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Does Marriage Still Matter?

We marry for different reasons today but it is still an important institution

With each passing week, there seem to be more and more articles on how and why marriage as we have known it the past century or two is changing drastically. While many will say they don't like the way things are going, the fact is, marriage is changing and I'm not sure what, if anything, can stop these changes. I'm also not sure they should be stopped.

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article for this column entitled, "How You Enter Marriage Matters," in which I described someone I know who is contemplating marriage but who had not wanted to get engaged until recently when she finally gave herself permission to get divorced if need be.…

Some of you questioned why this woman would even marry and said you hoped she wouldn't have children for fear she would "treat them as dispassionately." A woman like this - who shares her thoughts, fears and ideas of escape hatches - is looked down upon.

But is this woman an aberration, is she just speaking what so many who marry today feel are her thoughts similar to those who've married for generations before her?

If you look at the trends we've seen in this country in the past twenty to thirty years, my guess is that she is far from an aberration and that many who have married in the past two generations (at least) have relied on the knowledge that divorce is an option if things don't work out. So, while I don't think this mindset is new, I think overtly talking about it is.

In the same vein, a NY Times blog published this week by Tara Parker-Pope asks, "Do Kids Still Matter to Marriage?" Parker-Pope references the 2008 Rutgers marriage research expert Barbara Dafoe Whitehead states,

"For most of the nation's history, Americans expected to devote much of their adult lives to the nurture and rearing of children. Life with children has been central to norms of adulthood, marriage and the experience of family life. Today however, this historic pattern is changing. Life without children is becoming the more common social experience for a growing percentage of the adult population."

And a NY Times article written a week and a half ago by Patricia Cohen states,

"Marriage and parenthood - once seen as prerequisites for adulthood - are now viewed more as lifestyle choices, according to a new report released by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution."

These trends beg the question, "Does Marriage Still Matter?" Having just gotten married for the first time myself less than six years ago at the age of 43, I will say an emphatic, YES! Marriage does still matter.

Marriage is still a wonderful statement of love and commitment to your spouse. Marriage still provides financial advantages to couples not simply by having potentially two incomes/one household budget, but by the tax incentives, insurance coverage benefits and "family plans" that exist. Marriage still matters in appeasing those who feel better fitting into social structures in traditional ways.

As emphatic as my "YES" was in answer to this question, is my answer also NO! Marriage doesn't matter in order to have or raise children, marriage doesn't matter in order to find financial security, and marriage doesn't matter in terms of "happily ever after."

American demographics changed and, in 2005, for the first time in history, the scales tipped away from the two parent head of household toward the single parent head of household.

People no longer marry to have children and no longer have children when they marry. In many areas of our country, people of the same sex are wedded legally.

There are different reasons for marriage these days and a variety of types of marriages that we see. Given how long we live and how many choices we have in the world today, we no longer have an expectation that we will be with our same spouse until we die.

As much as anyone marrying today may hope in the moment to be with their spouse forever, there are fewer who do so blindly or rigidly - that is, without knowing that divorce is a very real possibility.

Marriage is a wonderful institution in many ways, but the conclusion that I draw is that it is incredibly out-dated as it is. I think it's time we start acknowledging and accepting what is really going on versus what is supposed to happen per the fairy tales we all read as children. It's time we stop making people wrong who can't (or choose not to) follow the old script.

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