Weddings are fun to attend so long as you aren’t the bride or groom. It’s rare after all to have such a large party across generations and social groups; it inspires awe at something larger, and is yet another opportunity to drink and dance. Really, it is very primate but the ritual seems to be at heart what makes us human – a promise and belief in a shared life.
After being invited to my friend’s wedding in Luiv Ukraine, (she’s 26 and he’s 21), I had an array of jokes prepared about visa-marriage when telling my friends. I was lost-for-words. I know for a fact it is purely out of love that they want to be together: it’s in the light in their eyes. It is proved by the fact he will live in Ukraine – countering the ethnocentric assumption she wishes to migrate to Britain.
Of course I worry that they haven’t thought of the risks – getting fat, a dead libido, debt, and boredom. There is potentially eighty years of the same person or the fifty percent chance of divorce. While I believe you cannot trust your feelings, yet they counter with “you know Ed. . . it just feels right”. Even my sister and her boyfriend who love each other have not married yet – “not till my career is sorted”. They’ve been married in all but ceremony for nine years now. This all got me thinking: it is an incantation, metal bands, and a piece of paper.
According to Europeans, marriage came about in Christian Rome and the gender-labour division of the agricultural revolution – husband farmer and wife housekeeper. Ultimately then, it was like a small business exchange between two families. But after waves of liberating feminism and industry it adapted into lovers becoming ‘one’ against the world, as evident in romantic books.
Marriage works like a contract which is deliberately difficult to exit. This assures our personal investments in each other are protected from our irrational, impulsive selves. Making it difficult to exit makes one more likely to stay and avoid temptations that in the long-run likely will not be good for us or others.
Yes, a modern marriage is part romantic, part business. There is love and lust but there is also the rent and working hours and (probably) picking up the kids. Marriage is a pooling of psychological and material resources, bound in a contract. And one is lucky if your partner agrees on fundamentals – what to eat, watch, listen to, where to live, what to do.
But that isn’t all marriage should be. The best relationships of any kind are complementing; the cultural focus should shift from material exchange and the false finality of a-happy-ending to a more realistic vision of interpersonal development and community, that makes each other better people and the majority happier, which factors conscientiousness as the successful trait.
Because what does the research say results in divorce? A lot of petty things, for sure, but largely over-dependency on The Partner for all human needs. Needs unmet because of cultural pressure placing too much value on marriage (or The One) and not enough on equally life sustaining (indeed marriage sustaining) hobbies, work, and friends.