The Hitchin' Post
In last September's issue of The Believer, Simpsons writer George Meyer shared his views on marriage:
THE BELIEVER: I assume that you're still not married, right?
GEORGE MEYER: God, no.
BLVR: You're probably the most effective anti-marriage spokesman out there. I can still vividly recall Edna Krabappel's argument against marriage: "Most of you will only marry out of fear of dying alone." That line really shook me when I first heard it. It kept me away from marriage for years. I desperately didn't want to become the punchline to that joke. And you see it all too often. We all know people who've slipped into safety marriages.
GM: My parents are still married and I guess they're relatively happy. For me, marriage is a grotesque, unforgiving, clunky contrivance. Yet society pushes it as a shimmering ideal. It's as if medicine came up with the iron lung, then stood back and said, "At last! Our work is done." Men often struggle with their attraction to other women. They don't quite understand why they have to be with the same woman forever. Marriage has a compassionate answer for them: "Oh, shut up, you selfish crybaby." Is it any wonder men have to be pressured into this nasty, lopsided arrangement?
In Woman: An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angier writes:
Women are said to need an investing male. We think we know the reason. Human babies are difficult and time-consuming to raise. Stone Age mothers needed husbands to bring home the bison. Yet the age-old assumption that male parental investment lies at the heart of human evolution is now open to serious question. Men in traditional foraging cultures do not necessarily invest resources in their offspring. Among the Hadza of Africa, for example, the men hunt, but they share the bounty of that hunting widely, politically, strategically. They don't deliver it straight to the mouths of their progeny. Women rely on their senior female kin to help feed their children. The women and their children in a gathering-hunting society clearly benefit from the meat that hunters bring back to the group. But they benefit as a group, not as a collection of nuclear family units, each beholden to the father's personal pound of wildeburger.
This is a startling revelation, which upends many of our presumptions about the origins of marriage and what women want from men and men from women. If the environment of evolutionary adaptation is not defined primarily by male parental investment, the bedrock of so much of evolutionary psychology's theories, then we can throw the door wide open and ask new questions, rather than endlessly repeating ditties and calling the female coy long after she has run her petticoats through the presidential paper shredder.
For example: Nicholas Blurton Jones, of the University of California at Los Angeles, and others have proposed that marriage developed as an extension of men's efforts at mate guarding. If the cost of philandering becomes ludicrously high, the man might be better off trying to claim rights to one woman at a time. Regular sex with a fertile female is at least likely to yield offspring at comparatively little risk to his life, particularly if sexual access to the woman is formalized through a public ceremony -- a wedding. Looked at from this perspective, one must wonder why an ancestral woman bothered to get married, particularly if she and her female relatives did most of the work of keeping the family fed from year to year. Perhaps, Blurton Jones suggests, to limit the degree to which she was harassed. The cost of chronic male harassment may be too high to bear. Better to agree to a ritualized bond with a male, and to benefit from whatever hands-off policy that marriage may bring, than to spend all of her time locked in one sexual dialectic or another.
Thus marriage may have arisen as a multifaceted social pact: between man and woman, between male and male, and between the couple and the tribe. It is a reasonable solution to a series of cultural challenges that arose in concert with the expansion of the human neocortex. But its roots may not be what we think they are, nor may our contemporary mating behaviors stem from the pressures of an ancestral environment as it is commonly portrayed, in which a woman needed a mate to help feed and clothe her young. Instead, our "deep" feelings about marriage may be more pragmatic, more contextual, and, dare I say it, more egalitarian than we give them credit for being.