I was recently talking with a friend who used to be as staunchly-anti marriage as someone can be. Since I can remember, he has extolled the virtues of maintaining a certain degree of separation from someone in everything from finances to living situations to personal hobbies. While he dated girls, and even fell in love with them, he made sure that all of his partners knew up-front that he was not interested in marriage as a concept. For him, it was essential that he not find himself a few years into something serious and suddenly be bombarded with pressure from all sides to make it “official” in some way, as he felt that would be unfair to all parties involved. He was right, of course.
Not too long ago, and nearing his thirties in a way that probably felt a bit like wading into the deep end of a pool and feeling your face just start to slip under the water, he announced that he was going to be getting married. It came as a shock to all of us who knew him, though given that I hadn’t seen him personally in a few years, I assumed that he’d gone through some serious life changes and taken on a wholly different view of traditional relationships. After all, we all evolve on our principles and preconceived notions about life as we age. Throw in a few personal milestones or changes in scenery, and you’re bound to find a different person at 29 than you knew at 25. It was a shock to see at first, but there was certainly nothing that strange about it.
His response, though, to when I asked him what made him change his mind (in a more lighthearted way than anything) was what really surprised me. I asked about his change of heart expecting a mature, charming spiel about how he had met a girl that made things make sense, that he had realized that his staunch views of love were a bit oversimplified, that he wanted to embark on a new journey with someone that he had never even considered an option. But he told me, in a tone I couldn’t quite make sense of, “She wants to get married. It’s important to her, so why not?”
In any other circumstance, when relating to a life change so significant, we would have a thousand reasons for “why not.” If someone desperately wants children and the other not at all, we are pretty comfortable saying that forcing their hand is a terrible idea. If someone wanted to move across the world and the other had an entire life constructed where they were already living, “why not” would make a lot of sense. But for marriage, we often tend to see the act as a favor that one party does for another because it is important to them. It’s the unselfish, noble thing to do in our minds, and will all probably work out in the end. The choice that my friend made was lauded by his family and hers, all of whom were terribly excited to finally get that wedding they weren’t quite sure would ever happen.
We are all currently seeing countless friends and acquaintances announce, with a strange, almost demanding kind of fervor, that they are getting married. They post photos of rings and statuses of how happy they are, and accrue “likes” and comments from friends and people who aren’t remotely close enough to be invited to the ceremony. And I’m sure, if pressed, we could all name at least a few couples who, for one reason or another, likely should not be getting married. We know people who have never been one for marriage — or at least not in this particular relationship — who are now being gently nudged in the direction of the alter by any number of outside forces.
In truth, it’s none of our business what people do with their personal lives. If someone divorces, it’s sad, and that’s the extent of our relationship to it. And maybe some of the couples we would have written off as not meant for each other at all are actually incredibly happy and destined to go the distance. It doesn’t really matter what we think about it at all. But what is our business, and important on a more societal level, is figuring out what exactly is making these people feel the pressure in the first place. While it’s true that marriage and more traditional concepts of monogamy are not as universal as they once were — and some people are deriding the idea entirely, even for the lives of others — there are still many people who take that plunge (or desperately want to) because we think that they should.
It is important to ask ourselves why we think that these life choices are for us. It is too simple to assume that marriage is “right” for us just because we saw a lot of it growing up, or that it would be okay to needle a partner who didn’t want it into following us because we were on the proper side of the historical track. There have to be concrete reasons for wanting to be with someone, and wanting to commit to them in a certain way, because otherwise we are building things as important as our relationships on societal concepts that we don’t even really understand.
I hope my friend’s marriage works out, just as I hope all of the engagement photos plastering my Facebook feed were not taken in vain. I hope this in a more abstract way, though, because I don’t think that their individual successes or failures really mean anything specific about marriage in general. Some people are going to be able to work well together in the long-term, and some people aren’t. The only thing that we can really draw from it is trying to figure out why some people enter into this contract when they know it isn’t what they want. Because, at the end of the day, the only one forcing us is ourselves