Patrick and I totally got married because our friends were doing it. We didn’t do it only because our friends were doing it, or because our friends were going to stop sitting next to us in the lunchroom if we didn’t do it. But I’m pleased as punch to say that when it comes to marriage, we had some fine peer-couple role models to look to.
Call it “peer pressure” if you want. We watched happy people around us get happier when they found forever partners and married them. We wanted to emulate them because we believed we had the reasonable tools to be able to do so: love, respect, shared values and life goals. I feel strongly that if I had had a lot of negative marital role models in my life, I’d have been far more circumspect in my approach to marriage. It’s only reasonable to use the information you have to make decisions about what you’d like to do with your life.
I think it was largely a subconscious emulation, but I wouldn’t call it an accident that, in the year before my own wedding, I watched several long-time friends tie their respective knots. Hell, I’m a 28-year-old middle-class white person. For people like me, there comes a summer in all of our lives when weekends are full of nuptials and related activities. Even if you’re not invited to them all, one’s Facebook feed alone can be a staggering play-by-play of the same party, held over and over and over again with slightly different hosts.
I’m thinking about all this because of a really thoughtful piece from Lyla Cicero’s Role/Reboot wherein she wonders of her own wedding-amongst-weddings, “Was I basking in the glow of doing the popular thing, rather than in the glow of marriage itself?”
It’s a question that every couple should ask themselves — and ultimately one that I had to ask myself, too. Am I getting married — or do I want to get married—because my friends seem to have a great time doing it, themselves?
It’s an interesting question because marriage is, intrinsically, a social, unity-building institution. Everybody gets married because other people get married. It’s one of the fundamental functions of marriage: building identifiable networks of humans who are, at least in theory, meant to support and help each other.
Where this becomes a problem, of course, is when heterosexual two-person marriage is the only, or only “real” way to build these recognized social networks, which are then expected to never change or adjust. It’s an idea I touched on in a Hitched essay during my post-honeymoon bliss wherein I pretty much wanted to marry all my friends. What a beautiful idea: instead of telling straight monogamous people they’re the only ones doing it right, what if we let people build their own legally recognized family structures via commitments and agreements, sexual or otherwise, that work for them?
Sadly, that’s probably better explored in-depth in a science fiction novel more than in one of my lowly Hitched columns. We can dream of a society where “family” means more than Mom/Wife And Dad/Husband And 2.5 Kids, but functionally, that’s what we’re working with nowadays. Yet we’re never going to get to that Glorious Multi-Definitioned Marriage Of The Future if some of us don’t start making active changes to the practice of marriage today.
That’s why — in addition to the fact that I had some great peer and older-aged role models in happy marriages — I wanted to marry Patrick. I wanted to try and see if we couldn’t be an example of a more gender-equal marriage. If we couldn’t be an example of a family that’s built without the expectation of having children. If we couldn’t be more “adventure partners” than stuffy ole’ husband-and-wife.
I don’t think marriage has to be, or should be, a prescription. I think it should be a framework. A framework made of … FunNoodles or something similarly amusing and flexible.
Because pressure of all kinds plays into getting married. Anyone with an overbearing parent desperate for grandchildren playing behind a white picket fence can tell you that peer pressure is hardly the first or only kind when it comes to getting weddinged. The wedding process is pressure. It isn’t so much peer pressure as pure pressure.
Pick up a bridal magazine. Check out the cover. In fact, check out, say, all these covers of Modern Bride. You don’t even have to flip open an issue to know that a white sleeveless dress (on a thin, white lady body), a floral bouquet, some “creative” or “unique” touches and a sunny, warm outdoor setting appear to be the ingredients for a “modern” wedding. To be real, if archaeologists from space land on earth thousands of years from now and find a pile of Modern Brides, I’m not sure it would occur to them that this ritual called wedding even involved more than one individual human being, to wit, a bride.
And that’s just one kind of pressure, from just one (admittedly powerful, in our media-saturated society) inanimate object. Modern Bride can’t give you the side eye when you tell it you’re thinking of wearing a red dress instead of a white one or look down its nose at you when you decide to go courthouse instead of cathedral.
Think you’re too hip for Modern Bride? You’ll never cave to tradition? No matter how weird you think your wedding is, it’s still a fucking wedding. You can call it a commitment ceremony or a handfasting, but basically you’re going to say some words in front of some people while you wear some special clothing, and you’re probably going to party afterwards and may have to get something stamped by the government so you can file your taxes differently next year. I mean, you can go skiing and call it swimming, but if you’re wearing a puffy coat and sliding down a snowy mountain, you’re still skiing. If it’s beautiful and unique snowflake you’re going for, stay away from being a heterosexual person who wants to make a public commitment to another individual for life. Snowflaking is not only not part of the deal, it’s the opposite of the deal itself. So, with pressure to conform coming from all angles, how do you know you’re getting married for the right reasons?
That’s a trick question. Even implying that there are “right” and “wrong” reasons for getting married is totally, completely, pressure. Maybe for some people, financial stability is the most important thing to them, and they think marriage is the way to achieve it. Maybe others need the health insurance. Maybe others want a partner to help them raise kids. Maybe others are just stupid, crazy in love. And maybe some people get married just because their friends are doing it and they don’t want to feel left out.
And peer pressure regarding marriage isn’t always a bad thing, as Ta-Nehisi Coates points out at The Atlantic: the more people speak up and say they’re totally cool with gay marriage, the more bigoted assholes are peer pressured into just dealing with it. This can be an agent for positive social change.
I feel that way about feminist marriage, too. How about instead of rejecting the idea of marriage altogether, we play with the idea — nay, the fact — that marriage can, will, and has changed over the years, and celebrate that?
And I mean look, maybe the experiment doesn’t work. Ask me in five or 10 years if I think it’s possible to engender the kind of social change needed to morph marriage into something that includes more than just coupled heterosexual people squirting out kids until death do them part. I’m only a month into my own marriage. I know nothing other than this: frameworks are better than prescriptions.
Instead of viewing marriage as the end of a road — which is what the reluctant groom myth and the wedding industrial complex both do to otherwise rational people — what if we saw it as the beginning of a journey, not just for individuals, but for a more thoughtful and open society? I don’t feel like my agency and growth as a human ends with the moment I become a “wife,“ and I don’t believe being married doesn’t mean you can’t change, for better or worse, just because you proclaimed undying love for someone … for better or for worse.
Contact the author of this post at Andrea.Grimes@Gmail.com.