But speculation about whether or not marriage is obsolete overlooks a more important question: What is lost by making marriage the most central relationship in a culture?
For me, this is a personal question as much as it is a social and political one. When my partner, Mark, and I talk about whether or not we want to get married, friends tend to assume that we are trying to decide whether or not we are “serious” about our relationship. But I’m not expressing doubts about my relationship; I’m doubting the institution itself.
… in America today, getting married is still “the most prestigious way to live your life.
This prestige can make it particularly difficult to think critically about the institution—especially when coupled with the idea that vows might save you from the existential loneliness of being human. When my friends cite the benefits of marriage, they often point to an intangible sense of belonging and security: Being married just “feels different.”
marriage actually weakens other social ties. Compared with those who stay single, married folks are less likely to visit or call parents and siblings—and less inclined to offer them emotional support or pragmatic help with things such as chores and transportation. They are also less likely to hang out with friends and neighbors.
Single people, by contrast, are far more connected to the social world around them. On average, they provide more care for their siblings and aging parents. They have more friends. They are more likely to offer help to neighbors and ask for it in return.
The sociologists found that, for the most part, these trends couldn’t be explained away by structural differences in the lives of married versus unmarried people. They hold true across racial groups and even when researchers control for age and socioeconomic status. So it isn’t the circumstances of married life that isolate—it’s marriage itself.
Just a few generations ago, the ideal marriage was defined by love, cooperation, and a sense of belonging to a family and community. Today’s newlyweds, Finkel argues, want all that and prestige, autonomy, personal growth, and self-expression. A marriage is supposed to help the individuals within it become the best versions of themselves. This means that more and more, Americans turn to their spouses for needs they once expected an entire community to fulfill.
This article made me think deeply about my marriage. So much rings true. While we saw each other as a married couple way before we got married (late), society’s perception of us drastically changed when we signed the dotted line.
Our commitment to each other remained similar before and after marriage. What we both strive to maintain is relationships outside the marriage, as we both recognise that while we really enjoy spending time with each other, one day, we will be separated (death). Then we will need the support of others.