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What's It Really All About?
All of your relationships have a purpose. None of them exist by coincidence. Embracing self-knowledge and growth as you navigate through your relationships, you learn immensely.
I can clearly remember a particular conversation that occurred on one of my many visits home from graduate school. As I sat at the kitchen table working on a research paper, I confided in my mother that I had just broken things off with my then boyfriend of two years. Her expression quickly changed to one of genuine disappointment. With serious concern in her voice she asked, "Aren't you worried that you're not going to find anyone?"
Truthfully I wasn't. Finding another boyfriend (while certainly not my immediate focus at that very moment), and eventually a life partner was not something I had ever worried about. In fact, when I look back to the decade of my teens and twenties, I often wonder if perhaps I spent too much time being in relationships.
The Storm Before the Calm
My final storm before the calm was the tumultuous and messy ending of that same two-year relationship. I had intuitively known for a long time that this man was not going to be in my future. Yet, in spite of knowing this, in spite of our obvious different belief systems, cultural backgrounds, and expectations for sharing a life together, I was somehow determined to keep trying. I know now that a big part of what I was doing in trying to make things work was not unlike what so many other couples throughout history have done - and will continue to do. I was modeling the behavior that I had learned: two people in a committed relationship ought to work at making it work despite any obvious problems and ongoing, unresolved issues.
I will always remember the pivotal details of my ill-fated relationship ending abruptly on the front lawn of my then boyfriend's home. It was the overdue finale of a long history of emotionally draining arguments that dominated the last several months of our relationship. My most vivid memory of that night was the incredible feeling of weight being lifted off my shoulders as I sped away in my jeep, with the top down, music blaring, and feeling the warm breeze of the late summer's night brush across my face. Knowing that I had left for the last time, I was, at that moment, in awe of the overwhelming feeling of freedom. I also secretly vowed to myself that I would stay single for a very long time. Little did I know what was waiting for me just around the corner!
The Simplicity of Ancient Practice
In Ancient Egypt, marriage had no legal or religious constraints. There were no civil ceremonies, but simply a private agreement to cohabitate with the person that you loved. A 'marriage' occurred when two people decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with one another, and made the commitment to live together.
Love poetry from that same period indicates that couples chose their mates based on love as opposed to formal arrangements. The informal act of 'marriage' served to reinforce society's relationship between two people.
By the medieval period, women and men simply joined hands and spoke explicit words, which in essence formalized the sacrament of marriage. Up until the late 16th century, priests and witnesses were not necessary for a marriage to be legitimate.
Since those times, marriage has been legalized and sanctioned by certain rules and regulations. Canon law defines marriage as a "permanent partnership ordered for the procreation of children" and "some form of sexual cooperation."
Traditionally, in patriarchal societies, children and property descend in the husband's line. The preferred method of acquiring a wife was through payment of a 'bride price' to the woman's father in exchange for the children she would bring to the union. In most societies, marriages have been viewed as alliances between families rather than individuals, and the union has usually been formalized symbolically. Among Romans, Greeks and early Jews, gold wedding rings -- perhaps the most common symbol of marriage -- signified the groom's pledge of betrothal and were given as payment to the father of the bride.
Although the formal dowry tradition has died out in Europe and North America, the practice of negotiating a 'bride price' continues in some societies, particularly among Asian Muslims. Of the several kinds of marriages practiced in West Africa, 'bond' marriages sanction the wife to become the property of her husband and children - 'his heirs'. If the husband should die before the wife, one of his heirs would "inherit" her.