Archive | September, 2010

What Does Marriage Mean?

25 Sep

Who's next?

A friend replied to a text of mine this week that her boyfriend of a year and a half had just proposed to her. And that she’d accepted.

She’s one half of the fifth couple among my friends to announce their engagement in the last year. Most of us are between 23 and 26 years old, barely out of full-time education and still in the embryonic stages of our careers: surely not old enough for marriage?

Once the initial shock, excitement and terror wore off I began thinking: what does marriage actually mean to the modern 20-something-year-old?

Back when all brides were virgins and a white dress wasn’t worn to complement a tan, marriage was a social mechanism to promote monogamy over the evolutionary urge to reproduce with as many genetic variants as possible. It encouraged us into tidy family units which limited the social unrest caused by human jealousy. Now that we recognise this, marriage must be little more than a deviation from the “norm” of our natural human urges, right?

Not according to my boyfriend, who came up with one of the most credible arguments for monogamy I’ve heard recently: while it may be natural for unsophisticated animals to shag everything they can, for humans there is more to consider than mere procreation. We don’t just look for someone to help us make offspring; we want someone we find intellectually engaging, with whom we can share hobbies, have fun, and whom we find physically attractive. Because we are thinking creatures, we need more from a mate than strong progeny; we need stimulation and enjoyment.  And given most of us find that few partners provide all these things consistently over a considerable period of time, it seems only natural that we should want to commit when we find one who doesn’t fall short.  Because the ongoing fulfillment of being with someone compatible trumps the momentary excitement of sleeping with someone new.

So much for monogamy, but what about marriage?  I’d much rather make an active decision every morning to be with my boyfriend because I love him, than to remember as I wake up that we’re eternally bound to one another in marriage.  For me monogamy is romantic; marriage is just a contract that stops us choosing monogamy and makes it obligatory.

I should clarify at this point that I’m not against marriage.  I just don’t see it as a romantic gesture.  Romance to me is choosing to love one another when nothing holds you to it; binding yourselves together legally and religiously has nothing to do with that.

If I get married it won’t be to push my relationship into a new phase; it will be to make mine, my partner’s and any potential children’s lives easier.  It is cheaper and simpler to live as a married couple.  Moreover I’d like my children to grow up with the strong sense of family that I did.  Part of it may be a public declaration of mine and my partner’s commitment to each other, but it won’t be a private one: we won’t need to make such declarations to each other.

So my marriage will be a social gesture rather than a romantic one.  The romance will be in my relationship; the wedding will be nothing more than a public celebration of that.

And it had better be a damned good party.