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Alisa, thirty seconds after the proposal.
About three months ago, drunk on some kind of color-brightening, air-crispening love pheromone, I got down on a knee in the pouring rain — yes, it was actually raining — and asked my girlfriend to marry me. For a minute or more, Alisaís face cycled through expressions of confusion, terror and joy, leaving some suspense about which of the three it would land on. Then, she eked out a feeble "yes" before asking offhandedly, "but do we believe in the institution of marriage?" I would probably be concerned about all this if the aforementioned state of intoxication, which began three-and-a-half years ago and continues today, left me with basic reasoning skills. As it is, I am elated, fearless, and foggy on my long-standing concerns about marriage, which, frankly, are too complicated for the feeble mind of the affianced. (Ever wondered why engaged people talk about planning a wedding as if they were responsible for transitioning governments in Iraq? They arenít firing on all cylinders.)

Letís see if I can piece together the old logic — half of all marriages end in divorce (according to 2002 Census Bureau projections), and despite that reality, many divorces appear to be about as civil and well-reasoned as a bar fight, using children rather than chairs as blunt instruments. If the purpose of marriage is to provide a stable structure for child-rearing, much less a stable environment for grown-ups, it is failing miserably. Meanwhile, we reminisce about a golden era of marriage that never existed Ė somehow rampant prostitution, countenanced cheatings and multiple bedrooms are left out of accounts of the '50s and earlier eras. You can make a case that American society didnít attempt to enforce the Draconian commitments made in traditional wedding ceremonies until the last thirty or forty years, which is when the family unit began breaking down.

The pheremone-addled couple.
Marriage is really, at the end of the day, a business contract, and one of the most basic requirements for successful business partnerships is that you manage expectations by promising less than you can deliver. Wedding vows and the legal and social strictures that enforce them suggest the opposite strategy: promise everything and make the consequences of failure so dire that you might actually scare yourself into pulling it off. If this is our nationís business strategy for the family unit, the core building block of our society, itís failing by most every available metric, and we would be foolish not to consider a restructuring of some kind.

My generation has responded in typical slacker fashion: weíve avoided doing anything at all for as long as possible. Most of my friends are getting married in their mid-thirties (the national average is near the highest it's ever been: 26.9 years for men, 25.3 for women). Others are doing everything from eschewing marriage altogether to normalizing pre-nuptual agreements to experimenting with renewable contracts.

Alisa and I, meanwhile, are doing none of this. Though we have taken longer to find each other than our parents did, and though we have somewhat more grounded expectations for one another, at a certain point we are taking the proverbial bungee jump, like those before us. In my life to date, hyper-rationality has created as many problems as instinctual decision making, and the latter has created a lot more joy.

In this issue, we hope to apply both rationality and rapture to the subject of marriage, and where it's heading. We hope you will join the conversation. Rufus Griscom

In This Issue:

VoiceBox: The Future of Marriage
by Margaret Cho, Jonathan Ames, Darcy Cosper, David Moats, Dr. Scott Haltzman, Jim De Seve, Keith Blanchard, Maggie Gallagher, Molly Jong-Fast, Susan Shapiro Barash and Ethan Watters
Our panel debates where marriage is going, or whether it's too far gone. A five-part series.

Bride and Prejudice
by Ada Calhoun
At 28, she's rebelling against her parents — with a church wedding.
/personal essay/5.24

Reader Poll: The State of the Union (Poll Closed)
by the Hooksexup staff
Would you consent to an open marriage? What qualifies as infidelity: a blowjob? Or a naughty IM session?
/survey/5.24

Marriage by Numbers
by Steven Rinella
One man's search for Ms. "The Best I Can Do."
/personal essay/5.25

Uncoupling
by Alicia Erian
When is a marriage not worth fighting for?
/personal essay/5.25

Portfolio: Union City
by Jason Chen
One afternoon at the New York City justice of the peace.
/photography/5.26

I Like to Watch
by Marshall Miller
He'll go to any wedding but his own.
/personal essays/5.27

On Not Saying "I Do"
by Dorian Solot
She's in love, happily unmarried, and she plans to stay that way.
/personal essays/5.27

High Fidelity
by Darren Stehr
Their sex life will make you want to settle down too.
/photography/5.28

And the Bland Played On
by Bruce LaBruce
Why gay marriage is bad for the gay movement.
/opinions/5.31

Marry Me a Little
by Emily Mead
The new premarital agreement: an expiration date.
/dispatch/6.1

Postcard from the Edge
by Tim Miller
Planning a gay wedding in no-man's land.
/dispatch/6.2

Le Divorce
by John Freeman
Sex degrees of separation.
/dispatch/6.2

French Disconnection
by Susan Dominus
A sojourn in Europe made her wedding plans passé
/dispatch/6.3

Reader Poll Results
by the Hooksexup staff
Would you consent to an open marriage? What qualifies as infidelity: a blowjob? Or a naughty IM session?
/survey/6.4

Remodeling Your Spouse
by Paul Katz
Is plastic surgery the new couples therapy?
quickies/6.7

Multi-Player Option
by Michelle Chihara
Young polyamorists are rewriting the laws of desire
dispatches/6.7

Related articles from the archives:

A Ladies' Man and Shameless by John Perry Barlow 
The Dead lyricist and cyberspace guru issues a polygamist's manifesto.

What She Hungers For by David Teague 
A Passionate Undertaking by Marisa de los Santos 
A writer/poet duo tell their sides of a fire and water marriage.

The Late Blooming of a Monogamist by Spalding Gray 
The travelling monologist's account of trading in groupies for diapers.

The Wedding of Tom to Tom by Keith Banner
"Think about the headlines, Anita," Raquel said one night, over cocktails. "Two Group Home Workers Force Clients into Homosexual Marriage."

Fucking His Wife, Four Months Pregnant with Their Third Child by Paula Bomer 
"His wife has breasts! Serious breasts. Not yet full of milk, but swollen and ready for what's to come."

Wifey by Petter Hegre
A panoramic, yet intimate, view of connubial bliss.

Sex, Love, and the Married Girl by Amy Keyishian 
The author never had it so good, until she had it lawfully.

Click here to read all Hooksexup archived articles about marriage

 

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