Should We Get Married? (Part 1)

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In Wonder Woman lore—including the 2017 Gal Gadot film—there exists an island of Amazonian women unknown and invisible to the rest of the world.

Everyone on the fictional island of Themyscira is female. There are no ‘traditional’ families. There is no such thing as marriage.

Everyone there seems fine with that arrangement. The only child on that island that I can remember from the film is the protagonist heroine Diana—born of a Greek mythology-esque encounter between her mother and Zeus.

She knew little of marriage or family or male-female relationships.

I think we can safely assume that when Diana imagined her future, and established her personal hopes and dreams as a child and young woman, getting married and/or becoming a mother was likely not part of them.

It’s different for most of us.

A lot different. Especially in the United States, where I live, and other Western cultures.

Regardless of our gender, regardless of our religious (or non-religious) affiliations, regardless of our politics, regardless of which state we live in, and regardless of whether our parents themselves are married, we are mathematically likely to get married, or enter into a long-term relationship with dynamics that approximate marriage.

In the U.S., 95 percent of people 18 and older are either married, divorced, or planning to marry someday. In other words, marriage DIRECTLY affects and influences 9.5 out of every 10 U.S. adults.


Well, we can do the whole history-lesson thing even though it’s probably mind-numbingly boring to most people. We can talk about how Western civilization spread and evolved, incorporating beliefs and traditions rooted in Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Ancient Israel, and the early Catholic Church, all of which continue to influence a ton of our beliefs, religious and political practices, and cultural traditions today.


We can simply agree that—just as pre-Wonder Woman Diana grew up surrounded only by women and thusly never conceived of marriage and family as a concept—everyone living in Western, English-speaking societies grows up seeing the VAST majority of people around them dating, getting engaged, getting married, and having children (even if they’re only seeing it depicted on TV and in the movies), resulting in most of us believing: Getting married is just what you do when you’re an adult! It’s what you’re supposed to do, and you’re probably weird if you don’t!

Unless you have same-sex romantic leanings or grew up in a single-parent family while hiding out in the woods, I assume—like me—you grew up never for a second questioning the idea that pairing up with someone and probably having children with them was basically ingrained into your belief system. You never even stopped to consider other alternative futures.

Other than our own births—which none of us actually remember—our wedding day and the birth of our first child are frequently cited as the biggest, most significant, happiest days of our lives.

Marriage: Survivor Island

Because that’s what marriage essentially is, right? Survivor Island minus the television crews?

No matter how wonderful our parents and extended families are, and no matter the quality of our education and academic experiences, MARRIAGE is essentially the equivalent of everyone we invite to our wedding being on the same jumbo plane with us and bidding us farewell as we parachute onto some island we know next to nothing about.

We know how to eat. But do we know where to find food, and what’s safe to eat?

Maybe we know how to build shelter. But do we know what location makes sense, and what the greatest threats to our safety—weather, disease, animals, other people—are?

We kind-of, sort-of know how to not die, but in this case, we don’t even know what may or may not be fatal.

“Good luck!!! We love you guys!!! Never go to bed angry!!!” they all smile and wave to us with the best of intentions and fortune-cookie marriage advice, as they’re sending us off on the ultimate Darwinian experience.

No one tells us the truth about marriage, and even if they try it doesn’t take, because most of us don’t take anything seriously that isn’t an immediate threat. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s a REALLY important concept: We CANNOT know what we don’t know.

Old or long-married couples bicker at each other and seem as if they haven’t had sex in two decades. That’s just what happens when you’re married that long!

I didn’t like hearing people I loved speak crossly to one another, but I also never doubted the substance and stability of their marriages.

Even if their marriage was garbage, where I came from, if people got married, it was likely to be forever.

Nowhere was that more evident than my grandfather’s funeral less than two weeks ago where I saw dozens of people I hadn’t seen in a decade or two, many of whom were there with their spouses just as I remembered them from childhood.

The adults did us a disservice as we were growing up, though.

They didn’t give us the real story. They didn’t give us the dirt. They didn’t tell us the truth.

They didn’t tell us all of the things that destroy love and marriage disguise themselves as things that don’t seem important. They didn’t tell us that the most dangerous things don’t APPEAR or FEEL dangerous as they’re happening, but that the slow and steady buildup of these little things is what will ultimately cause the collapse of a marriage and family.

Some of it was because they wanted to preserve our innocence. They wanted us to believe in Santa Claus because it was fun and made us feel happy. They told us not to talk to strangers, but they didn’t tell us WHY.

They don’t tell us what some people are capable of.

