Marriage. To know the word is to peer into the deepest cave of human behavior. There is a biological presence in marriage. Out of the two come one—half and half and in the diploid reality there is the impulse to marry—to join together.
In my novel “Citadel” I ask the question—what is a human?
Lynn Margulis writes in “Acquiring Genomes”that sex is the exchange of genes. Bacteria, she writes, exchange genes from moment to moment in parallel so that bacteria have adapted so fast we can’t keep up with them.
Humans, Margulis writes, can exchange genes only once every nine months. As species go, we are slackers. Marriage does not occur in bacteria, does not occur in most species, although as the ethologists and biologists write—some species mate for all time.
In humans, marriage has not just a biological imperative, but a social one. Marriage is what you do unless you don’t want to do it. Not wanting to do it and getting away with it is a recent phenomenon.
Why do men focus on quantity—how many times a month, a week, a day, do they count having sex?
How many children a man produces is a measure of his fertility and worth. But it is not the men who bear the children. The women bear the children. In earlier sociobiological thinking there was a saying—sperm are cheap, eggs are expensive.
In every ejaculation, the normal male spews 300 million sperm into the world. Each woman produces at most two eggs a month. So, in the cheapness of sperm, there is a sociology of sex. Men are careless, women are careful. Marriage can be seen as a mechanism to assure a presence in a dyad that at one time needed that presence.
The book titled “Too Many Women” analyzes the issue of sex ratios—the number of males to females. Sex ratios signal the behavior of humans. In cultures where there are more men than women, women are treasured, women are sometimes kept isolated—in this there is a deep biology—the biology of paternity. The sociobiologists explain the step-parent in such clear terms it is amazing that we have not seen it before—a man as stepfather will only and with great reluctance invest his resources in another man’s offspring.
“That kid ain’t mine,” he says. Sarah Hrdy wrote about the languor monkeys. In her work, she reports that when the alpha male is displaced in a troop, the new Alpha kills the offspring of the old alpha and the females in the troop go into estrus and mate with the new Alpha. Male apes do not want to share paternity. Sperm is cheap—all males of the mammalian species have too many sperm yet the biology to explain that is still in the making. But it relates in some way to size.
The ova of all species are huge in comparison to the size of the Y chromosome. Of the 300 million sperm, one, perhaps two, make it through the wall of the ovum. Eggs are not only expensive, they are also very selective.
Selectivity is at the root of marriage and selectivity is at the root of natural law—rape is a violation not just of the female’s body but a violation of the entire process of sexual selection in evolution. The females of all species choose the male with the best genes. Genes are best shown in resources, behavior, and beauty. In the “Rape of Troy”which is an application of evolutionary biology to the Iliad and the Odyssey, Gottschall writes that Greek women chose the strongest, most beauteous, most resourceful males, while Greek males made themselves strong, beautiful, and resourceful so that women would choose them. It was a cycle of fitness and marriage was a reward–to the most handsome, strongest, most invested male goes the hand of the woman and in that she makes a pact to receive his seed and to rear his young.
Marriage can be seen as the climax of the breeding experiment run by women. We live in a unique time. I call it the Niche. In my novel, “Citadel”, I write about Western women who are educated, who own property, who work, who own a business, who choose their sexual partners without the usual cause and effect—sex equals child. Child equals home. Home equals solitary living, isolation, desperation.
Western women have taken control of their bodies and they control their eggs. Women in the West set the tone. Women in the West can display their bodies without being stoned to death. Women in the West can have as many sexual partners as they have time and the will for. Marriage is no longer the crowning achievement—and in some cultures, it is to be avoided with the resulting decline not only in the sex ratios of men to women but in the entire population.
My son-in-law is Japanese. His brother Masayuki is married to Motoko. Motoko had a good job at Tokyo Electric, and she put off marriage for ten years while Masayuki courted and pled and worked. Motoko told him she did not want to marry because as a Japanese woman she would have to give up her job to follow him to each new assignment—which meant moving every 2 to 3 years. Multiply that dynamic by 100 million, and you see that marriage to the young westernized Japanese woman is not the crowning glory of her womanhood, but it is a punishment.
Deep in the biology of marriage, which is a legal state riding on a deep flow of genetic fitness, you see the flaws and the weaknesses of repressive thinking.
As culture has matured and transformed, humans are still running on Paleolithic legs. The result is a loosening of marriage as a cultural and social sine qua non and the return to the more true and more biological extended mating.
In a sense, humans have returned to their avian roots, and, like the swan, can mate for life without the need of any blessing. Marriage, as it evolves, has left its trappings in the dust and Gottschall is so right—males are a breeding experiment run by females. But what happens when a woman says no?
The “no” is a statement of the evolved female. The male reaction is usually to demonize the woman and not being satisfied with “no” imposes himself, and that is rape, and as rape, it violates the essence of sexual selection.
Choice is the word. Women choose. Men have to meet the demand.
In the lekking species such as sage grouse, and Bowerbirds, the male builds a lek which acts much like the stage in a Greek theater. In a flock of sage grouse, the males dance. They dance, they thump the ground of the lek and they puff out their breasts that look like balloons. The male who lasts, the last male standing, gets chosen. He is chosen for his beauty, his stamina, his body, his fat, his resources, and his strength. The female chooses. Always the female chooses.
Musth in the elephant. In musth the female shows her fertility—and then she runs. The males of the herd chase her. On the chase they develop green penis—an erection 2 feet long dripping with green exudate. Males chase the females, and the last male standing mates. He is chosen for his beauty, his resource, and his strength.
Marriage isn’t a question for elephants. In humans, it is a temporary interruption that allows the male to spew his paltry 300 million sperm in hopes that one of them will reach the ovum and his genes will be launched into the future.
Males are a breeding experiment run by females.
In the West, marriage is now more a cultural display along the lines of a potlatch to show wealth in lieu of a bride price or a dowry. A wedding can cost $50,000. A marriage likely to last only a few years. In this we see the Western female settling into serial polyandry—once, twice, thrice—marriage isn’t what it used to be.
Marriage in the West measures cultural and social changes resulting from the power of the free woman choosing.
Photo Credit: Mark Lord Photography