The Bond In Marriage Has Been Taken From Us
Our society has failed us and we have, ultimately, failed ourselves.
We are taught at a very early age the steps we are supposed to take that would deem us a good person, a positive contributor to society. In addition to ensuring we graduate from high school and college, we are supposed to buy a marriage license with the one person we intend to spend the rest of our lives with. We are supposed to walk down the aisle, preferably in a church. We are supposed to have children only after being recognized in said ritual before God. There is a template to the tradition: the woman wears a white gown to signify her purity, she picks a maid of honor and several bridesmaids. The man is to wait for his bride at the head of the altar, not having laid eyes (or hands) on her before the sacred viewing. He, too, is to pick a best man and groomsmen. After the ordained priest declares them husband and wife, they are given the permission to experience sexual intimacy, on their way to live a life of happily ever after. But what of the couple that chooses to neglect the conventional norm? And what does it say of the couple that does as society says?
I was invited to a birthday party that would be hosted at a large sports bar. It was days after the election, everyone had a drink in their hand while trying to avoid talking politics. Tired from a long day, I was the first to grab a seat and sit at the long table. Moments later, a family friend joined me. She sat across from me, a cold cup of wine in her hand and she talked of her son who she described as having a creative personality. I was intrigued by his youth and urgency to teach himself how to play instruments and learn languages; I asked her many questions about him. In my admiration of her son, I talked about how I looked forward to being a mother one day. Her response implied that I opened a door that she had been forcefully holding shut for some time.
After a short pause and a sip from her wine, she said, “When I heard you and Alex left Florida to come up here (New Jersey), I thought to myself, what is Bianca doing? She needs to hurry up and make that man marry her!”
I was not taken aback. I’ve grown accustomed to this kind of reaction toward my eight year old union. I am aware of the habit that people have fallen into, making it difficult for them to grasp the idea of a couple surviving past a license. Although I understood her, I figured this would be a great opportunity to play. I replied, “What do you mean? We are married.”
Her eyes enlarged and she slapped the table. “What? I can’t believe you didn’t tell anyone! When did you go to the courthouse? Why didn’t you tell us? Are you planning for a wedding?”
I couldn’t help but laugh, “Well, we didn’t go to the courthouse, but we are married.”
Immediately, her face fell. She rolled her eyes and gulped down her drink. “You wash his clothes, don’t you? You live with him, don’t you? You are doing everything of a wife with no rights! If he gets sick right now, you will have no say. If he leaves you, you will have no access to his money! Trust me, I’ve been divorced twice and I would not have been able to get half of the 401K had I not been married. Girl, you are making a big mistake.”
She and I went back and forth on the subject for some time, other party members jumped in and then casually saw themselves out. She was on the defense, using her index finger to point at me while attempting to make an animated argument from a list that she created about how I was, ultimately, ruining my life. After it was absolutely clear that she was referring to owning the license, confusing that with a loving communion, I knew I was communicating with a brick wall.
Her husband sat next her, quiet, and played with his food. He attempted to interject when I said, “There are people married right now and unhappy,” but his wife prompted him to remain silent, so he did. Instead, he got up from his chair and slowly walked over to my side of the table. As he briefly passed behind me, his hand rested on my shoulder and squeezed.
Although I did not stop debating, I felt his touch and slow movement, understanding his silence loudly. When he returned to the table, he tried to speak again but was cut off for the second time by another woman who said, “You can’t talk because you’re married.” In which I replied, “Of course, he’s married! Look at who his woman is! He had to marry her!” His wife tried to reassure me, “He didn’t have to do anything.” But then he said, “Your mother told me I better marry her daughter.”
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Today, the couple that chooses a different route is perceived (mostly from women) as unorganized, acting as husband and wife but without the decency to solidify it. They are viewed as a unit that is wasting time and, certainly, not committed to each other or serious about their future together. As years pass, they are probed often, the question about a wedding date and children consistently at the forefront of dialogues. If a date is not provided, eyebrows wrinkle, lips frown and the nose goes up. They are judged about whether he is loyal or truly loves her; she is condemned for putting up with it.
