Marriage Probably Won't Make You Happier So Don't Do It If You Don't Want To. Or Do. It's Your Life.
Way back in 2014 (remember 2014? Good times), Head Overlord Dustin plucked me from the comment section here at Pajiba, and asked if I’d be interested in writing. Poor thing didn’t know what he was getting himself into. But before that, I was a regular, and regularly vulgar, commenter, and on occasion, I’d refer to my “husband.” Confession time: he’s not actually my husband. I referred to him as my husband because I never expected I’d get to know any of you people in any significant way, and typing “husband” is easier than “the-man-with-whom-I-am-in-a-serious-and-committed-relationship-but-with-whom-I-don’t-wish-to-commingle-finances-or-genes-because-I-don’t-want-to-ever-commingle-those-things-so-marriage-seems-unnecessary-also-I’m-not-entirely-sure-I-believe-in-marriage-because-I-actively-dislike-vows-I’m-figuring-it-out-lay-off-me.” I could call him my boyfriend, but my five-year-old niece also has a boyfriend, so that doesn’t exactly seem right. “Husband” seemed like the best way of conveying the nature of our relationship given that I wouldn’t need to produce a marriage certificate or anything. What I’m saying is that language is limited.
I bring this up now because I want to give marriage some credit before I start pointing out its less finer qualities. Marriage is succinct. And also for people who want to enter into it, a wonderful and valid life choice. For those of us who are on the fence/fucking so far past that fence, we can’t even see it anymore, I offer some arguments against the very least compelling reasons to get married. Yeah, that’s right, Aunt Laura, I see your bullshit coming, and I’ve got my responses prepared.
NOTE: This is not the time for happily married people to jump into the comments, and explain why they chose marriage. This article is not an attack on your marriage or your decision to get married. You don’t need to defend it. You’ve got the backing of every institutional force in the country, and also you’re happily married. We get it. This is only a solidarity post for those of us not into the marrying game, and an acknowledgment that I see you, unmarried people, and I like what you’re working with. If you insist on explaining why you chose marriage in the comments, I will insist on using my super mod powers to call you a tool.
1) Don’t Get Married Because It’s “Normal”
Marriage is the default for a reason, right? Success means going to college, getting a job, getting married, and having a kid. (The whole owning a home thing will be dependent on how recently larger financial forces have crashed the world economy, so let’s leave that out for now.) Only marriage rates overall have been declining recently, and those numbers aren’t only being made up by cohabiting couples. As of 2015, 51-percent of adults were living with a spouse, 8-percent were living with a partner, and 14-percent were living alone. Granted part of the 14-percent living alone could be divorced people who’d given marriage a try, but an increasing number of adults are falling into the “never married” category. In 2012, roughly 20-percent of people over 25 had never been married, and roughly half of those never expected to. So not only are people opting out of “strictly defined marriage” as the default relationship status, people are also opting out of “relationship” as the default life status. Now is where I reveal that I’m holding out until “jet-setting across Europe with my non-cohabiting life-mate/man-friend” become a default life status.
And now is also the time where I warn everyone not to run to the comments to tell me all about the economic and child-rearing benefits of strictly defined marriage. Because I have yet to find one goddamn study that differentiated between correlation and causation. I fully believe that people who are willing and able to conform to societal norms and work within a defined system are able to find significant levels of success within that system. I am significantly less likely to believe that two twenty-somethings working one or more underpaying jobs will suddenly have more money because they legally enforce their relationship. Marriage, in previous years, has been something successful adults felt obligated to enter into. That obligation has decreased. Don’t come at me with a study showing that correspondence if it doesn’t unequivocally prove that marriage creates success.
2) Don’t Get Married Because You Want A Wedding
Weddings are the bizarre paradox of happily married couples everywhere. The happiest couples will tell you that a wedding has nothing to do with the marriage, but weddings still cost on average $27,000. Since, by and large, unmarried people are not throwing weddings (to the best of my knowledge. It might be a thing the kids are doing), this means that the very people who are telling you not to place too high of a value on weddings are valuing weddings at 27k a pop.
Which I get. I know in my bones that the hallmarks of marriage (financial interdependence, cohabitation, vows of everlasting love, children) are not what I want in my relationship, and therefore I don’t want to be married. But I sure as shit know what my wedding would look like. The wedding industrial complex is real and it is pervasive. We’ve built up weddings to be not just the most important day of your life, but the culmination and display of a life well lived. Young-ish adults prove their societal worth by selecting the most exquisitely perfect party favors and then putting them in a mason jar. ALWAYS INCLUDE A MASON JAR. Only, no one cares about your wedding. You’ll spend months, maybe years, planning the most perfect wedding, and your guests will not notice half of it. We want free booze, decent food, and a play list that includes Madonna’s Like A Prayer.
This is not actually a discouragement of weddings though. It’s merely an encouragement to divorce weddings from marriage. If your marriage is actually a conduit with which to reach your dream wedding, you might want to take a step back. And if you’re still dead set on a blow-out wedding affair, might I recommend you throw a “party” instead?
3) Don’t Get Married Because It Will Make You Happy
Ah, yes, the article that started it all. See, according to this New York Times article, both the methodology and the results of a lot of those “marriage makes people happier” studies are questionable at best. A new, more comprehensive study casts a lot of doubt on the overall increases in happiness married people experience, but the sample population itself for a lot of these studies should give us pause.
It helps explain why so many of us have been so sure for so long that marriage makes people happier and healthier. In the typical study, only people who are currently married are included in the married group. Then, if the currently married people do better than people who are not married, single people are told that if they get married, they will do better, too. But many people who marry — probably more than 40 percent — divorce and end up less happy than when they were single. A better way to assess the likely implications of marriage is to compare everyone who ever married to people who never married. Very few studies ever do that.
So most studies surveyed both people who liked and disliked marriage, but included only the results of those who were happy with it. Leading to the groundbreaking discovery that “people who are happy and satisfied with their lives tend to be happy and satisfied with their lives.”
All of which leads me to ask, who are you trying to convince, guys? I understand why sociologists might want to actually prove or disprove the “common knowledge” that marriage is better for people and makes them happier, but why do we as a society have such a stake in proving that marriage is good? Doesn’t it seem like one of those things that should be self-apparent? If you believe in marriage, you believe it’s the right fit for you whether that be for procreative, economic, religious, practical, romantic, or some combination of all of the above reasons. And if you don’t believe in marriage, you’re just not sure if any of those reasons apply to you. But instead of accepting that both of those people can exist without interfering with the other’s life, we insist, “Oh, no. You’re doing it wrong. You should do it my way.”
What it boils down to, in these tumultuous times, is that we need to have a little more acceptance of people who opt to live their lives differently when it has no direct impact on us. We need to be more accommodating. And we’ve got more than enough political strife without also needing to start the great Marriage Is Good vs. Marriage Is Bad war. So for the sake of the country and all its inhabitants, let’s not. The next time a study or article tries to solve the “Is marriage good?” argument, do your patriotic duty, look them square in the eye, and say, “I don’t care.”