We read about slavery, about Hitler, about war. But it all seemed so old and faraway and non-threatening.

Sometimes, if we manage to avoid serious trauma as a child, we don’t get to experience actual fear until we watch terrorist hijackers fly airplanes full of people into buildings full of people because they disagree with the religious and political opinions of some unknown percentage of the people they killed.

Ironically, it’s this level of super-belief certainty—this idea that YOU are right, therefore your spouse must be wrong—over a subject of disagreement that will inevitably damage and potentially end your marriage.

But, before we worry about what we should or shouldn’t do within our marriages or romantic relationships, there’s a worthwhile question to explore first.

Should We Get Married?

It’s not obvious to me how best to answer that. I’m confident that I could evaluate couples on a case-by-case basis and form an opinion about whether a particular couple ‘should’ (in my opinion) get married.

But I’m just some asshole writing on the internet, and EVEN IF I was totally ‘right’ about their prospects of having a healthy marriage and satisfying family life, precisely ZERO people should ever do something specifically because of my opinion.

Especially as it pertains to marriage. Because I’m 0-1.

That doesn’t make me good at knowing what awesome marriage looks like. It just makes me kind-of good at knowing what a well-intentioned, but ultimately bad, marriage looks like.

But since I’m divorced—and admittedly much older than your typical bachelor (and a father as well)—I am faced with the very real decision of whether to actively pursue marriage again.

To be clear, I am MOSTLY thinking about younger, never-married people when I write this stuff because that is the group I perceive to be most guilty of unwittingly marrying with good intentions, but without the tool kits and skillsets necessary to execute the day-to-day of healthy monogamous, cohabitating relationships—particularly with children.

Divorce is a plague. It might be a little hyperbolic to say so, but divorce ruins lives. It certainly damages the people affected in profound ways, and every divorce tends to damage SEVERAL people. And there are thousands of divorces every day in the U.S. alone.


SHOULD we get married?

I don’t think I know what I believe. But in Part 2, we’re going to talk through all of the reasons people commonly marry, and just maybe, that will spark something.

To be continued.

14 thoughts on “Should We Get Married? (Part 1)”

  1. I tell my kids all the time about healthy relationships and what is and isn’t normal, or what makes a good, caring partner, etc. I’m sure they will make their own mistakes but at least they have some more information compared to what most of us get! ?

  2. I grew up in a single parent household so never believed that marriage was an ultimate relationship goal.

    Ironically I got married for the first time last year at the age of 42. It has taken me that long to really mature, understand and feel the concept of marriage.

    The truth is marriage isn’t for everyone.

  3. Marriage is a funny thing. After twenty years I’d say that the “true grit” approach works best. If you go in with the “you complete me” Disney mindset you might be in for colossal disappointment. There are great years, and there are shitty years – hopefully at the end the great years outnumber the crap ones. It’s an endurance level event, spanning what feels like a million lifetimes. It’s like I’ve been in ten different relationships with ever evolving multiple partners as we age and grow up.
    You evolve and make adjustments on the fly, learning on the job and hopefully getting help when it’s needed.
    I’d say that it’s nearly impossible to convey the depth and intensity of marriage to a young couple starting out- but they should probably have a “gird your loins” crash course to see if you can hack it for the long haul. 🙂

  4. You don’t have to be married to be committed or in a good relationship. But if you’re in a good relationship- why not get married?
    By “good relationship” I mean one that has withstood the test of time.
    Why get married? Because we need other people. We grow together, we become parts of each other. That will never go away. That’s part of the human condition.
    Raising kids is a good reason to be married when your younger, but even after that, it’s because we all need those people who know and love us best.
    I dont think the problem is with marriage, but with the assumption that romantic love, marital love, committed love is there to fulfill our own desires.
    We want something for ourselves, and dont realize or know how to give to others or to the relationship.
    The problem isnt with marriage, its with knowing how to love,… how to give.
    When you know how to love, being married or not being married is really nothing.
    If you commit to the loving part, the marriage part will happen, or not happen, depending on whats good for both people.

    1. I hope it is different for those that are young now, but marrying my live-in boyfriend in 1985 made a very unpleasant difference. Overnight, a cooperative, loving relationship between two individuals became a new sex-role defined marriage in his mind. EVERYTHING changed. His attitude toward me, his expectations that I would suddenly run the household single-handed, that I would take care of any annoying bureaucratic business – basically, his assumption that I was now his mother and he could again assume his rightful place in life as the pampered teenager of the household. He wasn’t all cliched – he wanted me to work. In fact, to be the main earner, like his mom was.

