Lest you think I’m on a personal vendetta against marriage, may I present this article written by a family therapist:
As an alternative to marriage, serial relationships and casual encounters constantly create new and unexpected challenges calling on us to reach more deeply in order to navigate the demands of different experiences. Every relationship with its particular intimacies and requisite ending, will enable or force us to develop all the different aspects of our identities. Our capacity to handle the vicissitudes of life is enriched by our openness and we develop a sense of individual strength and power in mastering such challenges. Unfortunately, many people see the world as dangerous and so they hide in marriages and settle because the fear of being alone is so overwhelming.
It’s worth noting that I’m not a huge fan of Psychology Today and I lit into them, along with about 20,000 other black women, when they published a bogus article not worth linking to about the unattractiveness of black women compared to women of other races based on really ignorant science. That said, I think it’s important to have a dialogue about the ways people’s fear about being alone lead them to stay in relationships that don’t serve them. When it comes to women, this takes all kinds of menacing forms that are not quite summed up by using the word “unhappy” including abusive relationships (physical or emotional), co-dependent relationships or marriages that are mostly for show and end up rotting their souls from toxicity.
It sucks even writing about this topic, frankly. I was just watching Beauty and the Beast in 3D (I was with two other women in their thirties, thank you, and one of them is in a happy marriage) thinking about all of the fairy tale weddings and romances Disney programmed me with as a child. The romantic in me is torn and wants to believe that despite data and anecdotes about the downsides of marriage, it is completely plausible to be deeply in love, make a lifelong, government-sanctioned, IRS-approved commitment and not have it end up with half of your life in someone else’s pockets, your heart hardened against future failure. But Stanley Siegel makes some great points about autonomy and marriage “defying the laws of nature” that I’m not sure I can argue with:
One of the greatest existential crisis of our lives is the struggle between our need for autonomy and individuality and our need for stability and constancy. All life engages this balance. Many argue that marriage matures us because we develop a sense of responsibility to another human being and transcend our own selfishness. But working through problems over time, experiencing loyalty, commitment, intimacy and friendship, even raising children, can all meaningfully and successfully happen outside of marriage. It’s the exceptional couple who can form an ongoing intimate partnership that can withstand the oppressive forces of marriage and not lose their individual identities.