The Making and Unmaking
Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq
(January 2001; Islamicity; In Bangla from Weekly Jai Jai Din)
"Love and marriage, love and marriage; they go together, like horse and carriage...".
What a beautiful song Frank Sinatra sang! The relationship between these two things was supposed to be so "elementary" that one could find out the truth just by asking the gentry. This song, of course, comes from a Sinatra movie. In real life, Frank Sinatra had so much love to share that he had four marriages. As a Hollywood star, rather a superstar, everyone knows that there would be times when horse and carriage might not go together. FRANKly speaking, to expect otherwise would be almost unthinkable.
In a world where "sacred" does not mean anything anymore, it is understandable that the idea of family has also become less important and relevant. While love is more of an emotional thing; sex is more of physical appetite, though these two are not mutually exclusive.
There is nothing deep about the fact that the newborns who come through a relationship that is based on love and some sacred bond may have better chance to have their own existence and reality be explored, understood, and regarded in a loving and sacred manner. However, those who come to this world merely on the roller coaster ride of sex, without any necessary link to "love and marriage" may tend to regard the whole life from the very same perspective that brought them to this world.
Sex passions are transient. It does not take very long to build the sexual passion: feed it to the climax, and it is all gone. Permanence does not mean anything in this context. Love does have a continuity and meaning. One can see in the nature that even in the animal kingdom examples abound that birds, apes, have sex generally with two implications: they build nests (or their homes) and they reproduce. It is not much different for the humanoids.
How old fashioned Mark Twain had been when he said, "Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century." (Mark Twain's Notebook) Sometime he had different thought too: "It is not immoral to create the human species - with or without ceremony." [Mark Twain, a Biography].
All those nostalgic connections are so utterly outdated to our free-bird like spirit. Apparently, the old fashioned view is that a marriage can never take place without another marriage: that is between tying of the knot between marriage and love. But in the aftermath of the sexual liberation movement, our kewl attitude has no room for such kind of interTWAINining (deliberate misspelling) relationship as mentioned by Twain.
Making Love: The transformation of meaning*
The whole idea of marriage has undergone a most radical transformation. There was a time when marriage meant a "union of a man and a woman as husband and wife". Some older dictionaries (e.g., The Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English of 1973 edition) has only one meaning of marriage as I just mentioned. We can't take it for granted that words mean the same as it used to. These days whenever someone is getting or got married, we have to politely ask whether it is "heterosex marriage" or "same-sex marriage". Who knows soon there might be marriages between human beings and animals? After all, we do have ancestral relatives living on and jumping from trees to trees. Since morally right or wrong is just relative thing, shouldn't everyone have his or her own definition? Therefore, what's all this fuss?
To understand this, let's first take a peek at the historical background of the changes we have experienced and what essentially we are undergoing. This period of radical cultural change was shaped by popular attitude regarding sex - as expressed by famous singer Tina Turner - "What's love got to do with it?" Indeed, love and sex became synonymous, as love as a euphemism for sex is found to be common to a lot of pop music from that period.*
In the past, love used to "happen." People did not
use to MAKE love like they made wagons, wars or fortunes. Yes,
"making love" as an expression has been used centuries earlier, but
not in the sense in which it is used now. For example, Shakespeare has Macbeth
say to the murderers: "And thence it is that I to your assistance do make
love." The phrase has been used by authors as diverse as John Dryden, Henry
Fielding, Jane Austen; Thomas Hardy; Henry James and D H Lawrence.
However, until comparatively recently, the phrase meant something like this: 'to declare one's passion.' It had nothing whatsoever to do with having sex. Thus one finds in W. Somerset Maugham's 'Of Human Bondage' this interchange:
"Did he make love to you?" he asked. The words seemed to stick funnily in his throat, but he asked them nevertheless. He liked Miss Wilkinson very much now, and was thrilled by her conversation, but he could not imagine anyone making love to her.
"What a question!" she cried. "Poor Guy, he made love to every woman he met. It was a habit that he could not break himself of."
Lines like these can cause much unintentional amusement to those who don't realize that the phrase once had a very different meaning. Martin Stent* recalls having a class of A Level students howl with laughter when it got to this section of Austen's 'Emma':
.....but scarcely had she begun, scarcely had they passed the sweep-gate and joined the other carriage, than she found her subject cut up - her hand seized - her attention demanded, and Mr. Elton actually making violent love to her .....
The class were pretty amused in 'Mansfield Park' when Edmund ejaculated in Fanny's ear too, but that's another story.
Apparently, "make love" as an exclusive euphemism for having sex is a
more recent coinage. Some relate it to the period during the 60's in the US when
the anti-war movement was chanting slogans like "make love not war".
Peter Frewer's "Mrs Grundy - Studies in English Prudery" just lists
the phrase as appearing with that meaning in the late nineteenth century. Stuart
Berg Flexner in "Speaking Freely" says the twentieth, but again with
no clear citation.
