A Case Against Marriage

When are you going to get married?
When are you going to get married?
When are you going to get married?

Fuck, is that question annoying. While it may be an innocent question for some, it implies that one cannot be content unless committing for eternity, a vow often not fulfilled by many who take the plunge. Marriage is an institutionalized union, an arrangement, more often than not, about property and a social license to breed. It ain’t a coincidence its called “wedLOCK”.

Much popular culture pushes this idea of marriage as a requirement for fulfillment. I lost count how many films attempt to sell the idea, deeming a wedding and kids at the end as a “happy ending”. It’s the equivalent of the cheesy ending when a crowd suddenly surrounds and applauds a kissing couple. Examples include movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and recently, Wedding Crashers and many Bollywood movies, where those characters who are skeptical and reluctant, suddenly crave nodding approval from those around them.
I’ve always believed love is dangerous, uncertain, and passionate. Unfortunately, many just want a guarantee since they fear being alone. Faith in commitment suggests lack of faith in love.

Social Pressure: Marriage as a Goal

There have been enough self-help books with tips on how to snag a spouse, and pop culture as mentioned above, but little compares to the pressure and judgement applied by family and friends who are often married themselves. At first it seems to be concern for one’s lack of companionship, yet often I suspect is also to validate their own decision to marry.

Those in long term unmarried unions are often deemed “irresponsible” by some, while those recently married are celebrated. It’s not surprising many succumb to the pressure, just to shut up the “concerned” critics.

The Wedding

A money pit for many, to glorify two people who found a steady fuck and needed a stamp of approval from the state and/or a religion. An entire industry of wedding attire, hosting, floral, jewelry, and catering has flourished to milk the greatest profit from those deciding to take that plunge. Of course, the amount of love is proportional to the size of the diamond ring!

Let’s not forget those invited must purchase a gift for “the happy couple”, grin and stand in awe of the two placed on a pedestal. “How wonderful!”.. “A Toast!”..“Let’s line dance!” bleh.. Let’s not forget travel, attire for the wedding party and a dull ceremony while waiting for the reception. At least the booze eases the pain somewhat.

Those who enjoy being surrounded by friends and loved ones can always throw a party, make it potluck, and “bring-your-own-booze”, instead of filling the pockets of a wedding industry which is pretty useless in the big scheme of things.

The In-Laws

Strange people who one didn’t choose to unite with, come along with the package. The argument “The union of two families” sound medieval, a relic from a time when the pretense of a love motive wasn’t concocted, and it was regarded as a transaction, often involving property in exchange for “a hand in marriage”.

After the marriage nags often come the “When are you having kids?” nag, like the main purpose of two people marrying was to supply grandkids to some meddling busybodies.

The Roles

One time, I was talking to a friend who is married to a person who’s name I know, referred to her as “The Wife”. I found it curious yet it gave me a hint of how many take on roles and labelled instead of being just people. What’s also interesting is that if another was labelled as “lover”, it implies to many something illicit, often outside of a so-called committed relationship. Funny that such label would suggest as much since the word “lover” comes from the word love.

Gender roles (and gender entitlements) are often reinforced through the institution to those who give it high regard. This can create a climate for power struggles when one sees the other encroach on their perceived dominion: “Know your place!”

Sex: Monogamy guaranteed?

Infidelity is becoming so common place that a TV show is devoted on catching “cheaters” in the act. While the issue whether humans are inherently monogamous or not is debatable (will be covered in a future article), what is clear is that marriage doesn’t guarantee monogamy. Vows taken long ago are not carved into the soul, and conditions change.

Sex is an important part of physical intimacy, yet it may be placed second to “The Marriage” (read commitment). The cliched gags about sexless marriages from comics often elicit laughter, suggesting many relate to the sad joke.

The Children

All living organisms seem to breed fine without marriage, yet some have this need to have offspring “legitimized” as if somehow it was shameful to do so without it. And for those who want to guarantee a two parent household for their children, see below.

Divorce: A Flip of a Coin Away

So much for the guarantee! Often those who were in the greatest rush to marriage, make sure to exact a heavy price to the other who may have been more reluctant. Child custody, support and alimony are often subject to gender bias and bitter disputes involving the courts. Is it really that surprising that many are reluctant to consider this condition?

