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Removing the Concept of Marriage

Discussion in 'World Building' started by ProfoundlyFadedPrincess, Apr 19, 2018.

  1. Hello everyone,

    I've been pondering how I can use alter the concept of marriage for my novel.

    Mostly, I want to do away with it, but I still want to recognise people's rights to have a spouse - but this is more for the nobility in denoting who is one person or the other's consort or co-ruler. The regular folk don't really marry, but they may make alliances either for dynastic reasons or just for love.

    I don't want to use the term husband/wife and I don't want unions to be a religious issue either. Any thoughts or ideas?

  2. Nascent

    Nascent Acolyte

    Not sure why to be honest. Largely because it's not simply about dynasties for the rich and inheritance (which often applies equally to the poor), but also about pooling resources. Not for children alone but also food/shelter/warmth etc even if one is sick or unable to work.
    Might just be me, but I see people overlook other benefits to marriages, unions and all that.
    elemtilas and Dark Squiggle like this.
  3. Yora

    Yora Maester

    Marriage is all about inheritance law and welfare support. Anyone could claim to be the child of a rich man and demand a share of his belongings after death or economic support. Marriage defines who is a legally recognized child. Or when a man dies and leaves behind his woman. Who has the economic duty to take care of her so she has a home, food, and medical care? These are the main questions that marriage deals with. And the reason why infidelity is such a big deal. If a woman could have a child from anyone, the whole system breaks down.

    One thing that can make it all a lot easier is to track inheritance matrilineal. Paternity can easily be disputed, but there's rarely any doubt about maternity. Or you have a society with communal ownership of property and wealth where everyone gets an equal share. When nobody can be left homeless by the death of people they are dependent on, inheritance becomes much less of an issue.

    I believe the Hawaiian kingdoms had a very open concept of marriage or maybe none at all. Certainly a good example to start a research with.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  4. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Marriage is all about inheritance and welfare support? Excuse me while I chuckle.

    Wills are all about inheritance law. Economics are tied to marriage, certainly, but it’s not the be all end all of “marriage”. Marriage can be attirubted to all kinds of things, good or bad, depending on how you want to look at it and reality will skew with the viewer.

    Now, how to do do away with marriage is REAL simple. Just do it. Formal marriage is a social construct, terms such as wife/husband are the same... the trouble is that a culture is bound to have some word that refers to a couple with a union, be it formal or informal, legal or just accepted on a personal social level. “Jane’s man.” Heck, you could have lots of fun... “Jane’s breeder is Bob over over their, but Jane’s love is Sally, over there.” Hmm, could be as simple or complex as you like. Now, one could just make up a word for that society’s version of the social contract... “That there is my Splunge” and go ahead and show how that social contract functions through the lives of your people. This is probably the way I lean.

    And of course, you can always just use husband/wife while defining them differently for said culture. We do this loosely as it is throughout cultures on Earth.

    While I have cultures with fairly traditional versions of marriage, I also have cultures without this norm... the Luxuns “bond” until the child is independent and then are free to remain bound, or not, but its extremely rare (outside of the death of one) that they would split before the child reached “adulthood” which is 14-15 in their culture. However, once child is booted from the nest, it’d be at least 50/50 on whether they stay bound.
  5. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

    I'm with Demesnedenoir (had to look up at your name three times to spell it right, good goddess) on this. Just don't have it. He threw in his cultures, I'll throw in my orcs, and greenskins in general. They mate and form bonds and can often be poly, often because the world originally demanded it. They understand the concept of marriage and what it entails. They just don't care or do it really, though mated pairs or families show up frequently, most are just going to have a variety of mates. The entire village either raises the children until they are of age or goblin nurseries do, therefore rendering a good bit of child rearing involved out of the equation.
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Look at LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness for an alternative model.

    Marriage is ubiquitous in human society, so it certainly speaks to something pretty fundamental. You might also consider than any number of animals likewise mate for life. That ain't love and it ain't property law.

    Seems to me, if you take it away, you need to look at the hole you have left in social and personal interaction, and ask yourself what happens if you leave it empty or if you try to substitute something else (as LeGuin did).

    It's true that we write fantasy, so we can write anything we want. True, true, and all too true. At the same time, if we want people to read what we've written, we must write something that is believable.

    So, there's that.
  7. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    Hard to top what Demesnedenoir has already said.

    I might ask some questions along the lines of, while I can make up a different word, if its effect is still the same, what difference does it really bring?

