Why Marriage Is Irrelevant (To Most Of Us)

I’m from the South. Weddings are part of our shtick. Daddy pays for a Barbie dreamland wedding, you go on a fabulous honeymoon to Jamaica, and return to your freshly-purchased-by-Daddy house where you live happily ever after.

Or not. In my reality, the nature of a wedding is entirely capitalist. Thousands of dollars are spent on dresses, venues, flowers, gifts, rings, food, and festivities, and a glamorous trip to some place in the tropics. For those that can afford it, of course.

For something that should be about love, mutual respect, and the connection of two people, it sure costs a lot of money. This is perhaps the reason why a study conducted by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and New York’s Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values raised such a stink.

According to this study, millions of Americans (especially those without college degrees, or the “moderately educated”) are choosing to not marry. Others who are married, report declining levels of satisfaction in their union. Also “shocking” were the numbers that suggested that people are no longer embarrassed about having children out of wedlock.

Well no shit! Life stepped in, and people had to do what they had to do. No time for a carriage ride through the park, there are mouths to feed and bills to pay.

Let’s take a look at what marriage really is. If you’re religious, it’s a sacrament that connects you, your partner, and god. If you’re not, it’s a piece of paper that means you get a few more tax breaks than your unhitched counterparts. As a feminist, I find it hard to justify marriage in that context.

Historically, marriage is a patriarchal vehicle for oppression and marginalization. In some cultures, women are functionally “sold” to their husbands, through dowries and other offerings for the bride. Shit, even the root of “bride” is something similar to “cook.”

What’s worse is when you see a seemingly bright young woman turn into a complete idiot over her man, her dress, and her venue. Their whole personality changes, often for the worse (you’ve seen Bridezillas, yes?). So many women, despite their successes, just can’t seem to be happy until they’ve got that damn ring around their finger.

I sort of have an odd perspective on marriage, actually. My folks had a pretty quick engagement/marriage process, and have been together for over 25 years. It works for them. Not because my mom does what she’s told, but because they’ve created a lasting partnership.

Yet, I still am not convinced marriage is for me. Being from a small town, I’ve seen people marry at 18 and divorce at 18 and a half. I’ve seen women marry out of desperation, and out of love. I dig hanging out with boyfriend, and love him very much, but just don’t see marriage as being in our cards. What, you mean I’m really going to have a to wear a white dress and be in a church? No.

Ultimately, we know that marriages aren’t about dresses and churches. We know they’re about love, respect, and caring for your partner. But that’s just a good partnership. Not a marriage. You don’t need a wedding or a dress or any of that other shit to be happy with your partner.  Thus, marriage is irrelevant.

I said it. Marriage is irrelevant. It is unimportant, unnecessary, and a complete affront to the values that I hold as a feminist. I don’t need your dress or your piece of paper to be happy with my partner. You can commit your undying love and affection (with or without a ceremony) without this institution.

Well, maybe for sorority girls and socialites weddings aren’t irrelevant (not to mention that multi billion dollar industry that it supports). But for the rest of us, the working folk, we’ll just stick to being in love and being happy.

About Amy:
Amy is a social media strategist living in Dallas, Texas. She likes music, trashy TV, and ladybiz. tweet: @aemccarthy


  1. The ending to this piece is so perfect! “Well, maybe for sorority girls and socialites weddings aren’t irrelevant (not to mention that multi billion dollar industry that it supports). But for the rest of us, the working folk, we’ll just stick to being in love and being happy.”

    I am happily single and happily child free! I do not believe in marriage. Even in living a more alternative lifestyle it would be challenging to live an alternative marriage. This bell hooks quote describes it best for me.

    “I still think it’s important for people to have a sharp, ongoing critique of marriage in patriarchal society — because once you marry within a society that remains patriarchal, no matter how alternative you want to be within your unit, there is still a culture outside you that will impose many, many values on you whether you want them to or not. ” — bell hooks

    I also love Alternatives to Marriage — http://www.unmarried.org

  2. I agree with you 100%, I couldn’t say it better.

  3. Cecelia, I love the bell hooks quote! As always, she is right on.

    Thank you for reading. :D

  4. Totally relevant… just yesterday I talked to a friend who got married at 20 and is now having to get a divorce at 21…

  5. Amy – Yes, I love this blog!

  6. Great piece! That study–and the studies of that study–have provided me more than one, “No, duh!” moment. Maybe I can get my thoughts together and post.

    In the meantime, I think as long as you feel like marriage is as natural as that proverbial fish without a bicycle you should absolutely just focus on the being in love and being happy. Both are hard enough, with or without marriage.

    That said, I always think it’s important to remember that people are a lot messier than ideals. There are plenty of things that get my feminist dander up that I’m still working out for myself in life. (Like, one day I will overcome my anti-blonde bias.)

    I love the bell hooks quote Cecelia mentions above: it’s true, we’re always in culture even as we critique it, and people will make their own judgments according to their own internal architecture no matter what we do. The trick is to figure out what you can live with and what you can’t because it’s too exhausting to try to figure which choices signify what to whom. We’re all social creatures and need to feel like we can be ourselves and fit in somewhere.

    Marriage is like every other institution. It’s evolved over time, and it will continue to evolve as long as there are actual people getting married. The sorority girls–or to borrow my own personal scapegoats, the skinny blonde girls–don’t get marriage all to themselves. The rest of us are going to butt in whether they like it or not and live happily ever after, too!

