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Why Marriage?

June 4, 2011

No, I’m not questioning marriage as an institution. I still believe in it quite strongly, despite all of this mess.

But I don’t get the reasons that some people pursue marriage. (I will say – those whose motives I question probably aren’t self-aware enough to articulate their own reasons, or at least not the reasons they have that I see. And they’d probably be offended if I pointed them out.)

Today on the train, there were two girls about my age sitting near me. Since it was later in the evening, the train was pretty quiet, and I was able to listen in on their conversation. They were first year law students, in their mid-twenties, and both from the Midwest. They started out talking about how ridiculously expensive DC is (complaining about paying $1200 a month in rent…I almost laughed aloud), how their jobs suck, and how they didn’t think it was worth it to come here to make more money than they’d been making in the Midwest. This seemed to be their primary reason for being here – the salaries are better than wherever they’d been before – but they hadn’t realized that cost of living would be higher too.

As their conversation revolved around shopping at outlets in order to get designer shoes for $400 a pair, they weren’t exactly the crowd I run with, and I found myself fascinated by their conversation. They so often seemed to contradict themselves, especially concerning relationships and their desires for marriage.

The Blonde apparently has a boyfriend, also a law student, and she spends an inordinate amount of time worrying that they’ll break up. She wants to appreciate the time that they get to spend together, but it seems like they just fight a lot about everything – well, okay, all of the examples she gave were of the same fight: he is out with friends, she calls him to see where he is, he invites her to join them, and by the time she gets to wherever they are, the evening is winding down or migrating to a new location. After acknowledging that this really isn’t his fault, she complained that it’s just so frustrating to her that he would treat her this way.

Back to being worried they’ll break up – she’s terrified of it, consumed by the thought. She went as far as to tell her friend that if he really expected her to be committed for the next three years (through law school), she needed a ring on her finger first, to know he was serious.

How long have they been together? Three months.

Three months and she wants an engagement ring from her boyfriend to prove that he’s committed to dating her through law school. Seriously.

The Brunette asked her if they’d talked about the future. The Blonde’s response? “I mean, I know he, like, wants kids, which I guess is cool, but I don’t know if I even want kids.” Two minutes later she was gushing that since he’s a redhead, they’re “going to have the cutest ginger babies ever!” But she’s not sure if she wants kids, don’t forget.

It was clear that the Blonde is not ready for marriage. She wants to be married, and the guy she’s with fits her plan; but her desire is about wanting to be married, not about wanting to be married to him.

The Brunette, meanwhile, went on about her (male) roommate, analyzing his relationship. The whole time the Blonde talked, the Brunette raved about how “your twenties are just for dating and having fun anyway. Once you’re in your thirties you can worry about getting serious.”

But when it came to her roommate and his girlfriend, she changed her tune (or maybe they’re older?). The girlfriend is crazy, because she travels a lot for work. Obviously no one with a boyfriend should travel for work, especially if it means being gone for two and a half weeks at a time! Gasp! And their relationship is apparently really strange because they don’t spend all of their free time together. Apparently clingy couples equal healthy couples. (I’ll admit: when she made the statement, “If I had a boyfriend, I’d be hanging out and staying over at his place all the time – I would want to spend every minute with him!” my first thought was, “And that’s why you don’t have a boyfriend.”)

She went as far as to say that they just don’t act like they really want to get married – yet five minutes earlier she was raving about how the Blonde should just enjoy her relationship for where it’s at, not worry about the future, not focus on wanting to get married – if it happens it will come in due time. Why couldn’t she extend that same grace to her roommate and his girlfriend, I wonder?

So why do we have this crazy desire to get married? Why do people my age so often see it as the “answer” or the end of their search? Why does our society say that a single person is less complete than a married person?

I feel like the desire for marriage should be about having already found someone who makes you a better version of yourself, someone who you want to spend your life with, someone who challenges you and who you challenge in return; finding that someone and realizing you both want to make a commitment to each other, forever. That is why I think people should get married.

But I think too often, like with the women on the metro today, it becomes about wanting to get married, and trying to find someone to fit inside your marriage-sized-hole. And I just don’t like that.

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