Saturday, April 06, 2013

Just pondering social pressures

I got involved in another marriage discussion (but not that kind), so I thought I'd continue my musings here. This has to do with the way our culture likes to romanticize marriage, and why I have a problem with it.
If you've ever seen a romantic comedy in your life, you've witnessed a sad caricature of how our culture actually views relationships. Now, I can't get mad at romantic comedies for romanticizing relationships anymore than I can get mad at a comedian for cracking jokes, at professional athletes for using performance-enhancing drugs, or at politicians for willfully staying in a constant state of self-delusion to avoid the pain of having to admit that they don't have all the answers and can't actually fulfill their promises to millions of people who depend on them... Er, sorry, I got a little off-track there.

The trouble with romance is that we buy into the hype, and that's dangerous.

In most movies and TV shows I've seen that involve a marriage, the marriage itself is the Happily Ever After moment. Reality tends to not play out that way. Maybe for some couples it does, but the expectation in many people's minds is that marriage is when the good stuff starts, and that's simply not true.

It's a little ironic to me that blushing brides will many times happily describe their wedding day as "the happiest moment of their life," when that phrasing itself implies that it's all downhill from there; they'll never have another moment in their relationship as happy as that moment. So, I find myself wondering:

Why do people get married?

In my not-entirely-humble opinion, there's only one good reason to get married: because you've been living with the person you love for years, and you've mutually come to the conclusion that you're great for each other. You know all about them, and they know all about you. You never want to be with anyone else. You already know all of these things. You've probably said them to each other already. All that remains is to have a ceremony and make it official.

Well, if the divorce rate is any indication, that reason isn't the main one for a lot of people. They probably rushed into it because they were too young and love-struck to know better, they wanted some legal or financial benefits, they had a baby on the way and didn't want it born out of wedlock, or they thought getting married would make their relationship better. The first three are bad reasons, but the last is outright lunacy. Even so, there are people who believe this stuff.

The way we romanticize relationships and marriage drives people to think that they need these things to be happy in their lives. This is especially true of women, because we still raise our little girls with some screwy outdated notions that originated to make them good obedient housewives. It's basically brainwashing our kids, we just don't think of it that way because we're the ones doing it, just like our parents did for us.

The social pressure is terrible.

There are, believe it or not, people in this world who do not want to get married to their significant other. Maybe the institution of marriage does not interest them. Even if they can't see any reason why they would want to break up in the foreseeable future, maybe they don't want the added pressure of a lifelong commitment to that person, or at least not just yet.

So, when that happens, why do so many people react by constantly asking them, "Hey, when are you two getting married?" As if it's just expected. In that context, it's like it isn't even a commitment, it's some kind of responsibility that the couple has so far failed to live up to. If a woman is with a man for long enough without the guy proposing, there are people who will automatically think they're having problems because, hey, if he loves her, why doesn't he ask her to get married?

In a social vacuum, that couple would be reasonably happy together, but instead they experience pressure from the expectations of others. Even worse, some women will think this way themselves because it's already programmed in. They've been with this guy for so long and he hasn't proposed yet. "What is he waiting for? What's wrong with him," or worse, "what's wrong with me?" Guys can get the same kind of problem. If they haven't proposed, they'll start feeling anxious, like if they don't put a ring on that girl's finger quickly, they're going to wind up losing her.

This is supposed to be a couple of people who love each other and are happy together, and they're made to feel anxious about it. What the hell?

It's understandable that this pressure exists, though. It exists because marriage is made out to be this wonderful thing; it's the Happily Ever After moment. So in many people's minds, if you're in love, marriage has to be the next step.

Women (and men) are given unrealistic expectations about marriage.

It starts with the proposal. We see it in movies and crap all the time. One day, ideally when the woman is least expecting it, the man will initiate an unforgettably romantic moment, get down on one knee and pledge his undying love to her. She'll smile ear-to-ear, tears of joy streaming down her face, and say "Yes!"

