Why oh why..

do people get hitched?

An interesting question. It’s been written about before on the Happy Sighs blog. On Happy Accident there is a post that ties in closely to the same question. There are plenty voices of marriage skeptics to be heard as well.

So.. why?

Based on reading, reading and more reading, there are quite a few reasons.

– It’s a way to make a public statement out of your love.
– It’s a way to gain legitimacy from a myriad of people and institutions (regarding the theme of this blog: governments and immigration agencies are not the least of those).
– It’s a tradition that many people find valuable and beautiful.
– It takes a lot of social pressure away for many couples.
– It’s a way to formalize certain agreements within a relationship (as well as to communicate them outward).
– It is a way to gain a certain amount of (social/ governmental) privilege.
– It is a ready-made way to draw upon a set of legal measures that make life easier for couples.
– It is a rite of passage into a life phase that may be attractive to people.
– It has religious significance.

There are probably many more reasons.

I wonder if there is an innate desire to marry. Imagine a world in which marriage did not exist and in which there was no way to formalize any love commitment. Do you think people would, leaving all the social and legal aspects behind, desire a rite leading to a state in which romantic love was symbolized?

I doubt it. But that’s easy for me to say. I never wanted to get married to begin with. With regards to commitment I’ve always preferred the ‘wild horse approach’. I feel much more strongly for a commitment that is chosen again every single day and has no externally enforced negative consequences if it ends.

There are more issues I have with marriage, but they deal with the validity of the institution (and the way in which it is wielded to divide people and keep them apart) more so than with my personal feeling about it. On the most personal level it comes down to me not wanting to get married because I don’t like the way divorce works. The idea of negatively incentivizing the end of a partnership goes against my idea of the very nature of partnership. Which is why, when we did get married, we worked create a situation in which divorce would be a formality because all the agreements where already in place, with the consequences as neutral as possible for both of us.

We got married to get our governments off our backs. To allow us me to go with him to the US for his dreams and ambitions, and to allow him to come back with me if that’s what our future holds. Or for both of us to go to the same places under the same sets of rules if that’s where our idea of a future will take us. And the reason that we wanted to be able to do those things is because we love each other. The marriage is a means to achieve the goal of a (more) hassle-free shared future.

There is an interesting tendency in how some (not all!) people respond to our marriage. Those of pro-marriage mindsets laughingly tell us that the practical reasons we cite for our marriage are excuses, things we tell ourselves so as to not have to be honest about how much we love each other and how much we enjoy having a wedding and being the center of attention.

Some of those with anti-marriage mindsets don’t tell us much, but they imply (less laughingly, I may add) that the practical reasons we cite for getting married are excuses we use as a defense to their questioning, things we tell ourselves to feel better about buying into this outdated, obsolete societal tradition of privilege, inequality and gender stereotypes.

It feels a little lonely. It feels a little 16-year-old-and-misunderstood. It feels like the process of us reaching our conclusion on marriage is not getting the respect it deserves from those people. It’s like people don’t believe we really, actually, truly looked the idea of marriage in the face before we decided: “Well, you know what, we may not agree with it on principle and we may not want to do it for it’s own sake, but if this is what it takes to let our governments allow me stay with you then that’s what I will do.”


6 Responses to “Why oh why..”

  1. 1 Amanda January 23, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Ummm, to this question: “Do you think people would, leaving all the social and legal aspects behind, desire a rite leading to a state in which romantic love was symbolized? “… my answer would be yes, otherwise, how can we historically explain that such rites are common among all kinds of different cultures ?
    I think that even if we were to start all over again it would happen…
    However like you I believe in a commitment that “is chosen again every single day”.
    For me (because for the boy getting married was never all that important) it is all about declaring our love to the world (as syrupy as that sounds).
    and also about knowing that we will be there for each other , that if things get bad, we will put up a fight, we will not just walk away.
    Maybe it is cultural, and maybe I am way too traditional but I was always afraid of just “living together” because of the “when it is over, it is over” , no consequences. Like it would mean there is not a real committment (which I know is not necessarily true, it is just the way it *felt* to me) . And I know getting married is not a guarantee of any sorts, but for me it meant something like saying, even when it is difficult I will be there…
    Not sure if I am making much sense…

    • 2 thesmittenimmigrant January 24, 2012 at 9:23 am

      You’re making perfect sense, and I’m perfectly comfortable with you feeling differently about this issue than I do. I don’t think you’re “too traditional” or anything else negative for feeling that marriage has an innate value. They’re your feelings and they’re okay.

