So it was interesting to discover that Beyoncé Knowles and Kanye West are evidently making marriage “cool” again, at least according to a recent article in the Atlantic. I honestly don’t think there ever was a time when marriage was “cool” or uncool,” although marriage has traditionally been pretty uncool for women. And if there ever was a time when marriage might have been considered “cool,” I think it would have to be when the Supreme Court ruled last year that same-sex couples had the same right to marry as anyone else. Love is love, people. That’s cool!
But the article states that the latest musical creations of Beyoncé and Kanye are revealing “an unexpectedly complicated picture of imperfect yet committed monogamy” and giving “voice to the struggle of reconciling marriage with cultural forces and personal urges at odds with it — forces and urges both stars’ careers have until now often exemplified.”
The problem with monogamy
I think it’s great that they’re talking opening about the struggles of monogamy. It is a struggle for many people. We should be talking about it.
Beyoncé’s marriage to to Jay Z (Shawn Carter) has been plagued with rumors of infidelity while Kanye has long touted a hyper-masculinity and sexual prowess that wouldn’t quite fit into most happily-ever-after scenarios, even to sex tape-queen Kim Kardashian.
In their respective albums, Lemonade and The Life of Pablo, Spencer Kornhaber notes, the musicians ultimately decide that, despite the hard stuff of marriage:
‘Till death do us part’ really is an ideal worth striving for and that ‘For better or for worse’ can encompass some very bad things. But success also entails the effort to reach out beyond the self to something larger, not just community and religion but the well-being of children, who figure in both albums. Despite plenty of profanity and sex talk, these artists are modeling surprisingly conservative ideals about the seriousness and irreversibility of wedlock. They’re also proposing that culture can support attempts to live up to those ideals. tweet
Yes, they are “surprisingly conservative ideals,” and while I strongly believe couples should understand the seriousness of tying the knot — it’s a legal contract after all — I strongly object to the idea of marriage (“wedlock”? Ugh) being irreversible, kids or no kids.
Not only are those “surprisingly conservative ideals,” but they’re also perpetuating the shame-based model of marriage. I thought we’re already moving past that.
If staying together through infidelity is working for Beyoncé, awesome. There are many experts, such as Esther Perel, Dan Savage and Tammy Nelson, who talk about the same thing — infidelity doesn’t have to end a marriage. But that doesn’t mean it’s what everyone should do. It’s not cool to insist that marriage is irreversible no matter what — should you stay with an abuser? Even covenant marriages — the most restrictive marriages of all — don’t insist on that.
And if Kanye is wresting with the “strain, anxiety, and dread” of married life, monogamy and fatherhood, well, that isn’t the only way to be married. Which is why we wrote The New I Do.
Traditional marriage is not cool
I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around having a more traditional version of marriage being touted as “cool,” versus the many alternative versions brave people are exploring — from open to LAT to parenting to renewable marriage. Those alternatives are absolutely making marriage exciting. If you want to call that cool, fine.
But to insist that marriage is irreversible? No. To insist that “till death do us part” is an ideal worth striving for? Maybe. But if you’re going to treat each other miserably until one of you pops off, why?
Marriage isn’t something you enter into because you think, as Kanye says, “Family is super cool. Going home to one girl every night is super cool.” You can have children with someone and have a monogamous relationship without getting married; people have been doing that for millennia. Marriage gives a couple more than 1,100 legal and financial perks and protections, and it also is a social celebration. That’s it, plus whatever emotions you want to attach to it.
Perhaps Beyoncé and Kanye are just cashing in on whatever controversies surround them; why not control the script of a partner’s infidelity in this celeb-obsessed world? But I wish celebs in alt relationship arrangements would tout their lifestyle, becoming role models that prove, yes, you can have a romantic partnership or have children without following the traditional marital “until-death-do-us-part” script. Now THAT would be cool!
Want to have a cool alt marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.