Feelings of inadequacy and shame may arise due to the Success/Failure dichotomy attached to the marriage label, instead of simply acknowledging a lack of compatiblility.

A Critique of the Institution

I give no higher regard to a married couple than an unmarried one and vice versa. Those in loving unions that happen to be married, might likely snicker in amusement and not take offence at this critique, since love, that passionate etherial quality that poets struggle to describe, is their strongest connection.

Those who give high regard to commitment, documentation, property and antiquated notions of “decency” might likely object most.

[Related post: The Myth of Male Power ]

Other resource: Co-Habitation FAQ

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22 Responses to “A Case Against Marriage”

  1. ‘the other half’ is another expression I detest.

    I’ve never felt the urge to marry or procreate and have, for many years, fielded the inevitable comments, ‘oh you’ll change your mind when you meet the right one’. Well folks, I still ain’t changed my mind!!

  2. hehe.. yeah.. like we’d eventually break down and do it to accomodate their expectations. Glad to find a kindred spirit. 🙂

    The social pressure can get irritating, and that’s what inspired this post: “Join us… joinnnn ussssss” 😉

  3. “All living organisms seem to breed fine without marriage”

    Whoa, that’s a pretty jaded view. I’d like to think I am above swine and baboons, but apparently not.

    I’d also like to think the purpose of marriage is not procreation. I agree that it’s annoying to hear “when are you going to get married AND HAVE CHILDREN” like the one necessitates the other.

    If you don’t want to get married, that’s fine and dandy. Just don’t expect fulfilment in a sucession of empty, sexual relationships any more than in a marriage for the wrong reasons.

  4. To many, one of the reasons to get married is “to start a family” (have children). That may not be the case for you, but I’ve heard it enough times as a reason given.

    “If you don’t want to get married, that’s fine and dandy. Just don’t expect fulfilment in a sucession of empty, sexual relationships any more than in a marriage for the wrong reasons.”

    Each can decide what fulfills them. The presumption in the above is that one can’t have a deep profound intimate long term love affair without getting hitched. I’ve been in one for over ten years now and we’re not married.

    I critique the institution, and the expectations that many take to heart. Couples united primarily by love is what I am arguing for, whether married or not (see the last section). Marital status has no relevance to me.

    Thank you for your comment.

  5. I LOVE this! Thank you…seems there’s a lot of this going around. Check out my blog for some interesting posts: Married People are Weird and Is Marriage Out of Style?

    Married People are Weird!!!
    http://mssinglemama.wordpress.com/2008/02/13/married-people-are-weird-for-the-most-part/

    and Is Marriage out of Style?
    http://mssinglemama.wordpress.com/2008/01/03/is-marriage-out-of-style/

  6. Thanks for the comment, I’ll check out your blog and comment there. 🙂

  7. Amen… well argued from the perspective of a happily single commitment phobe…

  8. Lets assume that children need to be parented by representatives from both genders in order to develop their personality in a way which makes the best evolutionary and sociological sense.

    Following from this assumption is the present day idea of parenting by both a mother and a father engaged in a typical relationship model, officially called a family and legally bonded by a marriage. Also, a repercussion of our assumption is the fact that allowing single individuals to raise children does not make the best possible sense. From my argument so far follows the deduction that marriage makes a the best evolutionary and sociological sense for our children.

    After all, if you do not even think or feel that you can stay with your partner indefinitely, you should not raise children with him or her and jeopardise your children’s happiness and sanity.

    To support the assumption that I made previously, I can argue that if a child is raised by a single parent it will lack the experience for dealing with representatives of the missing sex, because of the lack of everyday communication with a responsible, good meaning adult. Furthermore, not being parented by both sexes, a child would not be able to observe a functional relationship and would obtain less knowledge about participating in one when it grows up. These skills are essential to achieving a stable status in contemporary society, which in turn allows better reproduction options.

    My argument proves that allowing people to have children without being involved in a marriage is not in our best interest if our ideal is maintaining and improving present day society.

