Is marriage a rite of passage?

With all this recent talk in my blog about marriage, I just have to wonder something about the rites of passage we encounter.

There are all these small and momentous moments in our lives. The small ones are simple enough: Tying your shoes for the first time, making your own lunch for school, walking to the bus stop by yourself. But the large ones like your first kiss, losing your virginity, high school graduation, first job (maybe not in that order of course!) can place their mark on you for the rest of your life.

Your rite of passage into adulthood is clearly defined by these things. There are so many more too like finally achieving independence, going to college, children — whatever is a milestone in your life isn’t necessarily the same for everyone. But is marriage one of the required rites?

Many say that marriage comes before children so it is a necessary thing. But you don’t have to be married to have children while many say the two should go hand and hand. I’ve never really had a desire to have children and at one point of my life marriage wasn’t something I wanted either. But as things truck along and years pass, marriage has been on my “to do” list of things. I know it kind of sounds clinical and impersonal that way — thinking of it as a check off on a master list, but I guess that is how I see it. There-in lies the problem?

I finished college, landed my first real career. What’s next? Of course always improving or looking to move up or progressing in what I am accomplishing should be enough on my plate. Sometimes it isn’t — much to my chagrin. Marriage isn’t anywhere near my radar. Is marriage something EVERYONE should reach for at some point in their lives? Just as with all those other milestones, is marriage a rite of passage or just another option?

There is a list of famous, great people who never married. I can think of a few spectacular writers and activists alone — Jane Austen (who has been referred to as a spinster) and Susan B. Anthony (where in one text says, “… she had time, freedom and ability to travel.” Not so bad.) But did they really miss out? What if you never reach for the supposed finality of tying the knot? Are you a lesser person for it? To say less is a bit dramatic of course but what about all those references to spinsters not too long ago (and sometimes used today). Why is an unmarried man a bachelor and an unmarried woman an ugly-sounding name like “spinster…”? Sounds like sinister. 🙂

Actually spinster used to be used on applications and documents in place of the word  “single.” Centuries ago women who remained unmarried were looked down upon. Some even considered witches!! And just in the past few decades such as in the 1950s, this idea never really went away. It was just a tad less menacing! I am not blind enough to believe this sort of thinking and overall perception doesn’t exist today.

I remember in middle school that the fact that I never dated ( I wasn’t even allowed to until I was 16) prompted someone to say I was a lesbian. And it was said as an insult, of course. I could have cared less about the accusation but what enraged me was society’s idea that everyone, even at that tender age, should always be partnered and if you weren’t, something was wrong with you. And today that translates to people starting to suggest seeking out a spouse on eHarmony or Match.com.

Of course I realize that the whole world isn’t always persecuting the perpetual single person. But there is no denying the underlying raised eyebrow if you have reached a certain age and never wed.

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39 responses to this post.

  1. Oh, marriage is definitely NOT a necessity. While it works for some people, I personally think it’s more for the days when women could not own property or make money of their own. My thoughts on the topic have progressed over time very similarly to how you’ve described your own. I think a large part of the fact I’m not into getting married is that I don’t feel that there is anything missing from my life. I do have a significant other, but I feel no need to “legalize” our relationship (and don’t even get me started on the religious aspects of marriage). Companionship is great — as long as you have good solid friendships and family and other connections and can support yourself, I don’t think marriage is a must-do for everyone.

    Ironically, look at the two richest women in our country — Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey — both are unmarried and make a living giving advice to an audience mainly made up of unfulfilled married women.

    Keep writing! You’re awesome.

    And I recommend you read the book Bachelor Girl. It gives some interesting perspectives on the history of being single and female in America. http://www.amazon.com/Bachelor-Girl-History-Twentieth-Century/dp/0380976498

    Ooh! And Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own…

    Reply

  2. Is marriage something EVERYONE should reach for at some point in their lives? Just as with all those other milestones, is marriage a rite of passage or just another option?

    Marriage is a vocation which not everyone is called to. You also have the option to remain single or consecrate your life to God. Those are the options and to think that you should get married is doing you a disservice since that might not be what you are supposed to do in your life. Wishing you the best.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Self Help Addict on Sunday, August 19, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    You know I just wrote a post asking why people get married. Is it really just for companionship? If that’s it, is the ceremony really necessary. But what I was getting at more is that people get married because they’re supposed to get married and then they’re stuck in this thing that requires compromises they don’t want to make. Just like having children, I don’t think people really think about what being married is.

