What’s the point of life if not to fall in love, get married and have lots of babies? While that may be the ultimate goal for many people, it obviously isn’t the rule — and over the years society has become far more accepting of relationships that deviate from what we consider “traditional” unions.
But, in a nutshell, that’s the biggest misunderstanding of all: what we think of as an old-fashioned marriage has little in common with what actually went on hundreds of years ago when men and women were just beginning to realize, hey, maybe this marriage thing has a lot of benefits that make it worth all of the hard work.
Whether you have marriage on the brain or feel it will be a cold day in hell before you tie the knot, these 11 historical facts about marriage might convince you that our notions about marriage are meant to change with and reflect the times.
1. It was totally cool to marry your cousin
And it still is in many countries, including parts of the Middle East, where places like Saudi Arabia have started questioning whether first-cousin marriage is acceptable. The reason families often set up their children with close relatives was simply to keep family bonds tight, a tradition that is prevalent throughout the Bible and other sacred tomes.
2. Parents sometimes arranged marriages between their kids… and dead people
You think your dad has unusual taste in marriage partners? Try being set up with the deceased spirit of a child within the same family or clan — in an effort to, again, strengthen familial ties. While the norm hundreds of years ago was for children to leave their future love life to their parents and hope they were lucky enough to exchange vows with someone they at least liked, imagine the disappointment in finding out your wife or husband wouldn’t even be alive to help pitch in with household duties.
3. Monogamy wasn’t the norm
The best way to populate a planet quickly is to, of course, have lots of sex and reproduce — something that works best when you’re not committed to a life of sex with just one partner. Two studies suggest two separate reasons why monogamy became important for so many married couples: one says folks realized men needed to stick around so that other men wouldn’t try and kill their spawn in order to mate with their mother — while another study found no correlation between monogamy and infanticide and suggests when men and women live farther apart from one another it becomes more difficult for men to fend off rivals and keep track of their spawn — so they stay in one place and help raise a family instead. How charitable of them!
4. There are more marriage therapists now than ever was before
Between 1970 and 1990, the number of marriage therapists in the United States increased 50-fold, which indicates we’re becoming a lot more open-minded about speaking with professionals in order to strengthen our relationships.
5. People married themselves — without a priest or witness
Before the Marriage Act of 1753 in England, a priest and witness were not necessary for marriage — couples married themselves. Lord Hardwicke ruled that marriages required a ceremony to be “official” and that couples under the age of 21 needed parental consent to marry.
6. Same-sex marriage is not a novel idea
When same-sex marriage became legal in all states, many people celebrated and said it was about time this happened. But unions between homosexual couples took place in ancient Rome and have been taking place in Native American, African and Asian cultures for centuries prior to this one. That isn’t to say sexual unions were acceptable — “marriages” were thought of as more of a way for brotherly bonding to occur (if you buy that).
7. The marriage “kiss” is more loaded than you think
We want to kiss our partners after we are declared “husband and wife/husband and husband/wife and wife” because we love them. End of story. But the reason for the kiss stems back to ancient Rome, when kissing was considered an acceptable way to seal legal contracts. Only in Italy.
8. Wives could be dumped if they were infertile
Long before doctors learned that men, too, can be infertile, it was perfectly acceptable for husbands to leave their wives if they found them incapable of having children, which is totally lame. The Christian Church was one of the first to decide marriage did not have to result in reproduction — but, interesting, a marriage could be dissolved if a man was incapable of having sex with his wife.
9. Marital rape was legal in the United States until a few years ago
Up until 1993, when North Carolina finally woke the hell up and criminalized marital rape, it was still perfectly OK for husbands to take sexual advantage of their wives in some states because the assumption was that, what, men own women? I’m not entirely sure. Unfortunately, there are still eight states that have been identified as handling marital rape in a very different way than they would rape outside of marriage.
10. Men who didn’t marry were looked down upon
In ancient Greece, men who didn’t get married were often banned from holding public office and there was even debate over whether marriage should be compulsory. The same attitude prevailed in ancient Rome, where Augustus was so convinced that marriage was critical (and that he should run everyone’s lives) that he passed laws that punished bachelors.
11. The word “bride” has crazy origins
The word “groom” comes from the English term “guma,” which means a young servant boy (take from that what you will). The word “bride” could either come from the Old English word “brud,” meaning “to borrow” or “bru,” which means to cook or make broth. Har, har, har.