      I get it. I would like to have someone like that taking care of me, too. I’d love to whine, “I’m just not good at taxes/bills/paperwork/holidays/reservations and you are,” and hand it over to my responsible adult partner. Who wouldn’t? The trouble is, the partner stuck with being the adult wants that too, but someone has manipulated them into being a person that they don’t particularly want to be. So they are in a relationship framework in which they don’t particularly want to be. Which is a very big step toward being in a marriage they don’t particularly want to be in.

      We have worked things out, but I have wondered what would have happened if we had continued as unmarried partners, especially we didn’t have children. For our age-group, I honestly think it would have been a better choice for a relationship less burdened by social assumptions.

      I agree that the love relationship is the point, not marriage, but when marriage causes a partner to impose a new model of relationship, that can destroy everything.

      Other life changes cause these new relationship models to slam down unexpectedly: children, caring for an aging parent or other relative, the death of a parent or relative. It’s important to try to talk through any assumptions we have about these changes. It’s also important to realize that what we say may not be what our subconscious is about to do.

      1. You make excellent points- also I got married in the late 90s so our defined roles had been fluctuating for years as we cohabitated on and off. By the time we got hitched we’d both taken the responsibility helm on and off. Ultimately he so outearned me that his salary is what kept us going but his job comes with enormous pressure so there’s that part to deal with as well.
        Even with the intermittent wonky years with small kids and crazy schedules I’m glad we got married. I think in the beginning we were naively cruising along until the outside pressures that wear a groove in every marriage (Money, overwork, stress, illness, outside people tempting one of the unfulfilled spouses with an escape offer) hit us and we buckled down and fought through them.
        That’s not the case for everyone, and I wonder if I’ll even counsel my kids to seek marriage as a lifestyle.

      2. I’ve heard from others, my husband included, that cohabiting before marriage didn’t make marriage easier. Everything seemed to change for him after he married his first wife, even though they had lived together for 2 years in a happy relationship. It got bad enough that he divorced her 7 years after they got married. It’s like the way we define marriage and the way we view commitment changes when we add that legal step. The Divorce Cure calls it getting into the marriage box. It isn’t getting married that’s the problem, it’s the box we stick our relationship in… Or the strict restraints we apply because we are married. The Divorce Cure says that doesn’t mean we should not get married, but that we need to redefine our commitment to each other as a Bungee instead of a Box. In your story you had the bungee before you married and the box after. I’m still learning, but I love what I’ve learned so far about how to have a marriage bungee instead of a marriage box. I think it really could be the key to curing divorce.

  5. Albert Einstein said that if he had an hour to solve a problem he would spend 50 minutes figuring out the right question to ask and 10 minutes finding the answer. Your posts are always thought provoking and I’m anxiously waiting to see where you go with this question. But also, after reading some of the comments, I am wondering if “Should we get married?” is really the right question. The question a few comments brought to my mind is “Why does a legal action (marriage) make a happy relationship unhappy?” It’s obviously not the paper in the file cabinet, but the redefining of the relationship in our minds once we are married, both individually and societally. So maybe the question is “How should we define marriage?” Or “What does marriage mean?” Or “How does marriage change my relationship?” I’m foggy on it still and super curious what you think …

  6. Laney, I think the question “how does marriage change my relationship?” is the key one. The trouble is, I don’t think either of us had the insight in our early 20’s to understand that we had subconscious assumptions about what ought to happen after marriage. If I were giving myself advice back then, I’d suggest a not terribly romantic contract with lots of discussion. Do we both understand that we will be taking care of the other person in illness, emotional distress, or need? Do we agree that taking care of each other and/or our children means taking complete charge when necessary? Define. How are we going to handle bills, taxes, insurance, banking and other annoying paperwork so both are informed and involved? And so on with housework, cars, vacations and everything else. Maybe an entirely separate contractual discussion on children, school, events, etc.

    Sounds OCD and nit-picky, which are not my natural traits, but I speak from the vantage point of a wife who was suddenly expected to be the responsible partner. Which is, from what I hear from my friends, the usual fate of women in marriage, especially after kids. We aren’t made for it. We are made to do it. Young married people have to start taking on a lot of boring adult tasks. Making sure they are shared equally is a big part of whether the marriage lasts. Sometimes guys think their wives are imposing adulthood on them because all those changes are happening around the same time – marriage, careers, mortgages, kids – and try to push all that adulthood stuff on their wives. That’s when I see those first marriages break. That’s what almost broke mine.

  7. Pingback: Should We Get Married? (Part 1) – Single Dad, Parents Article – Parents Blog

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Matt Fray

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