How Romanticism Encouraged the Decline of Marriage

Oct 23, 2019 by

by John Strickland, Intellectual Takeout:

This year a Pew report on “Love and Marriage in America” stated an obvious fact: The institution of marriage in our society is continuing its slide toward cultural obsolescence.

Only half of adults continue to bother with marriage, while a significant minority prefer the unconstrained alternative of cohabitation. This last category is up nearly 30 percent from a decade ago. Of those who choose marriage, half will end in divorce.

The statistics speak for themselves. But while the sexual revolution and the irreligiosity of the “nones” and their mutual effects on marriage are often discussed, few realize that the waning of Western marriage began long before our time, during the 19th century age of romanticism. 

At first this seems counterintuitive. After all, wasn’t the 19th century the age of Jane Austen and Walter Scott, the authors whose heroes and heroines experienced “true love” leading irresistibly toward a bond of marriage and happily-ever-after?

To be sure, the 19th century refinement of romance, whereby men and women cultivated and enjoyed new levels of emotional attachment, has brought benefits to modern marriage. But romanticism is something else. It regards the emotional bond within marriage as an end in itself, the principal meaning of the relationship and the basis for its permanency. And its emergence two centuries ago marked the beginning of the slide toward singlehood that we see today.

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