Really? No talking about it beforehand? No thinking about moving in first to see if you enjoy living together? No discussing whether one or both of you want kids in the future? The guy just has to put himself out there because it "feels right," and hope that the woman was on the same page? I mean shit, that's gonna be awkward if she was thinking about breaking up with him.

Why is the expectation that the guy proposes anyway? Where are all the feminists on this? I heard someone express the thought that if a woman proposes to a guy, it makes her seem desperate. Are you kidding me? Okay, sure, I guess the whole act of getting down on one knee and declaring that you can't live without someone sounds a little desperate. In fact, it sounds desperate when a guy does it. So why the hell would you consider that way normal and the other way weird?

In a sensible world, two people who love each other would just tell each other so, talk about the possibility of getting married together, and come to the conclusion together that they should get engaged. Oh, but some will say, "That's not romantic. It takes all the romance out of it." You're talking about spending the rest of your life with the person you love more than anyone in the world. Why the hell does that need to be further romanticized for you? Unless, you know, you're more in love with the idea of getting proposed to (or proposing) than the actual person you're involved with.

Then there's the wedding itself. It's always portrayed to us as this huge, extravagant event. The church (or wherever) has to be all made up. A huge spread of food and dessert has to be put out, including a massive cake to stand as a sugary monument to the happy couple (a monument which will sometimes remain standing for a length of time no longer than the marriage itself).

The man and his posse are dressed to the nines, often renting tuxedos just for the occasion rather than dressing in anything they actually own because, come on, we need to make this poor slob look presentable enough that some woman might actually want to marry him. This is no time to see your prospective spouse as they truly are.

And the dress. My god, the dress. It's the thing every little girl dreams of, right? You get to walk down the aisle looking like an angel in your big gorgeous wedding dress, hearing all your friends and relatives murmur about how beautiful you look, going up to the altar to be wed to the man of your dreams. Hell, plenty of girls fantasize about it long before they have an actual guy in mind to stand beside them in the fantasy. They just dream of one day getting married to... some guy. Anyone else find that a little creepy?

Then, of course, there's the honeymoon. Brilliant idea there. The happy couple gets to go on a vacation where neither of them has to work, cook, clean, pay bills, raise kids, or do much of anything but have sex. Sounds like a great preview of married life, doesn't it? At least it fits with the romantic fantasy.

So people are dying to make this special day happen. Once they meet somebody that they're fairly happy with, they'll make arrangements to do it as soon as is feasible because they've been waiting for this glorious day their whole lives. Who wouldn't want to, right? It sounds great.

I've heard people joke about women (and sometimes men) who have been remarried many times. They'll say, "I think they like getting married more than they like being married." Well, duh.

Getting married is fun. Being married is difficult.

That's the heart of the matter, really. We romanticize the ceremony so much, but we don't really tell our kids as much about the challenges that come afterward. Many little girls dream of being a beautiful blushing bride one day. Fewer dream of being a wife.

Look, ages ago when the only thing women were expected to do was be a housewife, these ideas worked just fine. Back then, we superior men had to convince the lesser subservient women that they had to pick a man to wait on hand and foot the rest of their lives, build a home for him, do all the chores, satisfy him sexually, raise his kids, all while he scarcely gives her or them the time of day because he has more important manly things to worry about. If we were ever going to pull that off, we had to find some way to make it fun for them.

But now, we live in a world where most men acknowledge that women can have their own desires and ambitions, which may extend beyond being a wife and a mother. Marriage today has to be an equal partnership, but people frequently aren't taught how to build something like that. All they're taught is to want to get married, because that is what's expected. Then, once they're married, they have to find out first-hand just how hard it can be. Many just give up right away, while others stay together for years without really being happy anymore.

We often wind up with these couples who've grown so bitter and antagonistic toward each other over the years, by the time they actually divorce, the proceedings resemble outright warfare, and the kids get all the collateral damage. Didn't those people used to love each other?

So what's the point of the romance anymore?

