Marriage: Will the future be a buffet instead of a set menu

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The recently announced split of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt after two years of marriage raises, yet again, the question of what a couple signs up for when they tie the knot. The form & content of marriage – and relationships in general – have been in a state of flux since the 1960s. Presciently Richard Harris would sing MacArthur Park in 1968 about melting of the icing of the cake because 

 “Someone left the cake out in the rain….

And I’ll never have that recipe again”

(The meaning of these surreal lyrics by Jimmy Webb is available at the end of the blog)

 Custom, duty or need to procreate would no longer produce the ideal ingredients for marriage ever again. However, would the idealised sugary sweet ingredient “happy-ever-after” be an adequate substitute?

 If not, what would?

Main picture: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt

Tentatively towards a new future

In that initial leap of faith during the 1960’s, these age-old certainties were cast aside. Free love would prevail. As the hippies in their communes on the American West Coast soon discovered, sex was insufficient. “Coitus” – as Dr Shelton Cooper clinically calls it in the hilarious comedy, The Big Bang Theory – requires more than desire by one party. Intimacy required mutual attraction and desire – physical, mental & psychological. Soon free love was no longer sex with all and sundry but sex with a person that attracted one. When couples are formed, free love with other parties is normally not an option on the menu anymore. Jealousy has precluded it as a choice.

Dr Sheldon Lee Cooper

Dr Sheldon Lee Cooper

Instead of the bland original marital ingredients of custom, duty or the need to procreate, the benefits of matrimony would now have to be reassessed. These three duties would have to be supplanted with a more modern construct based not upon free love but rather upon meeting the emotional & physical needs of both parties.

In short, these duties were substituted by the following needs to be fulfilled: happiness, sexual enjoyment, intimacy and emotional support.

In the rush to discard the old elements, the realisation had not dawned that one duty was being supplanted by another even more onerous obligation. The duty to get married never placed many other responsibilities on the parties other than procreation. This was an era of loveless marriages especially as regards the royalty where marriage was reserved with the wife and romantic love with a lover.

As custom dictated that Kings have lovers, King George II was forced at appoint Henrietta Howard as his lover

As custom dictated that Kings have lovers, King George II was forced at appoint Henrietta Howard as his lover

This split of responsibilities was so engrained in these societies that courtiers would even demand that a King obtain a lover.

 

New Rules of Engagement

Couples soon learnt that the newly fangled duties to their spouse of happiness, sexual enjoyment, intimacy and emotional support were vastly more onerous than the pre-liberalisation obligations.

That fact did not perturb the new generation unduly. With divorce becoming cheaper and easier especially with the no-fault option, divorce rates zoomed ahead. Bailing out of marriage became prevalent. In addition, pressures were also being placed on relationships as women entered the workplace and demanded that men perform their fair share of the housework.

Men not only had to embrace their feminine side but now they were being forced to accept an equitable share of the household chores.

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Divorce rates surged upward yet again.

The ingredient souring these relationships was the unfulfilled expectations. People now expected that wedlock would no longer be a dreary & dull affair but fun, exciting and magical.

This problem was insoluble. After five years, all of the unappealing attributes and behaviours of one’s partner have been uncovered. After ten years, they are no longer minor irritants but downright repellent. By twenty years of marriage, they have killed intimacy in many cases with even sex being one of the chores in the relationship.

Unequal marriage, a 19th-century painting by Russian artist Pukirev. It depicts an arranged marriage where a young girl is forced to marry someone against their will

Unequal marriage, a 19th-century painting by Russian artist Pukirev. It depicts an arranged marriage where a young girl is forced to marry someone against their will

 

In the early years, you fight because you do not understand one another.

In the later years, you fight because you do

 

What about exhilarating sex

One of the original items on the buffet of benefits of marriage was exhilarating sex. Yet long before their diamond anniversary, this expectation was usually not being fulfilled.

This unmet expectation was coupled with the “burden” of lifelong monogamy. It should be noted that in general, very few animals mate for life even though this attribute possesses an energy saving appeal. Man faced the same dilemma.

1975-free-love

Yet, in certain European societies, such as France, fidelity is not such a deal breaker. Surprisingly in certain other first world societies, a single act of infidelity is not necessarily considered the automatic terminator of the relationship. Many examples abound such as Bill & Hillary Clinton.

Interestingly in the case of infidelity, the concern of the innocent party differs totally depending upon their gender. In the case of males, their concern is whether their wife had sex with the other party whereas in the case of the female spouse, the issue is whether their husband loves their sexual paramour.

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What about happiness and emotional support?

The realisation has long since dawned that marriage is not simply about sex or physical attraction but it is also to support one’s partner to attain their ultimate dream. As I have observed in real life, what this sometimes means, for example, is that a non-sporting partner will take up running not in order to compete with their spouse, but rather to form a greater part of their life.

This does not imply that support always means to adopt their interests but rather to provide them with encouragement and display an interest in their activities.

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Ironically, dating sites still base their calculation of the level of attractiveness between sexes upon irrelevant attributes such as eye colour, interests and size of the female’s boobs. Most are immaterial unless somebody finds the whole package – physical and emotional – attractive.

At the extreme, opposites attract. Such partnerships can be successful especially where both parties experience it as a challenge. Sometimes marriages endure in order to prove a point to parents. However, both of these examples illustrate the aberrations and not the norm.

Happiness and emotional support are the bedrock of the majority of successful marriages.

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What about celebrities?

Anecdotally the rate of divorce among celebrities appears to be greater than the norm.

Money and availability of partners could be among the reasons but it could also be attributed to some other reason.

Perhaps where the emphasis is on themselves 24/7, then the emotional commitment to mend a failing marriage or in fact to spend their emotional energy on a marriage is not a consideration. A part of stardom is often a shallowness of character, an innate narcissism which shields one from criticism whilst simultaneously allowing them to project a façade of unconcern and serenity.

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Apparently, the reason for the split by Angelina and Brad is due to Brad’s infidelity. With a career of her own and millions to spare, forgiveness is not an option. Whether Brad would have deigned to be remorseful is another issue not for this blog.

The problem arose when Angelina discovered that Brad had his main meal at home but his dessert elsewhere.

 

One final thought

Apart from shared interests alluded to previously, there are probably five things which make a partner feel loved: kindly acts, sex, gifts, words and time. In addition, one must learn to apologise, forgive and preferably forget. By forgetting is implied the requirement not to harp on or reopen old wounds but rather never to mention it again.

Whilst the male’s burden of household chores and obligations is gaining weight, there is still one area that is almost exclusively borne by the female: the emotional burden.

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Only when males carry their fair share of this burden will marital roles become equal with the concomitant resilience & longevity of the marriage.

Instead of one party being able to cherry-pick the parts of the relationship that they will have to contribute to,  all long term, abiding partnerships require the whole enchilada.

It is all or nothing.

If one ingredient is missing or rancid, the whole cake will be spoiled.

Just ask Jimmy Webb.

Richard Harris

Richard Harris

 

MacArthur Park [written by Jimmy Webb]

Spring was never waiting for us, dear
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance

 

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!

 

I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground beneath your knees
The birds, like tender babies in your hands
And the old men playing checkers by the trees

 

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!

 

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left my cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!

 

Post script: For years, Jimmy Webb has been coy when asked to explain that cake left out in the rain and the rest of the lyrics to his classic “MacArthur Park”. Apparently, they are a metaphor for the end of his relationship with a relative of Linda Ronstadt’s who later got married in that Los Angeles park on a rainy day.

The words might be surreal but the music is sublime


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