  9. “Lets assume that children need to be parented by representatives from both genders in order to develop their personality in a way which makes the best evolutionary and sociological sense.”

    Why this need for “representation”? Each parent can simply guide according to his/her own individual experience instead of limiting themselves by some socially constructed guideline delineated by so-called “society”.

    When most (I hope) people get together and decide to parent, I doubt that sociological and evolutionary considerations are primordial. They just want to raise a child.

    Indefinitely is a long time. Besides, I think the one of the greatest gifts to give a child is two parents that love each other. If they don’t, best they part amicably. Staying together “for the sake of the children” is a poor idea, better to have two parents living apart than cold, distant and/or bickering parents living together.

    I don’t represent a gender. I represent myself. I highly doubt most who do have children are doing to represent their particular gender or some case for evolutionary advancement. At least I hope so.

    “My argument proves that allowing people to have children without being involved in a marriage is not in our best interest if our ideal is maintaining and improving present day society”

    People and other organisms have procreated for millions of years without the institution of marriage. Despite my critique of marriage, I wouldn’t dictate what people should or shouldn’t be “allowed” to do. It’s not up to me to enforce how others should behave to make me feel comfortable about “improving present day society”.

  10. Your first argument undermines society:

    “by some socially constructed guideline delineated by so-called “society”.”

    My point was (in simple terms) that is you want to keep and improve the so-called society, marriage should be a prerequisite for having children. If you do not respect society then my argument is void.

    “When most (I hope) people get together and decide to parent, I doubt that sociological and evolutionary considerations are primordial. They just want to raise a child.”

    This is where we disagree and the main reason for writing my comment: “They just want to raise a child”. This is equivalent to saying: “He just wanted to steal some money.”. Whether the parents want something is irrelevant. My point in this respect was that if parents do not realize what the consequences of their actions will be, they should be restricted in making the poor choices.

    Exactly, “indefinitely” is a long time. The parents should be “indefinitely” confident of their commitment to stay together in order to raise a child. This would maybe improve the odds of the child in growing up in a loving environment. I am not saying that divorce should not happen – quite the contrary. My argument here is that people should not be allowed to have children if they are not married. If marriage goes wrong then I agree that it would be better for the parents to separate.

    You represent yourself and your gender, whether you like it or not.

    Marriage is a comparatively new concept – a few thousand years old only. Before that, children were raised by both parents – this way increasing their chance of survival. Since now a child can survive with just a single parent, marriage substitutes the need for having two parents. Nowadays, a child can survive in an orphanage – with no parents at all. From my argument follows that a child raised by one parent is in a similar situation, but still better one that a child raised in an orphanage.

    As for the other organisms – I have no opinion and I’ll remain silent.

  11. It’s not up to me to decree what society wants or should want. The term society is a very nebulous concept and often narrows down to what one thinks other think (or should think).

    Prerequisites? Restrictions? “Not be allowed”?

    Doesn’t this sound awfully authoritarian? While I offer a critique of the institution, I wouldn’t ban it as I respect others enough to make up their own minds.

    Parents can be together and NOT be married. Many couples co-habitate and raise children without getting some blessing from the church or state. So my case against marriage is not against two parent households, but to show that its unnecessary. The ceremony and the piece of paper is not going to keep them together if they don’t get along, and no need to go through a legal mess if they opt to part.

    Children can still be raised successfully by two parents regardless of their marital status.

  12. Their marriage won’t keep them together – that’s true. You are again overloooking the point and stressing on the less important parts of the argument:

    If the parents are so unsure whether they can stay together and consider a formal marriage too much hassle, why try to raise children together?

    If two people feel and think that they will stay together for a long time, if not while alive, they should have no problems signing pieces of paper, attending to ceremonies and formally stating their intentions.

  13. “If the parents are so unsure whether they can stay together and consider a formal marriage too much hassle, why try to raise children together?”

    Because some don’t give marriage any weight or importance. Some may prefer to be connected by love and communication, than be shackled by documentation from institutions that have little relevance to them (church and/or state).

    I think it’d be preferable for couples to settle their differences between themselves, agree to parent within their preferable context (together, apart, married or unmarried) instead of waving pieces of papers at each other.

