“You don’t marry someone you can live with; you marry someone you can’t live without.”
For many of us these days, marriage has come to represent the ultimate romantic declaration (and proof) of love and commitment. Yet marriage is based on a contract, conceived for the purpose of securing assets, protecting blood lines, and even saving us mortals from a life of supposed sin. Arranged marriages, and even marriages by proxy are still in the picture today, although I personally cannot imagine participating in either. Because it’s not very romantic, is it? Yet the truth is, for most of its history, marriage was not linked to love. You wanted understanding and connection, you went to your friends and family. You wanted intimacy and love, you went to your lover(s). Even popes did!
On the secular side of things, I’m thinking that we have enough contracts to cover issues related to finances, legitimacy of children, parental obligations, etc…so no real need to bring love into it. On the religious side, I’m thinking if love between two people is worthy of being blessed by a deity, then it follows this love is something very beautiful…hardly a sin. So…either
people are sinning, in which case they are not loving, or else they’re loving, in which case they’re not sinning!
So…if we’re not marrying for financial or other strictly practical reasons, then we’re marrying for love. But if we’re marrying for love, why do we need to get married? Or would want to for that matter? It’s what everyone else does, so why not be different? And all that contractual stuff associated with it kinda puts a dent in the romance, doesn’t it?
Well…not really. People get offended over pre-nups as it is, so it’s unlikely most non-married couples will gleefully rush to their attorney and ask to sign a contract over assets and offspring. Marriage does provide a rather elegant opportunity to clarify legal stuff, without a pre-nup even. And yes, it may not be entirely romantic in this one aspect, but it’s still sweet (and
useful!) when two people are willing to take on that level of responsibility, essentially saying “honey, if we should turn into ogres and hate each other, here’s how we’ll deal with getting away as efficiently and fairly as possible”. It’s really nothing to get all that worked up over. Seriously.
Since weddings are happy occasions (one would hope!), they provide an opportunity for families and friends to get together and celebrate a union. The ceremonies involved, be they secular, religious or both, help maintain traditions and forge bonds. A wedding is a memorable event, as long as the food is fairly decent. As for traditions, it is up to us to not only maintain them, but also change them by adding our own personal touch so as to eliminate the offensive bits.
Ultimately, it seems to me the choice to get married or not is a matter of personal beliefs, and cultural context. I happen to love sparkly things, dresses and a party where I get to be the center of attention. Mention marriage and I giggle, see a ring and a proposal on bended knee, a beautiful ceremony, flowers, teary-eyed guests, great food, great music, me dancing around. I see presents, smiles, happiness in pink and gold clouds…to be followed by years and years of falling asleep with toes touching, waking up with kisses, sharing bread and butter in the morning with someone only I (and proudly!) get to call my husband.
And I also thoroughly welcome the clarification of status in a social context that marriage provides. The alternatives to wife available to describe who I am in a committed relationship are confusing and irritating. I’m no longer 16, so I’ve kind of outgrown the girlfriend thing. I’m also not a companion, which conjures images of drooling dogs and nursing homes. The significant other isn’t necessarily me, as it could quite accurately describe one’s dentist, lawyer or accountant. The partner role requires an explanation too…no, not a business partner, bowling partner or yoga partner…a life partner (and then only to get that look of “oh, so why aren’t you married”!) And if nothing is mentioned, being introduced by my first name doesn’t answer the next question ”why are you here next to this person”. I could be a friend, or cousin, co-worker, or nanny, depending on where you want to go with this.
But that’s just me. If I’m in a committed relationship to begin with, I don’t see marriage as adding any unpleasantness to the deal. I like all the fuss over weddings, I like clarity in name-calling, I like the opportunity to uphold a tradition and personalize it at the same time, and the bit about legal responsibilities doesn’t hurt either. And btw., being someone’s wife, or mother to my kids for that matter, doesn’t in any way threaten my identity as an individual. I see all this unique name-calling as adding to my life and enhancing who I am, not limiting me with nasty stereotypes.
What I do have a problem with is the idea some have that marriage is a flawed construct by default, one that takes happy couples in happy relationships and magically turns most of them, against their will, into miserable creatures, condemned for eternity unless they can afford a good lawyer. I also have a problem with marriage being used as an excuse for people to get lazy about relationship maintenance, as some take it for granted that their partner will stick around no matter what, else face the wrath of the gods…not to mention be rendered homeless and penniless for all intents and purposes. And finally, I have a problem with marriage being used as a means to enforce unhealthy and thoroughly outdated gender roles (where women are usually victimized in some way) or else legitimize the right to share a life for some couples and not others.
Marriages fail because relationships fail, not because there’s something wrong with marriage per se. If a relationship is problematic at the core, if the dynamic isn’t right, no matter what the structure, be it a dating arrangement, committed relationship, or marriage…it’s heading for failure and will fail. In the case of marriage, strong religious and social considerations might hold a couple ‘together’ longer (or for a lifetime) when in reality, there’s no togetherness. And that seems to me fundamentally wrong. The most ‘sacred’ of unions, if we are to take that route, should be happy, and honest, and beautiful …not described by misery, resentment and stagnation, or held together by guilt and fear.
As for relationship maintenance, we often hear marriage described in terms of ‘settling down’…which expression rather frightens me. I get that it’s intended to indicate a level of maturity and accountability…but then, call it those things. A relationship isn’t about settling, it’s about creating an adventure, about giving willingly and with pleasure, about loving without turning into a control freak, about sharing without fear or prejudice, about being kind, honest, forgiving,
gracious, grateful, respectful, empathetic, gentle, consistent, open-minded and passionate. (Wait, did I just step into La-la land here? Oh well, so be it…I’m a romantic optimist!)
In some cases, people also get married imagining the commitment will be taken more seriously now that they’ve got secular and divine entities involved. And maybe marriage does enhance the sense of responsibility for people, which frankly isn’t such a bad thing. But if a piece of paper and various deities ready to strike are absolutely required for validation, then the commitment isn’t all that genuine now, is it? Who would want to be involved in any way with someone if the idea is that unless this person is shackled and afraid of dire consequences (like losing the house or burning in hell for all eternity), we believe he/she would rather be somewhere else, and with someone else?
Personally, I’d like to keep marriage linked to romance, a choice which should be available to all couples; a choice that publicly celebrates an existing commitment, and in the contractual sense, adds some layers of connection between two people who should prove beneficial to both…and make sharing a life, not to mention filling out forms, a bit easier.
As for what happens between two lovers, that’s their deal, and belongs to them alone. I’d have to agree with the opinion of someone whose opinions I seek and greatly value, that as much as I like the idea of a huuuuge party and sharing my happiness with friends and family, a personalized ceremony between two people alone seems to me the ultimate romantic event. Of course, a special ring and a special dress would have to be involved…and a party sometime afterwards…you know, for the presents!
So, to conclude this rather long piece…my hope is that marriage and love will continue to grow into even merrier partners; that people will choose to commit because they want to give and create happiness, not take, change or cage a partner; that couples will choose to stay together because they ‘fit’, create challenge and growth, nurture passion and connection at every level…and NOT to merely secure a convenient existence, one that turns really stagnant and really suffocating really fast. I also hope that marriage will outgrow its unfortunate use a tool for control, an excuse for complacency, a means to secure some sort of status for its own sake, or grounds for discrimination among loving couples.
And finally, a toast to all the happy couples out there…married or not…considering this issue…may you create and share beautiful dreams!
PS. Oh and about those rings…please do make sure the rocks are fair trade. Maybe it’s not always a guarantee, but every bit of responsible buying helps.