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On Selecting a Spouse

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I thought I should blog this while the discussion I recently had with Christopher Vollick about the matter.

First, a small disclaimer. I may use words like “spouse” and “marriage” in this post. These words are used for simplicity only and are not intended to indicate a particular legal or religious connotation. You could substitute “life-long helpmate” or “mate” or any word that fits your worldview.

There are a great deal of different models used in the pursuit of spousal selection. I cannot possibly deal with them all, and may not even know about them all, so I will deal here primarily with three idealized models taken from Western Culture.

Modern Common

This is what I choose to call the spousal selection model commonly portrayed in recent Hollywood movies. It is also, unsurprisingly, the most common model in common use in the Western world.

This model consists of selecting a potentially interested party, proposing that said party engage in some sort of social activity, after which the couple quickly becomes formally declared and usually exclusive (“boyfriend/girlfriend”). This process often happens so quickly that, if both parties are more or less interested from the outset, there may be no intervening social activity at all. In all cases the couple transitions very quickly from casual friends (or even total strangers) to a formal romantic relationship.

The couple then engage, at least for some time, in a significant amount of private or semi-private social activity as the primary avenue for relationship building and evaluation.

This model tends to result in people who go through a series of formal, semi-committed, but ultimately disastrous relationships. It also tends towards viewing the relationship as an avenue for two people to evaluate each other, instead of as an avenue for two groups of people (friends and family on both sides) to be slowly evaluated and integrated. This results in weddings where one side may meet close friends or relatives of the other very shortly before the event.

Modern Courting

This model may be unfamiliar to some as it is mostly common among the far right. It claims to be an incarnation of a much older model (discussed next), but is in fact something new and much closer to Modern Common.

This modal is far more formal and legalistic than Modern Common. Instead of having an optional period of socializing between “friend” and “girl/boy friend” this model chooses to force everything to be formally declared up front. Guardians are often consulted, goals set, and rules agreed to. Like much that comes out of the far right this model tends to pride itself on what it does not do. Modern Courting couples often spend little to no time alone, and limit their interactions to a plan.

Modern Courting does emphasize family evaluation more than Modern Common, but only in terms of the context in which it operates. The individuals themselves quite often still do not see this as a primary component of their relationship.

Austin/Dickens Era

This model is the obvious ancestor to Modern Common, but has some very distinct differences. The couple still engage in social activity together in order to evaluate compatibility. The relationship still eventually becomes formalised, and usually exclusive. The couple even, contrary to popular belief, may spend a significant amount of private or semi-private time in relationship building.

The primary differences, are transition and context.

In this model, the transition from casual friend to a formal romantic relationship takes at least as long as the normal transition from stranger to friend. Nothing formal has to happen until the couple is nearing the engagement stage. Before that, the couple is interacting as increasingly good friends in whatever context would be natural for good friends to interact, given their other cultural baggage. This means that, naturally, friends and family who are likely to become a major part of the couple’s future are interacted with and evaluated as part of the social group the relationship is using for context.

This model also gives significantly more wiggle room to pursuit, since a party has not overcommited before an evaluation has taken place, and can exit from the non-relationship gracefully without anyone else being aware of what said party was thinking. Of course, eventually each party’s intentions become easy to discern, but things are not dealt with formally from the outset.

On Arrangement Models

Decently-run “arranged marriage”-based models can work very well. Possibly better than anything else. They cannot, however, be mixed in a society with another prevalent model. If they are, those under the arrangement find the arrangement to be arbitrary as compared with the “freedom” of those around them.

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