Wing to Wing: The Rise and Fall of Romance

It’s Monday, which now means we continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays. We continue with the first reading … and first major section, second essay. This essay is from Passionate Attachments: Thinking About Love an anthology by Gaylin and Person itself, the selection here is authored by Lawrence Stone.

The main notion behind marriage today in the Western world is romantic love. However, in a historical context this is an anomaly and looking at our society today … likely short lived. Shakespeare, Austen and the like coupled with rising universality of literacy gave rise to an ideal of romantic love as the reason to marry. More specifically, this is not to say romantic attachment never has been the reason for marriage. It is just that now it is virtually universally taken as a given that this reason to marry has public affirmation and admiration.

A short quote:

It is also possible to say something about the changing relationship of passionate love to marriage. For al classes who possessed property, that is the top two-thirds economically, marriage before the seventeenth century was arranged by the parents, and the motives were the economic and political benefit of the kin group, not the emotional satisfaction of the individuals. As the concept of individualism grew int he seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, slowly became accepted that the prime object was “holy matrimony”, a sanctified state of monogamous married contentment. This was best achieved by allowing the couple to make their own choice, provided that both sets of parents agreed that the social and economic gap was not too wide, and the marriage was preceded by a long period of courtship. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, individualism had so far taken precedence over the group interests of the kin that the couple were left more or less free to make their own decision, except in the highest aristocratic and royal circles. Today individualism is given such absolute priority in most Western societies, that the couple are virtually free to act as they please, to sleep with whom they please and to marry and divorce when and whom they please to suit their own pleasure. The psychic cost of such behavior, and its self-defeating consequences, are becoming clear, however, and how long this situation will last is anybody’s guess …

In my own reflections on differing traditions, hermeneutic and how to choose between them, discernment according to the wisdom of the desert Fathers (4-5th century ascetics monastics) it was thought that it was in community, in discussion, and at the very least consultation with a personal adviser was required for proper discernment. Choosing of mate and whom to marry is exactly the sort of important decision for which discernment is key. Rejection of today’s individualism, here as well as in other matters where discernment is probably an important corrective for the ills of our age.

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3 comments

  1. In my own reflections on differing traditions, hermeneutic and how to choose between them, discernment according to the wisdom of the desert Fathers (4-5th century ascetics monastics) it was thought that it was in community, in discussion, and at the very least consultation with a personal adviser was required for proper discernment. Choosing of mate and whom to marry is exactly the sort of important decision for which discernment is key. Rejection of today’s individualism, here as well as in other matters where discernment is probably an important corrective for the ills of our age.

    I submit that you’re thinking too small. The community itself has largely disappeared, unless you are, e.g. Amish or an Orthodox Jew. On the other hand, I’m quite happy that I’m not stuck with whatever Orthodox woman my parents would have chosen for me.

  2. Mark says:

    JA,
    In that essay, there was a note, not quoted, that the divorce rate in Japan between couples who had their partner chosen and those who chose was the same.

    And what I’m suggesting as far as my advice would not be to depend on just my and my sweatheart’s intuition and discernment but to look for a wider community in which that decision might be made.

    And for most American church-goers of any denomination, community has not precisely disappeared, it has become less and less geographically located. However, the common impression is that discernment in any matter is an individual task, not communal.

  3. […] in my Wing to Wing post I pondered on discernment and community. A comment from The Jewish Atheist pointed to the lack of […]