Having been intrigued by the question, “Thinking of your own life, what types of relationships would you want to be regulated by a contract?” I immediately thought of the obvious: strictly professional relationships. Duh, any place of work needs a set contract in order to maintain order and efficiency within the business. But when my peers started answering with things like, “relationships, marriage, and families,” it surprised me.
First of all, what even is a contract? As defined by Hobbes in the Leviathan, contracts are “a mutual transferring of right.” He emphasizes that within the state of nature, everyone has the right to everything, except for the limited rights that the civil society creates. We all have natural contracts with each other, kind of like a give-and-take relationship. Does that mean everything is a social contract? When looking at the dictionary definition, Google says a contract is “a written or spoken agreement, especially one concerning employment, sales, or tenancy, that is intended to be enforceable by law.” After reading that definition, my mind automatically goes towards employment and businesses, just like it says. So why have a contract within a relationship? A contract for a marriage too? Is a contract only a contract if it’s enforceable by law?
Let’s look at an example of a contract that was made for a relationship. In this article, A Contract for My Future Boyfriend, Jessica Poter plans out what she wants before she even meets a boy, outlining her demands for the relationship before it starts. This brings a different way of looking at what a contract is to the table. Coinciding more with Hobbes’s definition, Poter’s plan creates a bound for mutual agreement: If he doesn’t text, “haha” then she won’t, if he contributes to the payment on dates then she will, etc. I particularly find section V amusing, where she states, “Kisses and spooning are mandatory aspects of The Relationship. Beyond that, this contract leaves Physical Affection to the discretion of both parties, as this contract chooses to play coy.” Do couples actually do this? I understand that talking about boundaries and having an unspoken contract between parties is a necessity for a successful relationship, but having a physical contract seems too far-fetched to me. So why have a contract?
Maybe Hobbes knows the reason.
According to Hobbes, prior to the Social Contract, man lived in the State of Nature where life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” and where man lived in constant fear and selfishness. The point of creating a social contract was to conquer the natural desire for security and order to avoid this awful state. In order to achieve the desired state of self-preservation and self-protection, they “voluntarily surrendered their rights and freedoms” to the authority. When “social contract” is used in modern day, most don’t think of it as a way to overcome the natural state of man. But it makes sense. Couples use contracts to ensure that a level of trust is there, and use it as a way to define mistakes that they aren’t allowed to make.
Even if you don’t create a legal contract for your friends when you make them or have your fiance sign a social contract at your wedding, the unspoken contract is still there. Even though Google doesn’t include a social aspect in their definition, social contracts are a part of everyone’s lives today, whether or not they may realize it.
Is anything not contracted?