Monday 18 January 2016

What is the best system for finding and choosing a wife or husband?

I have become convinced that a system of primarily parental choice (with a veto from participants) is overall the best human basis of a loving, strong, effective marriage:

Individual men and women are not equipped (neither by instinct, nor - in modern societies - by training: quite the opposite) to make wise choice of a husband or wife, unaided.

In practice, this means that the primary (although not final) choice should often be out of the hands of the potential married couple - as was original and natural to Men.

This is the consensus of human history. 

Individuals are seldom validly able to choose their own spouses in isolation from a community which provides reputational background knowledge on the other person and is or her family, over a period of time - and which takes into account long term aspects.

Now - this is not the society we live in, in The West - and it would take a couple of generations to re-establish even if we wanted to (which, clearly, the mass of people currently do not).

This is not about to change for the better - all indicators are that overall marriage trends are for the worse.

But it is worth thinking-about in order to understand:

1. That the system we have at present for finding a spouse not only does not work (overall, on average), but cannot work.

2. What kind of system ought to replace it.

3. That we need to be on guard against the vast tide of hard-line and soft-sell propaganda to the contrary (the thousand daily mass media inputs and conversations from un-loving and mis-guided friends and lifestyle advisers, from love stories and pseudo-science, from fools and fiends - all of which takes for granted that individual husbands and wives ought-to select each other autonomously, in defiance of family - and 'nobody else has any right to interfere').

4. The question is not one mainly of vetoing unsuitable spouses - but more importantly of the first step - which is choosing another particular person as a possibility for marriage.

5. In a sense, the parent's role (ideally) would be to a choose a field of potential candidates, and within that field enable individual choice to operate.


Bruce B. said...

Do you think that the choice should be made by the bride’s parents or the groom’s. I think it’s common among some American conservative Evangelicals that the bride’s parents choose male suitors but allow the boys to choose girls to court.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - In most historical societies, the wife's parents took the lead, or at least exerted the greatest level of control; but the process is mostly a matter of 'matching' so there needs to be mutuality if possible, based on realistic appraisal of the relative 'value' of the son or daughter in that particular social context. For most people in most situations there is not much choice - for some people at the bottom of the pecking order it may be a matter of 'Hobson's choice' (i.e. this or nothing).

Anonymous said...

I wrote something about this-

to the effect that in the old days older children probably got help, younger children much less or none from the parents, but if lucky could find a living and a spouse. Many more young people now find themselves in the position of a younger child in the old days.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dl - My understanding is that in the old days (up to thye industrial revolution) very few children survived to adulthood, except among the most intelligent/ prosperous/ higher class - so I don't think there were many marriages to arrange.