    Although marriage is on my to-do list too 🙂

    Reply

  4. It’s funny seeing so many of my friends getting married right now and I can’t help but think about my seemingly inevitable time. But no, marriage is important if you try to do it right, however, it shouldn’t be a requirement. I’m in my twenties and haven’t really dated either. It’s kind of odd for me to think about boyfriends and girlfriends in middle school.

    It’s all up to the person. Marriage is just one of those things that people talk about. But do as you see fit.

    Reply

  5. Marriage is just an option, believe me.
    Divorce rates prove it.
    I’m sure the other half that don’t divorce, definitely have considered it. The majority of those that divorce choose not to marry again.

    I am 29, and I have been married for 2.5+ years. I’ve made so many mistakes in my life, yet the only one I regret and will always will is getting married.

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  6. Wow. Great responses here.

    @megevil: I completely agree here. And in my case I think I would like to have a D.I.N.K. situation (Dual Income No Kids). I like the idea of two incomes coming into a household. But with that being said, I have to have my OWN accounts too.
    I guess I see marriage as a business or partnership. I see it as improving an investment and the perks aren’t so bad either (i.e. no need for a “booty” call 🙂 )
    I will have to read that book. I actually heard a little about it and wondered if it was a good read. Thanks for the reading advice! And the compliment!

    @em: I didn’t date much either in school…I was a “late bloomer.”

    @Clary: Thanks for the well-wishing. I need all the help I can get!

    @self help: “I don’t think people really think about what being married is.” Ah! That’s really true. I think that is also why so many situations get jaded…such as in my post about the guy who has a virtual wife!

    Thanks all.

    Reply

  7. To me marriage is a religious ceremony whereby a man takes a woman into his household and away from her fathers household. Not only is the idea sexist in the extreme but archaic almost beyond comprehension. As I am not religious and (I hope) not sexist I have chosen not to ask my girlfriend (and mother of our four children) to marry me.

    I know that some people still don’t think that this is right or that we can provide a “decent” home to raise our children in but the opinions of other people should not influence a person on life changing decisions.

    In a male dominated society “catching a man” and having children might seem to be the be all and end all of a woman’s life but women have far more to offer than simply completing a man’s life. This was not always the case but women are free to choose how to life their lives now as they weren’t a few hundred years ago.

    Also is marriage really of any value in modern society. Divorce is quick and relatively easy with two in three marriages ending in divorce. I have friends still in their 30s who are now on their third marriages. This tells me that the value that they place on marriage is low. Those friends who do get married have often lived together for years before they choose to marry. Many have children. It seems that they marry only to bring some vibrancy back into an otherwise stale relationship. A short term fix to something that might not be working.

    Gay marriage typically has no emphasis on children but on seeking to be seen as equal to heterosexuals in the eyes of society and the law. Personally I believe that it is foolish to seek to conform to a social norm when you are clearly living outside of it.

    When was being single such a bad thing? True you don’t have anyone to pick up your underwear or do the washing up when you can’t be bothered with it. The reverse is also true though and your mess is always your own. Sex is possible not a regular occurrence for a single but the same can be said for a married couple who have grown jaded and disinterested. At least the singleton gets some variety. There’s always friends with benefits as well (although not limited to single people). Financially a single person may suffer slightly compared with a couple living together but marriage isn’t a prerequisite of cohabitation any more.

    Thanks for this. It’s good to get an opinion out there once in a while.

    Reply

  8. Posted by summerlightning on Sunday, August 19, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    My two cents….
    Marriage is more a state of mind than a physical ceremony, religious or legal. Everything else is a declaration of your commitment to the world at large. The mental commitment is stronger than anything else and if that’s not there, no point putting out the fancy champagne in the crystal glasses, is there?
    But it’s also true that marriage inducts a stranger into your family as surely as if he were bound in blood like everyone else in there. It can add more people to your inner circle who will care about you. And it brings you and your significant other closer in several new ways you hadn’t considered. This works really well for some, others feel suffocated by it.
    Ultimately as all things are, whether or not it is for you comes down to what you are and want. Because you should know whether this works for you before going in. Two lives are involved.

    Reply

  9. @ hoverfrog: “At least the singleton gets some variety. There’s always friends with benefits as well (although not limited to single people).”
    Yeah but that gets old too!! Can you believe I said that? Variety and FWB getting old? I mean no strings attached stuff is fine at 20 something but what about 30 something? 40 something??

