Two Views of Marriage: Appendix
A reply to Sherif Girgis.


9. Is the only thing that someone in a loveless if honorable marriage misses out on a bloom?

10. Being in love with someone adds a unique qualitative depth to any type of experience you have with that person. The same activities done with a person other than the beloved have less value, and for anything you might care to do with another person, you have a default preference for doing it with the beloved.

11. This does not mean that the person must be capable of doing anything you might care to do, or that you might not at times value solitude. If you do not play tennis and the other does, you will be happy to let him or her play with third parties. The “maximal” does not mean you try never to have an experience without the other. It means you do not share such a comprehensive range of them (including some that are not to be had outside the relationship — see No. 14) with any other person, nor so many, and also that you could not share more or more kinds (insisting on tennis exclusivity) consistent with each other’s good and the health of the relationship.

12. You fall in love with that person. The “maximal” must be understood in relation to your other relationships.

13. A reader asks whether, by “maximal experiential union,” I mean “the maximal subjective experience of union with another” or “the union of experiences to the maximum.” I mean both: that you maximize experiences (Girgis: “joint activity”) in the sense I just defined, and also that you feel a greater sense of union (Girgis: “personal communion”) with the beloved than with any other person.

14. There is one kind of shared experience uniquely appropriate to such union, and this is sex. It differs from other shared experiences in several ways. The focus of each person’s attention and activity is the other person rather than objects such as a tennis racket and tennis ball; the focus is mutual and reciprocal and total; it integrates all the senses in their directedness toward the other; it integrates body, mind, and will in their directedness toward the other. In all these ways it befits and expresses the mutual gift of the self (as I have defined the self) in a way that playing tennis would not.

15. Besides, sexual activity, unlike tennis, forges or intensifies emotional bonds that shift loyalty away from your existing commitment. Sex outside a relationship is uniquely destructive of it.

16. I account much better than Girgis can for any thought we have that non-coital sexual acts may be adulterous.

17. People’s fantasizing or hallucinating about each other would not unite them in the sense I have defined, because they would not be having sex. (It is hard to see how my position would be vulnerable to Girgis’s “hallucination” argument even if I were a Lego-man dualist; ghostly sex still would not unify unless the ghosts actually had it, rather than fantasizing or hallucinating about it — whatever that may mean.) My view explains why a person would not regard himself as having bodily united with another once the fantasy or hallucination ended.

18. When two people speak, is their understanding of each other’s sounds a private psychological state, and would a fantasy or hallucination of conversation therefore achieve communication just as well?

19. Girgis cannot explain what difference it would make if married couples took a drug so as never consciously to experience their coital acts, as long as they shared lives enough to raise children. He says that marital sex is the “loving expression of the spouses’ permanent and exclusive commitment,” but how does this follow from his position, given that he elsewhere deems love inessential to marriage and throughout says that permanence and exclusivity are normative only because the husband and wife are a reproductive unit? Certainly the ability to have and raise children does not depend on how the man and woman feel when they have sex. It does not depend on whether they love each other at all rather than simply pretend to.

20. It is just untrue that I distinguish marital intimacy by degree alone and not by type. I distinguish it by both: as a unique kind of “personal communion” which motivates a degree of life-sharing that surpasses the life-sharing in all the individuals’ other relationships, and which is expressed through the “joint activity” of monogamous sex.

21. “Comprehensive union” is a poor definition of marriage for its indifference to degree. Girgis calls marriage a union of bodies (in his special sense), minds, and wills. Imagine a man and woman who have semiannual sex but otherwise do not see each other except on Sunday mornings to do the New York Times crossword puzzle. Do they not have Girgis’s “axes of union” covered? He cannot dodge the objection by saying that married couples must join minds and wills sufficiently to raise children, for the couple might be the man with testicular azoospermia and his wife.