By Robin Silver
“Love and Marriage,” the 1955 Frank Sinatra hit (known to later generations as the Married…With Children theme song), asserts that the two “go together like a horse and carriage.” A horse and carriage is a quaint picture, but in the 21st century, extremely outdated.
People certainly get married at a higher frequency than they ride horses any more, but is marriage just another antiquated idea that we’ve been accustomed to riding?
The answer, like the answer to all questions about human relationships, is complicated. The reasons people get married are more diverse than they used to be, as are the people who are allowed to marry.
Many people may feel disillusioned about marriage because of the high divorce statistics (though the reality is not as bleak as it may seem). As relationships evolve, and society becomes more accepting of different lifestyle choices, does marriage really make sense anymore? Since we’ve said goodbye to the horse and carriage, maybe the question is: what goes with love like a solar-powered engine?
Historical Reasons To Marry
Marriage once was the ultimate requirement for being legitimised in the eyes of society. It ensured economic security for women, who could not work, and children for the men, who needed heirs as well as labour from their progeny. The familial reasons for marriage were ultimately a business transaction. There were significant freedoms denied to unmarried women for much longer than we may think. In fact, in the United States women could not open a credit card account unless it was in their husband’s name until 1974.
Love only became a reason for marriage in the 18th and 19th centuries, due to a combination of the spread of Enlightenment philosophy’s idea of personal happiness and increased urbanisation lessening the practical necessity of having many children. Before that, in many societies, it was not seen as desirable but viewed as an ailment or madness that needed curing as quickly as possible.
Contemporary Reasons To Marry
People will still cite finances and children as practical reasons to marry today, but these arguments may not be as logically sound as they seem. Studies have proven that when controlled for factors such as socio-economic privilege, academic and behavioural achievements are not markedly different in children with married parents compared to those whose parents are cohabiting but unmarried.
The real reasons to marry in the 21st century are less tangible. One does not need a marriage licence to be committed to a lifelong relationship with their partner, but the marriage licence does provide external validation that the pair are equally committed to each other in the eyes of the government as well as everyone they know. It also makes it harder to leave—a break-up can be as painful as a divorce, but even after many years together will not have the same amount of red tape. This can be a deterrent to giving up and encourages working through the hard times a bit longer or more seriously than you might if unmarried.
Many of us imagine from an early age that getting married will provide us with a sense of safety and security. This line of thinking can be a double-edged sword; wedding bands can turn into handcuffs if there is a sense of possession, not partnership, driving the marriage. Marriage can light a fuse to unhealthy, abusive or codependent relationship patterns when one or both partners feel as if there is no escaping.
On the other hand, making the relationship official can strengthen it, even if nothing else has actually changed. Due to what psychologists have named the endowment effect, we tend to value everything higher once it becomes “ours,” and this is as true for a coffee mug as it is for a spouse. Viewing our partner as a final decision makes it more precious, not less.
So, does it make sense?
Marriage is something that you have to make sense of as an individual and as a couple. The reasons for marriage are complex and not to be taken lightly, but I believe it still has a place in today’s society. Of course, not everyone will agree. Perhaps this desire is at its core, something ingrained through society, and not a choice of free will. But even as I enter my thirties I feel no pressure to marry, only desire to commit to the one I love in the most potent capacity available to me.
Call me romantic, but despite contrary evidence and arguments, I find nothing more beautiful and precious than standing in front of your friends and family expressing your love, dedication, and intention of longevity to your partner and your partnership.