A real "Traditional Marriage" would be one that surely has lasted for millions of years and that was the same the entire world over for all humans. There is such a model and it not one man and one woman united to raise a family.
The Real Traditional "Marriage" was the Tribe.
Who we are as men and women was formed by this experience. The story of the real traditional mariage began more than 2 million years ago with the advent of a new proto human. Home Erectus.
HE had the first modern human body plan. She had narrow hips, enabling her to run and her babies had big brains. She lived in a hunting culture where the tribe moved a lot. She and the baby had to be mobile. How evolution solved this complex equation produced us - modern homo sapiens.
So this is why we are what we are and not what the traditionalists think. This is the real tradtion.
The Homo Erectus infant could not be carried to term as our ape cousins do. The pelvis had to be narrow to allow us to run but the dense nutrition of our new diet had expanded the size of the brain. The head would be too big to fit through the now much narrower pelvis. The evolutionary answer to this paradox was to birth the baby prematurely. HE babies and human babies are born at least 6 months premature. HE, and human, babies are totally helpless when compared to apes and other primate babies. Raising a HE baby was a much more complex job that any other ape or monkey mother would have confronted.
This then set up the next evolutionary challenge. How does a mother, who is on the move all the time, care for a helpless infant? How does she ensure that she does not have more children than she can carry or care for?
This problem was solved by long term breast feeding. Constant breast feeding suppresses fertility. Hunter Gatherers cannot afford to have lots of children. Long term breast feeding reduces fertility. Constant breast feeding for two years also ensures that the child has the most robust immune system possible. Tribes that had long intervals between children had an evolutionary advantage. Children with good immune systems, had an evolutionary advantage. Long term breast feeding was the process. Breast milk evolved as a long term diet for infants that adjusted its composition as the child aged. Also, in the pre tool era, breast milk was an easier form of feeding a child than pre chewing the food.
Once again, there is another problem that has to be solved. If all the mature women in the tribe are having children, as apes and other primates do, the demands of raising a big brain child that is slow to mature will overwhelm the tribe. Raising a complex, slow to mature advanced hominid, was too much for a single mother on her own.
This too drove an evolutionary response. In tribes where the middle aged women stopped being fertile, more kids lived until adulthood. Many closely aligned females shared the work. And so Professor Sarah Hrdy thinks menopause, a uniquely human attribute evolved. Human females are the only primate to have menopause.
And so what about the men? How did this challenging role of raising young who were helpless or of little use until maybe 8 affect men? The answer might be in how HE used sex as a social binder.
Human females are the only primates, other than bonobos, to have emotional and recreational sex. Human females do not come into estrus as all other primates do. When they are fertile, there are no visible signs. Human females can choose when they have sex and with whom. Sex was not closely linked to reproduction. With long term breast feeding, their fertility only came on in 2 or 3 year intervals. They are the only primate whose vaginas have adapted to face to face sex. Why is this so? There must be a good evolutionary reason for sex to be fun. Sex must have been used to strengthen bonds between men and women and not only for procreation. Then the question arises, was this to strengthen the pair bond or to strengthen the pair bonds?
What then is the “Traditional Family”?
From evolution’s point of view, would it be smart for a woman to place all her meat expectations and all her protection on one man? What if he was killed? Who would feed her and her children? What if she died? Who would look after her children? (Sex at Dawn by Ryan and Cacilda Jetha ) Would it be smarter to have more than one partner and so that all the children were the children of all the tribe? We can never know. But it is likely that, in a culture where there was no property and where all food was shared, that sharing partners would be the norm. The physiological set up for human sex suggests strongly that sex is a deep part of how we “groom” each other and so strengthen our social bonds.
In this case the whole tribe has to raise all the children.
As well as sharing the men, did women share the babies? Human female physiology suggests that we did. Human females, who live in groups, coordinate their estrus cycles with each other. There is a good evolutionary reason for this. It means that there are always several lactating women at all times. Should a mother die, her child can still be fed. Tribes that could do this had better evolutionary outcomes.
Many factors bond the social group intensely. Food is shared. Bodies are shared. Love is shared. Children are shared. Hunting itself is intensely bonding. As is gathering and communal food preparation.
So what about health and aging? In such a small group, was there room to spend 20 years looking after granny? Here is where Michael Rose’s Plateau comes into view.
In a group of 35 people, that moved all the time, there is no room for grandpa and grandma to retire, get feeble and need to be looked after. In a group of 35, with 16 young, it is also vital to keep the key knowledge intact about where the water is, what plants will heal, where the game goes, what the stories are and all the vast repertoire of hunting and gathering lore that we cannot imagine today. We talk of skills today and have no comprehension of the skills needed to hunt and gather. In tribes where the old were active and contributors, the next generation survived.
Here is the most important evolutionary outcome of all. We, as Professor Michael Rose makes clear, are designed to grow old as fit, healthy and active people. Yes, we will get wrinkles and go grey. But we are designed to age well. Tribes where the old were not well, did not last.
So as the institutions of the modern age wither and die, we may well be forced to consider this model again. For we need more than a stressed out couple or single person to raise a child. We cannot just ship dad off to the home. We cannot afford to all live alone.
I see some form of this real traditional model coming back - what about you?