Essay What Do You Think About Marriage

By Lyla Cicero | Role/Reboot

What’s the best way to predict if a couple will get married? Find out how many of their friends have! In many social groups, once one or two friends marry the rest will drop like flies. So is marriage merely a form of peer pressure? Do we all want to avoid being the last single person left standing? If so, are we really getting married for the right reasons?

Between the ages of 28 and 32, I felt like I was attending one wedding per weekend. As someone who had always viewed marriage with skepticism, it was only when I found a truly egalitarian partner that I considered getting married for the first time. Seth and I viewed our “un-wedding” partnership ceremony as a form of resistance to peer pressure. But despite our insistence on expressing our feminist values, honoring those who did not share the privilege of legal marriage, and refusing to engage with the wedding industrial complex, we were still thinking relatively inside the box. We were still making a heterosexual, legally-sanctioned, long-term partnership with an assumption of monogamy.

One of my best friends is getting hitched next month. Almost five years after my wedding, as I support her through her journey to marriage, I’m seriously wondering if my own is going to make it. After a stressful infertility experience and 15 months raising twins together, my relationship is in its toughest period yet. I’ve never had a “that won’t happen to me” attitude about divorce. Being a therapist, I understand how tough the dynamics of couples’ relationships can be to navigate. I always felt that even trying as hard as I knew I would, it could, indeed, be me. What I didn’t know was what it would feel like to try that hard and have to face the possibility that it might not be enough. I didn’t understand that I could still be so in love with my husband, still see him as an amazing partner, and yet wonder if it’s possible for us both to get our needs met while raising children, managing careers, and constantly evolving as individuals.

I’ve realized that most of Seth’s and my exposure back then was to the beginning of a marriage. For our parents, the reasons for marrying, the life-stage they were in when it happened, and the ways in which they negotiated their relationships were so foreign, it was easy to write-off those marriages as having nothing to do with ours. We really didn’t have much interaction with people who’d been married longer, were divorced, were single by choice, or who were in non-marital relationship structures, either monogamous or polyamorous. We understood that our gay and lesbian friends weren’t focused on marriage, but our response was outrage that they could not marry, rather than questioning whether matrimony was or should be everyone’s ideal. I can only imagine how alienating that time period was for many of my queer friends.

That lack of exposure led our social circle to a kind of groupthink about marriage -- an assumption that even though it would be hard, it would be worth it. I even found myself about a year ago proclaiming the benefits of marriage to a friend who was thinking more critically about whether to marry. My argument included the ways in which the cultural meaning of marriage and the social support marriage engendered had deepened and strengthened my relationship. But cultural acceptance makes a lot of other paths -- paths that I have rejected -- easier, too. What about encouraging more social support for other relationship structures? Were the positive feelings I attributed to marriage merely evidence that I, who once saw marriage as an oppressive, patriarchal institution, had caved to the peer pressure? Was I basking in the glow of doing the popular thing, rather than in the glow of marriage itself?

Even if those around us don’t actively pressure us to follow their paths, a lack of other models creates a tendency to default to what others have done. I have seen that kind of “default” at play as, on an almost daily basis, ultrasound pictures appear on Facebook. Can they all really be making a fully conscious choice to raise families, I ask myself? At the same time, I’ve watched the rare friends who have chosen not to have children feel alienated and misunderstood. Resisting peer pressure can be painful, but not resisting it can be as well. This year, Seth and I felt like our own family was being torn apart as our “couple best friends” divorced. Just like marriage, divorce can spread through social groups as unhappy couples see others finding a way out and exploring new lives outside their relationships. Other challenges to traditional notions of marriage can also spread through social groups such as exploring queer identity, kink lifestyles, and/or polyamory. Unfortunately, many of us don’t come to the place where we are ready to consider all of our options until we have the big, socially sanctioned life choices like marriage and children under our belts.

If I could talk to myself back then, before the marriage juggernaut came barreling towards us, I wouldn’t necessarily tell myself not to get married. I would, however, ask myself whether when I decided I could be a married feminist, I was still defaulting to a hetero-normative, monogamous lifestyle, rather than making a more conscious, more intentional choice. I would want Seth and me to at least consider a long-term, non-married partnership. I would want us to talk about whether two adults in a marriage really is the best approach to both relationship and family structure. There are times when it feels like both my marriage and child-rearing would be more manageable with more adults involved. I wish someone had warned me that when the terror of spending life alone is not drowning them out, our desires to explore our own sexuality can become louder. We can suddenly feel unhappy with our level of sexual experience, find out we are a lot queerer than we thought, or that we are not sexually compatible with our partner. In all marriages, we inevitably realize there are things our partners can’t provide us, and have to reconcile either getting those needs met elsewhere or going without.

