What Marriage Means

“Marriages, then, are generally not based on love, “The husband is, so to speak, never more than a substitute for the loved man, and not that man himself,” said Freud. This dissociation is not accidental. It is implicit in the very nature of the institution. The economic and sexual union of man and woman is a matter of transcending toward the collective interest and not of individual happiness. …

the principle of marriage is obscene because it transforms an exchange that should be founded on a spontaneous impulse into rights and duties; it gives bodies an instrumental, thus degrading, side by dooming them to grasp themselves in their generality; the husband is often frozen by the idea that he is accomplishing a duty, and the wife is ashamed to feel delivered by someone who exercises a right over her. …

To claim that a union founded on convention has much change of engendering love is hypocritical; to ask two spouses bound by practical, social, and moral ties to satisfy each other sexually for their whole lives is pure absurdity. …

In the first place, ideal love, which is often what the girl knows, does not always dispose her to sexual love; her platonic adorations, her daydreaming, and the passions into which she projects her infantile or juvenile obsessions are not meant to resist the tests of daily life nor to last for a long time. Even if there is a sincere and violent erotic attraction between her and her fiance, that is not a solid basis on which to construct the enterprise of a life. …

Moreover, even in cases where carnal love exists before marriage or awakens at the beginning of the marriage, it is very rare for it to last many long years. Certainly fidelity is necessary for sexual love, since the two lovers’ desire encompasses their singularity; they do not want it contested by outside experiences, they want to be irreplaceable for each other; but this fidelity has meaning only as long as it is spontaneous; and spontaneously, erotic magic dissolves rather quickly. … when individuals no longer want to reach each other because of hostility, disgust, or indifference between them, erotic attraction disappears; and it dies almost as surely in esteem and friendship: two human beings who come together in the very moment of their transcendence through the world and their common projects no longer need carnal union; and further, because this union has lost its meaning, they are repelled by it. … Eroticism is a movement toward the Other, and this is its essential character; but within the couple, spouses become, for each other, the Same; no exchange is possible between them anymore, no giving, no conquest. If they remain lovers, it is often in embarrassment: they feel the sexual act is no longer an intersubjective experience … , but rather a kind of mutual masturbation. That they consider each other a necessary tool for the satisfaction of their needs is a fact conjugal politeness disguises but which bursts out when this politeness is rejected…

Love, then, is not what bourgeois optimism promises the young bride: the ideal held up to her is happiness, that is, a peaceful equilibrium within immanence and repetition. At certain prosperous and secure times, this ideal was that of the whole bourgeoisie and specifically of landed property owners; their aim was not the conquest of the future and the world  but the peaceful conservation of the past, the status quo. A gilded mediocrity with neither passion nor ambition, days leading nowhere, repeating themselves indefinitely, a life that slips toward death without looking for answers.”

De Beauvoir, Simone. 2010. The Second Sex. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Pp. 448, 465-468.

simone and sartre
Simone de Beauvoir with her life-long partner, Jean-Paul Sartre (with Sartre talking talking talking. As always)

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