    “To me marriage is a religious ceremony whereby a man takes a woman into his household and away from her fathers household. Not only is the idea sexist in the extreme but archaic almost beyond comprehension.”

    Absolutely it is — to a point. I think today’s marriages are as I stated above: A business plan. An agreement between two people who work well together. Or at least they should be able to in order for it to work. Love doesn’t hurt either. Hah.

    Congrats by the way!

    Reply

  10. i’m confused too! .. haha.. i feel the pressure of marriage to be a right of passage, but at the same time i’m not going to settle for any joe-smoe just to check it off “the list” (in a manner of speaking). i might end up a spinster, or i might end up as part of the “married folk”… i see the former to be the more likely option!

    Reply

  11. A business plan does not always require a contract to be successful.

    I’ve also realised that my entry makes it sound like I’m not perfectly happy with wonderful and regular sex I have in my non-marriage. This is not the case. 😉 You are quite right about love being important but, once again, it is not a prerequisite for marriage. It is, I believe, vital for a successful relationship though.

    Reply

  12. @summerlightning: “Ultimately as all things are, whether or not it is for you comes down to what you are and want. Because you should know whether this works for you before going in.”

    What about the times when you did not know? I hear so often that before marriage everything is alright but when the two finally become “one” so to speak, then the world can sometimes turn topsy.

    Reply

  13. Posted by loudmouthprotestant on Sunday, August 19, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    Wow, marriage as a rite of passage. That is too much weight to give to something that is not a prerequisite for success. There were many singles in the Bible that did fine by themselves. Paul, Lydia, Jesus. It’s society that somehow makes people believe that marriage is to be achieved and attained. If I never get married, it will be okay. It will take nothing from who I am as a person unless I let it. It’s kind of like that saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without you permission.” How much of this is really about people other than yourself projecting negative energy because they have misunderstood that marriage is a privilege not a right.

    Reply

  14. @loudmouth: “How much of this is really about people other than yourself projecting negative energy because they have misunderstood that marriage is a privilege not a right.”

    Good point.

    I will say that people have influenced my thinking it’s important. Well, because, seems like people just can’t wait to tell you who is married, who isn’t. And in my field where I’m in the public eye a lot, I get asked OVER AND OVER AGAIN: “What’s a girl like you running around without a husband?”

    I guess it is the South.

    Reply

  15. I’ve survived 48 years without tying any kind of knot and I’m amazingly sane.

    But that doesn’t negate the insanity I sometimes feel during holidays and on “date nights” when the emphasis on being singular and NOT plural becomes an almost palpable affront.

    Marriage and it’s institution isn’t necessarily what I’ve craved. I’ve spent years learning for emotional solidarity. To find the cup to my saucer; good utilitarian pieces on their own, but they work so much better together. If I could find enduring love and compassion and someone willing to put forth the effort and in good times and in bad; who’d help me be a better person and I him—well, that’s really all I want.

    Some people just have this sad, romanticized view of marriage–that the wedding itself is paramount. They want to have their cake and eat it, too and continuously savor that special magic that exists in the planning and execution of the wedding.

    After the honeymoon–when life happens–they look at each other as virtual strangers.

    True, the magic doesn’t last–not that magic anyway. But the good news is, it adapts and changes. Love–real love is ethereal magic that finally found a home.

    The reality is this: being single is OK. As long as you can fill your voids with companionship and love–the two vital components to our being. But really, we should continue to do this, whether we’re married or not. We must never forget or relinquish the ability to replenish ourselves.

    Our souls.

    So, yes—I’ll formalize my relationship IF I can find someone with whom I can form a more perfect union. Until then, I’ll keep an eye out, but I remain steadfastly open to what fate, kismet..The Universe has in store for me.

    Call me old fashioned but over the years I’ve learned a thing or two–I need to compose a grocery list, shop for the ingredients and then carefully prepare the cake before I sample it.

    I think it would taste better that way.

    Enjoyed the post. You’re a gifted writer. I’ll be back.

    Best,
    Laurie Kendrick

    Reply

  16. @Laurie: Lovely post. And you read my mind beautifully!!
    Especially the holidays part. Geez.
    Thanks for stopping by!

