A collection of Einstein’s letters auctioned off in 1996 contains a for his wife, Maliva Maric. The list includes daily laundry “kept in good order,” “three meals regularly in my room,” a desk maintained neatly “for my use only,” and the demand that she quit talking or leave the room “if I request it.” The marriage ended in divorce, but the list lives on as an illustration not only of Einstein’s darker domestic side, but also of assumptions commonly held about marriage in 1914.
Compared with Einstein’s requirements, modern marital expectations have surely evolved for the better. Or have they? An
The Western fixation on romantic love creates a crushing burden for mere mortals. It engenders a powerful myth regarding love, courtship, and marriage: that a fallible human partner can not only share our passions but sate our existential yearnings. Contemporary couples expect much more from marriage than it can realistically deliver, a phenomenon noted by social psychologists. As Eli Finkel of Northwestern University
The problems arising from the myth of romantic love affect not only the secular culture but also people who, while trying to adhere to their faith, must deal with the competing ideology-mythology surrounding them. We all fall prey to the lore, and so the rise of the romantic-love myth has coincided with an increase in marital breakdown, emblematized by a 50-percent divorce rate. A recent
Though reasons for marital discontent abound, Cohen teases out a correlation of religion with marital happiness. This correlation suggests that, in order for a relationship to flourish, existential needs should be met outside it. In study after study, the
The myth of romantic love promises a faster, easier route to transcendence. Balstrup writes that relationships have “become the primary mythology of the sacred in the collective tongue” of Western culture. The initial rush of endorphins that accompanies falling in love and the sexual experience imitates the “religious experience of ultimacy.” Desire for this experience drives men and women forward in a quest for mythology’s unattainable lover. Proliferating online matchmaking services, part of a two-billion-dollar
Traditionally arranged marriages—the kind Tevye’s children rebel against in Fiddler on the Roof, with each successive daughter’s marriage involving an increased ratio of romantic love to tradition—provide an interesting contrast to the romantic myth. In general, arranged marriages exhibit the same levels of passion and intimacy as non-arranged marriages. Yet
Secularization has not undone the connections we feel among beauty, love, truth, and the Ultimate, but simply rewritten the holy journey. In today’s lore, writes Balstrup, “all individuals have a soul mate, yet all must prove themselves worthy of this Ultimate gift,” enduring trials of faith that enable salvation by romantic love. Converts on film and the Internet preach that you, too, can be saved. Americans increasingly value romance over the institution of marriage, just as they
David C. Dollahite is co-director of the American Families of Faith Project. Betsy VanDenBerghe is a writer in Salt Lake City.