The Sunday Poll AND Weekly Poem: Is Marriage Obsolete?

Billions of people have took up
The most enduring life vow we could cook up.
Some say life is great,
Others trade love for hate.
Should they all have just gone for a hook-up?

Do we need these rings?

Thank you to everyone who voted in last week’s poll about a wife’s duty when it comes to Transformers 3.  My husband and I went to a lovely wedding just last week. As soon as we stepped outside the church, a female relative seized me and whispered fervently in my ear.

“You should never have to go to Transformers, even if your husband does want to go!”

But the poll numbers suggested otherwise: a clear majority were in favor of a Transformers 3 date.

So I went.

If you missed it, click to visit the Transformers 3 poll.

But that’s not what I will discuss here. Last week, I questioned the relevance of Transformers 3 to my wedding vows. This week, I’d like to get your input on the value of wedding vows in the first place.

A slew of articles have come to my attention this week on the topic of marriage, some touched off by the recent declaration at the Huffington Post by none other than the founder of eHarmony that most people should delay getting married, or just call the whole thing off, because most married partners are ill-suited anyway.

Columnists weigh in on whether or not marriage really is obsolete. Some point to the overwhelming majority of Americans who plan to marry. Others say that most marriages are undertaken for the wrong reasons, and are unneeded, given the wide range of rewarding connections we can make with others outside of the official bonds of marriage. Others say we’ve finally discovered it’s a “myth” that a person needs marriage to be happy.

I read an interesting article in Psychology Today about non-traditional marriages, in which one psychologist alleged that people should not wait to establish adult lives before getting married. Despite statistics that point to marrying at a young age as a huge risk factor for divorce, this commenter maintains that people should get married young – no need to finish their educations, establish their careers or live independently first – thus keeping their spark alive throughout the years because they “grew up together”.

Other marriage-related headlines make me think that marriage can’t be obsolete, because Presidential candidates Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum are making waves for signing a “Marriage Vow”. The Family Leader, an influential conservative organization in Iowa, has declared that Presidential candidates must sign the vow to get its endorsement.

The main point of the “Vow” seems be to ensure that the candidate will uphold “vigorous opposition” of same-sex marriage, though it also demands that the candidate will not commit adultery or use pornography, and will advocate “robust childbearing”. But only if you’re married: a choice piece of the pledge says that while American slavery was “disastrous”, nevertheless, enslaved black children of the past were more likely to be raised in a two-parent household than modern black children.

I guess being enslaved isn’t nearly as bad as being raised in a single-parent household.

Vander Plaats, the head of Family Leader, says that a candidate’s position on marriage “correlate[s] directly to his/her moral stance on energy issues, sound budgeting policies, national defense, and economic policies.”

So is marriage obsolete? Who is right? The 70% of Americans who want to get married? The disillusioned founder of eHarmony? Or politicians who say that the right views on marriage are so important that they should underpin all government policies?

As a married couple, I think my husband and I are in the minority among our friends, most of whom move in together after dating for a year or two. Was our marriage necessary? Sometimes it seems like the main difference between us and other long-term, unmarried couples is that we have a massive stash of fine linens, kitchen appliances, Waterford crystal and mixing bowls.  And I have certainly celebrated several weddings that ended shortly in divorce, while some unmarried couples endure for years.

On the other hand, my parents have been blissfully married for almost thirty years, and my husband’s parents for forty.  We undertook our own vows with a real vision of how a marriage can succeed. We’ve been together for nine years and married for four (we had our anniversary last week). I recently realized that I have spent a third of my life in the company of my husband. I plan to spend the rest with him.

But I’ve been invited to plenty of weddings where I secretly cross my fingers for the couple. My own years of marriage have had their share of frustration and joy, and while I don’t regret my own choice, personal experience of marriage’s challenges do make me believe that many people who get married have no business doing so. (Cruel of me, perhaps, but does anyone want to start a bet on how many months Kim Kardashian will stay married?)

And so we come to the poll.

Out to dinner for our fourth anniversary.
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2 Comments

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  1. I watched a DVRed Flashpoint last night. A one-sided conversation between a married couple went something like, “Remember the night before we got married… I asked how did we know this was right (getting married)…you said we didn’t…you said marriage was a mystery, you never know how it will turn out… you said that I was the person you wanted to explore this mystery with.”

    I think people are reexamining the institution of marriage. I think this is one example of a contemporary way of looking at it rather than a deeply embedded, primarily religious, cultural belief that marriage is the only way to spend a life together; it’s a journey undertaken, the origin of which was mostly taken for granted and never really examined closely (I believe that is the way we approach many cultural mores). In years past, marriage was strongly defined, a tight unbreakable bond; divorce was basically not allowed – you were together come hell or high water. I know that a lot of people today are put off by this thinking; if you are not religious why would you make such a commitment?

    As my experiences and beliefs about marriage, God and religion evolve, I meet the task of reexamining why I got married.

    In the past, religion played a strong role in getting me through any problem I had in marriage: the idea that I was working towards something that would continue after death and be perfect, because apparently in heaven things can be perfect. (I’m sure some will object to the word ‘perfect’ and maybe it doesn’t appear in the doctrine, but it was clearly the implied message IMHO.) I guess I currently fight against, flail my arms at, object to situations where cultural mores are ‘forced’ on people, including children, because the preacher/teacher loves the idea so much, rather than because it is rationally true (vs religiously true).

    I don’t know what to think about marriage. Its survival, its strong cultural hold on people, is probably because it has many strengths; it helps human beings survive as a race. That is a strong reason for getting or staying married. With all its obvious problems, I sometimes think its strengths may be hidden. I guess I’m afraid we’ll throw the baby out with the wash water if we’re not careful. But I also hate to be held down by ‘tradition’, unexamined cultural mores. Maybe there is a better way that has never been tried because people have allowed themselves to be ‘brainwashed’ by said tradition; they haven’t thought outside the box and engaged in divergent or creative thinking as far as relationships go.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I think that issues of marriage and gender are for some reason particularly susceptible to damage from questionable or unexamined cultural mores. Before making any declaration on the role or responsibilities of marriage, we should always be on the lookout for where our assumptions are coming from.

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