    Reply

  17. In an increasingly materialistic and self centered world, I think the original point and importance of marriage has become lost.
    I believe if you want to really simplify it and break it down, the point of marriage is twofold: One, to share your life with one person who believe is your soul mate and a person you want to spend the rest of your life by your side, and Two, to create a family and have children.

    I really believe that any other reason to get married is a distortion of what marriage is meant to be, and that is why there is so much divorce and such a negative view of marriage. It has lost it’s purpose.
    If you want to get married for any other reason that the two points above, your wasting your time. Just be single, live common law, have a fling, but don’t waste your time getting married. Your just bastardizing what should be a beautiful institution.

    Reply

  18. Oh, forget about what those “spinsters” you named might have missed by not getting married. What have WE missed by their not having had children and not having passed on their genes and their values and their ideas through those children to enrich our world today?

    (I know, I know … hopelessly old-fashioned thinking of me.)

    Reply

  19. @Jerome: I believe society has influenced the reasons why the TRUE meaning of marriage has left me. Call me a cynic but I guess I don’t believe the beauty you described truly exists anymore…and I love kids but don’t really want to have any…

    @Parare: that may be why those wonderful spinsters didn’t have kids! Fellow women writers who got too busy to spread their seed!

    But really Jerome, I agree with you as the old way of things. But today, and alas I guess could be the reasons for divorce, marriage is WAY more than those two things. Materialistic or not.

    Reply

  20. Sorry to butt in but Jerome’s points on the two reasons for marriage escape me: “One, to share your life with one person who believe is your soul mate and a person you want to spend the rest of your life by your side, and Two, to create a family and have children.”

    One: why not simply stay with this person? A life time commitment does not necessitate a marriage contract.

    Two: children are wonderful and life changing introductions into a relationship and should be viewed with foresight and commitment to raise and support them to adulthood and beyond. As a father I know that my children’s well being and happiness are paramount. That has little or nothing to do with a marriage contact. Also I don’t see that marriage as a contract between two people should necessarily commit the offspring of that to endure when the relationship fails.

    Reply

  21. Arm Jerker J

    When the primary reason to get married is business with benefits or to accomplish something jotted down on a life to-do list, then one of romance’s ultimate rituals is dead.

    I am not pro or anti-marriage; what ever any two clear headed people want in regard to marriage is fine with me. How ever, I would find it an impossible task to write a poem about those who have chosen to enter into marriage as a business arraignment or as something checked off a list.

    Poetman

    Reply

  22. I agree, poet. But I guess I’ve given up on romance!
    thanks for stopping by…

    Reply

  23. With all do respect – does that mean that you will settle for an arraignment or worse to be a box checked off on some mans list?

    My scant sense of you is that you are intelligent, powerful, and resourceful. If romance added to partnership is desired by you then I have no doubt that you can have both.

    Poetman

    Reply

  24. @poet: Thanks for saying so but I’m not sure about how I feel when it comes to romance AND the partnership thing. Of course my ideal would be a marriage with both. With love and the partnership a marraige can bring. But I’m realistic about whether or not I can truly have both when my choices so far are not vast enough. If that makes sense!

    @Luna: Really? You regret it? Why??

    Reply

  25. Dear all,
    I really like the debate on that topic going on here. Some time ago I wrote an article on marriage and romance and why IT IS important and actually great (I do not want to guote it here, may be too long) – but I am sure you will find very unusual arguments in there 🙂

    http://shaktipower.wordpress.com/2007/03/23/marriage-made-in-heaven/

    Reply

  26. Posted by Peter Hoppa on Monday, August 20, 2007 at 5:08 am

    What is it now, there are more single people than there are married. In my work, it’s pretty cool talking to seniors that have been together for 40+ years and hearing their experiences.

    Reply

  27. honestly, marriage is obsolete.

    in the historical context marriage was set up so that men wouldn’t kill each other over a woman to often. marriage basically arranged who’s the wife of what man. but since women become more independent marriage becomes more and more obsolet.

    from a neutral point marriage also seems kind of ridiculous: two people swear each other to love each other for ever and always. how is that institution of marriage still necessary when most marriages nowadays are based on love and not on social reasons?

    there’s no difference (except benefits concerning taxes) between a marriage and a marriage-like-relationship.

