What are the Alternatives to Marriage?
In so many areas,
we’re used, nowadays, to questioning the status quo and exploring alternatives. It would be odd, therefore, not to try to perform
the same exercise around marriage. Here seem to be
our main options for how to arrange
our personal lives. Firstly, the standard marriage.
[ applause ] The upsides are firm possession
of one prized person, continuity, resolution,
children are reassured, economic stability, and social prestige. But there are some downsides, too. Sexual boredom, exasperation, a lack of appreciation, a suspicion of better alternatives out there. Second option, divorce. Now, the upsides here are,
[ laughter ] New possibilities
for sexual excitement, an end to cycles of exasperation, and past problems
can be seen to be all their fault. The downsides of it are perturbed children,
economic chaos, probably no one better out there, and in fact, our fault, too.
[ applause ] The third option. The sunset clause marriage
[ laughter ] may be renegotiated
every 10 years. Now, the upsides of this are
prospect of sexual excitement, much more appreciation and effort, and children who are
somewhat reassured. But there are downsides, too. insecurity, jealously,
terror of abandonment, and no one actually might be better. And it’s difficult to pioneer.
[ applause ] There’s a fourth option. Marriage with secret affairs.
[ laughter ] The upsides of this
are fragile stability mixed with partial excitement. But the downsides are
deceit, jealousy, cowardice, and a lot of shame. Now, what about polyamory?
Our fifth option. The upsides here are
constant sexual possibilities and not much
day-to-day exasperation. But there are downsides. Socially not very prestigious,
a lot of jealously around, children might be in turmoil, discontinuity, exhaustion,
and career chaos. What about the sixth option. Serial nonbinding monogamy. The upsides are lots of
sexual possibility. The downsides…moth-eaten loneliness
and possibly a lot of insecurity. What about number seven? Communal living. Here the upsides are: shared childcare and sexual variation. The downsides, though, bit utopian, quite a lot of jealosy, factions and bickering. An eighth choice: celibacy Well, the upsides here are: time to work and think, there are downsides, too: loneliness, and sexual humiliation. We see a recurring theme: a struggle between loyalty and freedom. We can invest in more loyalty, but must then risk suffering from boredom, lack of appreciation, and sexual frustration Or we can invest in more freedom and risk chaos, irresolution, exhaustion, jealousy, and humiliation. It seems that whatever we choose is going to be very painful. The option is not between error and happiness, but between what varieties of suffering we would ultimately prefer. This is why our very favorite quote is Kierkegaard’s playful, bleakly exasperated outburst from his book “Either/Or”: “Marry and you will regret it;” “don’t marry, you will also regret it;” “marry or don’t marry, you will regret it either way” “Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it;” “weep over it, you will regret that too;” “laugh at the world’s foolishness or weep over it, you will regret both.” “Believe a woman, you will regret it” “Believe her not, you will also regret it…” “Hang yourself, you will regret it;” “don’t hang yourself and you will regret that too” “hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret it either way” “whether you hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you will regret both.” “This, gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy.” We do, however, have one suggestion: That humanity’s efforts should be spent not so much on retooling the external structure of relationships as on rethinking the humbling central problem we’re grappling with all the while beneath the surface. Why other human beings are so hard to love, and why we are, by extension, so difficult to live around. In other words, perhaps the answer lies not so much in a new kind of relationship, as in improved capacities around emotional skills. The solution to the dilemmas of relationships should be to increase our understanding of how to love, rather than merely making it easier to find and fire new lovers.