Marriage: What’s The Point?

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 Is it an outdated concept?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

There are two reasons we get married: 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.

There’s a lot more in Lost Lore: A Celebration of Traditional Wisdom, from Foraging and Festivals to Seafaring and Smoke Signals

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)


Claire Gould

Claire spends her days writing - either in beautiful calligraphy or online. She lives on the edge of the English Lake District only minutes away from the beach, where she loves to escape and unwind. Claire's calligraphy can be found at Claire launched the English Wedding Blog in November 2009 - it's been a top 10 UK wedding blog ever since, with a regional focus we hope you LOVE.



  • Rogue Bride (Sophie)
    9 years ago

    Senstively, and candidly argued Claire. I think there is too much negative PR-ing around marriage, and a tendency to lambast it as being an anachronism that is neither necessary nor even that happy. But as I explored in a recent post, for us there was just this shift, utterly intangible, whereby I wanted to enter into that cannon of women who go by the name of ‘Mrs’, and for him, I think there was a touch of the attempting to nullify my (I readily accept) needy worries that he wasn’t sure about me, that he wasn’t as bonce over tush for me as I for him. Ultimately, love is the greatest, most potent and unerring feeling you can have for somebody else, and marriage remains the biggest demarkation of this lofty status – there is no more recognised way to declare how much you never want to be torn asunder from that other person. For me, marriage means putting all my faith and hopes in with the other person, until we don’t have all our own teeth anymore: I can live with very little save his love. Marriage is actually quite a rebellious and possibly crazy gesture, a fingers up to the statistics and naysayers who have plenty of cogent arguments about the rationality or need of it, but choice is fundamental. It is nothing whatsoever to do with placing one’s love on a pedestal, or toeing a line of expectation. It’s just love, with bells on.

    • Claire
      9 years ago

      Thanks for the comment Sophie – I’ve just read your blog post and it’s really inspiring, the way you turn the whole argument upside down and start with the whole meringue dress issue is fantastic!

      I love that for you marriage is a rebellion in itself. Bit of a revelation to me, this! I love it.

      • I completely agree with the rebellious side to marriage! All I read about is how people aren’t getting married anymore, or if they are then most will get divorced. It saddens me if this is the case. I felt that way we when finally saved up enough to get married. I must admit, I did feel this way once upon a time. I admit, I did draw my dream wedding dress in secondary school but with separated family all around me I didn’t think it was very me. Until I met the man of my dreams, my now husband. He helped me realise the positives in marriage and it felt wonderfully natural despite my past wedding knowledge! I found myself getting worked up reading stories about how marriage doesn’t work in the modern day. Even couples saying ‘it’s OK, we can always get divorced if it doesn’t work’?! I will never understand how people can think that of marriage.

        Our wedding was a celebration of our love and the start of a wonderfully long marriage. I want to be the old couple that still hold hands, that share an ice cream on the beach and sneak loving looks at each other while going about their daily retired life. Just thinking about that makes me smile 🙂

  • Sally
    9 years ago

    Wow, I love this post, I’ve thought about it a lot too, for me I think it’s the love and traditional elements that means the most, I never wanted a ‘princess’ wedding growing up, and when David and I decided to get married it was the security of having some sort of tie between us which I wanted, it felt like it cemented something and said to the world “Look! We mean it!”. I knew we’d be together forever from quite early on but getting married also means a celebration of how lucky we are, and a chance to get everyone together to celebrate you yourselves as a couple.

    I can also totally see the “What’s the point?” argument, and if you don’t need a marriage certificate then don’t waste your time getting into the “so when are you two going to tie the knot” conversation with extended family and busy-bodies. I say each to their own (as life should be!), and as for getting married or not getting married, as long as you’re both happy and on the same page, who the hell cares!

  • Claire
    9 years ago

    Brilliant Sally! Exactly – it’s between two people at the end of the day and you should do what makes you over- the-moon happy. Great comment, thank you! Xxx

  • Jenny McAvoy
    9 years ago

    I am married and love weddings but can see how people lose sight of the important elements of love and concentrate on flower colour or vintage tea cups. Whether to get married or not is a personal choice – just remember love makes the world go round not weddings x

    • Claire
      9 years ago

      Very true Jenny. There are multiple sides to weddings I suppose: the romance, the seriousness of commitment, the party, the creativity and the love (for each other, for friends and family).

      Then there’s almost a sense of when the wedding’s ‘out of the way’, done, the marriage can really begin. And 12 or 20 years down the line, the marriage is what holds the love together and vice versa.

      A random thought – every vintage tea cup has its own story. I wish they could tell them!

      • Lucy Goodier
        9 years ago

        In our experience, although weddings are created on the basis of the same or very similar elements, they are all very unique. It’s funny how our clients differ in what is important to them on their day and their reasons behind why they’re tying the knot. Some have been together for a long time, some haven’t, some you can almostly visibly see that they are soul mates, others less so obvious and we send them on their way in the hope that they grow together. In any case, our place is not to question why, but to celebrate and enjoy. xx

  • Heline Bekker
    9 years ago

    Hi Claire, thanks for this interesting post. I want to thank you for writing it so sensitively 🙂 I got married because I’m Christian. Not the ‘traditional’ sort – I really love God and He is a reality to me 🙂 So for me it was the right thing to do but also something I really wanted. Me and my husband did not live together and we did not sleep together, so it was something new and exciting for us to get married. And after 7 years is still so special. BUT I would never judge other people because we are all different. Some people just don’t want to get married becuase the argue it’s just a piece of paper and why is a commitment not enough? I can see their point. And I think it’s wonderful when someone is committed to someone else for live.
    What bothers me is when people dont get married to keep their options open. What if someone better comes along? They would just string their partner along because they benefit from it somehow. It’s not about true love and togetherness. That is what is sad for me. It’s up to you if you want to marry or not, but being faithful and committed to one person – that is what is of great importance. No-one wants to be 2nd best, no matter what your beliefs are.
    Love, Heline x

  • Heline Bekker
    9 years ago

    I apologize for my bad grammar. I just read the post again and I saw a few mistakes!

  • Julie Dawson
    9 years ago

    A great post, I think being married can be a state of mind rather than having to formally declare it in front of your friends and family. I have friends who are devoted have children and I am sure will be together all their lives who are not married. Myself I did not get married until 46!! I was not really bothered but I have to say that meeting the right person jolted me from my single quite selfish and some say indulgent life to one that I wanted to truly share with this gorgeous man.I have someone else to think about but that is not a chore just my new way of life which I love. For me getting married was belonging to him and sharing that celebration with our closest friends and family. I am not religious but the vow I made I try and live with each day, they were promises to each other that should not be forgotten once the ceremony is over. I do think marriage may be thought less of now but if you do undertake for the right reasons with the right person it does exactly what it says on the tin!! You share, love and belong with someone.
    You should marry for the right reason that is my advice and feel in in your being that it is 100% right, sorry for the drama but if its not 100% YES!! dont do it!!

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