’s not to like about that if it looks like you will finish up with the sort of person you would probably have finished up with anyway ?
Third, humans are enormously adaptable creatures. Throw 2 people together in circumstances where they essentially have to stay together, the sensible thing becomes to make the best of the situation. If you're in a situation you can't do anything about, you might as well try to get as much enjoyment out of it as you can. If you both do that, the next thing you know ... And, in any event, all things considered, he/she is actually pretty attractive, and seems to be quite a nice person. And then the children come along …
What evidence do I have that this is not all cloud-cuckoo land stuff ?
Exhibit 1 is from my reading – the dissolution of arranged marriages is such a rare thing that it is usually big news.
Exhibit 2 is from my observations. I know a number of people in arranged marriages, and they all, without exception, seem to be in “normal” marriages.
Exhibit 3 is the fact that the system is alive and well. That is quite obvious from my general reading and experience. However, to emphasize the point, one person I know was married in an arranged marriage last year, 2 the year before, and 2 the year before that. In each case the man was in Australia, and the marriage occurred when he went back to his country of birth for a holiday. In most of these cases he was not aware at the time he left Australia that he would be married during his holiday. In almost all of these cases the man had a tertiary educational qualification, and in some cases the woman did also.
The point here is that if arranged marriages didn’t work very well, surely they would have stopped by now, particularly in circumstances where families had dispersed across the world ? Surely these days parents in an unhappy marriage wouldn’t inflict the same thing on their children, regardless of culture and tradition ?
So, returning to the issue of love and marriage, I think it is pretty clear that in our Western context the parties to a marriage can be confident that even if they are not completely sure that they love each other at the time that they marry, it may still be possible for that to happen after they marry.
However for that to be realistic, I would argue that it would be extremely useful if those who married liked and respected each other.
Marrying someone that you really like is a great way of avoiding the question of whether you actually love a person. Despite what you will have read, and despite what a lot of people might have told you, quite often it’s very difficult, to the point of impossibility, to know whether you love someone. Sure, sometimes it’s easy, but at other times it’s not. (I have a whole Section on this: Am I in love ?)
So, I, Mr. Non-Romantic, say: love doesn’t matter if you have the possibility of marrying someone you really like and respect. Go for it.
Is love enough to ensure a happy marriage ?
Love is a very difficult thing to define. And as I’ve just mentioned, it can be quite difficult to determine if you are in love.
However, one thing that I can say about love with some confidence is that if you have feelings that are strong enough to make you think that you are in love, you will not be able to maintain those feelings at that strength for any prolonged period of time. That is simply an observation of what it is like to be human. And I am not trying to say that your love will fade – I am simply saying that intense feelings of love are something that humans can only maintain for short bursts.
The point of making that observation is this: even if you are madly in love with your partner at the time that you marry, that will only get you through the first few weeks of your marriage, at most. Once a few weeks have gone by, you will have to deal with a whole lot of prosaic stuff that is part and parcel of living as a human. If you weren’t already living with your partner before your marriage, you will then also have the “joy” of integrating your lives. That will involve all sorts of decisions, and give you lots of chances to disagree. Love will only provide a buffer here for so long. There will come a time when you will need more. That’s where like and respect come into the picture. If they are both there, you should be able to sort out pretty much any problem that you and your partner come across.
And if like and respect aren’t there, my prediction is that love will quickly dissipate once the blowtorch of real life is applied to it, and with it your chances of a happy marriage.
There is another strand to my view that love doesn’t really matter when it comes to marriage, and it derives from my view of what marriage is all about.
Marriage is a partnership.
In entering a marriage, the partners to it are essentially hoping that they will be entering into a life partnership.
In the "good old days" the primary purpose of entering into marriage was to have children, and to raise those children.
These days that is only one of many possible purposes.
Today, probably the majority of marriages are entered into to provide companionship. For that purpose to have any hope of success, I would argue that you need like and respect, basic compatibility, and enough in the way of shared views or interests or world view to make being together fun, or at least a bit interesting. If you have those, I would further argue that that’s all that you need for a happy relationship. By the time you get into your second decade together, if there was love at the start, it will usually have settled into the background of the relationship. If like has always been there, it will still be front and centre of the relationship.
What happens if only one of you is in love ?
Naturally if I am of the view that there can be a successful marriage if neither of the partners loves the other partner, it follows that there can be a successful marriage if only one of the partners is in love with the other partner.
Of course, as with the no love situation, it is crucial that there be like and respect, and that applies particularly to the partner who is not in love. Presumably they would not be prepared to marry their partner if they didn’t like and respect them.
I note that from what I have seen this sort of relationship is also helped by the fact that often the partner who is not in love will love the fact that their partner is in love with them.
However, I also note that this sort of dynamic introduces a fragility into the relationship, as if the partner-in-love’s love diminishes, the relationship can quickly be on shaky ground. That’s a problem because a diminution or loss of love is probably more likely to happen in a relationship than a loss of like and respect.