What Women Want-What Men Want: Why the Sexes Still See Love and Commitment So Differently

By John Marshall Townsend | Go to book overview

8
What Men and Women Want in Marriage

The concept of romantic love did not appear in Europe until the time of the thirteenth century troubadours, and these experts ruled at first that it was impossible to married people. Even as late as the eighteenth century it played a very small part in European marriage. All societies recognize that there are occasional violent emotional attachments between persons of opposite sex, but our present American culture is practically the only one which has attempted to capitalize these and make them the basis for marriage. Most groups regard them as unfortunate and point out the victims of such attachments as horrible examples.

-- Ralph Linton, The Study of Man


The Evolution of Marriage

IN ALL SOCIETIES throughout history the fundamental basis of marriage has been a contract between two family lines that has assigned rights and duties concerning property and children. In a few preliterate societies an intense, emotional bond is expected to develop between husbands and wives, but even in these societies this bond is not the primary basis of marriage. In most traditional societies the exchange is quite clear: men and their families are expected to pay the bride's family for her procreative powers and domestic skills. The custom of dowry is relatively rare. Traditionally, in Europe a woman's dowry remained her property and provided for her in case she was widowed or otherwise left destitute. Dowries were not a payment to the groom's family for his fertility. 1

In all societies, and until very recently in ours, a sexual division of labor existed. Women and men performed different tasks. Consequently, they were economically dependent on each other. In industrial nations this sexual division of labor has declined, and so has the sexes' interdependency.

Historian Edward Shorter describes marriages in preindustrial Western Europe as strictly economic affairs. 2 The primary purpose of the traditional family was to produce the next generation and transmit to it property, position, and knowledge. Family lineage was important. An individual's feelings, or being around the dinner table together as a family, were not important. Marriages were often without affection and were maintained by strict marital

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