  7. I absolutely agree that weddings are irrelevant and mostly a product of capitalism. I cannot stand the way in which a wedding seems to change women.

    However, I’m not sure that I completely agree that “If you’re not [religious], marriage is a piece of paper that means you get a few more tax breaks than your unhitched counterparts.” My husband and I are spiritual, but not connected to a specific religion, (mostly because religious institutions are patriarchal constructs in and of themselves, but thats for another conversation…) but I have to say, actually being married did have an impact and change aspects of our relationship. We have a very non-traditional, equal partnership, pro-feminism relationship, and so it surprised me to feel some emotional effects from being technically married. Mostly, I think making the legal, financial and spiritual commitment to be married for the rest of our lives was very profound. Of course, for us we decided that divorce was not an option we wanted to leave on the table (for personal reasons, having nothing to do with outside institutions).

    So I guess I’d just like to modify your proclamation–marriage is certainly not necessary or a requirement for people to have long term, loving relationships.

    Also–the bell hooks quote is so dead on–I am married to a man of my choosing, on terms that we are both happy with, but dear god how certain people make assumptions about me because I am married. My only counter is that society also places assumptions on women who are not married (in long term relationships or not and with or without children). So pretty much certain aspects of society are going to label you by certain standards no matter what you do.

  8. Thanks for the love!

  9. There is a lot of hetero privilege dripping from this post and the comments. Oh, over 1000 federal rights that you could access but elect not to are irrelevant to those who are barred from accessing them. Child custody, inheritence, immigration, and the heteros who get de facto recognition so that they need the rights the least sit around and chat about how irrelevant having them is. I am no fan of marriage, personally, but assuming that there is no relevance to a legal status that gives over 1000 rights, many of them in areas where queer people are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, comes of as flaunting your privilege.

  10. I have said for years that I believe people who don’t want to be married shouldn’t get married. There are many ways of living and each person on this planet is only the best person they can be if they find the way that works for them. But I take issue with your title. There is a HUGE difference between being the star of a wedding and being married. My wedding was irrelevant, my marriage is not.

    I wanted to elope, but my husband thought the symbolism of committing ourselves to each other before our families was important. Thus began a line of mutual compromises that has lasted 21 years and three children. I was 33. I’d known him for four years. I made an informed decision. And I’m still here, compromising, after 21 years and so is he because we are better people together than we are separately. And if you’re not willing to compromise on anything then you not only shouldn’t be getting married, you shouldn’t be having children, with or without a partner, because that is the biggest compromise you’re ever going to make.

    I don’t think marriage is irrelevant, the problem is that people don’t take marriage seriously BEFORE they commit to it. Marriage is NOT the wedding, it’s what comes afterward and NO ONE should be getting married at 18 or 20. You haven’t yet had a chance to explore who you are or what you want out of life. So, skip the fancy wedding, if that offends you, and think about what you’re really committing yourself to when you marry.

    Personally, I am much more concerned with men who deposit their sperm in various places, with no thought of what happens after they lose track of it, and women who don’t think about whether their unprotected five minutes of happy is going to result in a lifetime committment to new human being, than I am about whether or not people think marriage is necessary to a good life.

  11. Cat, I apologize if you viewed this is as “dripping with hetero privilege,” but that was certainly not my goal. My point is that all of the things you all are talking about, like love, connection with partner, commitment, etc, are NOT unique to marriage. They’re unique to partnership.

    And yes, the legal rights that queer people would be able to access if they could marry are significant, but that is another post in and of itself. Child custody, inheritance, etc, aren’t rights that should be connected to the institution of marriage in any way. I also am not sure that the queer community should be trying to access “marriage” as an institution. Because marriage is a religious sacrament, why would you want to have an institution that doesn’t even recognize your right to even be in a relationship, much less commit in front of “God and everyone.”

    My point is simple: you don’t have to sign a contract to be in love, raise children, or have a fulfilling partnership. The marriage industry has co-opted “love” and “unity” for profit, and that’s what I have a problem with.

  12. I think you make a good point, Amy. The “rights and responsibilities” that Cat mentions should be available to everyone – but they shouldn’t be tied to marriage. If I want someone to make medical decisions on my behalf, be it my partner or some other third party, I should be able to appoint that responsibility to anyone I want. Same goes for child custody, etc. The tax issue could be easily resolved if we were all taxed on an individual basis – if you get a vote, you get taxed. But don’t get me going on the inequities of the tax system and tax breaks for the rich . . . that’s another post entirely.

  13. This really sums up my attitude towards marriage. When I was younger I always saw marriage as some kind of inevitability in my life. As I grew to think for myself and not just simply adopt the views society feeds us, I was unable to come up with any reason for marriage.

    First of all, the whole ceremony is really offensive to me. I am not religious and it angers me that the church adopted marriage and made it ‘their’ thing. The whole idea of a woman wearing a white dress, being a virgin, walking down the aisle towards her man, being given away by her father, promising to obey her husband and then another man telling her husband that he may kiss her. Ugh. What a horrible sexist mess. It is, of course, possible to have a ceremony free of all these conventions, but then I still don’t see the purpose of marriage.

    I admit that there are some legal benefits to it, but there shouldn’t be. And who wants to get married for legal benefits? If two people are committed to each other then there is not a piece of paper or ceremony which can validate this or make it anymore real. I’ll admit, I’ve found it difficult to let go of the idea of being ‘married’, being connected to someone in a legally binding way etc. but I know that marriage does not offer anything more. To me it just seems like it’s going to be a lot more hassle to end.

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