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Marriage: De Dicto and De Re

June 20th, 2007 · 5 Comments

I was just chatting with an old friend about attitudes toward marriage and children. I’ve always understood the desire for these things (to borrow a bit of philosophy jargon) in the de re, but not the de dicto sense. That is, I understand full well being crazy about a specific person with whom you’d like to get married or raise children, and could imagine myself wanting that someday easily enough. But I’ve always found the abstract desire to do either—partner to be determined—somewhat more mysterious. And I finally came up with an analogy that I think captures my perplexity: It’s like expressing an overwhelming urge to join the clergy, without having any particular religion in mind.

Addendum: Obviously, there’s nothing at all mysterious if (as one commenter suggests) you take an expressed desire to marry as shorthand for “I hope I meet someone I fall so seriously in love with—and who returns the favor—that we would get married.” But my sense is that at least some people mean something more than this, that the institutional arrangement is a distinct, and possibly even a prior, goal.

Tags: Sexual Politics



5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 FinFangFoom // Jun 20, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    I don’t think the analogy is apt. I think most people speaking in the de dicto sense are considering it as the highest form of a romantic relationship. Merely long term/permanent girlfriend -boyfriend would appear inferior to them. It is more of a desire to be in Superlove rather than merely love.

  • 2 LP // Jun 20, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    The analogy seems pretty good, but not especially perplexing — there are plenty of people out there who have a deep desire for religion, and kind of cast about until they find one that suits them. As for why some people have this abstract desire for marriage and family, without a specific partner in mind — I think this might be related to the relative vividness of a one’s emotional imagination. Someone with a vivid emotional ‘picture’ of how it would feel to be so passionate about someone as to want those things (marriage, children) is likely to develop a strong desire for that state, partner TBD. (One might observe here that women, who tend towards vivid emotional projection, seem to have this abstract longing more often than men, who tend to have good practical imagination but less interest/aptitude for projecting future emotional states.)

  • 3 FinFangFoom // Jun 20, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    I’m not sure what you mean by “institutional arrangement.” Do you mean like the legal institution with its attendant benefits and detriments? Do you mean it in a sense of people wanting to be married like others want a good career? I do think that the majority of Americans still view marriage as the sort of final, adult period of one’s social life.

  • 4 John Goes // Jun 21, 2007 at 8:40 am

    There is nothing really all that strange about wanting to be a religious without knowing what religion if any you believe. How many people have mused about being a monk, some with quite a bit of seriousness, without having any religion at all? It’s much more common to muse about having a child. Afterall, even when you have found someone you want to have children with, you haven’t met your children and don’t really know what you’re going to get until you get them. When a couple is talking about having children, though, the desire is not entirely abstract, though the felt future is dim. The same with most people’s desire to have sons and daughters. Many people already have a dim awareness of their progeny and wish to have it actualized.

  • 5 joeo // Jun 21, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    john goes is right on this one. It isn’t silly to want to be married and have kids.

    There are also a lot of things that are common to the being married and having kids experience in general. It is surprisingly “everybody loves raymond”-y no matter who you marry.

    This article suggests that men get married when they start to feel too old for the singles scene:

    Many men reluctantly admitted that for more than a year, they had felt uncomfortable in the singles world where they had been hanging out for the past five years. The singles world for professionals obviously is an older and more sophisticated crowd than that for men whose formal education ended in high school, but eventually men from both groups had the same experience.

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