In our facebook generation, when you reach your mid-20s and thereafter you start noticing that your facebook feed becomes inundated with wedding photos and status changes. Getting married in your mid-20s isn’t something new. Back in Ancient Greece, men were often close to 30 when they married their younger wives, and between the 13th and 16th centuries the age of 25 was the average age of marriage.
For centuries getting married has been a socially accepted thing for a man and woman to do if they are to have exclusive sexual relationships and bring children into the world together. Of course even then these were not the only reasons to get married, and often political, financial and social reasons would enter the equation too. But what about today? Have reasons to marry changed over time? In our day and age why do people get married?
Reasons to get married
Here follow 10 top reasons for why people get married:
1.) Marriage officially allows exclusive sexual access to one another
One of the most ancient reasons for marriage was to allow sexual access between a man and a woman. Sexual exclusivity was so important in ancient cultures that ensuring the virginity of a woman before her marriage was deemed as very important. This was why men would often marry girls as young as 12.
Why was sexual exclusivity so important? There are many reasons but perhaps the most basic is that like many animals, human beings are biologically programmed to reproduce in order to carry their genes to the next generation. Sexual exclusivity would ensure that your genes are carried on in favor of your competitors’ genes.
A closely linked reason for sexual exclusivity includes an assurance that any offspring made by your wife is certain to be yours, so that if you work hard to provide for that offpring, it is for your genetic benefits and not anyone else’s. From the female’s point of view, marriage helps hold the promise that the man will provide for her offspring too. It’s a promise of stability for the child’s upbringing which would have been important for its best chances of survival in early times.
Today exclusive sexual access is important for people psychologically in order to feel that they alone meet all of their partner’s sexual needs. It is also an assurance of your exclusive love for one another. Sexual exclusivity says: “You’re the only one in the world who has that privilege because I love you more than anyone else.”
Another factor that makes sexual exclusivity important today is to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Monogamy with an STD-free partner gives the peace of mind that you’re having safe sex.
Of course you can be sexually exclusive without marriage, so provided you have trust, this alone is not really enough of a reason to get married.
2.) Marriage as a promise to be together
We’re all individuals, alone in the world. And this can sometimes feel lonely, giving us an uncomfortable sense of existential isolation. We will always be individuals, but we can be alone together. Marriage is a promise of growing old together, which pacifies the fears of aloneness in the world.
You don’t need marriage to promise you’ll grow old together. You can do this without signing any contract. But the contract is like a tangible promise to remind you that you aren’t alone which can be comforting for some.
The trouble with seeing marriage as a promise of togetherness with the aim of never feeling lonely is that having a partner doesn’t take away the inner feeling of existential isolation and you can still feel lonely even in a marriage.
3.) Marriage as “that thing we’re just expected to do when we’re together for a while”
In our society we often grow up to believe that marriage is just what’s done when you’re together for a number of years. This unthinking conformity to public expectations is the reason behind many marriages.
4.) Marriage as the milestone into adulthood
In ancient times marriage was seen as the milestone that is crossed when you become an adult. It was just the done thing. For girls from some traditional homes, they move directly from their childhood home to their husband’s home where overnight they were transformed from virginal child to wife. In some cultures this still applies today.
In traditional families where a girl isn’t happy at home, agreeing to marriage can be seen as her way to escape from an unhappy family home.
5.) Marriage is an exchange between a man and a woman: He gets a housekeeper, she gets social acceptance and security
Before women’s rights and feminism arose, in the days when male chauvinism was widely acceptable, the traditional view of marriage was often not a very romantic one. Society expected women to get married and serve their husbands’ every wish, and it was frowned upon if they did not. To this day this is still the case in some cultural groups. Sometimes as part of the exchange a woman received a boost in social status by marrying into a good or wealthy family. Political marriages carried out only to further status were not uncommon. As part of the marriage bargain she was given financial security and protection by her husband. This ancient idea of a marriage agreement brought on the concept of arranged marriages made at birth, and these types of arrangements were prevalent in the Middle Ages, and up until more recent times. In parts of India it wasn’t until 1929 that child marriage was made illegal.
For a man, a good motivator to get married if he belongs to a cultural group that still supports ancient chauvinistic beliefs is that he gains a lover, a servant and a mother to his children. A man was believed to be superior to a woman and allowed to have control over her. It all served to boost a man’s sense of power and strengthen his ego.
In many cases where this exchange is carried out, the women are happy to do their husbands’ biddings because they don’t question their situation. They happily accept their society-designated role.
For most Western people this old fashioned perspective of marriage no longer is applicable and is therefore not a reason to get married. In fact, in many Christian marriage ceremonies today the word “obey” has been taken out of the marriage vows.
6.) Marriage is a public declaration of love
Getting married is a way to tell the world you love one another and want to make a formal commitment to be together for life.
Why would you need to tell the world?
