British writer Alain de Botton has written an article in The New York Times explaining why everyone will marry the wrong person, and why that is okay. The article is based on an earlier talk he gave for Zeitgeist Minds.
Now we know why he wrote it. It was to announce his new novel, The Course of Love – his first in 20 years since Essays In Love – where he focusses on maintaining love rather than falling in it. According to de Botton, the idea of a happy marriage dates back only to the 1800s.
Before that, marriage was necessitated by convenience, to protect property and so on. Why don't people have more happy marriages? Because they are too romantic and want too much.
His advice, "Let's stop treating our partners like adults and let's start treating them like little children. Unfortunately, most adults look like adults. It would be so much more useful if we all looked like children." Not unexpectedly, given de Botton's preference for ideas over stark reality, the article sidesteps many of the other reasons that marriage might be a problem.
Not surprisingly, not everyone thinks like de Botton. Comedian Aziz Ansari has been concerned with the role of marriage and love in today's world. This is apparent from both his book Modern Romance: An Investigation and his sitcom Master of None, in which he stars as a twenty-something New Yorker on the lookout for a love.
Here, he points out the absurdities in marriage by asking the question: what if you had to ask someone to marry you in a world where the idea of marriage did not exist? You would say, "Hey, you know we have been spending a lot of time together, hanging out and everything. I want to keep doing that, till you are dead. I want to keep hanging out with you till one of us dies. Put this ring on your finger so people know we have an arrangement." Why? "For tax purposes."
In another video, Anzari reveals what really scares him about marriage: "Where do you find this person?" He narrates the story of his friend, who met his wife at a supermarket while he was buying chemicals to unclog a toilet. "What if we are all supposed to be in Bed, Bath and Beyond right now?" he concludes.
English writer Julie Bindel has a pessimistic view on marriage where women are concerned. Bindel says,"Women, face it. Marriage can never be feminist. Dress it up, subvert it. Deny it all you want. Marriage is an institution that has curtailed women's freedom for centuries. If you want to get married then do it and get on with. But stop pretending that just because you are a feminist, it is some kind of subversive statement." She goes on to say that everything from a white gown to a father "giving away" his daughter is sexist.
Slovenian Philosopher Salvoj Zizek analyses love much like de Botton does and says, "True love does not idealise. You see eternal beauty in the everyday person." But, he adds, "I was always disgusted by this notion of universal love. I don't like the world. I am somewhere in between. I hate the world or I am indifferent to it. Love for me is a violent act."
Countering de Botton's idea that there should be no criticism in love, he says that the notion that we should be more forgiving is "what I ironically refer to as 'Western Buddhism'. Life is just a play of appearances, don't take it too seriously. Maintain a proper distance. Don't get too attached to worldly objects. It fits perfectly with this superficial consumerist attitude."
Seinfeld's eccentric character Cosmo Kramer, like on most things, has a unique take on the issue as well. He says, "Is there something more to life? There isn't. Marriage is a prison. Man-made prison. You are doing time."
And here's what former World No. 1 Steffi Graf has to add to the debate. At one of her matches, a fan yells out, "Steffi, will you marry me?" She answers the question with a question of her own in the video below, leaving the audience in splits.