The question that engages historian Haag—what’s happening to the institution of marriage—gets a complicated and sometimes murky answer.
The author, former director of research for the American Association of University Women, interviewed dozens of people, conducted online surveys and perused scholarly literature and contemporary newspapers and magazines to discover what marriage means to people today. As her subtitle indicates, her view is that society has entered the post-romantic marriage era. The romantic paradigm of marriage, in which marriage was entered into for love, is being replaced by a new cultural view, just as traditional marriage, in which marriage was needed for status and procreation, was replaced by the romantic view. In this post-romantic era, she finds that low-conflict, low-stress, semi-happy marriages are common, and she proposes that alternative ways of thinking about marriage are needed. Through the stories of individuals whom she calls marriage pioneers, she illustrates some of the pressures exerted by such factors as work, parenting and sex, and shows how some couples are changing the rules and choosing to look at and handle such matters differently. For example, where monogamy was central to the romantic marriage, in the post-romantic marriage, extramarital affairs are often no longer regarded as deal breakers; where romantic marriage was presumably “til death do us part,” the post-romantic marriage may be term-limited. Post-romantic spouses may be more like best friends or congenial companions, and rather than constituting a twosome, may be part of a more open network of colleagues. In other words, in this post-romantic era, marriage may be losing its special place and becoming more like other kinds of relationships in people’s lives. Haag’s use of couple’s stories (including some from her own marriage) to illustrate trends makes the book an easy read with a low jargon quotient, and readers looking for parallels to their own marital situations may well find them here. Despite a title that seems ripped from a tabloid, this is a serious examination of contemporary marriage and a fruitful source of discussion material for women’s groups.