Section C

Finding a Marriage Partner

All humans are born into families — and families begin with the joining together of a man and a woman in marriage. All societies have their own form of marriage. The ideas that we have about marriage are part of our cultural background; they are part of our basic beliefs about right and wrong. As we study marriage, we find that different cultures have solved the problem of finding a spouse in different ways.

In traditional Chinese culture, parents made marriage decisions for their children. Parents who wanted to find a spouse for their son or daughter asked a marriage counselor (媒人) to find someone with the right qualities, including age and educational background. Older family members, who understood that the goal of marriage was to produce healthy sons, made the all-important decision of marriage. In traditional Chinese society, sons were important because they would take positions as head of the family and keep the family name alive.

As part of our cultural background, beliefs about marriage can be as different as the cultures of the world. The Hopi, a native people of North America, used to have a very different idea about freedom. The Hopi allowed boys to leave their parents' home at age thirteen to live in a kiva, a special home for young males. Here they enjoyed the freedom to go out alone at night and secretly visit young girls. Most boys tried to leave the girl's home before dawn, but a girl's parents usually did not get angry about the night visits. They allowed the visits to continue if they thought the boy was someone who would make a good marriage partner. After a few months of receiving visits, most girls were expecting a baby. At this time they could choose their favorite boy for a husband.

The Hopi culture is not the only one that allowed young people to visit each other at night. Some Bavarian people of southern Germany once had a "windowing" custom that took place when young women left their windows open at night so that young men could enter their bedrooms. When a woman was expecting, the man usually asked her to marry him. But women who were not with child after windowing were often unable to find a husband. This was because ability to bear children was a very important requirement for women in this culture, and the windowing custom allowed them to prove their ability to others in the community. Some people are surprised when they learn of this old custom because they think people of southern Germany followed the Catholic (天主教的) religion beliefs, which teach marriage is a holy right given by God in order to create children. But the windowing custom is only one example of the surprising views of marriage that have existed around the world.

One view of marriage that surprises most of us today was held by John Noyes, a religious man who started the Oneida Community in the state of New York in 1831. Noyes decided that group marriage was the best way for men and women to live together. In this form of marriage, men and women changed partners frequently. They were expected to love all members of the community equally. Children belonged to all members of the community, and all the adults worked hard to support themselves and shared everything they had. Members of the Oneida Community lived together for a while without any serious problems; however, this way of life ended when John Noyes left in 1876. Without his leadership and special way of thinking, members of the community quickly returned to the traditional marriage of one woman and one man.

A more famous example of a different style of marriage is found among the Mormons. The group's first leader, Joseph Smith, believed that a man should be allowed to have several wives. As the Mormon church grew, many of the men followed Smith's teaching and married a number of wives. The Mormons believe that it is a woman's duty to marry at a young age and raise as many children as possible. For example, in 1854, one Mormon leader became a father nine times in one week when nine of his wives all had babies. Today the Mormon church teaches that marriage should involve one man and one woman as partners who will be together not only during this life but also forever.

Today some men agree with the old custom of having as many wives as desired. Some young lovers today dream of the former freedom of the Hopi, and some wish that a marriage counselor would help them find the perfect mate. Finding a spouse with whom we can spend a lifetime has always been an important concern. Despite all these unusual traditional ways of finding a marriage partner, one idea is the same throughout the world: Marriage is a basic and important part of human life.