I recently read Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage at the suggestion of a single friend of mine who has been pondering the question "Why get married?"
Committed is a sort of follow-up to NYT bestseller Eat, Pray, Love. I never actually read that one, but apparently, at the end of her trek across Italy, India, and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert met a Brazilian man of Australian citizenship and fell in love. Both divorced, the pair agreed they never wanted to get legally married again. But, when U.S. Immigration catches onto his frequent, long-term visits to the U.S., they are told that they better get married if her man wishes to live in America. So, knowing they must tie the knot, Gilbert spends the nine months or so of their exile (while hiring immigration lawyers, etc.) studying the institution of marriage from a historical and cultural perspective, trying to come to terms with matrimony.
Gilbert, in the end, was convinced because she wanted to be. She had to be. My friend, with no legal pressure to wed, was not convinced. And me? Married for 3 1/2 years as I had always wished to be? I read the book with great curiosity and deep self-analysis.
Years ago, another confirmed-bachelorette friend asked me a similar question: "Why do you want to get married so badly?" I answered her, "because I want to have children, and marriage is a precursor to that." (The countless single parents out there could prove otherwise, but I was raised pretty traditionally, and never questioned the notion that marriage should precede childbearing.) I have ALWAYS wanted children. Lots of them. In elementary school (back when I still thought they had to cut you open to get babies out) I wanted twelve. I think there was a set of twins and a set of triplets in there. By high school, it was down to six, then four, and now three... or four, but only if we win the lottery or something.
I have always wanted to get married and have children. And I always assumed I would get married straight out of college, like my parents did. I was that super-annoying girlfriend who assumed every boyfriend was The One. And I know I put Matt through hell with my frustration over being 24 with a bare left hand. He still teases me over my most desperate lament: "You're trying to destroy all my dreams!" (Yes, I just admitted that in front of the whole Internet.)
It's embarrassing to admit that now, but I was extremely hung up on getting married. One of the single friends Gilbert interviewed in her study of marriage actually articulated my feelings quite well. Marriage would be validation, she said. A man's proposal would prove she was worthy of love. She was good enough. Good enough to be chosen. I recall wailing to Matt (in the same "dream-destroying" conversation, as I recall) "Why is [so-and-so] married? Is she prettier than me or better than me?"
(Ugh. This is why Kate will be raised with an anti-princess mentality.)
It's less embarrassing to go with the marriage=babies train of thought. And that actually is pretty wise, I think. There is an article from The Atlantic that I love and that I have sent at least three single friends the link to. It's called "Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough." I read and fell in love with this article years after marrying Matt, so I am in no way saying I "settled" for the world's greatest husband and daddy. But Lori Gottleib--the writer of that article--makes a great point in saying that when deciding whether or not to marry--or who to marry--one should consider not physical passion or even emotional chemistry, but rather the lifestyle one wants.
Ok, I wanted kids, and I married a man who also wanted kids. Great! But Gottleib's point about practicality goes beyond that.
I certainly wasn't thinking of this back in 2005, but the really cool thing--even "God thing"--that I honestly never anticipated, is that the details of our "lifestyle" have worked out perfectly, even without my planning. When Matt and I married, I wanted to quit working when I had kids. If I were marrying for "lifestyle" at that point, I should have chosen someone with a salary that could support a stay-at-home-mom and three kids. Instead, I married a pastor. For love. We couldn't live on just his salary (not if we still want CNN and Comedy Central, that is) but it turns out I love my job and want to keep working. As it turns out, the "practical" benefit to my choice of husband is his flexible career that allows for two Daddy-Daughter-Days a week.
The practical side of marriage is a good thing. Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed indigenous South Asian women about their marriages, and they had no romantic notions about chemistry or their own "worthiness." Gilbert asked them, "Is your husband a good husband?" and they laughed at her. He is what he is. Marriage is what it is. It is part of their lifestyle, and--since we do have so much freedom of choice these says--it is a choice of lifestyle for us today.
..... I don't like long blog posts, so I'm going to break this into two since I haven't really even gotten to the argument that finally convinced Gilbert in the end of her book. In the meantime, though, tell me (and my friend): why did you choose to get married? If you're not married, why do you want (or not want) to be?