What Comes First: Love or Marriage?

I believe that the majority of us would respond that love comes first, of course! After all, what is a marriage without love? In my historical novel Landscape of a Marriage, Mary, a widow with three small children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, in order to provide a secure future for her and her children. In 1858, there were not many good options for women. Their ‘marriage of convenience’ doesn’t suit her however, and she decides that she will win her new husband’s love. Seeking a more passionate union, Mary is soon blessed with a relationship that meets her emotional and physical needs. Her second marriage provides a second chance at a happy ever after. Together, Mary and Fred set to transform the American landscape forever, beginning with NY’s iconic Central Park. Their shared goal is to create a ‘beating green heart’ in every city.

Mary was successful in finding true love after her wedding vows. But what if that had not been the result? Would Fred and Mary Olmsted’s marriage have lasted 44 years were it not for a committed and satisfying partnership? Maybe…

English history is full of references to so-called ‘levarite’ marriages, that were carried out in order to preserve alliances and to protect the social status of family members. Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells of Claudius, the brother of the late Hamlet marrying his widow Gertrude in order to defend her and the realm. In Zimbabwe, the younger brother was said to ‘inherit’ the widow of a deceased older brother. 

Although marrying the widow of a deceased brother is fairly rare today, many cultures believe in the suitability of arranged marriages. This is a type of marital union where the bride and groom are primarily selected by individuals other than the couple themselves, particularly by family members such as the parents. In some cultures, a professional matchmaker may be used to find a spouse for a young person. Arranged marriages should not be confused with ‘forced’ marriages whereby one or both participants enter the marriage without giving their consent. 

Many of us would cringe at the thought of an arranged marriage and much prefer a romantic, swept-off-our-feet kind of relationship. But proponents suggest reasons that an arranged marriage is superior to a ‘love’ marriage include issues like mutual respect, similarities regarding values and beliefs, and family support.

But do arranged marriages actually work?

In the U.S., while the divorce rate hovers around 40 or 50 percent, the divorce rate for arranged marriages is 4 percent. In India, where some estimate that 90 percent of marriages are arranged, the divorce rate is only 1 percent. According to a study by Statistic Brain, the global divorce rate for arranged marriages is 6 percent — a significantly low number. 

Don’t get me wrong- I am a big fan of romance… in my life and in my writing. But there is certainly something to be said for long-lasting relationships and fewer divorces. For now, I’ll stick with my first choice, a marriage vow I made nearly forty years ago to a partner I am still passionately in love with. Works for me! 

How about you- what do you think?  Is romantic love essential to a happy marriage?

One thought on “What Comes First: Love or Marriage?

  1. I am fascinated by stories of arranged marriages, mail-order brides, matchmaking services such as the ones used to pair suitable American women with European aristocrats, and others that matched women with soldiers about to be deployed during wartime. There were many different ways to form arranged marriages, and many of them worked out just fine; after all, in the end marriage is a partnership, with two people who respect one another. The “love” part often arrives later.


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