      Do you feel that by making a public ceremony out of a wedding, something is added to the gravity of the vows? Like perhaps it is harder to break a promise if there were witnesses?

      I’m also curious how you feel about this:

      If we say that a no-marriage long term relationship runs the risk of ending because a partner would be less committed since there is no formalized commitment and no formal penalty for ending the relationship, would a marriage-relationship then run an equal risk ending because a partner could become complacent since the commitment is formalized and they feel less need to be vigilant about the quality of the relationship?

      I feel that in terms of commitment and vigilance (regarding relationship quality) both a no-marriage and a marriage relationship would strive for the same middle ground of security of commitment and vigilance. They may just be more likely to err on a different side.

      If you agree with me on that (and you don’t have to, right? ;)) then I would be very interested to hear your reasons and feelings about whether you prefer your relationships to err (a little) on one side rather than the other.

      • 3 Amanda January 24, 2012 at 6:35 pm

        Yes, I feel that the whole witnessed ceremony adds gravity to the vows. Actually, during our pre engagement period, when I was thinking hard about why it was that I felt so strongly this need for us to get married, I discovered that even if the boy had opposed to it, for me it would have been enough to write our own certificate, with our own promises, and we kind of made vows to each other right then. I am not sure if you read Committed , the sequel to Eat Pray Love (which in case you did not I recommend you do, it is a whole analysis / deconstruction of marriage through history and cultures that she did when she had to come to terms with getting married so her partner could come with her to the US without hassle), but there is a whole argument on exactly what you are saying, how the fact that the ceremony is witnessed makes it “real”. Something like that old debate whether if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, is there noise or not.
        I agree with you 100 % on the second stance, and I guess yeah, I would prefer to err on the need to be vigilant, because, I think the romance, the flame, the excitement, can be built and rebuilt. I believe it is something we do to keep things alive, and because of it, I am conscious, very conscious to not take things for granted, to “water the plant”, but if it would happen, then I am all in for fighting for it. But the other situation would make me very uncomfortable, like I would not know where I was standing, when the situation might change, what would happen then. I guess after too many bad breakups after which you shake hands, wish the other a nice life, and disappear, I was just not up for that when it came to a more stable kind of relationship, I dreaded it in fact, I just do not think I could bear it (again, not that marriage is any guarantee for anything, but that is why I think we have to be very careful in any relationship).

  2. 4 thesmittenimmigrant January 25, 2012 at 11:37 am

    It’s such a lovely discussion to have with you!

    I have not read Committed (although I received Eat, Pray, Love as a present, recently – it gave me a jolt that I did not like much and am still ruminating its effect in order to pour it into a post), and I’m not sure I will.

    With regards to your reasons to get married, I’m curious. I have dug through your archives quite a bit, but can’t remember finding a post where you write about this. Do you have one? A few? Can I read them?

    My post was mostly spurred by an e-mail I sent to a friend who told me he “likes to stay away” from weddings. So then I explained why we got married. And what responses we got. Next thing I knew I was all defensive, which is why I decided to pen it all down. Heh.

    • 5 Amanda January 25, 2012 at 12:43 pm

      I was also not crazy about Eat Pray Love, but Committed was okay, I always love to dig in :
      a) history and
      b) origin of traditions and culture.
      And she starts from the base of being a priori against marriage, so I think it could be interesting for you.
      I did not really write a post on our reasons to get married… just about the planning stuff that I thought would be useful to other planners.. Maybe I will write about that soon, since our engagement anniversary is coming up in February.
      But it was about starting a unit, about having a “bond”…. though for the boy that “bond” was something we had already, he does not feel a “paper” was needed though he asked me because he knew it was something I felt strongly about, that really had a meaning for me.

      • 6 thesmittenimmigrant January 25, 2012 at 2:24 pm

        Maybe I’ll buy the book anyway, then 🙂

        I find “the why” of getting married one of the most interesting things to read about, especially since most of the blogs I visit are by people I know through APW.

        Thanks again for being very open about your thoughts and feelings. I really appreciate it!

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