In 2014, 2.1 million people journeyed to their county clerk’s office in order to register for a marriage license. Individually, the fee for such processing is averaged at $100, which is fairly inexpensive. Collectively, however, the price tag is equivalent to over $214 million, or a $212 million profit. This does not include what is spent on the wedding ceremony.
Marriage, without a doubt, was a custom that began thousands of years ago with intentions to create a bond between a couple. Rituals are common in human society and we often participate in certain activities in order to elevate meaning. Like Christmas, for example. We form habits to get us through the years, trying to find solace in just about anything. However, as our perceptions of a society began to change, so did how we organize during these rituals and their meanings.
For instance, in a hunter-gathering village from thousands of years ago, they may have danced around a fire to celebrate the union of its oldest couple. However, during the agricultural revolution, villages were acquiring land to farm and they needed to know what to do with said land once a person passed. Marriage was a good system to organize this, linking families with property. Today, marriage still maintains the purpose of being able to effectively distribute one's wealth after they pass but we are no longer simply jumping over brooms or dancing around a fire. Rather, we are spending lots of money and consuming materialistic things. An expensive ring, for instance, has evolved to be a symbol of worth and often the responsibility of the man; he to be unfairly judged if the diamond doesn’t shine bright enough. Marriage, an obvious psychological need for the current human condition, is a festivity people perceive as an obligation that must be taken care of. This emotional need, though, has met its match: in a capitalist environment, locating the need of a consumer is vital. If I know my buyer will always need something, I will always have that something to provide. The spiritual bond that a couple may be looking for in their union has, simply enough, been taken advantage of.
We are made to believe that if we pay $100 for a marriage license, the relationship is real and truly forever. It’s a step that has been added to the ritual, allowing for individuals to feel such a conviction by it that, for example, friends feel comfortable to make sour faces and tell me that I am living a lie. With such a conclusion, our society has failed us and we have, ultimately, failed ourselves. The institution of marriage, as it stands, proves that the collective maintains the inability to think for themselves; because to do what everyone else has done is easier and, therefore, valid.
The consequence for not obtaining a marriage license is make-believe: judgment. It is made tangible when certain rights are denied; like, for example: not being allowed to help a family member with a health issue. Although it is not a tangible consequence, a physical pain that touches the nerves, people are still hung heavy by it. Because it does hurt to watch someone you love be in pain while you are powerless. While there are aspects of our societal position that are growing increasingly harder to change, how we perceive marriage and how we live by it is something we can.
In many households, to separate from your spouse is, too, frowned upon. Because of this, people have remained in unhappy relationships ‘til death did them part. They realized only after the ceremony that it was not, after all, magic that poof! made bliss stay. As time carries on, the preconceived roles for husband and wife effortlessly sweeps into the home, changing how they are with each other and in their individual lives. Some are accused of letting themselves go and others lose motivation, giving up on dreams. If only we can stay true to ourselves… Society then evolved again: if you do not want to be with your spouse anymore, judgment free, get a divorce. In 2014, there were 813,862 divorces, which is equivalent to $15.9 billion. If highway tolls pay for a smooth road construction, filling pot holes; the water bill pays for the person who has to build the proper tools to filter clean drinking water for survival; what does the marriage and divorce pay for?
Conventional marriage does, indeed, rub me the wrong way. I am not attracted to the glitz and glam of things, with the urgency to flaunt a ring, a lavish party or an extravagant story accompanied by fireworks. I do not feel a rush to trot down to the county's clerk's office in order to pay for a license, to “not be a girlfriend forever,” to change my last name, to receive a paper for the approval of others. What matters to me is whether my partner and I can effectively communicate; whether we can discuss teaching techniques for the children we will share; whether we can support each other as we realize our dreams; whether we can continue to stimulate each other intimately; and whether we can still love each other in our wrinkled skin once the children are grown and out of the nest.
My significant other and I were together for three years when we knew we were spiritually in this, together, for as long as we could make it. The bond was created, not by a piece of paper, but by our commitment to see growth through no matter what. Being able to do our own thing, the way we want to, without society dictating, has made us stronger. It has allowed us to discover for ourselves who we want to be, as individuals and as a unit, which helps us to be better people for each other.