Why I Don’t Want To Get Married
I haven’t always been opposed to marriage. In fact, quite the opposite. I was one of many young teens who had an entire Pinterest board dedicated to my ‘dream wedding’ and watched ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ on repeat (confession: okay, I still watch ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ but much more ironically than I used to). I can’t recall ever actually sitting down and deciding I wanted to get married but more that I was set on a ‘default’ mode which pointed me down the obvious course of marriage. Plus, a wedding sounded fun, so why not right? It has only been in the last year or two that I began to question my desire for marriage at all. I think this was probably for a few different reasons.
The first reason being that I was suddenly single for the first time since I was 15. This factor seems to be the one held against me most when I tell people I don’t want to get married. I’ve been told repeatedly that it’s simply because I don’t have a partner right now that I think I don’t want marriage, but as soon as some handsome fella comes along to sweep me off my feet, I’ll be firmly back on the marriage train. Whilst I can’t technically prove them wrong until I get a partner and confirm that I still don’t want to get married, I take offence to the suggestion nonetheless. This suggestion seems to paint me as a bitter single woman whose opinions are solely based on how lonely I am and completely disregards the years’ worth of thought and solid reasoning I put into forming this opinion. Staying single for any significant period of time since I was a teenager gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate my goals and values in life, as I’m sure everyone does as they grow up, without anyone else around to affect my decisions.
The second reason was that I moved abroad to study for my Master’s and became surrounded by a group of people that held a diverse set of beliefs (both personally and politically) who asked me to question and critically think about my opinions. I was able to start unpacking the why behind values that I had previously just taken as a given. In our studies we were taught to question everything and amongst friends we constantly challenged one another and learnt from each other’s views. In turn, this began to change the way I thought when I was on my own and my opinions on marriage quickly came under my new scrutinising gaze. As a lifelong agnostic, I did not have one of the most traditional reasons to get married tethering me to the idea. When I did finally sit down to think about why I actually wanted to get married, the religious factor didn’t enter into it for me and it was certainly not a motivation to engage in the practice. However, I have many friends who are not religious in the slightest but are still whole-heartedly committed to the institution, so I plunged forward in my self-analysis.
Around the same time I moved abroad, I also became more interested in environmentalism and sustainable living, to the point where today, I would say that sustainability has become a pillar of my lifestyle and impacts a lot of my decisions: from what I eat, to what I wear, where I shop and where I travel. You might be wondering what that has to do with getting married. Well, it actually has more to do with weddings. A wedding is often one of the most expensive and wasteful events anyone will throw in their entire life. The dream dress you only wear once? The invitations? The hundreds of flowers that get thrown away? The goody bags filled with things no one ever uses? Don’t even get me started on destination weddings. It all goes against every habit I’ve been learning to break in my quest for a sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyle. In response to this I’ve been told I should just elope…a valid suggestion. Certainly, if marriage ever did begin to appeal to me, I think eloping would be an option I’d be far more comfortable with. However, once I came to the conclusion that if I did get married it would most likely be an elopement, I realised that a lot of what excited me about the idea of marriage was the wedding. Without the party to end all parties, the princess dress of my dreams and all my family and friends gathered to celebrate me ( and my partner of course), I realised I wasn’t quite as excited anymore. This revelation sent me on the rather harsh journey of realising how superficial my marriage dreams were. How much of my marital dream was about the sanctity of marriage and how much was in actual fact about the romantic proposal, the engagement ring and the wedding? So, then I began to think about what (if anything) appealed to me about marriage without all of those material or superficial trappings.