The wedding day was the happiest moment of your life, ladies? Really? Not when you met the guy? Not when he first asked you out (or vice versa)? Not one of your dates when you got to know each other? Not a vacation you took together? Not when you were first intimate with each other? Not when you realized you loved him? Not when you moved in together? Not when you started sharing secrets with each other and talking about the future?

It just frustrates me to no end that we've romanticized marriage into being this critical milestone that happy couples have to reach after a certain point to avoid social stigma. No one should have to put up with a constant judgmental barrage of "When are you getting married?" comments. Of course, once they do tie the knot, the next barrage will be, "When are you going to have kids?" (That's a whole other discussion for another time, but for now I'll say this: not everybody should have kids, and less people than that should be having more than two.)

The fact is, we don't live in some romantic comedy where the credits roll right after the wedding reception. These people have to spend the rest of their lives together. It's a huge commitment, and the sad part nobody wants to admit is this: not everyone who loves each other can successfully live together forever without driving each other insane.

Some people just want different things out of life.

Some people care more about their careers or other commitments. Some people might want to get married sometime in the future but just don't feel ready right now. As long as their significant other accepts this or feels the same way, why mess with it? We shouldn't be pressuring those people into creating a nuclear family just because it's what we want, or what we think is right.

And since I still don't think it's been said enough yet: we need to take government out of marriage. No more marriage licenses, no special privileges for being married in the eyes of the law instead of just living together. It serves no logical purpose and places unfair pressure on single people.

This ridiculous love affair we've had with marriage has gone on long enough. There is plenty of room in our lives for romance. People who love each other have opportunities every day to show how much they care. If they really need special occasions to be romantic, we've got birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. Making marriage romantic doesn't help anybody find love or fulfill their wild fantasies. It only renders people under-prepared for what being married actually entails.

So, those are my thoughts. You may have guessed that I personally have no desire to get married. This may have something to do with my being 25 years old. Maybe in ten years or so my attitude will change. Maybe I'll meet somebody who I would actually love to live with forever, along with a marriage license and an album full of photos of her looking gorgeous in her dress, and me looking awkward in a tuxedo. I guess time will tell.

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you marginally enjoyed it. Peace and love, Internet people.


  1. I think the problem I see with most marriages is that people aren't forced to feel like they need to marry each other, but rather, often times, rush into it on their own volition without really knowing what they're getting into. You've got these attractive couples who marry each other to establish one another as their sexual property. You've got you're all-too-typical good girl trying to change the troubled boy who can't or won't change. You've got the couple that sees they've got so much in common with each other at the beginning, but fail to have anything to keep their relationship going and interesting. Your psycho bitch/crazy asshole types who get married because no one in their sane mind wants them. And so on and so forth.

    You can blame the movies and media that create these false ideals of what a real relationship is like, however, they're made to entertain. People are just stupid and read too much into them, in which they get that "brainwashed" effect. As for the government, they don't really care who the hell you marry in the long run, just so long as they can cash in and add you to their statistics. But, the real blame here is with the couple themselves. These are two people who have their own functioning minds capable of thinking and making decisions for themselves. In the end if you get married those two are the only ones to blame if it doesn't work out.

    A marriage is like any relationship, really. It has it's ups and downs, sometimes you hate each other, the next you're back to being the picturesque lovely couple. It's what you put into that matters, from when you first meet until your last days together. You're constantly building a relationship with each other. You're finding things out about each other, you're creating moments with each other, but you also give each your space and time alone so you're not constantly around one another driving out all the enjoyment you share with each other. You realize that you have your flaws and issues and that marriage isn't always exciting. Marriage means something only if you're both fully invested in the relationship. Otherwise, it's just a ring on your finger, a piece of paper and a social status. That being said, once again, if a marriage doesn't work out, it's not everyone else's problem, it's the couple who neglected to fully look at their relationship before making that decision to get married.

  2. Yeah, I get what you're saying. I didn't mean to outright blame media for failed marriages or unrealistic ideas about marriage. That stuff is typically just a reflection of what people already believe. Still, as much pressure as social expectations place on people, the decision does ultimately fall on the couple themselves as you said.