If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee, give recompense.
. . .
So says Anne Bradstreet to Simon after many years of marriage, a marriage that involved uprooting and resettlement in the wilderness, troubles and hardship in those first years, and eventually, a snug house sheltering their family of eight children.
What do we know about their relationship? Anne's several love poems to Simon tells us, resoundingly, that theirs was a very happy marriage. We know that Anne married quite young for her time and social status; she was only seventeen, as opposed to the usual marrying age for women of about 24. Simon was a decade older than she. She must have known him first as her father's friend, since he came into their household newly graduated from college (and she a child then) to serve as her father's assistant. After several years, Anne's family moved away, and it appears (from the historical record) that Anne and Simon had little contact with each other until they suddenly got married. In reality, they could have had regular contact with each other. They were both part of a highly interconnected religious subculture that (it appears to me) involved a lot of what we might call "networking" today. Her prominent family likely had regular visits from other puritans, and one can imagine an old family friend like Simon dropping by whenever his business took him through their town.
It is quite possible they were not in love with each other when they married. The going idea of that time was that one sought a spouse to whom one was well suited -- in temperament, in social standing, in economic benefit. You looked for someone whom you could learn to love in time. It rather reminds me of how we go about choosing a career these days. You need a job to pay the bills, yes? And it should be suited to your talents. And you don't want to do something you absolutely hate. So keep that in mind as you choose a career, we counsel our children. If you just have to be an actor -- sigh -- then have a day job that will pay the bills.
Parents of the seventeenth century would be counseling their children in a similar way. Choose someone suited to you whom you think you can learn to love. How did those marriages work out? Maybe about as well as our system. Many declarations of affectionate love between long-married spouses exist from that century. We don't have a wide enough window into that century to determine what percentage were happy, or not. Some were miserable. Some, like Anne and Simon, were happy. I suspect most were in between.
I can feel how unhappy you are about this idea of marrying someone you aren't in love with. Sure, it's possible that Anne and Simon were madly, madly! in love when they married. A popular way to interpret certain parts of Anne's autobiography is that they were so attracted to each other that the marriage was rushed, and that's why Anne married so young. I don't agree, and perhaps I'll talk about why I don't agree in another post later on.