- Self-expression of joy and love: It may be a sincere need for self-expression of your feelings in a way you can’t otherwise express in quite the same way. It could be a desire to express your feelings to your partner in a stronger way than just words. How you want to release your emotions is a very personal thing and doing it with an action like marriage resonates with some people more than others.
- To hold you more accountable for staying together: When you officialize a relationship by getting married, there is a contract there to hold you together. Not only that, but you’ve announced to the world how serious your intentions are to stay together, which can make it feel more socially embarrassing to backtrack than if the relationship was less serious. It puts more pressure on the couple to make it work. All this can be a way to encourage couples to see through more difficult times, whereas if there was no public declaration of love, for some people the commitment to one another may be easier to give up when a rough patch comes along.
Having said that, everyone is different and many people feel that they don’t need an official contract or a public declaration to keep them together. They believe their love is stronger than any piece of paper.
- To gain social approval: In some communities, getting married is seen as the “right thing to do” at a certain age. Even more so, it is considered essential if you want to have children for many traditionalists. There is social pressure to tie the knot and people from these communities are more likely to want to publicly declare their marriage to gain that social approval and respect.
- To make parents and families happy: For many old school parents, they equate marriage with the success of their child. If a child finds someone who wants to marry them, then their child must be loveable and wonderfully brought up. This is a compliment to the family and their genes. Marriage also brings with it an unspoken promise of imminent grandchildren to carry on the family line. Whilst you can still be wonderfully brought up, loveable and child-bearing without marrying, for traditionalist families, marriage is the ultimate confirmation of these things, and people may marry to satisfy their parents expectations to fulfil this confirmation.
- To gain approval from loved ones about your relationship: When people come to your wedding to celebrate your union with another person, it’s a sign that the they accept and are supportive of your relationship. Marriage therefore serves to validate relationships in some cases.
The fight of the gay community for marriage rights is largely driven by the desire for public acceptance of gay relationships. For some people, having a wedding with all their loved ones turning up can be particularly meaningful, especially if some of their loved ones didn’t find it easy coming to terms with their sexuality in the past.
However, loved ones can also show their support of a union without there being a wedding.
- Publicly officializing a relationship deters others from flirting with you: A wedding ring is a strong deterrent for singletons who are looking for love. You could wear a ring without being married, but the status of being married itself loudly says: “permanently unavailable” in a way that (for some) is stronger than just being in a relationship. Marriage feels like a stronger commitment to some, although this is subjective.
7.) Marriage as a religious “must”
In many religions, marriage is a requirement in the scriptures before any sexual relations can go forward. For religious folk, getting married declares your union before God, almost giving your relationship the religious sign of approval.
8.) Marriage as the ultimate “level” of love
Some people like progressing to the highest level in everything they do. For some, marriage is perceived as the highest level in love. But does this mean your love is stronger when you marry than it was before? It’s likely that your love remains equally strong before and directly after marriage, and that this idea of marriage being a new level is simply a mental perception; a label. But for certain people this label is important, particularly for go-getters.
Whilst feelings and love usually may remain consistent before and directly after marriage, further down the line it is possible that time changes the intensity of the feelings. Feelings are dynamic over time.
9.) Marry to conform to society’s norms to make your children’s lives easier
Some people marry with the foresight that children will be baffled why their parents never married. Even more importantly, children may be teased for unusual family situations. This point may be quickly becoming a moot one with the prevalence of single parent homes, divorces and same-sex parents.
10.) Legal benefits and benefit-linked reasons for marriage
The slightly less romantic reasons for marriage include considerations for practical advantages to tying the knot. Advantages vary depending on your country’s policies, but some of the possible benefits include:
- Health insurance to cover your partner: Healthcare and medical coverage can be expensive but employers often have health insurance to cover their employee and their married partner which makes marriage financially beneficial.
- Tax advantages: When you are a married couple you can get income tax deductions over and above what you’d receive as an unmarried person. You can also juggle taxes around to your advantage. For example one person can claim the other’s deductions.
- Immigration rights: Getting married to a citizen of another country can grant immigration rights to a person who wouldn’t have received these rights otherwise.
- Assistance to married military servicemen: Army married couples may be entitled to government assistance with several basics from housing and beyond.
- Larger government benefits to married disabled veterans and federal employees than to single ones.
- Inheritance benefits such as the right to a late spouse’s benefits including pensions and medical care in some cases.
- Access to “family only” services and deals including better prices in joining various clubs and organizations.
- Easier processing for adoption and foster care applications
Tongue-in-cheek reasons for getting married
- Getting married is a great excuse for a party.
- If you’re the bride you get to wear an awesome dress!
- The gifts! Not to mention getting to wear a beautiful sparkling engagement ring and shiny wedding band.
- Why do we say we tie the knot when we get married?
- Why do grooms wear a pocket square at weddings?
- Why do we have the engagement and wedding ring custom?
- Why do people go on honeymoons? And why do we call it a honeymoon?
- Why do we write RSVP on wedding invitations?