The November issue of The Atlantic has an article, "All the Single Ladies," speaking about marriage in today's Western world from a woman's perspective. It is a good read, and if you are a single male it is a must. The writer, Kate Bolick, is successful, gorgeous (when I saw her picture on the front cover I thought she was a model), a woman in a marriageable age that has an abstract desire to maybe be part of a couple, and yet continues to seek something elusive, just like many of us, not clear on exactly what we would give up our empovered single life for.
Bolick interviews and quotes Stephanie Coontz, who wrote a book, "Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage." I have not read it. The point seems to be that love in marriage is a relatively recent thing. Bolick expands on this in the article, saying that marriage in the past was functional, something more like a business proposition than an expression of sentiment.
I have heard this before, and it is true that marrying someone because we like them and want to have that person in our lives is a product of the 20th century. The reason for this is progress. The desire to build relationships this way has always been there, only the ability is new. You can see this from the romantic love stories of the past, both real ones and fictional ones. For instance, from the middle ages we have the story of Abelard and Heloise and the poem of Romeus and Juliet, and from the greeks the most classical story of Paris and Helen. In Native American and Oriental folklore, I have heard several examples of young lovers paying the ultimate price for their stupidly romantic feelings.
I want to go even further back to the oldest story of all: Adam and Eve. (Assuming the bible is older than the legends informing The Illiad, which I know is not a given.) In the garden of eden, when Adam chose to eat from the apple after Eve did, and then side with her against god (by hiding with her), he violated the first commandment and like all other young lovers after him, paid dearly. So much so that, according to the legend, not just Adam, but all his descendants, had to pay the price. In my copy of the bible, this happens on the 4th page. I cannot think of either an older or a more dramatic expression of love between spouses.