According to Helen Croyden’s observations, marriage is outdated, painful, and annoying. In light of these facts, she writes at The New Republic, we should ditch monogamy in favor of more independent, temporary relationships. Some of her primary arguments for this choice are the following:
We are living longer, for a start. One third of babies born today are now expected to live to 100, according to the National Office of Statistics. A woman born in 1850 could expect her marriage to last 29 years. Now couples can expect to take tea breaks together for 30 years after the kids leave home—an inordinate sentence if you don’t like the way they slurp.
Then there’s the little-noted fact that today’s social milieu doesn’t lend itself to the co-ordination and compromises demanded of traditional coupledom. We champion individuality and convenience yet we expect our partners to share living space and a good chunk of our social life. Until early adulthood we are encouraged to forge our own career, friendships and interests. Young people usually live away from home, with roommates, at college or through traveling before they entertain marriage. They are used to varied and transient love affairs. The expectations of commitment, when it arrives, require a stark disciplinarian jolt that previous generations did not have to struggle with.
First: she’s absolutely right. In today’s society of individuality and convenience, monogamy is an extremely outdated social construct. Young people’s now-customary ability to dabble in various romantic relationships isn’t the ideal primer for a lifetime joined to one man, or one woman. Monogamy is now, as Croyden puts it, “a moral trinket.”
Yet marriage was once one of the undergirding pillars of our society: it was the cornerstone of the family, which then formed the crux of the village or locality, which then formed the heart of American governance and culture. Why is it now so distasteful to so many? For most Americans, their definition of human flourishing has fundamentally changed.
Monogamy, in its earliest conceptions, usually had spiritual and moral connotations. It was viewed as a “sacred” relationship, created before God, one that couldn’t be adopted or abandoned at will. Even outside the realm of religion, familial comfort and safety were values a traditional society would have aspired to. In ages rife with greater economic and circumstantial hardship, the bonds and support of family served as a boon to many. Placeless individuals suffered the greatest vulnerability—families had a built-in framework of nurturing support.
Yet in modern society, religion no longer plays the authoritative role it used to. Additionally, many of our financial and circumstantial hardships have lessened—and those that do face hardship now have the state, which circumvents the traditional family and creates its own support mechanisms. Our society is more independent, perhaps, than ever before: with some exceptions, most Americans can subsist quite well on their own.
Featured columnist Gracy Olmstead is a senior writer for The American Conservative, a senior contributor for The Federalist, and the Thursday editor of BRIGHT, a weekly newsletter for women. Her writings can also be found at The Week, Christianity Today, Acculturated, The University Bookman, and Catholic Rural Life.