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Essence of French Marriage?

Requiem for truth in advertising.

By Lee Tydings  |  December 4, 2008

Ah, la belle France!  The thought of France gladdens the heart of every romantic.  For a hundred years, French culture and Parisian style have defined all that is romantic and sexy.

Alas, these days may be coming to an end.  There is nothing less romantic than lying and deceit.  Back in July, we reported on a French divorce, triggered because the bride had lied to the groom in claiming that she was a virgin.  The groom asked for a divorce on the grounds of premarital deception.  BBC reported:

Under the French civil code, a marriage can be annulled if a spouse has lied about an "essential quality" of the relationship - in this case virginity.

The lower court agreed with the groom and dissolved the marriage; the bride accepted the ruling, and said she wanted to put it behind her and get on with her life.

The BBC follow-up explained that the French government had asked that the case be re-opened:

Justice Minister Rachida Dati ordered a review of the verdict, which was referred to in some quarters as "a real fatwa against the emancipation of women" and "a ruling handed down in Kandahar".

The higher court reversed the decision to annul the marriage.  BBC reports that the couple is now effectively married again even though both partners had said that they had accepted the original judgment and thought of themselves as not being married.

This is rather unlike the situation the US where under "no-fault divorce" either party may leave a marriage for any reason, or none at all.  In this case, the French court said that the bride's lying about her virginity was not a valid reason to dissolve the marriage even though the groom had stated before the marriage that her virginity was essential to him.

In America, marriage means essentially nothing because either party can end it at any time.  In France, marriage seems to mean something, but it's not clear what.

The law permitting a spouse to dissolve a marriage if the other party has lied about an "essential quality" remains in place, but this precedent seems to indicate that virginity is by definition not an "essential quality" regardless of the beliefs of either party - and if that's not an essential quality if the couple believe it to be, it's hard to imagine what is.

Confusion of Roles

It's pretty clear that modern men and women have no real idea what to expect from each other.  The article "Love in the Time of Darwinism", published in the Autumn 2009 issue of City Journal was written in response to an earlier article which criticized men for not wanting to take on adult responsibilities of marriage.  After receiving an impressive volume of scathing comment from men, the (female) author wrote:

But the truth is that my correspondents' objections gave me pause. Their argument, in effect, was that the SYM [single young man] is putting off traditional markers of adulthood-one wife, two kids, three bathrooms - not because he's immature but because he's angry.  He's angry because he thinks that young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging.  He's angry because he thinks that the culture disses all things male.  He's angry because he thinks that marriage these days is a raw deal for men.

The old rules of a man dating a woman with the goal of deciding whether or not to marry her may have been limiting to both parties, but they were simple to follow.  Throughout millennia of history women were dependent on men for food and shelter.  Being dependent on a man meant that there would be children, so natural selection favored women who were able to persuade men to feed them and care for them and for their children.

Times have changed, however, as City Journal reports:

By the time men reach their twenties, they have years of experience with women as equal competitors in school, on soccer fields, and even in bed.  Small wonder if they initially assume that the women they meet are after the same things they are: financial independence, career success, toned triceps, and sex.

But then, when an SYM [single young man] walks into a bar and sees an attractive woman, it turns out to be nothing like that.  The woman may be hoping for a hookup, but she may also be looking for a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome, or a temporary place to live.  She may want one thing in November and another by Christmas.

Experience shows that if you don't know what you want, you're not likely to get it.  In the old days, a woman wanted a man who would assume his duty to support her in return for her assuming her duty to care for him and for his house; love and a meaningful relationship were very much optional, but could and frequently did evolve out of dutiful marriage.

If a women wants something other than traditional marriage, there aren't any tested guidelines out there because women's independence is such a new phenomenon.  If she's actually looking for a husband, however, it's rather simple to explain that to any man she meets, preferably before the first date.

To oversimplify, it a woman wants to get married, she should say so, explain that she wants a man to stay with her instead of playing with her.  She should then follow up by asserting that she understands the duties of marriage and that she plans to fulfill them even if the law no longer requires that she do so.

If a woman wants to hang out with a man or men but doesn't want to get married, however, she's on her own in uncharted territory. Even non-traditional publications are realizing, more and more, that the new "rules" or lack thereof may not be working out so well for anyone.