discretionary income on?
What is it about marriage that turns nice-enough people into petty dictators and household tyrants, for whom criticising another person's habits or foibles becomes a conversational staple, the default setting of domestic communication?
Or whose favourite marital recreational activity is mate behaviour modification? Anyone can play - and everyone does. What is it about modern coupledom that makes policing another person's behaviour a synonym for intimacy? Or is it something about the conditions of modern life itself, is domesticity a venue for control because most of us have so little of it elsewhere?
Then there's the fundamental premise of monogamous marriage, that mutual desire can and will last throughout a lifetime. And if it doesn't? Apparently you're just supposed to give up on sex, since waning desire for your mate is never an adequate defence for "looking elsewhere".
At the same time, let's not forget how many booming businesses and new technologies have arisen to prop up sagging marital desire. Consider all the investment opportunities afforded: Viagra, couples pornography, therapy. If upholding monogamy in the absence of desire weren't a social dictate, how many enterprises would immediately fail? Could dead marriages be good for the economy?
And then there's the mantra of the failing relationship: "Good marriages take work!" When exactly did the rhetoric of the factory become the default language of coupledom? Is there really anyone to whom this is an attractive proposition, who, after spending all day on the job, wants to come home and work some more? Here's an interesting question: what's the gain to a society in promoting more work to an overworked population as a supposed solution to the travails of marital discontent?
What if luring people into conditions of emotional stagnation and deadened desires were actually functional for society? Consider the norms of modern marriage. Here is a social institution devoted to maximising submission and minimising freedom, habituating a populace to endless compliance with an infinite number of petty rules and interdictions in exchange for love and companionship.
Perhaps a citizenry schooled in renouncing desire - and whatever quantities of imagination and independence it comes partnered with - would in many respects be socially advantageous. Note that the conditions of marital stasis are remarkably convergent with those of a cowed workforce and a docile electorate.
And wouldn't the most elegant forms of social control be those that come packaged in the guise of individual needs and satisfactions, so wedded to the individual psyche that any contrary impulse registers as the anxiety of unlovability? Who needs a policeman on every corner when we're all so willing to police ourselves and those we love and call it upholding our vows?
In this respect, perhaps rising divorce rates are not such bad news. The British Office for National Statistics blames couples' high expectations for the rise in divorce. But are high expectations really such a bad thing? What if we all worked less and expected more - not only from our marriages or in private life, but in all senses, from our jobs, our politicians, our governments? What if wanting happiness and satisfaction, and changing the things that needed changing to attain it, wasn't regarded as "selfish" or "unrealistic", and do we expect so much from our mates these days because we get so little back everywhere else?
What if the real political question was what should we be able to expect from society and its institutions? And if other social contracts and vows beside marriage were also up for re-examination, what other ossified social institutions might be next on the hit list?
School in Mexico Trains Girls to Be Good Wives