I remember being a little girl (maybe 11 or 12) and drawing my perfect wedding on a piece of paper. I had it all planned out: I was going to get married on a beach somewhere in California. My dress was going to a beautiful silk gown, and my bouquet was going to be filled with lilies, after my grandmother (Lilian). I knew each and every detail apart from the man that would stand with me at the altar. I knew that someday I was going to be on that beach wearing that silk dress.
Fast forward a few years and I don’t want to be on that beach at all.
Marriage is hardwired into our culture. When we’re kids, we’re told how life works: We go to school, get jobs, and marry so that we can have kids who will repeat the process. What they don’t tell you when we’re kids is that we might end up with a few divorces along the way with children from multiple marriages. I don’t need to tell you that in today’s world divorce is becoming more common than the cold. I come from a family of divorced parents, and so do many people I know. Why has divorce become so regular? There are multiple theories; one of them being that social media and the internet has allowed people access to increased distractions. Another one blames our lack of effort to commit to long term relationships: “People aren’t putting in the work,” I’ve heard. As much as I think there are truthful elements to both of those theories, I think that as a species, we’ve always struggled with monogamy. There were fewer divorces 100 years ago because, at that time, divorce was still taboo. Unhappy marriages still existed then as they do today, however today it is a lot easier to get out of them because divorce is more widely accepted.
If we really wanted to get into the history of marriage, though, we would have to discuss that the union wasn’t always for love. Marriage was initially a business transaction where women were treated as objects. It was all about money/status. If you’re forced to marry someone you don’t find sexually attractive you’re going to want to get your needs met elsewhere. Infidelity was so common back in this time that it was almost expected. Marriage then eventually transitioned to become a union specifically for the purpose of love. If people ended up marrying those they actually wanted to marry, you’d think cheating wouldn’t be a problem anymore, right? We all know this not be the case. I’m currently reading a book called Sex at Dawn by Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan which I highly recommend. The book studies the question: “Are humans naturally monogamous?” Questions Jethá and Ryan ask are: ‘if monogamy is so natural, why do people still cheat in cultures where the punishment is stoning to death?’ And, ‘If it’s so natural, why do people risk their careers, status, family, and even Presidential standings by cheating?’ Based on anthropological, biological, and historical findings, the book suggests that no, humans are not naturally monogamous. This challenges the institution of marriage entirely.
But, what about love?
Personally, I think it’s more romantic to want to be with a partner without the expectation of marriage. Once that ring is on your finger there’s an invisible ball and chain which wraps around your foot. At first, people welcome it as they’re happily in love with their partner. As years go by though, that ball and chain can potentially start becoming a nuisance. I’m not saying this is the case for all couples, but why would you want to even chance it? I asked a man recently who had been married to his spouse for 50 years: “Would you still love her and be with her if you weren’t married?” He said: “Yes.”
My question to you is: Do you really need to prove your love by getting the government involved? If you were truly happy in your relationship, I don’t think you would. The problem is, it’s so ingrained in our culture most of us only see it from one perspective. We don’t think of the alternative. We just assume marriage is the next, and final step. We’re so wrapped up in planning the perfect wedding and saying “yes” to the dress, that we don’t fully realize the importance of “I Do.” A ring on your finger shouldn’t change anything about your relationship. The only thing it does change, minus the minor tax breaks, is if you want to get out of it. Divorce is much more complicated than a simple break up… and a lot more expensive, too.
That girl who was planning her wedding all those years ago was influenced by a culture obsessed with weddings and romance. She just wanted to be a bride. She didn’t understand the full implications of what that meant.