    I might also add that Marriage is a stabilizing force, and brings a lot of additional social benefits, and when it is missing, it would likely be the cause of questions I might raise during the course of the story, but if greenskins can do it...

    Any rate, if you don't want to use the words, just about any term can sub-in. What is wrong with consort?
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    And a codicil to the above. If you remove marriage, you remove one of the great drivers of plot in the history of novels. Not to say it cannot or ought not be done; only to say that one needs to do so carefully and thoroughly. Done well, it could make a fascinating story (LeGuin, op. cit.).
  9. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Troubadour

    Noone on here has read The Communist Manifesto? Marx and Engels postulate a world without marriage, and claims that marriage is a farce anyway.
    In Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (of which I only read a summary) Engels advocates the abolition of the family altogether, establishing all children as wards of the state. There have been communes in the US, Israel and India that I know of that have followed through with this. From what I understand, people lived in group homes, noone was officially anyone's spouse, although practically such bonds did occur, and one was not allowed to show favoritism to their children, as all children were cared for jointly by the members of the commune.
    (Two separate stages - first no marriage; second, no parenthood.)
    If you feel this is somehow "unnatural", cichlid fish of the genus Chalinochromis of Lake Tanganyika in Africa follow this social plan, as well as many mammals, from wolves and monkeys to musk-oxen, so it is just as natural as any other that humans have chosen. (Last bit was said in jest.)
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2018
    Night Gardener likes this.
  10. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    If you wish to abolish the institution of marriage and terms for spouse (wife/husband) for whatever reason, but still want a 'word' that denotes an elective union between two persons of any gender, start broadening your options.

    In modern times, the term 'partner' has been used as a spouse place holder.

    While the term is used in the occult, 'Familiar' might work for you.

    Perhaps, something as simple as 'Other'. We frequently call our romantic interests our 'other half'.

    Maybe, 'Fidelis', or another word for fidelity, faithfulness, exclusiveness, etc. That might also
    establish the idea that you don't play the field anymore and have selected 'one' person to settle down with... or that your Fidelis is your first choice among your many romantic relationships.
    Even the introduction of "This is my First and Only" gets the point across.

    Any word that implies "duality" would probably be understood and make contextual sense. Or words that suggests 'completeness', fullfilment, etc. Think of words that thematically work, even if you might have to establish some context in your WIP because readers aren't conditioned to expect them. Even the word 'Fraction' communicates the idea of eventual 'wholeness'.

    'Paramour' has a decidely French flair when you read the word, but it also implies a degree of illicitness. Same with consort.

    There is also nothing stopping you from simply inventing a word to suit your needs.

    It may not work to simply lift a word that exists from a historical earth culture (like the Hawaiians some one mentioned) and culturally appropriate it to fit your needs. There are many existing or historical societies that used different types of unions from what we use today, and it is worth further examination. I currently can't think of any non-tribal, non-communal-living cultures that practice both polyamory and monogomy and utilize group/plural 'ownership' of children, tangibles, etc.

    Others in this thread have mentioned that marriage is a cornerstone institution to define other laws and institutions, like welfare and personal property rights, inheritance, etc. I would argue that we are living outside that rigid model and we're still functioning... but it generates a lot, A LOT, of paperwork and civil judicial interventions, policing actions, and other civil agencies to enforce rulings (of which the efficacy is debatable). You might have to navigate through the consequences of completely eliminating one of the big cornerstones and drafting a society that never had the legal or social construct of "marriage".

    Although I do agree that matriarchal lineage (with an implied strict control of fidelity) makes a lot more sense to keep track of from a legal perspective. . . Although you can theoretically bribe birth witnesses or tamper with documentation. . . Controversies within patriarchal lineage systems, where the men are permitted or expected to be promiscuous as an entitlement, has toppled entire societies and empires. If same-gendered partners adopt children, there's usually a paper trail. But from what I remember of your recent post, your male character is coerced into producing progeny as a plot point in regicide.

    Monogomy (not marriage as a legal institution that alters your individual rights) does seem to be a case of convergent evolution across species and cultures.

    More to the point I think is being sidestepped: there's an awkwardness because the words "husband" and "wife" carry a lot of Judeo-Christian/Abrahamic/ Western/ Eastern connotations, and historically imply excluding (not recognizing) or active condemnations of LGBT and other alternative unions (polygamy, celebecy, etc).

