Monday, July 28, 2008


Another book about marriage came to my attention this weekend: "The Marriage Benefit: The Surprising Rewards of Staying Together, by psychologist Mark O'Connell. The title sounds close to that of "The Case for Marriage," Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagaher's book that I blast in my book for its "marriage promotion" propaganda and that Bella DePaulo skewers in her book, "Singled Out."

So imagine my surprise to hear what Dr. O'Connell said on Tom Ashbrook's On Point on public radio. A caller said she would not marry her male partner because same-sex couples cannot marry. She also said she would not marry because she is bisexual and if her partner had been a woman she would be unable to marry her. Here's how the author responded: "Everything I wrote in the book really applies in a broader sense to the matter of intimate commitment....I wouldn't sit here and argue that one has to be formally and conventionally married in order to have the kind of benefits that come from intimacy....What we are talking about it here is what is it about sustained intimate commitment that can bring you things that are actually quite unique?"

So why call the book, "The Marriage Benefit?" Why not call it "The Intimate Commitment Benefit?" I think I know the answer. The name marriage sells. It resonates in a culture that has been inundated by the claims of the "marriage movement" and government-sponsored "marriage promotion" that the decline of marriage causes our social problems. It would actually be a radical claim in our culture that intimate commitment brings the same benefits that marriage brings. The author even said he believes in divorce! You wouldn't know it from the book title. I'm sorry this author -- and his publisher - chose not to make the more radical and nuanced claim in the title of the book itself.


bws said...

I agree that it would have been more accurate to re-title "The Marriage Benefit" to reflect the radical views expressed inside the book. But if you do you look inside, you'll see that O'Connell offers strong arguments against the stereotype of conventional marriage. He talks about celebrating differences--something that applies to the gay as well as the straight community. Most (or at least many) couples, of all persuasions, tend to collapse into little twins of each other as a way of avoiding conflict. O'Connell also talks about the areas of pain and shame that people inevitably bring to intimacy, and argues for real (messy, funny, human, imperfect) sex that helps heal old wounds. He's talking about the payoff that comes through daring to be intimate, and that benefit applies to any two people who are willing to take the risk. Maybe he means "marriage" in the sense Shakespeare did in Sonnet 117: "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments"-- that joining of selves, that enduring commitment, that partners hunger for.

Unknown said...

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