Many couples discuss whether they will have children, what religion they will practice, and how they will handle finances before marrying. But few discuss how they will keep their sex lives exciting, how they would handle it if their marriage became mixed orientation, or whether polyamory or an open relationship might be an option. Seth and I thought we were thinking outside the box, but we didn’t realize that there were other boxes. Ironically, marriage often provides the stability and safety for us to explore ourselves more fully. For some, this can deepen the marital relationship, but for others, it can lead to the realization that the partner they are with is no longer the right one. These are the things they don’t tell you in the bridal magazines, or talk about at all those wedding showers. How many romantic comedies end with the female lead realizing that, while her husband is really good in bed and a great father, he’s not emotionally available enough?

The peer pressure to marry doesn’t necessarily suggest a problem with marriage itself, but a lack of other cultural models. This results in a lot of people choosing marital and family structures by default rather than by intention -- a kind of compulsory monogamy. If I were advising young adults today, I would tell them to seek out people who have set up their relationships and lives in a variety of ways, including traditional monogamous marriage. I would tell them to pursue diverse sexual experiences and explore their sexual orientations before committing to monogamy, or consider relationship structures in which continued exploration could be on the table. I would tell them that marriage is hard -- incredibly hard. But, I would have to add that the best things in life inevitably are. I don’t regret getting married, but as I make the decision each day to remain married, I believe I’m doing it with greater and greater intention as I glance down more of the roads not taken and realize what it is I’ve actually chosen, and what I’ve given up.

Lyla Cicero has a doctorate in clinical psychology, and focuses on relationships, sexual minorities, and sex therapy. Lyla is a feminist, LGBTQIAPK-affirmative, sex-positive blogger at UnderCoverintheSuburbs.com, where she writes about expanding cultural notions of identity, especially those surrounding gender, sexual orientation, motherhood, and sexuality. Follow her on Twitter @UndrCvrNSuburbs.

This post originally appeared on Role/Reboot.

  • Marrage is ordain from God

    In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth. He also created man to take care of all his creations. But when God saw that ''the man'' He create was lonely, He decided to give Man a conpanion -'' a wife''.
    Marriage is important for reason of support.
    Marriage is important for reason of procreation.

  • Yes - it is a timeless tradition

    Marriage is something that have bonded men and women together for centuries. It is a sacred covenant that gives meaning to their union, as they vow to be together until death do them part. Protecting this sanctity is one of the ways we can tribute to our past and have more hope in the future.

  • Marriage benefits everyone.

    With the many economic and social benefits that marriage gives to the community it is clear why it is important and why so many defend it. Marriage lowers reduces crime, poverty, and welfare these benefit everyone even those who are not married. Also a married couple issues children better than divorced or a never married couple.

  • if is it so stupid...

    If it is so "bad" then why are so many gay couples trying to get married? The divorce rate is up because people are not picking the "right" person to start out with. Even if it is they think that its ok just to get a divorce. People need to take responsibility for their actions. Some couples that have been together for +50 years "hate" each other. But they know that a divorce isn't an option. And wasn't an option when they were getting married. So yes marriage is very important. I can't wait for the day when I get to share everything thing with a very special person and have kids.

  • That's an individual thing.

    Marriage is important because marriage is love, but love is not defined by marriage. Ultimately it's just about two bank accounts merging into one bank account. It's not really important to me personally and I've been in love. I was with the same woman for 9 or 10 years. Long time, but I am grateful that I didn't have to file for a divorce once I realized how crazy she was. Sometimes you don't realize that it's not the person you are in love with until it's too late. Most of the time it's just the boobs. Boobs are nice but they aren't a good reason to get married to someone.

  • I support marriage

    With the many economic and social benefits that marriage gives to the community it is clear why it is important and why so many defend it. Marriage lowers reduces crime, poverty, and welfare these benefit everyone even those who are not married. Also a married couple issues children better than divorced or a never married couple.

  • These debates need a monitor

    Look at the pathetic arguments made on the no side, and the fact that on both sides there are duplicate "arguments." There is clear supportive evidence that married couples are happier, and that their children do better in nearly every way. That isn't a condemnation of single parenting, just an acknowledgment of a fact; having kids on your own is 5-6 times more likely to create financial and emotional troubles. No one should get married because they are "supposed" to, you get married because you love and respect someone and want to raise a family and take responsibility for those children's development and security. Otherwise, stay single.
    It would not surprise me if every post made on the NO side was made by the same person. The spelling and grammar mistakes are similar, as is the complete lack of critical thinking. Marriage is certainly changing, as are families, but that is not reason enough to do away with something that still serves us so well as individuals and as a society.

  • Marriage makes everyone happy (if its functional)

    With function marriages it helps everyone in every way, it relives stress, if a partner is stressed over something their will always be someone their to talk about it with. It ties your family together, and you feel more as 1 than 5, marriage ties your generation to others .

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