    It can feel rigid or antiquated when applying to more 'contemporary' person-hood equality concepts. But, other cultures do manage to come up with words that translate into "monogamous arrangements/preferences" and communicate the ideas of "spouse-hood" without the cumbersome baggage we associate with (western) marriage and wedding customs based on scripture interpretation, religious edicts and societal-legal enforcement/ cultural expectations.

    However, there is a very important realization: When we're writing fantasy wherein it is established that all of this 'baggage' never existed in the first place, the words 'wife', 'husband', 'partner' get reset to neutral and are just words again IMO.

    Then we're getting into the territory of calling a creature that is a 'rabbit' for all intents and purposes a 'smurp' just to give it a feeling of endemic authenticity to your WIP. It's a substitution of invented vocabulary that can be fun to play with, (Dr. Seuss, anyone?) but the communicated ideas behind made-up words should probably be for things that genuinely have no IRL equivalent. (The best examples I can think of lend themselves to aliens, new planets, etc.)

    If you have clearly written an alternative fantasy world and use words like wife, flower, water, etc it communicates neutral, rudimentary words that you- the author- elaborate layers of endemic context specific to your world construct.

    All writing is a bit of a mirror, but when you're deliberately constructing a fantasy culture it's part of the thought-exercise/ thought-experiment process for writer and reader alike to explore different ideas in a safe, controlled environment lol. But, I don't want to exhaust myself reading when you describe your endemic "smurp" only to have realize that 'oh, you're just describing a rabbit.' It can be a pink and polka dot 70 lbs rabbit that doesn't exist IRL, but tell me it's a rabbit and we'll go from there.

    P.S. There was a book I read a while back called 'A History of the Wife' which was a great read. The author focused mostly on Western cultures, but did explore alternative historical models that might be helpful for you.
    pmmg likes this.
  11. While I think considering Matrilineal Descent is an interesting option to consider, this world practices Absolute Primogeniture. But it might be worth considering Matrilineal Primogeniture as being the forerunner, and still used to denote things such as inheritance when there is a lack of living relatives or issues of legitimacy in the sense if a father denies his child, then it is the mother and her line who then becomes responsible. But in having this would allow for a motive in terms of the murders that are committed.

    But going to marriage, after reading the thread, I think I might look into historical marriages that were outside Western cultures - how and why they are made. I'm pondering differing terminology for Marriages that are arranged marriages compared to those that have been made out of love. There are some good suggestions here that have been helpful for my consideration.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  12. Malik

    Malik Auror

    All of this.

    There are some great replies in this thread. Sex and marriage are huge components of your worldbuilding, and they're often overlooked, or just bleeped over with the expectation that a world that's never read a Bible will somehow adopt the exact same ideals that we do. I find it pretentious and slightly racist to think that Western Judeo-Christian concepts espouse an absolute morality that humans from another world will automatically gravitate toward.

    That said, the only rule is that it has to work.

    My fantasy series has a loose concept of marriage. Fertility rates are low, so people don't marry with the expectation of raising a family. They'll be lucky if they have one child, which throws the whole trope about bastard sons regaining their fortunes right out the window. When a woman has a child--even out of wedlock--there's a huge celebration, and everybody jumps in to raise it. (The fertility rate also wildly affects their cultural norms when it comes to sex; more on that here, in a blog post on how cultural attitudes toward sex alter your entire society. Warning: it talks about sex.)

    I tackled the marriage issue linguistically: in the world in my series, the word for marriage is a variant of the word for path, and husband and wife are masculine and feminine forms of the word for traveler. They have no word for divorce; it happens, but marriage is separate from sex, so marriage is generally expected to be lifelong. Paths converge, they diverge. Since neither sex nor marriage grant exclusive access to another person's body, it's perfectly common for a woman to be married to one man but be attempting to have a child with others. There are terms for this in their language, and they don't carry a negative connotation. Polyamory and homosexuality are perfectly normal, as is platonic marriage. Again: travelers on a path together.

    There are celebrations of marriage, but it's more like a party marking the occasion than laying out any one set of cultural or religious norms. Property sharing and responsibility sharing is expected, which makes marriage a bigger deal among lords and nobility. Lords and ladies still often marry for political or social reasons, allying and joining finances and so forth. Announcements of engagements among the wealthy are mostly a way to tell everyone affected that two houses or lordships are combining on a certain date, so start coping now.
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  13. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    Just some small commentary, but any monotheistic religion ought to hold that the creator of this world, would be the same creator of a different one. And given a world full of very similar people, and that the creator may have a preference as to what it wants for its creation, it would seem less than preposterous that humans (or human like beings) living on far away planets would still have the same types of revelations and rites and natural experiences as given to them by the creator.