What I was left with was a commitment between me and my partner to spend the rest of our lives together and I didn’t feel I needed to be married to make that commitment. I considered that marriage is meant to legally bind you to another person and as such it forces you to stick it out through the hard times and work on your relationship, if only because extricating yourself from the other is so time-consuming and expensive. Did I want to legally trap someone into staying with me or be trapped myself? Obviously in an ideal world neither one of us would change our minds about the other or grow apart but the divorce rate suggests that the odds are not in our favour. Divorce rates aside however, I think it’s quite natural to grow apart from a partner, particularly if you got together rather quickly or young. I think if you do ‘change your mind’ about a relationship (at any point in your life) you should have the option to leave (cheaply and easily). Not to mention the fact that, all in all, it doesn’t seem as though marriage a s an institution is effective in keeping couples together. A couple’s success rate seems much more dependent on the couple themselves rather than whether they get married or not.
I’ve been told that a key motivation for getting married is being able to ‘stand up in front of your friends and family and make a lifelong commitment to one another’. Personally, this didn’t rank high on my list of priorities. I think I would be quite happy making private commitments to my partner and I don’t really care who else does or does not know about it. Is a declaration of commitment made in private any less legitimate then one made in public? Does having all our friends and family bear witness to our love make it any more or less true? However, I think most people just find the idea of a public commitment to be romantic. This doesn’t mean I am not a romantic, as it has been suggested to me a few times. In fact, the idea that a person would have to show me their commitment to our relationship every day and choose to be with me not because we were married but because they wanted to, feels more romantic in my book. My choice to not get married is not a reflection of my belief in love or romance, it’s simply a reflection of my belief in marriage.
Feminism was definitely a player in my decision. As I got older and studied more, my feminist ideals had only gotten stronger, eventually making it the focus of both my undergraduate and postgraduate thesis. As such, it became impossible to ignore some of the more firmly entrenched sexist values of marriage and weddings. I understand that many people nowadays have extremely modern weddings and choose to do away with, or at least edit, many of the more overtly sexist aspects of weddings, such as the bride being ‘given away’ by her father to the groom or the bride taking the groom’s last name. However, I don’t think I would feel particularly excited about it even if I had the most modern wedding on earth. The feminist in me simply rebels at the idea of taking part in an institution that has historically oppressed women and kept them bound to men for their entire lives.
Society has romanticised and commodified marriage to the point of obscuring its historic and continued role in perpetuating traditional gender roles and propping up the patriarchy. As children, particularly young girls, we are still indoctrinated with the virtues of marriage despite society having moved beyond its necessity. And yet, marriage remains an exclusionary practice that seems to disadvantage all those who don’t or can’t partake in it. Society holds marriage up as the ideal and is geared to make life easier for the married couple whether that be through tax breaks or simply public approval. This leaves single people or unwedded couples at a societal disadvantage for no reason other than a lack of a legally binding document. In deciding not to get married I am able to protest this. As with any form of activism, as a singular person I can’t hope to change society, but if we all take steps to consciously support causes we care about and disengage with practices we disagree with the world will eventually change for the better. I don’t buy single-use plastic anymore because I don’t like their negative impact on the planet. The more people who do the same the less single-use plastics will be produced and the more eco-friendly alternatives will be created, and the world will slowly change. In the same way, I choose not to buy into marriage.
All in all, it was not a single one of the factors I’ve mentioned that made me decide marriage wasn’t for me, but the sum of them all that left me with too few good reasons to get married. It is worth mentioning that as a cis-gendered, heterosexual, white woman, it is from a place of privilege and protest that I choose to opt out. I can respect that to someone who has different values and life experiences may very well have marriage as a milestone they are eager to achieve one day. In a world where I had a long-term partner who for one reason or another felt particularly strongly about the benefits of marriage, I would certainly consider doing it for them, just as I would hope they would give equal consideration to my reasons not to do it. I believe the decision to not get married is just as personal a decision as deciding to get married and should be respected equally. I would never tell my newly engaged friend that they just wanted to get married because they were blinded by love and if they were single they’d immediately go off the idea. I would also never suggest that it reflects poorly on their character or that their desire for marriage is just a phase they will grow out of. I respect that just as I have considered and weighed my values and desires and come to a conclusion that makes me happiest, they have done the same. I only ask the same in return.