I am still recovering from Thanksgiving with my extended family. All of the food, the libations, and the baffling conversations that seemed to rise up out of the din, only to get subsumed by more eating and drinking. One of the more odd snippets of banter I picked up on (but did not have a moment to contribute to) was a conversation about the origin of marriage. A few bottles of wine into the evening, and some of the male family members were engaging in a crudely philosophical debate, which asserted that the construct of marriage was invented and perpetuated by women (no comment), and that gender relations have developed to such an extent that women no longer have any use for the institution of marriage (still, no comment). Whether you can buy into this argument or not, is irrelevant, a better question would be, is marriage relevant for anyone anymore?
Time Magazine thought enough of the question to make it a cover story of a recent issue with the article written by Belinda Luscombe titled, “Who Needs Marriage? A Changing Institution.” In the piece, Luscombe sites the upcoming royal “wedding of the century” between Britain’s Prince William and his fiancé Catherine Middleton as a good enough starting point to take a contemporary look at the institution. With some substantiation from the Pew Research Association, Luscombe comes to a conclusion, of sorts, “that marriage, whatever its social, spiritual or symbolic appeal, is in purely practical terms just not as necessary as it used to be. Neither men nor women need to be married to have sex or companionship or professional success or respect or even children — yet marriage remains revered and desired.” Forty percent of those polled, for instance, described marriage as being “obsolete.”
This is after the rise of a $40 billion-plus wedding industry, shows like “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire” as well as the rise of the prenup, the postnup and, most recently, divorce insurance – can you blame us for losing faith? And of course, there has been the recent sanctimonious controversy over same-sex marriage and the irrational fear that the entire institution of marriage was being eroded by the prospect.
Luscombe tackles the issue of marriage, particularly how it pertains to parenthood:
“Rarely is there a bigger chasm between what Americans believe to be the best thing for society and what actually happens than in the bearing and raising of children. Half or more of the respondents in the Pew poll say that marital status is irrelevant to achieving respect, happiness, career goals, financial security or a fulfilling sex life. When it comes to raising kids, though, it’s a landslide, with more than three-quarters saying it’s best done married.”
Well, as much as I can see the world crumbling around me, I think this is less of a question of the relevancy of marriage, and more of a question of where marriage is going? When I first seriously considered marriage for myself, it was less about placing my faith in a long valued institution, and more about making the decision as individual and non-institutional as possible. Where do you think the institution of marriage is going? How does your concept and marriage reality differ or reinforce dominant notions of marriage? Do we need marriage, or do we just need to rethink marriage altogether?