Sunday Lifestyle

To marry or not to marry?

MANO-A-MANO - Adel Tamano -

In 1838, Charles Darwin faced the biggest question of his life: To marry or not to marry. He was in his 20s at the time, the proper marrying age in British Victorian society, and he had just finished his five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle, an English surveying vessel, as the ship’s naturalist. His adventures all over the globe, collecting thousands of biological specimens and studying animals and plants from the islands in the Indian Ocean to Brazil and Chile, among others, would be the basis of his book On The Origin of Species.

That book, published in 1859, would change the course of scientific history with the groundbreaking theory of natural selection. But in spite of Darwin’s intellectual abilities and his experience as a globe-trotting adventurer, he was nevertheless filled with fear and doubt at the greatness of his decision to marry or not.

So he did what any reasonable scientist would do when placed with a huge problem: he applied tools of scientific analysis by making a matrix of the costs and benefits of marriage. On one column he wrote “marry” or the reasons one should enter marriage and on another column he wrote “not marry.”

On the negative column he wrote, “not forced to visit relatives” and “the expense and anxiety of children — perhaps quarreling.” Additionally, he wrote and underscored it twice for emphasis — “loss of time.” Interestingly, the concerns of a 19th-century English Victorian single man pretty much mimic the concerns of many modern single Filipino men. The loss of personal time and changes in lifestyle with the burdens of children and family responsibility can be a strong disincentive against marriage.

However, Darwin saw many positives of marriage as well. On the plus column he wrote, “object to be beloved and played with.” While a seemingly poignant and sublime sentiment, his additional point somewhat diminished it when he wrote, “better than a dog anyhow.” In addition, he listed as an argument for marriage, “home and someone to take care of house — charms of music and female chit-chat. These things are good for one’s health.”

Most importantly, and I think this ultimately swayed his decision to marry, he wrote, “My God, it is intolerable to spend one’s whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, and nothing after all. No, no won’t do. Imagine living all one’s day solitary in smoky dirty London House.”

Again, how interesting it is to see the timelessness and universality of the reasons men choose to marry: for female companionship, for the sharing of the joys and concerns of life. As Darwin put it, succinctly but so enticingly in the “marry” column, “Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, and books, and music.” 

As shown by Darwin, getting married was not a simple matter. Yet despite the complexities, problems, and challenges of marriage, the institution has existed since the dawn of mankind. Christian writers state that marriage, the union between man and wife, is a natural institution, a practice universal to all cultures. In fact, Catholics view marriage on an even grander scale. It is not only a natural institution but a supernatural one. Catholics view marriage as one of the seven sacraments — baptism, penance, Eucharist, confirmation, matrimony, anointing the sick, and holy orders. It is not a mere contract, agreement, or relationship between a man and a woman but a union with profound spiritual and religious significance. According to Christians, the purpose of marriage, aside from the sacramental purpose, is two-fold — procreation and marriage.

In Islam, similar to the concept of sacrament in Catholicism, marriage and the love between a man and woman is one of the signs of God’s divine presence.

In the Koran, Islam describes the closeness between spouses in this manner: “They are your garment as you are their garment.” A sublime garment bringing protection, warmth, and security, very much like the “nice soft wife” envisioned by Darwin is a comforting way to look at our spouses and to understand a telos, or natural purpose, of marriage. As a Muslim man, I have often taken great comfort, particularly in times of personal difficulty, in the idea that the feeling of love towards my wife is a manifestation of God’s physical presence in my life. Simply, how wonderful it is that I get to experience God’s presence on a daily basis because I am married.

In the end, Darwin made the right choice of marrying Emma Wedgewood. Throughout the controversies of Darwin’s scientific findings and theories, he always had his “nice soft wife” to comfort and support him. Far from living a settled and comfortable life, Darwin’s was a difficult and exciting one, filled with the great controversy of his theory of evolution, with some scientists and theologians castigating and personally attacking him for the then unthinkable idea that perhaps man and the great apes had some common ancestry.

Perhaps that is the great lesson in Darwin’s decision to marry: that the purpose of marriage isn’t simply procreation but rather creation — creating a life that is shared, sharing the burdens and joys of life, and ultimately lifting it from the mere survival of the fittest to a true human life.

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