The Mystery of Marriage

Alice Gregory in The Atlantic:

Lead_largeMy husband and I got married last fall because we wanted to have a party. I doubt our friends, our family, or anybody else we know would have been surprised if we’d never done it at all: if we had continued living together, loving each other, one day having children, all without exchanging rings. The wedding was ideal—great cake, accessible by subway—but our life didn’t change after it was over. It never occurred to us that I would take his name; I didn’t want to (and didn’t) get pregnant. We live in the same small Brooklyn apartment we’d lived in before, and our finances are still only haphazardly half-combined. We weren’t expecting that our affection would either grow or diminish, and it hasn’t. Getting married wasn’t a romantic leap; neither was it merely, or even mostly, a pragmatic step. Whatever it was—delightfully unnecessary wrapping on an already very good present, perhaps—we made sure that there was more than plenty to drink. We represent the demographic (white, heterosexual, college-educated) that looked poised to lead an exodus from marriage and its fusty shackles as the family-values debate raged. But now, when data suggest that fewer Americans—across the income spectrum—are getting married than ever before, our cohort is playing the opposite role. We are the group most likely to wed, as marriage rates among lower-income men and women without college degrees rapidly decline. We’re also among those who count least on the symbolic and actual benefits of the institution: my husband and I aren’t battling for social validation of our love or for the conditions of middle-class stability.

…Arriving not just at the peak of wedding season but also amid this newly vocal worry over the marriage gap, The Marriage Book: Centuries of Advice, Inspiration, and Cautionary Tales From Adam and Eve to Zoloft is an especially well-timed counterpoint to all the earnest, alarmist policy talk. Scaled for an oversize Restoration Hardware coffee table, the glossy anthology presumes to be preaching to a converted, yet far from reverent, audience: readers ready to examine, from an amused anthropological distance, the best, worst, and most equivocal aspects of marriage. The book’s editors, the long-wedded writers Lisa Grunwald and Stephen Adler, aren’t wringing their hands over a cultural crisis or a precarious social rite, or trying to hammer out a marriage-promotion agenda. Rather, their trove of artifacts, collected over six years, is a revelation of the resilience, persistence, and capaciousness of, to quote Gabriel García Márquez, “the conjugal conspiracy.”

More here.