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How to Make Marriage More Than an Arrangement of Loveless, Sexless, Domestic Drudgery

Marriage was designed way back when life expectancy was a couple of decades. Now that we live so much longer, does it make any sense?

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A 'French arrangement'

Loh says domestic stability can be achieved through a split-the-mortgage, co-parenting arrangement. "But if high-revving women are sexually frustrated, let them have some sort of French arrangement where they have two men, the postfeminist model dad building shelves, cooking bouillabaise, and ignoring them in the home, and the occasional fun-loving boyfriend the kids never see. Alternately, if both spouses find life already rather exhausting, never mind chasing around for sex."

Or she suggests raising infants in either women-only arrangements, or allowing men like her husband (responsible, detail-oriented) to raise the kids while she goes off to work and other conquests. But in any event, undertaking a kind of radical revisioning of this new, failed invention called Companionate Marriage.

Cristina Nehring, author of the polemic Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-First Century, agrees with the radical part. As Slate’s Meghan O’Rourke writes of Nehring's book, "we have domesticated love past all recognition, turning what is rightly leonine, destructive, and majestic into a yawning, chubby house cat."

At the core is the "age-old dilemma of how we resolve our desire for security with our need for passion," which Nehring answers with a call to abandon what is secure and cozy and routine, and become brave and bold. She sees love as a heroic and crazy act that can only exist without domesticity. She says distance is a form of eros, that to become too companionate is to kill the erotic.

Think less, love more

Amidst all this theorizing about how to achieve bliss in our out of marriage arrives Ross Douthat, who urges us to just stop thinking so much about it.

"Our hyper-educated, socially-liberal elite is considerably more romantically conservative than its blasé attitude toward pornography or premarital sex would lead you to expect," he writes in an op-ed for the New York Times.

Too much navel gazing, not enough risk taking. Thank goodness, says Douthat, plenty of people don't yet dive into love and marriage that way. Only "Americans with graduate degrees," pretty much.

"The difficult scramble up the meritocratic ladder tends to discourage wild passions and death-defying flings. For bright young overachievers, there's often a definite tameness to the way that collegiate 'safe sex' segues into the upwardly-mobile security of 'companionate marriages' — or, if you're feeling more cynical, 'consumption partnerships.'

"The rest of the country...marries impulsively, divorces frequently, and bears a rising percentage of its children outside marriage.

"The high-wire love lives of a Jon Gosselin or a Mark Sanford -- or a Spears, or even a Lindsay Lohan -- are remarkably true to the America that watches their shows, buys their CDs, and votes them into office. It's the highly-educated, highly risk-averse milieu lamented by Nehring and Tsing Loh that's a world unto itself."

In other words, it's all too possible to get ahead without feeling alive.

A lot of progressive, middle-class, educated North Americans have strategized themselves out of crazy good love.

They'll never know the kind of marriage that begins with this proposal: What the hell, let's go for it!

Tyee contributing editor Vanessa Richmond writes the Schlock and Awe column about popular culture and the media.

 
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