Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Marriage Makes Men and Women More Equal

This week I am working through ideas from, or inspired by, Allan Carlson's Conjugal America. One rich idea is that sexual dimorphism – biologically based difference between male and female – is greatest "when sexual coupling is random or where one male accumulates numerous females" as with other primates. On the other hand, "dimorphism is least when male and female pair off in monogamous bonds."

Carlson cites a study by a Kent State research team led by Phillip Reno. They found evidence that our pre-human ancestors were both pair-bonded and more similar in size and shape than other, non-pairing primates are.

I think that marriage makes for more complementarity and true equality at the social level, too. Among human beings today, subcultures in which monogamy is rare also show the greatest animosity between men and women, and the greatest hierarchy when they do marry. Old marrieds, on the other hand, famously become more of a seamless team – not the same, but working together, equally yoked as one.


Anonymous said...

However, it seems that in contemporary marriage/dating culture it is almost frowned upon to make the amount of personal investment that it requires to achieve this "complementarity." Maybe the fear of losing your investment in a divorce is part of that. For me personally, I think both men and women feel the pressure to first focus on establishing their own independently well-off lives--professionally, financially, socially, etc--before settling with a mate. If you're learning to exist independently in every aspect of life, then when you do marry, does that mean it's harder to achieve this "seamless" quality?

In other words, I notice that most of the younger married couples I know who followed this pattern (30 somethings) tend to lack the seamlessness of those from even just a generation or two older. Is “complementarity” something that these couples will achieve with time or is there a problem with the current system that will prevent many of them from ever achieving it?

Gruntled said...

Trying to be independently well off before you marry does probably prevent having a seamless marriage. The biblical ideal of marriage is that two become one flesh.

As a practical matter, the joint project of raising children has such an overwhelming dailyness to it that it tends to bind parents together as married people.

Mark Smith said...

Carolyn and I met and were together for almost 3 years in college. Then we found jobs in different parts of the state and became a "phone calls and weekends" couple. She wanted to prove to herself that she could live on her own before getting married.

I finally wised up and moved to her area. We were engaged 2 months later and married about a year later (on the 7th anniversary of our first date).

We were pretty seamless shortly after the marriage. After 12 years of marriage, we've reached the stage where we have one word sentences - the rest of the sentence including the emotions behind it can be determined from the one word. Sometimes even the word isn't needed.

I think your "complimentarity" takes a certain amount of time. More for some couples and less for others. However, I really don't think the starting date/age is all that important - just how much time has gone by since.

And I disagree with gruntled - being independent first does NOT prevent a seamless marriage. It enriches the marriage by bringing in more experience in life. The key is commitment. I suspect a case could be made that the commitment could be lower in those who marry later.