I’ve been listening to a debate on The Wright Stuff this morning – what’s the point in getting married? Why do we do it? Is it an outdated concept?
I have so many answers flying around in my head I thought I’d down pens and write a quick blog post on the subject. I have a unique perspective: as editor of the English Wedding blog I live and love weddings; but I’m not married myself. So I can see both sides of the debate and I find it really interesting.
So why do we get married? For love and society
The simple answer is that we marry for love. We find our soulmate, the one we want to spend our life with, and we make a commitment to them. Weddings are a public statement of love. There’s nothing more romantic and wonderful than a wedding celebration!
Looking at weddings from another angle, the human race is a very sociable one. We bounce off each other, we live in big groups, we have friends and large families – anthropology tells us society drives much of what we do. So we get married because of society: to share our public declaration of love with everyone we know.
We also marry for tradition and religious reasons
It’s perfectly acceptable to live with someone in a loving and committed relationship without marriage, yet our social needs take us a step further to the ceremony and celebration of marriage.
And then there’s religion. We marry to make a declaration of love and commitment in front of God. Those of us who worship and believe in our gods have quite complex reasons for marriage: for some, it’s the belief that children should be raised in a traditional family unit for example.
Marriage is a tradition in many societies. Simply put, we get married because everyone else does – because “that’s what you do”! You grow up, you get a job, you get married, buy a house, have kids… and so on. And while I don’t subscribe to these rules personally, the majority of people in the UK do follow the path society has set out for us – which is great and allows our society to continue along a familiar and pleasant path.
The history of marriage in England
I’ve been reading a book on Lore and old English traditions recently. Did you know that before the 16th century marriage was a private matter? – no paperwork or official declarations were required. So marriage is a relatively newer concept than I thought.
Only the Roman Catholic Church made it a requirement for couples to be married before a priest; protestants carried on marrying in a very informal way. In 1753 the Marriage Act was introduced and all couples had to be married in church.
What about people who don’t get married?
I’m one of those exceptions that prove a rule. I’m not married. And while I’ve been living with my partner and his children for twelve years I haven’t had kids of my own. I always had other dreams and aspirations – marriage just wasn’t one of them. (Although on a lighter note, a blog post coming up soon will have photos that suggest otherwise.)
But being in love is fine on its own. If you’re in love and you don’t feel the need for a wedding, then it’s just as wonderful to be together without the religious or legal approval or documentation (the latter of which would feel a little bit ‘big brotherly’ to me personally – I have an anarchistic streak).
Outside of religion, a marriage certificate is a legal declaration – as little as a piece of paper depending how cynically you look at it! While marriage means the world to some of us, couples who live together for years can have as strong a relationship as those who marry.
Why do some people choose not to get married?
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea: there’s a lot of pressure from society to have a wedding that conforms: the white dress, hiring a venue, sit down meal and all the rest of it. Being different can mean red shoes and a skinny tie instead of a cravat, or it can mean skipping the wedding bit.
Some people just don’t enjoy parties as much as others, and a big wedding isn’t for everyone. It’s not just the wedding day itself, but the organisation and money that goes into arranging a wedding – it doesn’t mean being in love is any less valid in a committed relationship without a marriage certificate. It’s just different!
The future of weddings and marriage
The survey on The Wright Stuff this morning said only 50% of children aspire to being married when they grow up. (To which I cynically told the telly, “that’ll be the girls”.)
But they’re children, and quite frankly there are far more exciting things to aspire to when you’re ten: being an astronaut, a pop star and a fireman should always come first! When our generation was younger, did we all want to get married? No. But we grew up and changed our minds.
So I doubt the future of marriage is in any jeopardy: society will carry on and we’ll still want to get married for all the same reasons. The statistics still show that marriage is important to society, and while the reasons have changed from religious ones to reasons of love and tradition, the numbers remain encouraging.
What’s the point of marriage then?
Marriage is an important commitment for many couples, the beginning of a chapter in our lives and a way of telling our friends, family and ourselves that we’ve found our soulmate.
It’s a tradition in many of our cultures, a rite of passage, a landmark in our lives.
It’s a gateway to our futures: a door opening onto a world of possibilites.
If you have a minute or two to write a comment I’d love to hear what marriage means to you.
(Thanks to Chris Hanley Photography for the pics)