Why Mary, Merry, Marry? #DadChat

Category: Weekly Columns

Why marry?

The other day I had a sobering conversation with a 21-year-old woman. We covered a lot of topics, and when I got to my inevitable probing questions about her personal life and asked if she ever wanted to get married, her answer was a quick and resounding, “No.” The ensuing short exchange sealed the deal for me of how far we’ve come – as far as societal values – in just my own lifetime!

Marriage comic

Me: Why don’t you want to get married?
Her: Why should I?
Me: Don’t you want to have children?
Her: Yes, but I don’t need to be married to have children?
Me: Don’t you want your children to have a loving mother AND father?
Her: Yes, but marriage and a piece of paper are unnecessary!
Me: speechless (not a common thing!)…

Okay, I’ve paraphrased the conversation but the “piece of paper” part is 100% verbatim and the most common reply to the “why get married” question I’ve heard over the years.

Comic about marriage

I recently wrote a column about how difficult it has become to make a living and it’s abundantly clear that that is one of the factors in people choosing to have or not have children, a clearly related topic. Money does rule a lot of decisions but since human history is laden with poverty and throughout human history the desire, dare I say urge, to marry and have children remained strong, why such a radically different view today?

Here in America I would assert that the self-absorption of most people is a dominant reason not to have children. Having children might mean a sacrifice here and there. Having children might mean not going on that exotic vacation or getting that new car. Having children might mean a crimp in one’s social life. Having children is hard work. Why do that?

Marriage comic

I “get” that thinking though I think it’s self-destructive if you live a long life. Those things that are seemingly so important in your young adulthood – especially things/stuff – are increasingly unimportant as life goes on. So, I “get” not wanting children, but I don’t get not wanting to be married or have a life partner. They are intertwined if not quite the same thing. And, yes, I understand you can have a life partner without that “piece of paper.”

Many people believe the often-touted statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce and often site that as one of the reasons they don’t want to get married. Well, like many statistics, this one is false and the more accurate one is about 1/3 of all marriages end in divorce. This is still a discouraging number though at 1/3 or ½; I don’t think it really makes much difference. We all die so should we not live? There are risks in much of what we pursue in life so should we avoid all risks and not take a chance on something that might “pay” off big for us literally and/or figuratively?

Marriage quote

There’s a cynicism to this “I don’t want (or need) to get married” thinking that is sad. There’s a defeatist attitude and, as stated earlier, a very selfish self-involved narcissistic strain as well.

Marriage civilizes men, and gives women the home they inherently crave. Work provides some meaning for most of us – men and women – but NO ONE ever said on their deathbed that they wish they’d spent more time working. It’s the relationships in life that matter and we cherish. Yet, I hear this kind of mantra so often about marriage and kids – not for me – that I get worried about our kids’ futures and happiness.

Marriage quote

Speaking for myself, the things I care most about now are experiences and relationships. There’s almost literally nothing materialistic that I crave and feel I need. What a gloriously liberating feeling. I know, from experience, that whatever I tend to want materialistically will only satisfy a short-term urge. It’s very similar to drugs – you always want more. But, marriage, relationships, and children give a deeper meaning to life that I believe gives us deeper happiness.

We won’t know what this self-entitled self-absorbed generation will be like later in life. Naturally, every generation tends to decry the ones that follow, so I may just be repeated the old pattern. My parents were upset when I married “out of our faith” but learned to accept my choice(s). They were “old school” much as I’m old school to my kids and their generation.

Joke about marriage

Yet, I believe some things are eternal and family relationships are one of those eternal things that transcend trends and fads. A simple example occurred in my lifetime when the feminist movement gained traction. I know a whole lot of women who put work before marriage and kids and found themselves – later in life – out of luck in both departments. And, I know that many of them regret those early-in-adulthood choices.

We were made to procreate and we were made to partner. I don’t think that will ever change. What do you say?

Truth and Humor about marriage

  • jack43

    My wife has two siblings and I have one. Our marriage now spans more years than all of their marriages combined, and we are the only two still living together, happily married. There is no question in my mind that we are the happiest of both families. That should count for something in this discussion, shouldn’t it?

    I could add so much more, but this is your blog and I need to save something for my own. I’ll close by sharing something (I believe wise) that I recently read: Don’t worry about whom you want to go to bed with, rather find someone you want to wake up next to in the morning.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Wonderful (comment) @jack43:disqus and well done!

    • Jerry Dugan

      While nothing against @disqus_dU5ulU60s7:disqus, I personally strive for the kind of marriage and legacy that @jack43:disqus just described.

      • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

        I’m with you @jerrydugan:disqus and don’t worry about @disqus_dU5ulU60s7:disqus – he is totally happy with his choices and he’s totally happy with ours. I used to try and talk him out of his “I don’t want kids” thinking, but realized how wrong I was (it’s HIS life, after all). It’s just that he’s so darn smart and wise that ANY kid would be lucky to have him as a father. On the other hand, as a professor, he’s “reaching” far more “kids” than he would as a father so I think it’s all worked out JUST FINE!

  • http://onequartermama.ca/ Kelly

    I’ve been married 12 years and for me it was about commitment and legal protection. I wanted to show the world we had each other. I was proud to do that. I was also making sure that should one of us die, we would be taken care of. I was 21 and that was my reasoning at the time.

    I no longer think marriage is all that important. After all, paper or not, it depends on the people involved and how much they want to work at it. I know I married the right guy because we never gave up on each other. We are the most amazing team at this point – through trial and error. It wasn’t the paper that kept us together, it was our desire to make it through.

    Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s also good for my son to see we had a special day before he came along, where mom and dad celebrated their love. I think there’s a certain security he can hold on to, as a result. That we are really family, no matter what happens. (Again, that doesn’t necessitate a paper, but marking a special day might help).

    Part of me wonders, well why not just get married? If it’s not a big deal either way, why not just do it? If you are so sure it changes nothing, then why not have a party?

    But I do take issue with this statement, Bruce: “Marriage civilizes men, and gives women the home they inherently crave.” First of all, unless you can show me a scientific study that says all females *inherently* crave anything, you’re talking out your a**. 🙂 Or maybe *inherent* wasn’t the word you meant there.
    I also don’t think you can say that marriage suddenly magically does all these things automatically. A marriage is what two people make of it and nothing more than that. It’s not some sort of panacea that changes people and makes everything ok. It’s not a Disney fairy tale. Marriage doesn’t make a home. Two people put work into building that – and you don’t need to be married to achieve that either.

    • http://onequartermama.ca/ Kelly

      All that to say, while I used to rag on people for not getting married, I mind my own business now. Marriage is and was important to me and I set out to achieve that. But I no longer go around extolling the virtues to my other unmarried friends. I don’t think they’re selfish, I just think they don’t *get* it.

      • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

        @fuzzyila:disqus – again, we agree. It’s interesting how you said how you felt marriage gave your son something extra/special that not being marriage might not have…you’re more old-fashioned than you think, I suspect! But, I’m with you – to each his own as long as they’re not hurting anyone!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I fully agree with you @fuzzyila:disqusand I was waiting to be called on the carpet for that sexist generalization. I do believe “most” women do crave security and that “most” men are civilized and made better men by marriage. The key word is “most” and the reverse can be true. But, I have this odd belief that men and women are inherently different – and that is certainly not PC!

  • David Weber

    I never got married. I have really never been particularly motivated, let alone driven, to get married. Perhaps if in my thirties, say, I had met someone I was truly interested in marrying, I would have married her; but on the other hand, maybe the drill is to decide that you want to get married, and actively look for a marriage partner; or maybe it’s all a matter of serendipity, happenstance and being in the right place at the right time. Or maybe it’s none of that.

    So, as I said, I have never been married. I have lived with a couple of different women for periods of time. I didn’t have kids. I am currently in the fifth year of a long-term wholly committed relationship with a woman who specifically does not want to get married. We are both in our early 60s.

    What part of any of what I have written about myself above is bad, wrong, ill-advised, selfish, short-sighted, regrettable, self-entitled, self-absorbed, procrastination (thanks, Mark Burnett, for adding this non sequitur to the list), defeatist, narcissistic, and so forth?

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      NOTHING @disqus_dU5ulU60s7:disqus – as you know, I’ve respected both your decisions (not to marry or have kids)…

  • Vivian Li

    Your article reeks of “I like X. A doesn’t like X. Therefore, A must be selfish/stupid/abnormal/[insert negative descriptor].”

    As someone who voluntarily chooses singlehood and doesn’t like “intimate relationships” — let alone marriage or children — it seems to me you cannot put yourself outside of your own mind. Different people like and prioritize different things in life; that’s all there is to it. As long as they don’t harm anybody else, let people live their lives as they wish without judgement.

    And for the record, “selfishness” is not living life as you want to; it’s wanting others to live their lives as you want them to. Choosing to remain single is not “selfish” — but the people who judge us for it certainly are.