In 1914, revolutionary thinker and anarchist Emma Goldman wrote, "That marriage is a failure none but the very stupid will deny." As a follower of the Free Love movement that began in the 1850s, Goldman believed women had the right to literally give their love freely and not only within the confines of a marriage. In fact, Goldman insists in her famous essay, "Marriage and Love," that the two words have nothing in common. "Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life," Goldman wrote, "How can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State- and Church-begotten weed, marriage?"
When gay people were allowed (for a short time) to marry here in my home state of Oregon, I found myself asking a Goldman-esque question: Why would anyone want to be married? Isn't love enough? I don't believe in marriage as an institution but I'm the exception in my family. My parents believe in marriage, and even though they divorced after 20 years together, they were both remarried within two years. My sisters all believe in marriage, two are married and one is hoping to. Grandparents? All died being married to the same person for over 40 years. Most of my friends seem amiable to the idea, though not many are actually hitched.
There is a term for people like me, people who have made a conscious choice not to marry, we are called "marriagefree." This philosophy is promoted by the nonprofit group, Alternatives to Marriage Project (AMP), which provides information and support to people who don't wish to marry. In support of her marriagefree doctrine, AMP director Dorian Solot was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "It becomes clearer every day that when it comes to relationships and families, there's no one size that fits all." In fact, The National Marriage Project (NMP) at Rutgers University announced in 1999 that the marriage rate has dropped 43 percent since 1960. In the place of the marriage certificate, many couplesgay and straightare choosing to define their legal relationships as domestic partnerships, a trend that is already popular in Europe.
So why then do people continue to marry these days? Obviously, societal expectations and old habits die hard. The wedding industry is as insidious as the tobacco industry as they force white and frothy propaganda upon unsuspecting Americans. And we are talking billions of dollars spent every year on weddings and their related products. Perhaps people marry because as an institution, marriage categorizes relationships into black and white, bad and good. Thus, being good and obedient little boys and girls, we all want to be in the "good" category.
The desire for or the addition of children accounts for many a wedding proposal, a move which is strenuously supported by pro-marriage organizations. As the NMP sees it, marriage is "(A) fundamental social institution. It is central to the nurture and raising of children." The NMP deems marriage (in the most traditional form) as an institution that almost singularly guarantees the well-being of children within its confines. They state that marriage is the "'social glue' that reliably attaches fathers to children." Goldman argued that "Marriage may have the power to 'bring the horse to water,' but has it ever made him drink?" It seems that dead-beat dads are not a new thing, so why do we continue to expect marriage to fix this social ill?
Too many times children are used as leverage in securing a marriage proposal or as an excuse to continue in an unhappy union. Goldman believed that if love was given unconditionally and without jealousy that any children born of free love would experience a pure and unadulterated love. Is this a utopian ideal? Sure, but why do we insist that children must be raised within the boundaries of a marriage when other situations are just as nurturing?
Goldman also dismissed the mandate that motherhood must occur only within a marriage, and now, more than ever, women are having children on their own terms, without the need for nuptials. In her essay, "The Case Against Matrimony," new mom Larissa Philips wrote, "My decision not to marry does not indicate a desire for a life of debauchery and half-formed commitments. Quite the opposite: With our new baby, our nightly sit-down dinners and our impending mortgage, my boyfriend and I are hardly bucking the system. But we also have no fantasies about coasting through the next 50 years on the coattails of a weakened and disparaged contract."
Well, we've come a long way, baby. Or have we? Even if children are not in the picture, too many times I see women and men desperate for marriage as if it were water in the desert. These bride and groom wannabes see marriage as an insurance policy that guarantees that their worst fear will not come truethat no one will ever love them.
Unfortunately, my friends, the mere fact that another person has agreed to marry you neither guarantees nor proves that you are lovable.
Of course TV never helps to reverse these popular fears. To watch the women on The Average Joe: Adam Returns, one would have thought that the goofy, schlumpy doof was a freakin' Adonis. Just so long as the female contestants were married, and soon, it didn't really matter that the guy they were fighting over was a immature turd who did not exhibit any spectacular features physically or otherwise. (Except Adam did have a lot of money, but as Dr. Phil says, "If you marry for money, you earn every penny.")
Then again there is so much fear in being alone that to get married and stay that way is tantamount for some. In a July, 1966, article printed in Cosmopolitan, young women were cautioned against divorce because, "People quickly forget you when you no longer have a husband. The world's not made for a woman alone. I'd advise any wife to put up with almost anything rather than a divorce." Fast forward to 2004 and you have these same social stigmas haunting womenespecially women of my mother's generation who feel that being a wife is essential to their being and social standing.
My married sister likes to inform me that marriage is a contract and entering into this contract where you will stay with one person for the rest of your life (or until such time as it is impossible to do so) is the essence of the marriage covenant. And what a doozy that is. I liken this quandary to the vows of priesthood. You are asked to promise to uphold your vows with the promise of benefits untold. In practice, the maintaining of vows is a meditation in self-supression. Just look at the dwindling ranks of priests in the Catholic Church and scandals surrounding the hiding of pedophiles in its ranks. If an institution sets impossible standards, ones that are against our basic biology, then human beings will naturally fail when tested.
Not unlike the vows of the priesthood or of the nunnery, marriage has its success measured in sacrifice. How many times have you read of the "long suffering" wife or husband? Is this the ideal that anyone should hope to attain? So you have been married for years and years, good for you! Miserable for 48 years out of 50? At least you had two good years! Why is longevity the only measure of success for a relationship? This is my central question for marriage enthusiasts: Is this all there is?
Of course as long as there has been marriage, there has been divorce (and annulment if your name is Britney). Goldman states that in 1914, the incidence of marriage was one in 12, now it is one in two. And yet, people continue to marry multiple times in the hopes, I assume, that one will take. As Phillips observed in her own family with multiple divorces and subsequent marriages, her parents and those of their generation were more concerned with marriage than monogamy. In her decision not to marry, she was in fact putting more of the responsibility for the relationship's success or failure on her and her partner. "Considering everything we've seen, bearing the weight of our relationship on our own backs seems a hell of a lot wiser than leaning on the white-laced and satin-cummerbunded follies of our parents."
The NMP reports that, "Knowledge about marriage is especially important to the younger generation of men and women, who grew up in the midst of the divorce revolution in the 1970s and 1980s, and are now approaching their prime marrying years." Yes, we know plenty about marriage, and it kinda stinks. Why would we want to subject our perfectly fine relationships to the exacting mold of marriage? Instead of forcing all relationships to conform to one standard we should, instead, celebrate the myriad of ways people choose to raise their children and spend their lives together.
Forget marriage. Love is, truly, all you need.
For more information:
Read "The Case Against Matrimony," by Larissa Phillips, originally printed in Salon. www.salon.com
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