Why bother getting married?

I was listening to Tim Ferris’ podcast the other day. In this episode he was interviewing the relationship – and especially infidelity – expert Esther Perel and posed her the question: What arguments have you come up with for marriage? The only reason Tim himself had was basically that the legal contract part makes it more difficult to leave, so it would kind of force you to commit a bit harder. I don’t think they actually came up with too many good answers, so after having a good discussion on the topic with my husband, I decided to write our answer to that question: Why bother getting married?

First of all, I think there are a couple of pretty basic reasons why marriage gets such a bad reputation.

The first one is that people get married for the wrong reasons, such as:

  • Societal pressure – People around you are getting married, or maybe your parents wouldn’t accept you living or having a child with someone unless you’re married so you get married to avoid disapproval from others.
  • “It’s the logical next step” – You’re in “that age” (typically between 25 and 35 in the Western world), you have been in a relationship for a few years and there is nothing obviously wrong with your partner. They are trustworthy, nice and look good on paper (they have a college degree, decent manners and get along with your granny). So you figure it makes sense to get married even though you are personally not 100% convinced they are the person you actually want to share the rest of your life with.
  • Being princess for a day – This is probably the worst reason of them all, but some women seem to be so obsessed with having a wonderful wedding day wearing a ridiculously expensive dress and getting beautiful pictures taken that will make all your friends (even the ones you don’t really know) jealous on Facebook and Instagram.

The second reason for marriage’s bad reputation is that some people behave completely irrationally after they get married. If you think about it, you have just promised to spend the rest of your life with someone. So the most logical thing to do would obviously be to treat them super well and really make an effort to nourish the relationship, as this is the person you are now kind of stuck with. What many people seem to do instead is start taking their spouse for granted and treating them with indifference. In some twisted way they seem to think that as they are now bound for life, the other person needs to put up with any shit they come up with. So they start nagging to each other, don’t go on dates anymore, only wear yoga pants at home, limit each other’s individual activities, etc. which is pretty much the opposite behavior of what you would do when you are wooing a person.

So what is the point in marriage? With a 50% divorce rate it’s not exactly a safe bet, so why should you take the risk?

To be fair, for many years I was convinced I wouldn’t ever get married. I was looking forward to having a committed relationship but saw marriage mainly as a conservative tradition and “just a piece of paper”. In fact sometimes I am quite bothered by the fact of how much my life adheres to the “traditional standards” as I like to think of myself as a mental rebel: I got married at 30, bought my first flat at 31 and now I am expecting our first child at 32.  Still, I would argue that for us marriage was a really conscious decision that was not taken lightly.

So why did we get married and what do we see as arguments for marriage? I think most of the arguments come down to creating the best possible environment for continuous personal growth. For both of us, personal growth is a big priority in life, probably the biggest priority alongside living a happy and fulfilled life and raising our kids to become decent human beings. Getting married to someone (for the right reasons) shows a strong commitment in helping that other person grow and be happy. It’s not just about “you are my priority – for now” which you could theoretically have in “just” a regular committed relationship but rather “you are my priority – period”. This allows you to count on that other person on a whole other level: You can always fully be yourself and freely share your anxieties and failures – not just the positive parts. This leads to a more fruitful environment for personal growth as you can be radically honest about what you are going through but still count on the other person to support you no matter what. On the other hand, they give you honest feedback if they don’t agree with you on something.

This is very much in alignment with what the sex and relationship coach Kim Anami refers to as conscious monogamy. The problem is not with monogamy itself, rather with how people perceive it. If you set the bar for monogamy at simply “not cheating on your partner”, well then it does sound like a pretty lame prospect. But if you see the relationship as an effective vehicle for personal growth, then monogamy becomes a much more tempting proposition.

Finally I enjoyed reading Elisabeth Gilbert’s book Committed, in which she ends up with the conclusion that actually romantic marriage – getting married purely because you want to, not because you have to – is quite a new thing and in a way the couple’s rebellion against the society.  Through marriage two people form a team ready to battle all the challenges together – “us against the world”.  She also talks about how getting married is ultimately about making a public commitment to your loved one and asking your friends and family to support you on your shared journey.

So that’s why we decided to get married in August 2015. And my conflicted inner rebel was calmed down a bit by the fact that instead of having a very traditional church wedding, we had a self-invented fun ceremony hosted by one of my dearest friends that looked just like us. And because it was all about our very conscious choice 🙂