    Last point: since divorce exists, marriage doesn’t guarantee a two parent household anyhow. So the “for the children” argument fall flat. I addressed that in my post.

  14. How is marriage restricting couples anyway? If two people are connected by love and communication they should have no problem with signing a piece of paper. Getting married is an official way to express this commitment. Since traditionally marriage cannot be signed by same sex couples or single parents, it would be impossible or harder for people in such cases to raise children. That’s exactly what I am arguing about anyway – that committed mixed couples should be raising children; since marriage is the only way to officially recognise such couples it is still playing an important role for raising children.

    Looking at the institutions – these are still existant because there is still a need for them. Now, if we move this argument in an ideal world with no institutions, churches, governments, poverty, crime and so on, I would agree that marraige probably would not be needed, but in the world surrounding us it is.

  15. I don’t believe to have used the language of restriction and obligation, unlike “should, allowed, prerequisites”.

    “Since traditionally marriage cannot be signed by same sex couples or single parents, it would be impossible or harder for people in such cases to raise children. That’s exactly what I am arguing about anyway – that committed mixed couples should be raising children”

    Same sex-couples raising children and institutions in general is outside the scope of this particular post, so I’ll just touch upon it briefly.

    Whether people opt to marry or not or raise children or not is their business. I gave my critique and people are free to ignore it and do as they please. Loving parents (ideally to each other as well, but at the very least their children) is the best gift they can give them, regardless of their marital status or sexual orientation.

    The deeper motive you’ve argued for is for restricting others from doing something that is distasteful to you. Your arguments are not really a case FOR marriage, but a case for using marriage as a device to restrict others, using the state as a lever.

    I never argued to ban marriage. This is a key difference between the tone of our arguments.

    One last thing about institutions, they are abstractions in themselves. That is, they are idealizations. If unrecognized they dissipate.

  16. I agree with you 99ppp, loving parents, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation are the best gift children can have. I don’t understand why a couple that is married and of different genders should have the monopoly on love.

    Let us hope our society moves away from restrictions on who can and can’t love “appropriately” and allows freedom with responsibility. Commitment is not tied to a piece of paper or a ceremony. Those who want that have every right to it. But nobody should be confined by arbitrary institutions if they choose not to be. They key is right human relations and that comes from within and cannot be mandated by the State or any institution.

  17. Three last points and I am quitting this argument – I think I have expressed my ideas anyway.

    1. My assumption from my first post doesn’t hold anyway – nobody has proven that children are better off with two parents.

    2. Restricting, banning and similar techniques of limiting people make sense if people cannot be trusted to take their own decisions. In example, you cannot say let’s legalise murder or theft, remove the institutions from the equation and trust people with not committing these acts against others because they are conscientious enough. That maybe would work (and it has worked in some instances), but maybe it would not. In traditional Australian Aboriginal communities it has worked, while in contemporary European communities it has not.

  18. @zenuria: Agree wholeheartedly, thanks for your comment. 🙂

    @asx: as zenuria mentioned so eloquently above, there has to come a time where we must exercise freedom with responsibility. Murder isn’t immoral because it’s illegal. It’s wrong because it harms another. No institution is necessary to reason that.

  19. I haven’t read all the comments, but I’d like to say that I agree wholeheartedly and profoundly with everything you’ve said here. Marriage and commitment are two completely different things. Given our current legal system, the only reason I can think of for two people to marry is so that they both have legal rights to their child … not only in the case of divorce, but also in case something happens to the mother which would necessitate the father’s having legal custody in order to care for the child properly. But in most cases … why bother?

  20. @David: indeed.. legalities. I wrote this simply to critique the illusionary romance of this institution. It ain’t about love, imo.

  21. […] I am not a fan of marriage as an institution to begin with. I’ve already argued that it has nothing to do with love, yet I can concede that there are potential reasons why two people would want to get married: children and property. Civil unions can provide the identical protections without calling it marriage. […]

  22. […] at Taco Bell? Why not? While I remain a critic to marriage as an institution, I was pleased to see some of those do opt to marry are turning their backs to the wasteful, […]

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