30 May, 2009

Hormonal marriage counseling

I've been thinking about how remarkable it is that my marriage feels unremarkable. It seems as if the daily routine of my family's life as well as the common disruptions of that routine are the most natural thing in the world. Nothing amazes me about the fact that, a few days ago, I was sitting next to the bathtub while my two daughters sat and splashed and shouted.

Shouldn't it amaze me? Only five or six years ago, these two girls didn't exist. Nor did my marriage. Seven years ago, I hadn't even heard of my wife! I even wondered whether marriage were possible for me. Quite a few women had made it clear that the very thought of courtship was laughable—by laughing in my face, quite literally. This may be par for the course for all I know; I don't recall any other men mentioning it to me, but men have a habit of not discussing their defeats in courtship, and also of forgetting about their friends' troubles in courtship. What I'm really proud of, though, is that a woman I wasn't asking out pre-emptively turned me down, just in case.

Yet here I am, feeling as if the life I'm living is precisely how life should be. I can't imagine wanting a divorce even for an instant. I know that this isn't the romantic love that a man bears for a woman. Nor is it conjugal love, and I don't believe the conjugal act causes or prompts this feeling (although, for all I know, it may assist it). I'm also pretty sure it isn't because most people would envy my family life. My family life isn't bad, don't get me wrong—I'm just pretty sure that most people wouldn't envy it. I don't get to do a lot of the things that I might like to do if left unrestrained: write in this weblog, read books, travel and see the world, buy exotic computers, chase other women, enter a monastery, or any combination of the above,* etc. Maintaining a family entails sacrifice.

Another thing I find remarkable is that many men (and women) don't feel this way about their marriages. I've heard that most women produce a hormone that does create this feeling, but I'm also well aware of the existence of men who can't settle down, who feel the urge to chase skirts long after they're "happily" married. I've argued with married men about whether polygamy is the natural state of the human male.** Newspapers and tabloids are filled with stories of men and women whose jobs have kept them so busy that their marriages have suffered, so they've married multiple times, if they even bother marrying at all, rather than drifting from one "partner" to the next. It seems, at least superficially, that many people take wedding vows, but never develop (or acquire) a sense that their marriage and their family are the only things in the world that matter, and never feel compelled to make the effort required to sustain them.

While speculating on this, I began to wonder if hormone production may be a factor. Why not, right? We blame everything else these days on hormones! At this point you're likely rolling your eyes and thinking, God, another moron, and yeah, you're probably right, but you only think you know where I'm going with this: Can infidelity and dissatisfaction in marriage be treated using hormones? If a person doesn't possess that feeling that seems to assist monogamy, can it be manufactured? After all, if we can treat clinical depression and low libido with hormones, can we not also treat dissatisfaction in marriage, or at least infidelity?

I don't know, but that isn't my real question. My real questions are based on the hypothesis that dissatisfaction in marriage can be treated.

  1. Would there be more than token demand for such a drug?

  2. How would mainstream society view the ethics of such a drug? I'm sure that many people would favor it, but I can also see two different points of view that might oppose it, at least culturally if not in law. One point of view might see such a drug as an accommodation weakness, an offense against the independence and strength of the will that ought, by itself, to overcome its own temptations. (Think of people who look down on medicines that combat nicotine addiction or clinical depression.) Another would see it as a repression of sexual desire, which in too much of our society is viewed as an inherent good that ought not to be restrained—and those who do try to restrain it, will end up in worse shape.

  3. Or is it possible that hormones really don't matter so much, that if our society lost its mania for material possessions and bright, shiny toys to distract us from our position in life and our responsibilities, that if we didn't consider our families to be just one option among many others that equally deserve our attention***, then most of us would once again put the effort where it belonged: into our families and our children?
I have no idea what the answers to these questions, but they came to mind.

*Don't laugh. In this modern world, you can chase women and enter a monastery, all at the same time. In fact, you could do that in the medieval world, too—and more easily than today, which is just another example of how the medieval world was superior to today's, if you ask me. ;-) People wouldn't look on you as a hypocrite, but as just another weak sinner: same as the rest of us. The loss of a sense of sin in society has led to a loss of self-recognized sinners, which has led, sadly enough, to a loss of true compassion.

**No, they weren't Mormons. At least one of them was an evangelical Christian, and another was an atheist, I think.

***I wonder if I am giving this lip service, while I really don't put my family above all other considerations. I do spend a lot of time at work, but it also seems like I have to: tenure and all that.

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