|Everybody's Got One
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Friday, July 04, 2003
Slate's Dear Prudence, in her advice to a bride-to-be balking at the proposed pre-nup once again gets the details spot on and the big picture quite wrong. Ordinarily I woudn't bother, but the fallout from Lawrence and the certainty that gay marriage is next has made me consider the topic more than I ordinarily would.
Whether there's a prenup or not, marriage IS a contract, and maybe it's "progress" to plan ahead for a failure (since 50 percent of marriages, now, do fail) rather than deal with it when emotions are raw. The prenuptial agreement, by the way, in no way takes the place of the vows.No, it isn't; maybe it's not; and, by the way, it does far worse than that.
Marriage is a covenant, not a contract. It gets reduced to a contract when disputes arise, because contracts lie within lawyers' sphere of competence, and courts are our society's problem-resolution venue. But the reduction cheapens, and it has costs - likely including a non-trivial portion of the 50% rate claimed as supporting evidence.
Is it "progress" to anticipate that our souls are too small to live up to our commitments, to diminish our private lives to their lowest common denominator, to reduce ourselves to interpersonal commodities? Many would demur.
A pre-nup doesn't "take the place of" vows; it eviscerates them, preserving the form and stripping away the substance. It leaves them standing there in all their formal glory, to make a nice picture and appeal to the naive and nostalgic, but they're hollow now, emptied of content. They've been turned from vows into contractual promises. (The law doesn't do vows, either.) Promises - and contracts - get broken, and there's always recourse; vows get violated.
If marriage is only a contract, why not open it up to everyone? Straights, gays, multiples, even grown siblings - as long as you're of age and sound mind. (Ignore the effect on children - everyone else does.) Why not privatize it, as Prudie's founding editor cleverly advocates?
Beacuse the heart wants to give itself away, and if marriage isn't a way to do that any more, something else will be found - probably something far less socially constructive. How many career obsessions are a substitute for committed intimacy? How many ruinous affairs begin precisely because of that lack of transcendence and a hunger for what lies beyond the self?
The more we fix and "rationalize" things, the worse they seem to get. Go figure. posted by Kelly | 4:25 PM link