The idea of romantic love originates from the troubadours—traveling minstrels in Europe in the Middle Ages. For most of human history marriage was not synonymous with love. Instead, the nuptial agreement was more about consolidating money and power. The Victorian era changed all this. It’s only been a little over a hundred years since people have been marrying for love. Today, most people marry for love. But many have trouble actually defining it. Though if you mention love, people will say they know what it is. But when you probe further you find that each interprets it differently. Most Americans see love and marriage as inseparable. This may have its origins in Puritan ideology. After all, love outside of marriage was elicit blasphemy. However, we also have the highest divorce rate in the world. Which makes one wonder if love and marriage are truly two sides of the same coin. Separating the idea of love and marriage is quite uncomfortable for Americans. We, with the exception of a few, though a growing number through the high divorce rate, and young people coming of age who grew up in divorce, experience a cognitive dissonance when the concept of love outside the confines of marriage is mentioned. Some people even get angry at love without a formal contract attached to it. But our view is changing. How will society adapt?
In many traditional societies such as in Asia and Africa, love isn’t thought of as necessary for a successful marriage. Instead, the nuptial bond is for the creation and raising of children, for harmony in the household and the community, for protection, security and support for the woman and for the nurturing, care and support for the man. Though the truth is that in these societies many elicit affairs do occur, by both sexes. It is under the surface, though all the adults know it goes on. No one talks about it. It is tacitly accepted as fact. In India another model exists. Arranged marriages are the norm, though this is changing for the upper classes, but not always. But it is thought that a couple will get to know each other and grow to love one another over time. It’s important to note too that in these traditional societies patriarchy is often the norm. Though many Americans think of arranged marriage as stifling, robbing the person of their inherit freedom of choice, the divorce rate in India is very low. Whether Indians are happy in their marriages or merely content to endure them is another matter. But their cultural outlook is quite different. For more on this topic, read the perspective of the legendary comedian, author, and activist Bill Cosby in his book, Love and Marriage.