    Reply

  28. […] 20, 2007 bei 2:24 nachmittags · Gespeichert unter gedenktes, gelesenes arm jerker j. ob heirat ist notig in gesellschaft moderner. fragt sie ob heirat ist station einer muss durchgehen wie kuss erster abschluss von schule oder […]

    Reply

  29. There IS a big diffrence (I have exprenicened both), and the biggest dirrence you learn when you have to part: a divorce and a parting with a long-term partner IS NOT THE SAME. I wish you will never experience that.
    In a marriage there is a commitment, this is also something you do not get in the other relationships. But it makes no much sence to discuss until one experiences that. Marriage is still so much more beautiful and fruitful, and enjoyable that any other type of relationship!…

    Reply

  30. Axinia, I see no difference between marriage and any other long term relationship except for the religious element. If you discount religion as I have then there is no difference at all.

    Reply

  31. Posted by maliha11 on Monday, August 20, 2007 at 10:57 am

    i think every one should at least get married once in their lives rather than being alone!! for girls and little boys there is always this small thing that they dream about (mostly girls) they are going to get married to and what dress are they going to wear and all that but what truly is the bottom line is that everyone in the end of day would like to come back to a home with family wether its a happy one or not its the effort the one makes for that, but being married is a beautiful bond any two would ever share 🙂

    Reply

  32. Good article, and equally good responses.

    Marriage is something that firms your relationship with the other person. There is no rule or necessity to have a marriage for you to associate with a partner, but I guess for legal matters there needs to be some proof that the two people are joined in life. I believe that is how marriage came into existence.

    Other than that, it also provides some structure to life. Without a binding marriage, polygamy would come (not that I am totally against it, ha ha), but that would then lead to chaos, more praternity fights and what not. So, if you look at the world without marriage and envision how it would be, you would agree that marriage is a necessary evil. That is not to say if you are not married you are weird or anything, but the majority still need to marry to keep sanity in the world 🙂

    My 2 cents

    VT.

    Reply

  33. To Axinia saying, “Marriage is still so much more beautiful and fruitful, and enjoyable that any other type of relationship!…”
    Whoa! Big no way. I think you can have a wonderful AND frutiful relationship that doesn’t have to be marriage. It can be any beneficial relationship of family, friends…geez, your favorite pet who loves you unconditionally. It’s all perspective.

    Reply

  34. arm jerker, You have the right to have your ‘modern’ views on what marriage is, but if your not interested in children, or a life long soul mate relationship, then I still maintain that there’s no point in getting married!
    Why, to experience some kind of ancient ritual?
    Since that is old fashioned no matter what your purpose, so then why bother, especially if the word marriage has so little value in our society?
    In some cultures however, it is unheard of not to be married, it is just part of the culture. I think at the time of Jesus, this was the case, and he was most likely married since it was unheard of for a man not the be married at his age…

    Oh, and while were on the topic, I think this business of priests and monks and the like not being allowed to marry is bunk, with the right partner, being married can only enhance your spirituality

    Reply

  35. Venkatesh: Do you really think marriage keeps things less chaotic? If anything I’ve been hearing from some (not necessarily here) is that marriage can create even more problems for yourself when you were better off single. The romance wears off at some point and what does that leave you? Back to my partnership I guess — but without the flowers.
    I don’t think marriage is the glue for a more “peaceful” world. But I do think it can make people happy if not for a little while.

    Thoughts?

    Reply

  36. Hi, I’m new here.
    —-
    I think *my* marriage is beautiful and it’s been hard work at times but well worth it. It’s not for everyone and I can see why people might think they should get married – especially if they are from the generation I am from – it was just the thing everyone did for the most part.

    These days I think it’s happening less and less and that’s just fine. Getting married won’t make anyone happier than if they hadn’t gotten married. If you love someone, you love them and marriage doesn’t change that any.

    I’d just scratch it off my to-do list and if it happens sometime, right on. If not, right on!

    Peace, love and understanding to all y’all.

    Reply

  37. MARRIAGE WAS ORDAINED BY GOD FOR SEXUAL PLEASURE AND PROCREATION. SEX OUT OF MARRIAGE IS SINFUL AND IS IS AGAINST GOD’S DIVINE WILL AND PURPOSE FOR THE HUMAN FAMILY.

    Reply

  38. Posted by barebeautybones on Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Just telling you all know how much I appreciate your posts, and the fact that I found you though google🙂

    Reply

  39. Posted by bloonsterific on Friday, July 10, 2009 at 5:31 am

    Just wanted to tell you all know how much I appreciate your postings guys.
    Found you though google!

    Reply

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