The question of marriage came up the other day, mainly due to emmie’s family and their investment in the idea, whether it arises mainly from their Xian beliefs or their lack of trust, which is somewhat understandable given they’ve never met me.
The problem, though, with marriage in a situation where the two partners are legally equal is that it becomes a contract between two equal but separate parties, a contract that isn’t even particularly binding. The moment one of the parties feels they’re not getting what they want, they can simply file for divorce.
The historical reality is that marriage was often no more than that in many layers of society at any time, but the legality of the situation was different when marriage required at least some acknowledgement of responsibility, since the woman as chattel was inherently to some degree the man’s responsibility. Of course in many cases reality didn’t quite work that way (where the woman was from a wealthy family, for instance), and in others men didn’t live up to their responsibility. But at least theoretically there was a meaning to marriage, and a responsibility that ought to have been taken on.
Today’s marriage is simply a social convenience in areas where the law or individual moralism hasn’t kept up with reality. People remain emotionally invested, though, not in their particular marriage, which in most cases quickly becomes a socially convenient contract, but in the idea of marriage itself as meaningful, when it’s patently obvious to anyone that thinks about it without the blinkers of sentimentality that it isn’t.
An M/s dynamic is old fashioned in precisely the sense under which marriage might have been, for some at least, a meaningful event. But simultaneously it replaces marriage since it goes completely against the current form of marriage. In this sense it is a new relationship form, because it is a repetition of an earlier form in a changed situation, where the meaning of the act can no longer be what it was.
Marriage under those conditions seems not only superfluous, but by bringing in the current sense of the term, in my experience undermines the relationship by having it conform to a concept that is both meaningless and antithetical to the actual relationship.