Photo Credit: http://www.weddingcaketoppers.com/
The showy proposal. The breathtaking sight of a gorgeous bride walking down the aisle. Sunset photos captured during a blissful honeymoon. The first indication of a slight baby bump. Pattering of children feet. An idyllic image of two elderly hands linked together, their minds and hearts in synchrony.
Marriage. It’s the most sacred union held between two people; a commitment attesting to everlasting love and promised security. Americans have long upheld the belief that love, above all, is the key component to a successful marriage. Phrases like soul mates and happily ever after have been embedded into our society for years, and we like it that way. Little girls fantasize about their dream weddings; young men obsess about how to pop the infamous question. Annually, the diamond ring, wedding, and honeymoon industries each comprise of multi-billion-dollar industries. Entire shows and networks are devoted to finding the perfect match, online dating has filtered into the mainstream, and most individuals, even those who are single and at the height of their bachelor or bachelorette days, are enthusiastic in admitting that, yes, they want and plan to eventually get married.
Photo Credit: http://www.zazzle.com/and_they_lived_happily_ever_after_bride_and_groom_postcard-239185740237415862
Yet, despite the stubborn emphasis to marry for happiness and refusing to settle for less than the very best, our country’s divorce rate still hovers at an alarming 40-50%. This figure fluctuates depending on the year and type of marriage (first, second, etc.), but the range has remained relatively stable within the past twenty years. This rate can be attributed to a variety of factors, such as race, age, demographic, and income significantly predict first-marriage divorce. Nevertheless, the marriage dynamic has shifted dramatically in the later turn of the twentieth century. The prized nuclear family has all but vanished, making room for the emergence of casual encounters, cohabiting couples, mulch-generational households, and an entire group of single and never-married individuals.
So, let’s examine why we do get married.
1. Financial Security: Unromantic, sure, but this reason remains the most popular across the globe. In most parts of the world, marriage resembles more of a strategic business partnership than a holy matrimony of love. In fact, the idea of marrying the love of your life was once a radical concept, as it was assumed the couple would simply grow to like or potentially love each other after several years. Although the classic “gold-digger” and “sugar-daddy” stereotypes are still in practice today, we often mock rather than desire them. Although some marry for financial reasons, most modern Americans would not marry for money if they did not love the other person.
Since the soar of women seeking careers during the latter half of the twentieth century, the societal emphasis for maintaining the masculine breadwinner role has declined. While many wives report that they enjoy working and providing supplementary income, more and more families simply lack the luxury to exist on a single-household income. Likewise, females currently outnumber males on college campuses in respects to enrollment figures and graduation. During the wake of the financial recession, due to the massive layoffs and company downsizing in male-dominated fields, many wives and girlfriends suddenly became the primary source of household income.
On this note, we have experienced an enormous shift in the way parents raise their female children. Adults rarely, if ever, tell little girls that they don’t have to worry because a nice man will come along and take care of them. In fact, we encourage them to pursue their academic and professional interests, often stressing that they can do anything they want. As a result, we have seen a strong surge in female empowerment. Whereas girls may have once grown up expecting to become a housewife, many now admire positive role models, such as female politicians, doctors, or lawyers. Indeed, just within the media realm of movies, television shows, and literature, most female characters have careers. As a whole, we are moving into the acceptance of equality among sexes. Therefore, marrying for financial security, while often desirable, does not appear to be an absolute necessity anymore.
Photo Credit: http://www.toonpool.com/cartoons/Baby%20market_28798
2. Raising children: After a short bout of going steady, couples used to wed in their late teens and early twenties and punched out multiple children before thirty. Premarital sex was often forbidden or highly criticized and most considered out-of-wedlock pregnancy sinful.Today, in secular America, having multiple sex partners prior to tying the knot is common, and rather than condemning unmarried couples or single women raising children, we often pay our respects.
Furthermore, raising children has become more of a choice than ever before. Nowadays, many couples postpone marriage and pregnancy in order to complete school, settle into a successful career, and save money. With contraception widely available, this wait can be easy and convenient. On the other hand, many individuals have chosen to raise children without the support of a spouse. This includes the explosion of in-vitro fertilization, adoption, and surrogate mothers. Wannabe mothers that realize the time constraints on their biological clocks may choose this option if Mr. Right hasn’t yet come along. Likewise, even when pregnancy occurs in committed relationships, the couple may raise the child and stay together without marrying. While young parents historically fit in this category, many older, more-established couples choose this option, often perceiving marriage as just a piece of paper or something they can do later down the line. While getting married for the sake of raising children remains a predominant reason around the world, this no longer represents an absolute necessity in modern America.
3. Love: Naturally, this notion is difficult to argue, because of its sensitive and fragile definition. Although it is certainly idealistic to believe love is the glue keeping marriages afloat and in tact despite whatever obstacles threaten its path, the divorce statistics, rise in marital counseling, and climbing number of extramarital affairs, seem to report a different story. The problem with marrying solely for love is that those intense feelings and sensations for love change over the course of time. This change can be subtle or powerful; positive or negative; terrifying or comforting, but usually, what begins as an exciting, fast-paced obsession tunnels into a comfortable, mundane routine. Just like all elements of life, love has its share of highs and lows. Oftentimes, people rush into marriage, choose to ignore the flaws that eventually become magnified, fail to discuss major life values, or simply stop working at maintaining marital satisfaction. Yet, most of us are blissfully optimistic. Research indicates that most college students believe they will marry the loves of their lives, and when questioning engaged couples, an overwhelming response said they would never, ever get divorced.
In 2012, in this changing society coexisting with an abundance of unconventional households, does the sanctity of marriage represent just another archaic tradition that will soon phase out? We seem to take great delight in bashing the short-lived Hollywood unions, yet when faced with our own futures, we seem to struggle with idea of not having a partner till death do us part.
With the average human lifespan hovering around 80-85 years old, is marrying one person a desirable, or even sane, choice? Time, and its unfolding of new traditions and evolving definition of the new definition for family and love, will tell.
Copen, C.C, Daniels, K., Vespa, J., Mosher, W. (2012). First Marriages in the United States: Data From the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth. Division of Vital Statistics. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr049.pdf
Putnam, R. R. (2011). First comes marriage, then comes divorce: A perspective on the process. Journal Of Divorce & Remarriage, 52(7), 557-564. doi:10.1080/10502556.2011.615661