I forget sometimes that I’m legally an adult. My folks still pay for things, I wear a backpack and I eat from a dining hall, so it’s really easy to do, but now there’s this thing where I’ll go to a bar, and I have to look for wedding bands, or engagement announcements will pop up on my Facebook news feed. Only adults get married, obviously, and when people around my age tie the knot (and not because the condom broke), I freak out a little bit. I still think about marriage as this thing that is so far away, so I relish in watching “Say Yes to the Dress,” because buying wedding dresses is for those other people over there in their strange near-pagan cult ritual, and I can make fun of their Cinderella dresses (they are ridiculous, let’s be real). Seeing some of my peers get married or think seriously about it has made me really, really think about why people get married and what they expect from it. For so long, I just assumed that I would get married one day. I took it for granted because it’s a thing that adults do. Now that I am one (ish), I realize that maybe making a lifelong commitment to another person is not something I should expect to do at all, and that operating from a place of “I should do this thing because it’s what everyone else does” probably results in people making promises they can’t keep.
This is not to say that marriage isn’t great and I don’t believe in it. I totally do! The idea of having a life-buddy to love, trust and respect forever sounds great. If ever I’m with the right person, and want to for the right reasons, I’m so down!
I’m also not proposing a restructuring of dynamics within a marriage -— I think that is up to the discretion of the people within the marriage — but I think now it’s more harmful than productive to conflate marriage with maturity. I can understand why our society has developed this way. Until very recently, being a single woman often meant poverty in this country, especially if you had children. In order to ensure survival in a land without women’s rights and birth control, early marriage was the best option. Telling your children that marriage was a necessary developmental milestone was to point the way to the land of economic stability.
Even though women still earn less than men for doing the same job, not being married does not mean destitution, and it certainly doesn’t mean women abstain from sex to avoid raising a child alone. Still, our society continues to act like that need is still there, like your adolescence isn’t complete without marriage, nothing counts until you get married and that the person you marry will be the ideal love of your life. That’s a huge pressure on any developing relationship! The imperative to not be alone, to be an adult, to settle down and have a family can be overwhelming, to the extent that we can fool ourselves into getting married when it’s not what we actually want to do. Loneliness is a huge concern for everyone, sure, but not being lonely has nothing to do with being married, just like marriage won’t fix problems you had before getting married, like, I dunno, not being in love.
The assumption that one day we will find that one person who will be forever and that they will come before our eggs dry up just doesn’t seem believable or realistic for everyone. If marriage is something that you feel is inevitable, won’t you plan for it? I have conversations with people all the time where they’re like, “When do YOU think you’ll get married?” What if 28 comes and goes, you thought you’d be married, and you aren’t even dating anyone? That seems like a recipe for anxiety and depression.
Shouldn’t the real question be, “Are you happy in your relationship, if you’re in one?” and, if the answer is yes, “Do you want to sign a contract solidifying and denoting the terms of your economic interdependence?” If the end result just happens to be marriage, then yeah, wonderful, you get those tax benefits. Sometimes people are happier being alone, and cultivating a relationship with themselves! Awesome, do that too.
Does that mean they should be deemed unproductive or unlovable or missing out on something? Absolutely not.
I’m still gonna go look at Oscar de la Renta wedding dresses, but that’s just ‘cause they’re pretty.
Note: If marriage is now about two consenting adults loving each other and wanting to be together for the rest of their lives, there is no room for marriage inequality, period. Maybe ask yourself if you’d be willing to fight legislative and societal discrimination to get married, because, just like interracial couples before 1967, it’s something queer people have to face daily. So many people take the right to marry the person they love for granted, so if you can, be grateful.