When, why, and how did romantic love become such an important factor in marriage?

We seem to take it for granted, in most developed countries, that marriage is something voluntarily undertaken by two people experiencing romantic love.

This wasn’t always the case historically, and still might not be the case in certain cultures/countries.

What changed?

That site says it started to really take off in the 1920s

Here - courtly love

I think that Stephanie Coontz is the most prominent historian of marriage right now. It’s been too long since I’ve looked at this to try to summarize the arguments, though.

From the dawn of the modern world, and even farther back, folks have been falling in love. An emotional thing. For many moons, cooler heads prevailed because it was more expedient to join dowries, herds of cattle, bloodlines, property and wealth in general. A trend began, only God knows when, but it evolved in various societies, to allow folks to choose their spouses. Slowly, slowly it caught on, as did many other trends which favour the ego and its desires.

Just to clarify Courtly love was not about marriage, it was almost exclusively extra-marital.

Pride and Prejudice (1813) had a small, very hard to detect sub-theme tying romance and marriage together. Though most of the book was a dry exposition about the finer points of British inheritance laws, it’s in there if you dig deep enough. I doubt that it introduced the concept of romantic love’s importance to marriage, nor that its original audience was shocked and surprised at the concept.

To some degree there have always been desires for love and marriage to intersect, at least among some parts of the population. It seems like for a long time in the Western world love and marriage just didn’t have a lot to do with each other, though. Ancient Romans and Greeks wrote tragedies and such about love between men and women, obviously people back then experienced love. However, they also clearly treated their wives and their marriages as functional responsibilities. A wife was akin to chattel in both Roman and Greek society, the husband had a responsibility to try and make offspring but it seems most of the time they kept up emotional relationships with people outside their marriage. If by chance an emotional bond formed in the marriage itself that was probably seen as a good thing, but it seems a lot of men and women lived without that.

As history goes forward you definitely read about people who want marriages for love but it’s the exception to the rule. And up until about 1850 it was very, very rare for anything to be written about people outside of the ruling class, so it’s possible marriage for love was a lot more common among the 90% of the population who lived and worked on farms and whose marriages didn’t determine property ownership (since their families were not propertied.)

I’ve read once an article arguing that it began during the second half of the 19th century in the newly developing urban working class, since industry workers, contrarily to the upper classes on one hand and the rural farmers on the other, didn’t have any wealth or land to protect or transmit, making arranged marriages pointless.

Thanks for that. I wish they went into a little more detail.

[quote=“Martin_Hyde, post:8, topic:613311”]

A wife was akin to chattel in both Roman and Greek society

Not really. Maybe in upper class Athens, but definitely not in Rome or Sparta.