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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #89, 5/13/2007

The Case Against Marriage - Introduction

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher


This philosophy essay became the first chapter of a book I am writing, The Case Against Marriage. Please go there to read it. (The text below may be out of date.)

[ First Chapter in Book: "The Case Against Marriage" ]

You're probably not going to listen to me, but I'm going to give it a shot anyway. You've been considering marriage, and I am here to dissuade you. I'm not against love, mind you, or even against bonding for life if that's the way things turn out. It is only the public contract I object to. Why does a private relationship need a public sanction? Why can't you negotiate your relationship on your own, as it unfolds, just between the two of you, without the social or governmental license?

Marriage is something that could screw up your relationship, replacing true attraction with a dull institution. At the least, it reduces your flexibility, making it harder to respond to inevitable changes in yourself and your partner.

There are plenty of married people out there, and I'm not saying they should get unmarried. We all have to make the best of our current circumstances. I only want to address you, the naive young dilettante, while there is still a chance to save you.

Let's think this thing through together, shall we? What does marriage really mean, and what are its practical effects? Is it really going to help your relationship or hurt it? What are the legal, social, economic and psychological ramifications of walking down the aisle? Why do people think they need marriage, and how are they deluded?

Gays and lesbians are always crying because they can't get married in most jurisdictions. I say they should count their blessings! It is like women fighting for the right to join the military and go to war. Before you make a big deal about it, you ought to think things through: "Do I really want to go to war?" Why should gays fight to join the same prison everyone else is trapped in?

Gay relationships, in fact, may be leading the way to an enlightened future that heteros ought to embrace. Think about it: Gays can't get married, so what do they do? They piece together the elements of marriage a la carte, as it suits their needs. If they want to share death benefits, that make up wills. If they want to share a bank account, they open one together. They don't try to share everything all at once from this day forth, which, legally, is what marriage makes you do. Gays have to negotiate every act of sharing on a case-by-case basis, which is the essence of a healthy and dynamic relationship. In the absence of negotiated sharing, they remain free and independent individuals.

I know something about marriage from having been through it once. I also see the tail end of the institution as an unofficial observer of Family Court in Las Vegas. Las Vegas, of course, is the marriage capital of the world, but you learn far more about the institution by studying divorces as they pass through court. There is a Yin and Yang between marriage and divorce. Campbell's Law says that the nastiness of the divorce is proportional to the unreality of the initial delusion. Divorce is the paying of the piper after an overdose of fantasy.

During divorce, there is plenty of blame floating around, but in the end, you have to acknowledge that it was your own damn fault. You were the one who bought into this fantasy. Before you got married, you believed the fairytale nonsense, that this was really going to change your relationship for the better and make it more "secure". The trouble with security is that it often works both ways: In trying to lock out the uncertainties of the world, you may be locking yourself in a cage that reduces your own freedom. Because you can no longer easily step away, you may have lost much of your ability to negotiate with your cellmate. Instead, you make accommodations and more accommodations and sweep problems under the carpet until—Kaboom!—things finally blow up.

People are fundamentally independent entities. The urge to merge with someone else can be huge, but there is a practical limit to how far you can go. If you get too close to anyone for too long, there are bound to be problems. It is like being handcuffed to the one you love: After the novelty wears off, it is going to be a pain in the ass to get anything done. The person you are trapped with is bound to fray on your nerves. Once you have already shared everything you can share, you hunger for new experiences as an independent being so you can maybe come back later and share again.

The healthiest base position is one of discrete individuality. We should each be self-contained entities with our own careers, assets, goals and relationships. We should come together with other only as it suits us, negotiating each engagement on its own merits. Over time, we might share more of ourselves, and this is fine, as long as it happens naturally. You never have to take any "Big Step" to make a relationship work. Instead, a lot of little steps could conceivably lead you to the same result. If you move slowly and incrementally, what you will probably have in the end is a more solid and stable relationship, because everything was carefully built stone by stone, not purchased as a unit.

The institution of marriage replaces an independently constructed relationship with a single social contract that attempts to compact years of development into a single sentence: "I do." It like buying your diploma from a mail order company rather than actually going to college. It is a waving of the magic wand that is supposed to build everything all at once. You stand up before all your family and friends and say, "This is all I am ever going to want for the rest of my life." Do you think that by saying this you are really going to make it happen?

If it does happen—you remain attached to each other for life—how do you know it was really a free choice? Did you stay together because it was truly the best arrangement, or was it because you were imprisoned together and escape was too painful? If you are married, you are never really going to know.

In this book, we will explore marriage and relationships and sexual attraction and law and contracts and loneliness and fear. What are people afraid of when they get married? No institution can be all positive; there have to be demons under the surface, and we will try our best to dig them up.

More chapters found in The Case Against Marriage (an online book)

Reader Comments

“I laughed, I cried, it was the best night of the year!” — 5/13/07 (rating=3)

“One of the most insightful analyses of marriage I've ever seen.” —Female, old, wise, intelligent. 5/15/07 (rating=5)

“The online diploma is a fantastic analogy! Thank you.” —in love with my mate, not married to a keeper 7/17/07 (rating=4)

“very good essay. well done” —friend 1/18/08 (rating=3)

“I completely disagree...yet u drew my attention to the end! That is the mark of a good writer.” —Married, six children! 6/8/09 (rating=3)

Ratings so far: 3 5 4 2 3 3 (Average=3.3)

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