Anthropologists calculate the institution of marriage, or something you and I would recognize as such, to date back almost 5000 years. The earliest known marriage certificate, in this case a marriage contract, involving one woman and one man occurred in 2350 BC in Mesopotamia, or modern day Iraq. Over the ensuing centuries marriage evolved, influenced through culture and religion, to become what you and I know it as today. Matrimony’s inclusion early on among the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church speaks to it’s historic significance, and there’s no denying that marriage between a man and woman is a cornerstone of human civilization.
Yet with five millennia of historic precedent lending credit to the idea of life long marriage between two people, why is the noise regarding its necessity and predictions of its future demise louder than ever before? Is there any remaining rationale for marriage or are we simply kidding ourselves? Has marriage finally met its end?
In my last post on sexless marriages a commenter responded:
“This article reaffirms my opinions on marriage. WHY do people get married? If you’re not religious, what the %^$* is the point?”
Unfortunately many share this same pessimistic view of wedlock. It’s as if getting married is like someone trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, like we are being asked to become something we’re not. We’ve gotten to the point we now ask, biologically speaking, if humans are even capable to being monogamous to one person for life. The naysayers cite high divorce rates, unhappy marriages, and cohabitation in lieu of matrimony as evidence enough that marriage is circling the drain. While paying little attention to the fact (depending on your age) that our parent’s, grandparents’, and great grandparent’s generations were incredibly successful at it.
So what is the immediate response? Like everything we simply question the institution itself. “Does marriage work anymore?”, “Is it necessary to marry?” , “Why bother?”, “What’s the point?” We act as if what has worked for fifty centuries has, in the last week, suddenly ran its course and now it’s time for a change! There’s even a new term in the national lexicon which attempts to answer, if not reinvent, how humans relate to monogamy. Now, instead of simply being monogamous we are ‘serial monogamists’ or when an individual is loyal to one mate for a given amount of time, then moves on to the next. This conveniently keeps humans atop the evolutionary tree above an amoeba and spider monkey and we finally have a scientific answer for why we want to sleep around.
I couldn’t seem to get the comment out of my head as I began to seriously contemplate this idea of ‘’till death do us part”. Is marriage now a waste of time? Are we indeed trying to get blood from the proverbial turnip? Has marriage become overrated? Is the current divorce rate and seemingly endless tales of adultery, unhappiness, and lack of fulfillment in its confines an indication that lifelong monogamy has become a practice in futility?
The more I thought about her response the more I became convinced that the institution of marriage by itself has been and remains completely flawless. Believing anything otherwise would be like saying the wheel is suddenly a bad idea. The hope that one man and one woman can create, nurture, and sustain a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual bond for life is a desire etched into our very DNA. Even within the most adamant marriage opponent resides a longing for a commitment with one person, whether they choose to admit it or not. Even if they’re convinced the basis for marriage is flawed they still yearn for the opportunity to connect intimately with one person, to allow guards to fall completely and just ‘be’ with someone who knows their inner workings better than anyone else. And regardless of how independent they may be, no one wishes to die alone.
One needs to look no further for proof of this than the number of divorcee’s who remarry. If there were anyone with legitimate reason to question marriage it would be the person who has already tried and failed. However the numbers say otherwise. Yet if marriage were the problem why would any of them ever consider trying again? Even looking through the lens of their own marriage catastrophes they still hold out hope for something better. It remains a risk well worth the reward.
Within the precepts of marriage lies the very foundation of our humanity – the family. If you were to take that stitch away the entire fabric of civilization unravels. Any divorcee, especially those with children, will admit that regardless of how miserable and malcontent their former marriage was, even in the worst cases of physical, mental, or verbal abuse there remains a deep desire to regain what marriage represents. I’m fully convinced that humans are not only capable of – we are designed for – life long commitment to one person.
Marriage isn’t the problem; the people in the marriage are the problem.
America has the highest divorce rate of any country on the globe at almost four times the world average. Our Canadian neighbors are only two times more apt while our Latino friends to the south are four times less likely. So let me ask, if the institution of marriage is the core of the problem wouldn’t it stand to reason that we would all share similar divorce rates? I mean no matter if you are from the US, Russia, Japan, or the Island country of Nauru aren’t we all the same sharing similar dreams, ambitions, and desires – isn’t that what the song says?
No marriage isn’t the problem we are the problem because of the expectations we have placed upon it. We’ve unknowingly molded marriage into something it wasn’t designed to become. To it we’ve attached our identity, self-worth, accomplishments, and most importantly the basis for complete happiness. We’ve come to believe that marriage should eliminate all of our problems, that getting married will keep him from sleeping around, and will cause her to stop abusing drugs. Marriage will complete us and make everything better, or so we believe. But what or who could ever live up to those expectations? What we have placed on marriage, and by association the other person, are requirements that we could never meet ourselves.
And therein lies the problem with marriage, those beautifully flawed people who enter into matrimony along with all of their issues, baggage, narcissistic tendencies, and insecurity. Yet because we are suddenly married we have the false belief that all of the bad habits should go away without ever having to perform any of the heavy lifting ourselves. And when it doesn’t happen and our past rears its ugly head humans get this nasty habit I like to call ‘avoidance’. We like to avoid real problems by laying blame at the feet of something or someone else. It’s so much easier to talk about our friends’ train wreck of a life than to look in the mirror at our own. It’s more fun for me to point out that speck of dust in my spouse’s eye than work on the branch in mine. And instead looking to the people involved for why the marriage didn’t work we would rather criticize marriage itself so we don’t get a splinter. Does my ex-wife deciding to cheat on me make marriage, by itself, a bad idea? Don’t I, more than most, have every right to paint marriage as the ultimate culprit, putting blame on it for why she had an affair and in so doing concluding it a pointless endeavor? Of course not, that’d be like saying because my truck broke down automobiles in general are useless and everyone should walk.
My children are in the unenviable position of being the first in my family raised in a broken home. I immediately recognize how their life is so drastically different from that of their cousins whose parents are still married. Their childhood experience of family will never be like mine. But I’m certain that when my daughter dreams about her future it will not include serial dating, child support, visitation, or separation agreements. No, she will be dreaming of a white knight riding in on his magnificent stallion, sweeping her off her feet and riding her into the sunset where they will live happily ever after. And she’ll do so because something inside tells her that’s the way it’s supposed to be.