Sunday, October 01, 2006

Shadow love

I watched Memoirs of a Geisha. The story is of the geisha houses in Gion and love between a poor young girl sold to an okiya (geisha house) and a wealthy and powerful man she meets as a child.

One of the things that struck me immediately is the description of geishas as shadow wives. They are an alternative to arranged marriages, an acceptable choice for men of money and power who must marry as their families dictate, not for love but for privilege, money, land, etc. These men find love with geisha, the wives of the evening. In many countries, it is acceptable to have a mistress, or several mistresses, when trapped in a loveless and/or arranged marriage. Even priests, cardinals and even popes had mistresses, although their religious vows dictated they must be chaste and celibate (not married). Kings, dukes, and all the royalty, unless they were lucky enough to fall in love with their chosen brides, kept mistresses. Even men lower on the social and financial ladder kept mistresses and it was acceptable. In America that is different.

You would think a country that began as a penal colony, land for sons who could not inherit and haven for people seeking religious freedom would be more tolerant in their views of liaisons outside of marriage. The Puritans certainly didn't have a problem with mistresses, although they were more into wife swapping than keeping mistresses. The only taboo was getting another man's wife pregnant, and vice versa. Many of the religious groups throughout our country's history believed in free love. Louisa May Alcott's father was minister to a group of such religious separatists who founded a colony based on free love, not unlike the hippie communes in the 60s.

However, as Judge Roy Bean once said, there is none so zealous and pious as a reformed whore. We seem to go through these free love purges from time to time, but it's like sticking a lid on a boiling pot. Eventually, the lid flies off and the boiling water overflows. We go from one extreme to the other: free love and then no love.

Many look at the decadent Europeans and other "barbaric" countries and their social practices of arranged marriage, pleasure districts and shadow wives and sneer. We should embrace these practices and allow men and women trapped in convenient marriages or financial marital liaisons to find the love they so richly deserve. It need not bother their wife or their children but should instead be seen as a healthy alternative to a difficult problem. One spouse retains social position and financial stability, as well as the name, and the other spouse spends time with the love of their life.

Mistaking lust for love and fearing loneliness, too many people marry without really taking the time to know the person to whom they pledge their life and fortune. We don't have arranged marriages, per se, but they are arranged all the same, for financial gain, financial stability, procreation and many other bread and butter reasons that are mistaken for love. Then lust fades, along with the endorphins and raging hormones, and all that is left is a deteriorating relationship between two people who are disillusioned and forced to ride it out or sneak around. There are children now or responsibilities and there are the wedding vows: Until death do you part. No wonder there are so many spouses murdering each other. It's that boiling pot again.

There are too few options and too much stigma attached to finding solace and love outside marriage. Maybe it's time we took the lid off the boiling pot before someone gets hurt. The ideal of love is attainable and can be sustained, but often it is not within the marital state. It takes maturity and experience and having lived life to realize the true meaning of love. Like rice in the boiling pot, it takes time and water to turn those hard kernels into soft, fluffy, edible rice. Without the right ingredients and sufficient time, you end up with rice flavored water full of hard kernels of rice or a mess all over the stove.

That is all. Disperse.

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