Valerian's* search on an excellent cd-rom library of pre-twentieth century texts showed every single one of the more than sixty authors cited used the phrase in its earlier meaning only - without any connotation of sex whatsoever. Not even DH Lawrence adopted the sexual definition, although he used the exact phrase in his 1913 novel "Sons and Lovers." This research does not include a reasonable search on twentieth century texts to trace the current usage.
Liberation of love from marriage: The sexual revolution
One of the most significant influences of the sexual revolution was its success in securing a divorce between the presumably sacred link of love and marriage. Those who really believe that, morally, ethically, psychologically or socially, there is no essential link between love and marriage, the new marriage between love and sex was a great accomplishment. Whatever was the price, to them, it was worth. But what was the price? Higher divorce rate, infidelity, broken families, widespread teen-age pregnancy, weakened family bond, sexual promiscuity, too many unplanned pregnancy, abortion on demand, and so on. To many, especially those who believe that the relationship between love and marriage is based on the foundation of nature and morality, this is a very high price to pay. To those who do not share this perspective, they are claiming their existential right to define morality.
Technologically, we are advancing more and more toward from everything corded to cordless. In another sense, we are going cordless. We all know that newborns at their birth are connected to their mothers' womb through a cord. Indeed, this cord has to be severed for the baby to begin its human journey of independence. The severence of the cord does not mean that we forget, emotionally or socially, that cord that dries up in days leaving only a physical trace on our body. This is a mystic tie that is more than physical. It represents a bond that, many believe, has a sacred dimension connecting the baby and the womb that bore the baby..
O mankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;- reverence Allah, through whom ye demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah ever watches over you. [4/an-Nisa/1]
The Prophet (s): The womb, i.e. the blood relationship, is suspended from the Throne of Allah and announces: 'Allah will hold by him who holds by me; and Allah will cut asunder from him who cuts asunder from me'. [Narrator: Hadrat A'isha; Sahih Muslim, #6198]
Thus, to those who view life in a purposive perspective and hold the family-centered, blood relationship as sacred, the cord connecting the baby and the mother's womb extends far beyond - a big part of the suspended cord that we can't see, except possibly with our eyes closed. In this technologically advanced, modern, cordless society, we are also making transition toward another kind of cordless society. People can now live together without any marital relationship and have children. Single parenthood is becoming almost as common as the traditional parenthood. As they feel like, they can get pregnant any time and any way they wish and then they can abort the new life at will. Those newborns who get to see the light of life are so easily abandoned to foster parents or for adoption. So easily So easily fathers as well as mothers can seek divorce without little regard for the children and their life. So easily they also can relegate their parental responsibility to babysitters or daycare. No wonder that in the fairness of reciprocity, as parents send their children to daycare so routinely, senile parents are sent to the nursing homes.
Family and home used to be a place for refuge and comfort. But to make the matter worse, let alone the fathers who are more casual to walk away from a relationship or to evade parental responsibilities, even the mother's lap may not be relied as a refuge any more. The story of newborns being dumped into trash can is becoming not so uncommon. Some mothers are even murdering children as happened in the case of Susan Smith in South Carolina. Family, love, marriage, mother-child relationship - nothing seems to be sacred or essential any more. When people can satisfy all their passion and more without any relationship of meaning and permanence, why bother with all those formal and/or sacred ties? In a way, it makes sense!
Obviously, this is not an issue without controversy. While in many societies where the relationship of marriage has nothing to do with love and the family life has rendered women into no more than reproductive machines and caretakers, the other extreme is that such relationship has nothing to do with reproduction in a sacred perspective. While Dr. Karl Bowman said, "Love is an obsessive delusion that is cured by marriage". Now, it seems that the society is trying to make the statement that "marriage is an obsessive delusion that is cured by love" - that is, consensual sex and relationship.
Anyway, there might be broad agreement that the wind is blowing not in favor of love, but sex; not in favor of marriage as we used to know, but relationship. For many, love is not happening any more, we are making it. Like so many other things we are making - from cars to pencils to disposable diapers - we are making love. No wonder love - as it used to be linked with marriage, not sex - is "Gone with the wind!". If you are not aware, that's the name of one of the most famous, all-time classic movies. Toward the end of this 1939 movie, Captain Butler puts on his hat, picks up his stick and walks away from his remorseful, sobbing wife and love, saying: Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!
it is misunderstood, the gender role could be easily seen reversed in that
"Gone with the Wind" drama, without affecting the broad underlying
trend and reality of the pursuit of sexually-liberated love. It seems that
MAKING "love" has paved the way for UNMAKING of it.
*I have significantly benefited in this part from the research done at my request by Red Valerian, a former teacher of English and Martin Stent, both I came to know through an internet newsgroup.
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