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Marriage, a History

How Love Conquered Marriage

By Stephanie Coontz
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Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz
Synopsis

Marriage, a History (2005) covers the history of the institution of marriage, from its genesis in the Stone Age to its recent crisis.

Key idea 1 of 8

Marriage was initially a way of establishing kinship.

Imagine marrying someone you don’t truly love. A frightening thought, right? Indeed, most of us would say that love must exist before marriage can take place.  

Historically, this is a rather recent development. In fact, for thousands of years, love had little to do with marriage.

In medieval Europe, for example, when people talked about “love,” they weren’t talking about married couples. Rather, “love” was something reserved for God, kin or neighbors.

And in India, falling in love was once even considered dangerous. Romantic love was viewed as antisocial, an emotion that could lead people to make irrational decisions and challenge the authority of the family.

So if marriage wasn’t about mutual love between two individuals, what was it about? Why invent marriage at all?

The answer may sound strange to modern ears: marriage was a means of establishing kinship. But why was this something that people wanted to do in the first place?

Well, our hunter-gatherer ancestors were nomadic travelers, constantly searching for food. In this search, they would sometimes stumble upon strange and potentially hostile groups and a fight would break out.

Such fights could be avoided, however, if the bands made peace instead of threatening one another. They figured that one of the easiest ways to establish a reliable connection between the bands was to marry a member of one group to a member of the other.  

Through intermarriage, complete strangers (and even enemies) could be transformed into relatives, thus establishing kinships that helped guarantee peace. With this in mind, it makes sense that the old Anglo-Saxon word for “wife” meant "peace weaver."

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