Tonight, I had the luxury of watching on DVD Woody Allen's latest motion picture, Match Point, a brilliant and terrible film I highly recommend.
I'll try not to give away too much of the plot, but let me issue a *SPOILER ALERT* just in case.
The protagonist, Chris, finds himself torn between two relationships. One is based on stability, future-oriented thinking, supportive (and very well-to-do) in-laws, and more or less living up to people's expectations. The other is based on pure passion, a sort of love at first sight that's totally impractical and has no real future, or at least a highly indefinite one.
I won't tell you which one he chooses, but I must say I do not envy his position. The film's ending makes it both beautiful and terrifying. Really, you must see it for yourself.
Meanwhile, in the halls of power, the GOP is catering to its base, and I do mean base, as in lowly and vulgar. That prejudice and bigotry are all they have left to sell America is just sad.
Much activity has been generated in the blogosphere regarding this proposed marriage amendment, and one post in particular struck a chord with me that I didn't anticipate.
Shakespeare's Sister, always a joy to read when she really gets into something with passion, had some interesting things to say about love and marriage:
One of the most remarkable things about our culture is that we have the freedom to marry for love, to forge lifelong bonds based not on class or race or religion or the number of goats our dads can spare, but on a feeling so beautiful that poets have spent lifetimes trying to lay it on a page, that artists have endeavored to capture in one still but enduring moment. Operas and books and films and pop songs, so heartbreakingly lovely that they can steal one's breath, if just for a moment, have been written by people in the thralls of love, or the searing pain of its loss. Monuments have been built, wars have been fought, and some of the greatest happiness ever experienced by humankind has been born because of love.
We are blessed with the luxury of love, and, make no mistake, it is a luxury. Marriage at its best is an expression of love. When it's simply an institution to facilitate the continued existence of a society through the birth of new generations, it is a splendid functional legal contract and nothing more. When it's a sign of commitment forged out of love, it is something ever so much grander. It is the stuff of legend.
Now, please keep in mind that since I taught a class on the subject, I am clearly an expert on love (and sex, too!). (Heh.) And I've reached an interesting conclusion: the freedom to marry for love is just not worth it.
This is not the speech of one who has been scorned by love, or even by a real cynic about the subject. But I do know a thing or two about what makes for human happiness, and I think this freedom causes far more anguish than it's worth.
Shakes' Sis goes on to cite Aristophanes' speech in Plato's Symposium (a great resource for arguing in favor of the equality or even superiority of homosexual love), but I wish to draw upon other parts of the text that seek to understand love as two interconnected but quite distinct phenomena. This distinction is not a controversial one, and has appeared repeatedly in Western and non-Western cultures throughout history.
We have on the one hand romantic or erotic love (eros) and on the other companionate love or friendship (philia). (N.B.: it's philosophy, not erosophy. Isn't that funny?)
Now, as far as my understanding of the research on erotic love goes, this passionate affect tends to be of a highly limited duration, typically lasting not more than 5 or 7 years (the old "7-year itch" isn't just anecdotal). This is one reason why so many marriages end in divorce. Generally speaking, those that last will either become entrenched in habit and quotidian ritual or, on the plus side, will evolve into a very close and intimate friendship.
Now, arranged marriages are more likely to skip the initial fling, but not always. (Truth be told, my knowledge here is more sketchy; I don't really know the research on the tendencies of arranged marriages, in particular, over time. I assume that the ones that work also evolve into a similar kind of intimate friendship, whether or not there's much passion in the beginning.)
So far, then, arranged marriages seem like a loss. They'll undergo a similar development towards roughly the same end, but there won't be that crazy ecstatic erotic phase initially.
But, with the freedom to marry "for love" comes additional burdens: extra anxiety about the future, the despair of loneliness, the pressure of finding that "right person", the fear of dying alone, the frustration of not loving someone who loves you or loving someone who doesn't, the dramatic highs and lows of turbulent relationships, the disappointment in giving up and "settling" for someone who's only good enough, and on and on.
The harsh reality of single life is another one of the costs of individualism, of a society of disconnected individuals looking for something to fill them up (when all along they just need each other--enter again Aristophanes). In truth, I sometimes wish I'd just had a marriage arranged for me so that I didn't have to worry about it so much.
But, you might ask, what then of the heedless, all-consuming passion of eros? Shall we just give up this rich facet of human experience?
That's what affairs are for. It seems to me that clandestine liaisons are far better suited for eros. These things arise spontaneously while one has some other stable situation elsewhere in life: a family, a social support network, and so on. They are exciting and dangerous. The illicit lovers' time together is precious and all too brief, punctuated by a humdrum life that pales in comparison. The thrills and anticipations just fan the flames higher.
And let's face it, adultery is a fact of human existence. I think I'd feel like I'd missed out on something if I never get to have an affair (although I advocate open marriages, which I think can still maintain some of the allure of covert couplings if the partners have the right kind of agreement: say, they don't talk about who else they're seeing, they don't even say when they are seeing someone else and maybe even try to make a game of it by keeping such things secret, they always use protection and extra precaution with outside partners--really, I think this open marriage thing could work, if I found a reasonable partner sufficiently disillusioned about the absurd posturings of human existence; a Beauvoir to my Sartre, if you will).
The problem with marrying for love is that we pretend that love is just one thing, some kind of amazing fairytale passion that's supposed to persist forever and ever. In the movies, we always want the characters to drop everything, even ongoing stable relationships, and go after their heart's true love. But what movies typically don't show is what happens 5, 10, 15 years down the line. What then happens when there is neither passion nor order?
Of course here Match Point is again highly fascinating for showing a strange and profound resolution for this kind of conflict. (Closer would be another movie in which these themes are explored in a nonstandard, highly thought-provoking direction.) Match Point is really a film about the ultimate meaninglessness of existence.
But the cure for meaninglessness is human companionship. I contend that we'd avoid so many problems and so much existential angst if we just had more structured social support systems, including marriages that were contractual arrangements geared toward certain ends and with negotiable terms.
Who says love (eros) and marriage must go together like a horse and carriage? I mean, just look at the success of the horseless carriage or "automobile".
But, this is all just absurd... *sigh* (I could probably use some companionship.)