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1Nirali PatelIntroduction to Cultural AnthropologyFebruary 22, 2010Recitation Section: Mondays at 11:00Trial Marriages: !Kung vs. United StatesThe !Kung have an institution called a “trial marriage.” A trial marriage “involves a simulated marriage situation—a rehearsal for the real thing—in which a couple lives together, often for a set length of time, before making a real commitment” (Wallechinsky and Wallace). Usually, if the couple wishes to separate after the trial marriage, it is easy for them to do so without a feeling of failure or bad conscience. Dissolving a committed marriage is far more difficult. If the prospective bride has a child or is pregnant at the end of the trial period, marriage may be obligatory in some cultures. Margaret Mead, the noted anthropologist, suggests a two-stage marriage. “The first stage, individual marriage, would involve a commitment between two people, who would agree not to have children. Easy to dissolve, individual marriage would last as long as both spouses wanted it to. The second stage, parental marriage, based on the intent to have children, would involve far more; the couple would have to show that they could support a child, would go through a formal ceremony, and would be expected to stay together for life” (Wallechinsky and Wallace).Trial marriage compares to some social relationships in modern day United States. Trial marriage best compares to a couple in an out-of-wedlock relationship living together. Marriage isfalling out of fashion. “Once the most popular living arrangement for couples, marriage is being overlooked by a growing number attracted to cohabitation” (Cohabitation: Trial Marriage or Lack of Commitment?). Many couples are selecting a substitute or “trial alternative” to marriage.As a result, marriage is becoming more like buying a car—people want a “test drive” before they
2sign the dotted line. The reasons for choosing a “trial marriage” are varied. Some people feel it isnot the right time for marriage while others think living together is the best insurance against divorce. Cohabiting has become a norm in modern United States. “The number of marriages preceded by cohabitation rose from about 10 percent in 1965 to over 50 percent by 1994” (Cohabitation: Trial Marriage or Lack of Commitment?).In the book, Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Women, by Marjorie Shostak, Nisa explains how a woman can marry more than once in her lifetime; a !Kung girl is actually marriedseveral times before she stays with one man. These are trial marriage; the women are too young to want the marriage and usually are the ones to end it. “If a girl is determined that she will neverfeel any affection for her husband she can insist on ending the marriage... Most !Kung experience one long-term marriage, although most are also married more than once. Dissolution of marriages by divorce is quite common. It usually occurs during the first few years of a