Can we redefine marriage to become parents?


First, a book review: Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age by Pamela Haag, Harper Perennial, 2011. In this study of 21st century marriage, Haag suggests that the old vision of two people falling in love, getting married and staying married for life, forsaking all others, is no longer the norm in the 21st century. Rather than being a lifelong love story, many marriages today are “semi-happy,” more of a childraising, home-maintaining partnership. This dense, heavily researched and fascinating book explores how marriage has changed with women joining the workforce and couples having fewer children. Haag looks at how today’s “helicopter” parenting styles can lead to divorce by moving the focus from the spouse to the children, and how monogamy may no longer be practical. “Monogramy is like marriage’s appendix,” she writes. It’s still there, a vestige of earlier imperative functions such as assuring paternity, but does it still serve these purposes?” Haag takes us into the worlds of Internet-based affairs and swinging couples and explores the idea of “ethical nonmonogamy,” where married couples agree that it’s okay to have sex with other people.

The whole thing makes me feel very old-fashioned because I still believe in romance and lifelong commitment. Am I fooling myself? Haag suggests creating new definitions of marriage and finding new ways to fill in what might be missing in our relationships. Not getting enough/any sex? Take a lover. Feeling lonely. Make a connection online. Still love each other but can’t live together? Take adjoining rooms or neighboring houses. Haag doesn’t necessarily endorse these things but notes that marriage is changing.

We were talking last week about how sometimes having children takes the romance out of a marriage. If we don’t have children, the strong connection to our spouses should last longer, right? Or do the feelings still fade with our other responsibilities, such as work, taking care of the home, and caring for aging parents?

Now here’s a crazy thought: If your spouse can’t or won’t have children with you, would it be okay to find somebody else to make babies with? Think of it as an extension of taking a lover. We’re taking a baby-making partner while staying married to our non-parenting spouse. What do you think? Is this totally nuts?

P.S. Legally I have to tell you that the publisher gave me a free copy of Marriage Confidential to review. Make of that what you will.