a dear friend of mine married late last year. when i asked what marriage was, she replied:

I don’t know if I can answer directly, but I like to think of marriage in this way—as comradeship, joining, an opportunity for roots to grow deeper. The commitment produces an anchor, an ally, a chosen family member. Since my father’s death, family has become ever more precious. For example, I miss the companionship I had with my brother in childhood–he was like a twin. We’re in all the family photos, sitting together, skinny legs dangling. I have a new twin! Oddly, the sibling metaphor seems apt. Practical byproducts are citizenship rights, the opportunity to stay in the same bed in socially conservative households, legal rights…
Thinking further, I imagine that being married produces a kind of social eunuch-ness. At this point in life, this appeals. There is some danger in my conversations with men and women that may be contained by this social convention. Last night in my photo class, I watched as the 60-something Texan instructor flirted with a 60-something Texan housewife who’d driven two hours from her ranch to learn how to take pictures of eagles and butterflies. The topic of their conversation: their spouses. It blew my mind, the way the energy was neutralized. I don’t want further sexual interactions with people, I’m interested in redirecting this energy. I also love being the aunt, the advisor.

These are some thoughts.


i have long been fascinated by marriage’s lingering hold on society and how little experimentation seems to take place within its constructs. the reasons are naturally economic and evolutionary as pointed out in a recent vox paper by marco francesconi, christian ghiglino and motty perry’s paper on the origin of the family. the emergence of marriage (and by extension the current dominant religions) is due to higher efficiencies for society (fathers need only expend energy on guarding and rearing their offspring when reasonably certain they are the true fathers compared to having to protect overlapping sets of offspring when uncertain).

Essential to our theory is the notion that mate-guarding by males is unavoidable when fatherhood is uncertain, even though from society’s viewpoint it is a complete waste. Therefore, any social “institution” that can, in equilibrium, reduce guarding will lead to a fitness gain at the individual level as well as at the group (or society) level. One of such institutions is religious beliefs and norms that put the fidelity family at centre stage. This reasoning will allow us to underpin why virtually all major world religions stress the role of the fidelity family – and, more specifically, marriage – as avoidance of casual sex.

as they point out, developments such as dna paternity testing and economic independence of mothers are likely to alter the evolutionary optimal familial formats moving forward.


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