Marriage has existed longer than written history. When I ask students where they see themselves in ten years, they almost always answer married. Marriage is an integral part of our culture. With marriages failing at nearly fifty percent, and with the multitude of unhappy marriages in existence, why do people still want to get married so badly? Cultural tradition and expectations, the desire to possess another, and the idea of being a princess or prince for a day are at the root of most people's desire to marry.
From the time children grasp the idea of coupling, they are told about marriage, and the idea they will one day marry is imbued in them. Little girls, especially, are saturated with the idea of marriage, whether it is by parents and caregivers or by the messages they get in the media. The Disney idea of love and relationships alone is enough to skew how women view love and marriage. Then, despite all the evidence around them to the contrary, young men and women continue to believe in marriage, believe they have found true love, and want to possess their loved one forevermore.
One doesn't have to look far into history or other cultures to witness the idea of possession in marriage. In our country, North Carolina was the last state to "remove the spousal exemption" in cases of spousal rape. The rape of a spouse in the mid-1900s in this country was not subject to prosecution, as sex was perceived as a marital right. This bellows of ownership.
Evidence of our patriarchal society lives on in the taking of a husband's name. Many feminists believe this to be remnants of when the husband had rule over the wife, children, and property. Again, marriage as being related to possessing another is suggested.
Of course, these examples are from history (if you can call 1993 history). But possession remains a stalwart of marriage. When one loves another they want to feel secure; this (often illusionary) feeling of security is enhanced by the legal binding of one to another. It makes it more difficult to leave, and thereby relates to possessing. In short, we want to marry so we can hold onto another.
It is difficult for many to admit they want to possess another. The sound of it is archaic and brings images of ownership. People much prefer to say, "I want you to be mine." There are even Valentine candies embossed with "Be Mine". This statement, although still ringing of possession, is more palatable. In many cases possession is exactly what we want: we want to know the other will always be there for us; we want to know we are bound together, that nothing will separate us. However, it also isn't hard to see this as illusionary, despite the divorce rate at nearly half of all marriages.
A final reason people want to get married is the gala event it has become. A large percentage of women dream of the day they will be the princess at their wedding. Who wouldn't want that? Many men feel similarly. You get to be a star for a day. Everything is about you. Everyone is there to celebrate you and your love for one another. Weddings are beautiful events. The pageantry, the pomp, and the beauty of it all results in it being majestic. People cry with happiness. The thought of completely doing away with this ceremony is preposterous. There are few who would deny their offspring this opportunity.
The idea of marriage may be outdated and tied to archaic tradition, but the American public will continue to dream of their perfect wedding and their perfect marriage for some time to come. The question is, will their expectations of marriage meet the reality?
Copyright William Berry, 2012.