“By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you'll become happy;
if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.”
—SocratesA Basque engineering colleague of mine said many years ago, before I re-married for the second time, some words that I consider wise. “When you are in, you want out; when you are out, you want in.” Such is the state of marriage for many men and women. Marriage looks better when you are not within its bounds then standing outside of it; and yet many people want to marry, some desperately, and ought to have the right to do so, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals and others.
This begs the question of why marriage? And what is it about marriage that makes it the central discussion of political, social and economic reform? Why is it important that, save for a few exceptions (like former New York City mayor, Ed Koch), all political leaders must be married, or at least maintain a façade of marriage? Is it possible to remain single, a bachelor, not necessarily celibate, and remain happy, content and fulfilled?
Does our biology, our genetics dictate that marriage is both necessary and normative? Such are some of the many questions that individuals, societies and governments raise is determining how civilized people ought to live. It seems that marriage informs all societies and cultures—from the primitive, pre-modern to the post-modern. And, despite its history, and transformation from a social and legal contract between families and tribes to an individual declaration of romantic love and intimacy, marriage still confounds us.
We know from the well-known biblical story in Genesis that Abraham sent his servant to find a suitable bride for his son, Isaac. There were no dating services of matchmakers; instead the patriarch Abraham said that his servant ought to rely on a sign. In the Book of Genesis 24: 12-14, it says:
12 “O Lord, God of my master, Abraham,” he prayed. “Please give me success today, and show unfailing love to my master, Abraham. 13 See, I am standing here beside this spring, and the young women of the town are coming out to draw water. 14 This is my request. I will ask one of them, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug.’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!’—let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife. This is how I will know that you have shown unfailing love to my master.”Some would consider that suitable today; many rely on all kinds of signs, including going to fortune-tellers, astrologers, soothsayers and other non-traditional means as a way to find their spouse. Others use on-line dating sites; and others meet through friends, family and work colleagues.
All conform to a great degree within the idea that, if you want to find happiness, that perfect bliss, it is imperative to find one’s soul-mate, one’s intended, one’s besheirt, as it says in Yiddish. I am sure every language has similar words. All mean the same thing; the heavens have decided who your intended ought to be, and it is your duty to find him or her. Search and you shall seek.
What if you don’t want to get married? What if you are perfectly happy to live alone? Does that make you selfish? I would argue “no,” for the same reason that marriage does not always make you a generous, happy and a fully realized human being, perhaps only a little more giving in some cases. Every individual ought to have the right to marry; but that’s not the same as having every individual exercising his or her right. Some refuse to do so.