Married Life

Marriage and romance – incompatible?

It seems one begins where the other ends

Today we believe that romantic love should be the foundation on the basis of which two people lay down the blue prints of a lifetime of togetherness. All else will or should fall in place. Our ancestors did not have it this simple. While marriage has existed as a central element of life in nearly every global culture in recorded history, in none of them, till at least very recently, have we married for love, especially romantic love. For thousands of years marriage had done well, not because of love but despite it. Love has always been considered a weak and a poor reason for marriage.

“In 1800, the idea of marrying for love was ludicrous,” said Eli Finkel, lead author in the study on marriage and professor of psychology at Northwestern. “That isn’t to say that people didn’t want love from their marriage; it just wasn’t the point of marriage.”

mughal love painting
‘marriage for love was ludicrous’ Image Source

It was desirable for love, or at least affection, to develop after marriage.

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But love was not the main thing that people took into account in deciding when and whom to marry. It did not factor into the decision-making. A courtesan or concubine filled the role of an emotional and sexual partner. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the European aristocracy viewed extramarital affairs as the highest form of romance, untainted by the gritty realities of daily life. Where the daily grind existed, love could not! In ancient India, falling in love before marriage was considered a disruptive, antisocial act. In some Chinese dialects, a term for love didn’t traditionally apply to feelings between husband and wife: it was used to describe an illicit, socially disapproved relationship. Both the ancient Greeks and medieval Europeans thought lovesickness was a type of insanity, and that it was almost indecent to love a spouse too ardently.

love in middle ages
‘lovesickness was a type of insanity’ Image Source

In fact, love and marriage were once widely regarded as incompatible with one another and for all practical reasons. For, where marriage demanded a calm head on two shoulders working in unison with a completely different set of agenda and priorities, day after day, and year after year, in Herculean toil (allotting their individual selves or what was between them in the lower case of significance) passionate love demanded intense emotional involvement asking the two involved to prioritize each other in the wake of the all consuming emotional storm which is fleeting and prone to fade by its very nature. The certainty and security that a marriage demanded was antithetical to the mystery and adventure that romantic love thrived on. Where marriage demanded logic, rationality and arrangement, romantic and passionate love lived on anarchy, arbitrariness and chaos. While marriage demanded commitment and obligations, passionate love considered anything not arising out of its own center as less than and not worth keeping up with. While marriage wanted safety and stability, passionate love needed danger and life on the edge to feed on.

Related reading: Are Indians ignorant about their bodies and intimacy?

‘passionate love needed danger and life on edge’ Image Source

As late as the eighteenth century the French philosopher Montaigne wrote, “any man who was in love with his wife was a man so dull that no one else could love him.” The Countess of Champagne once wrote, “Love cannot exert its powers between two people who are married to each other”.

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