    Ignoring the creator, I still think it is less than presumptuous. As just an observer of the way things have developed in the only world with creatures like us that we know, marriage seems a staple in almost all of the dominant cultures. In fact, I have to go looking for the exceptions. So, if I am trying to create a world with people like us, I think the most likely outcome of its development would be something similar to our own (and note, our own has plenty that is not Judeo-Christian in it).

    Certainly I can look at other cultures and adopt their practices and say in this story world or that that they became dominant and the world is shaped in such a way, but I think I have to consider that that would perhaps be the unlikely outcome. The more I drift into the unlikely outcomes, the more I stretch credibility.

    As fantasy writers, I mean, the whole gate is open. So we can play pretend this and pretend that. And even find new ways to show alternatives to our own mundane ways, which I think is the beauty of fantasy, we are not bound by what we know around us, and instead are free to create what we want to tell the story how it should go, and even perhaps shine a light at times of our own cultures and peoples and say why?

    Personally, I think marriage is likely on planets with two genders, serving the same types of roles as their same biological counterparts as found here on Earth. I think there are a lot of reasons for that, including family and child raising, economic, religious, legal, human bonding, soul mating, culture building and societal responsibility. But I don't object to the speculation, and maybe the speculation will find something true. Who knows? Certainly, marriage here, even in western culture, seems to have a lot of flaws.
    TheKillerBs likes this.
  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    If you look at real world history, most of the alternatives (that I'm aware of?) lack a lot in the way women are treated. A lot of examples focus on women who were intended to raise heirs and those who were only there for sexual purposes. Even philosophers and ethicists outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition would talk about how it was better for a man to go to a prostitute or keep a concubine instead of subjecting his wife to his darkest sexual desires. And arranged marriages - while a little better than many might expect - were still about status and politics and wealth. That said, motherhood was a lot less lonely, as a lot of women would get together and handle the day-to-day work as a group.

    In the animal kingdom there's more diversity in how animals couple because they don't have the same problem of childrearing. Human babies are pretty much helpless for a very long time compared with most animals. Pregnancies also run longer. So with animals you see, for example, couples that only last for a one-year mating cycle.
  15. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

    You get a lot more variation in more tribal, nomadic, and de-centralised societies, especially the ones that aren't agricultural. I have a hypothesis that militarisation in agrarian societies, with their greater need to have warriors who defend their lands, is mostly responsible for the predominance of patriarchal systems, but I don't have much evidence of that other than the fact that women have historically had their best standings in small, de-centralised hunter-gatherer tribes and the like.
  16. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Are your examples referring to patriarchy or marriage?
  17. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

    Both, actually. An example of a different kind of marriage is fraternal polyandry, in which a group of brothers shared a wife, which was still practised until recently in some remote regions of South Asia and Tibet.
  18. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    Think about how to change your society to the point that the very notion of marriage as most people would understand it would serve no practical function. For example what if aristocratic titles were non-hereditary? What if property was passed onto people on the basis of need or their importance to the community rather than through bloodlines or inheritance? What if people were penalised financially for entering into long-term relationships rather than rewarded for it? What if being in a long-term relationship was viewed as abnormal or socially unacceptable rather than the other way around? These things alone would effectively eliminate the primary reasons why people marry: inheritance, financial advantage and social status. As for love, do you need marriage to fully express it? I think not.

    In essence you need to think of why marriage as an institution exists then destroy those reasons so there is no practical purpose for having it.
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  19. J Q Kaiser

    J Q Kaiser Dreamer

    Back in the 19th century Edward Bellamy wrote a book about a socialist (although, it is far more totalitarian) future called Looking Backward: 2000-1887. Check out the excerpts on marriage as they might be useful. In it marriage and family are different things with children (and indeed, all citizens) relating back to the state (government) for their primary connection and protection. The shift is supposed to lead to a more egalitarian society.

    So maybe one option is to bring whatever governmental system you have further into the ceremonies that unite two or more people. Change obligations. Make the "union" mirror obligations to the noble class, feudal lord, etc.
  20. In my worlds, marriage is usually called bonding and all of the legalities/politics of it are removed--[in other words, characters always bond for love].

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