I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage lately. I’m hitting the age where my friends are starting to get hitched and The Boy and I have discussed marriage. I’ve come to the realization that despite some childhood antagonism towards marriage, I do want to get married. But that doesn’t mean I whole-heartedly support the idea of marriage itself.
Marriage as an institution is sexist, heteronormative, anti-polyamory, and pretty much stuck in another century in nearly every way. Many of the traditions are rooted in a time when women were property and marriage was an economic transaction (see: giving away the bride, rings, white dresses symbolizing purity). It is still part of a system that prioritizes romantic relationships over all others and that forcefully pushes the nuclear family model on everyone, regardless of their preferences and needs. It ignores the existence of polyamory, and has only barely started to tiptoe out of its oppressively heteronormative roots (gay marriage is barely legal in the U.S. and isn’t in other places). It is also a hugely capitalistic endeavor, with people spending obscene amounts of money often because they have been told that weddings need to have certain elements. Often that money gets spent on things like diamonds, that come from exploitative industries.
There are a lot of problems with marriage.
But Maybe Don’t Fuck Marriage?
Marriage is also a celebration of many things that are hugely important to human life and will probably never stop being so: love, family, connection, and community. It is often joyful, celebratory, fun, and full of good people, good food, and good drink.
I like rituals. I have always liked feeling as if there is a clear next step in my life, and a set of rules and circumstances to fit who I am and what I need. I like ceremony and hooplah and being the center of attention. I like big parties and pretty dresses. I like talking about how much I love my partner. And while I understand that marriage is a completely arbitrary set of rules and rituals that only have as much meaning as we give them, I love metaphors and symbols and really like to create special meanings in my relationship.
Unsurprisingly, it sounds like I like weddings, and I like what marriage communicates to other people: I am committed. I love this person. Our lives are intertwined. We are part of a family.
My Personal Issues With Marriage
I am also monogamous, heterosexual, cis, and in many ways built so that marriage as it stands today will fit me. I know that part of the reason I can set aside my qualms with marriage and “make it fit me” is because it was designed to fit me. So how does a girl embrace something that seems like it will improve her life while recognizing and trying to make space for the ways that thing upholds oppression? Of course I’m really not sure, but here are some of the things that I’m thinking about.
The biggest hangup I have about marriage is that I am monogamous.When I’m in a relationship I stop feeling much by way of attraction towards anyone else. I’m socially anxious and on the asexual end of the spectrum. one relationship is about all I can and want to handle.
Why would that make marriage hard for me? Marriage is made for monogamous people! It’s whole point is to be monogamous. That is of course the problem in my mind. I don’t think there’s anything better about monogamy than other relationship styles. It’s just what works for me. All of that would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that by participating in marriage I am on some level telling my poly friends that I’m ok with an institution that forces them to choose a relationship pattern that doesn’t necessarily work for them. I’m getting legal and financial benefits that they won’t. This is where the rubber hits the road for me in criticisms of choice feminism. Marriage and monogamy might work for me and that’s great, but my choices affect other people.
Even for other monogamous people, marriage isn’t always the best choice. It doesn’t allow for extended families very well (at least as we conceive of it today, it pushes two spouses to live with their kids and no one else), and it collapses the distinctions between sex and romance. It implies that romantic and sexual partnership is the goal of everyone’s life. It doesn’t do great things for aromantic and asexual people. It’s really just leaving a lot of people out in the cold without a nice, clear way to legally recognize their families.
So What Do We Do?
I don’t know that there are any clear paths forward. I don’t ever think that the answer to one group’s oppression is to tell other people to stop doing what works for them. I think the answer is more often to make things more available to more people instead of taking them away until they’re fair. Rather than bring everyone down to the level of oppression, we should bring everyone up to the level of privilege.
Marriage is also pretty personal: it has to do with how you create your family and life, and those are really important decisions that are different for everyone. So the ideas that I’m throwing out here are what I think will work for me. I’d love to hear how others grapple with responsibly approaching marriage as a social justice minded person.
The most important thing in my mind is continuing to speak out about the ways that marriage prioritizes certain people over others, and to support and listen to people who say it doesn’t work for them. Additionally, I also want to de emphasize the importance of marriage in my life, even though I recognize that it’s something I care about.
Because marriage as an institution says that the best and most important relationship in your life is a primary, monogamous romantic partner, I want to put less of an emphasis on marriage in my life. Sure it’s something that I want, but I also want to make a concerted effort to continue to foster my other relationships, to focus on other parts of my life, to recognize that “getting a man” isn’t the most important thing in my life. I want to throw myself just as big of a party if I get a Master’s degree or if I get a book published. I want to help try to take the mystique away from marriage by making it another celebration of another milestone that someone might find important, no better or worse than a host of other milestones.
I also want to remind myself and others that I can express my love in ways that don’t involve spending thousands of dollars. I can create smaller ceremonies that aren’t bound to be legally recognized in specific ways. I can throw Galentine’s day parties or write my honey love letters at random points in time. All of these do a little bit to erode the ways that we see marriage as necessary, immutable, and more important than anything else.
Of course none of this will fix the way marriage exists in our society now. I also intend to vote for any legislation that widens the scope of marriage, talk loudly and vocally to anyone who will listen about the fact that I wish there were a way to legally recognize a non-romantic individual as part of your family, and criticize all the ways that our conceptions of gender, sex, and family are fucked up. I will continue to educate others about the existence and healthiness of a wide variety of styles of sexuality and relationships. And I will advocate for their legal recognition and protection.
Because as much as I want to get married, I want everyone else to feel just as comfortable, supported, and safe in their life choices as I do.