You often hear the joke that marriage causes divorce—some broken logic that carries truth. A society without traditional marriage to regulate sexual relations, to some, is chaos. Yet, it is possible.
The Mosuo live in Western China, near the border of Tibet. They are often described as a matriarchy, although the title does not hold perfectly. Each family is led by a matriarch, but men hold political office. The Musuo participate in what is called "walking marriages." When women in the village reach puberty, they are given their own room with a door that exits to the outside. The girl is then allowed to invite any man (discreetly) to spend the night. The men enter the room of their lover after sunset and leave in the morning. Now, this should not be confused with promiscuity. What the Musuo uphold is more akin to our serial-monogamy. The relationships that are created often last for years, although they can be short and numerous.
One night the male may come to the door of his lover and find it locked. This does not mean a flat out rejection at first. However after several nights of this, the male knows that he is no longer welcome. These breakups are quick and quiet (mostly), and children and property are never disputed.
A man in this society may leave gifts for his children with his partner, but he does not raise the children. In fact, the children may never know who their fathers are.
This does not mean that the men do not raise children. When they return home, they become responsible for their sisters’ children as uncles. All mothers, sisters, and brothers live within the same household, and care one another. The Musuo also have no preference for male or female children. Instead, the family wishes to maintain a balance, so much so they will adopt to keep it. There is no fear of abandonment in this society, the young and elderly always have a family to take care of them,
This type of society makes me wonder. What if we encouraged our youths to explore love and accept more than one type of relationship? Let’s allow them take marriage for a casual stroll, and to see if they like the idea. Happiness isn’t one path; it’s allowing the choice of which path.
Andrew Oliveira is a young writer who is currently strolling about Ottawa. He spends time between his writing, entertaining his cat Atticus, worshiping his muse and partner Barbara, saving virtual worlds from a plethora of crises with the power of his thumbs, and dusting his diploma from the University of Ottawa. His poetry has been published in Bywords and in Ottawater, and he has an enthusiasm for fiction, non-fiction, and scientific writing.
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