I grew up never wanting to get married. By that I donâ€™t mean there was simply a lack of an interest in formalizing a permanent relationship, but a decided rebellion against the concept of marriage itself. I grew up in a disastrously broken home, so there was clearly not a ready example of coupled success to draw from. Possibly related to that, I was, and remain, a solitary, independent personality. It never seemed to me, given the messages and images of marriage our society likes to heap upon the heads of young girls, that marriage would be something I would ever champion.
But I found myself in the position of doing just that in recent years when seeing the – still ongoing – challenges to the rights of gay and lesbian individuals to legally marry. Of course, the essential issue here is that gay people deserve all rights afforded to other citizens – but it also brings to the forefront this question of the importance of marriage. I had to admit that maybe I didnâ€™t personally understand why some people wanted to be married so much. That didnâ€™t affect my support of the cause, but it did lead me to think a little more carefully about what I thought about marriage and, more to the point, why I thought that.
We make a lot of assumptions and expectations about marriage. Youâ€™re supposed to do it. If you donâ€™t, there must be some reason why. And you probably should figure out what it is, so you can fix it, and then go get married. Stories and movies typically close at the dawn of a new relationship – in our cultural mythology, marriage is the end goal of a journey, rather than the beginning of one.
Also, while I donâ€™t want to completely dismiss the societal pressures put on men when it comes to marriage (theyâ€™re real and sometimes unfair), I do feel those placed on women are heavier and more pervasive. Weâ€™re told that weddings are one of the most important events in our lives and our chances to be princesses. Weâ€™re targeted with fairy tales and romantic comedies and reality shows where we can spend tens of thousands of dollars on dresses or send our bridesmaids under the knife so they look appropriately beautiful to support us on our big day. Even leaving that ridiculously extreme end of the spectrum aside, the reality of marriage and family is generally harder on women. Weâ€™re constantly told we have to choose between children or a career and to try to do both is doomed to failure for everyone involved (and men are rarely forced to make such a similar decision). Want to get married but not have children? Prepare yourself for ceaseless questions about why not. Really, it seems thereâ€™s no way to win.
Then it happened that, as a militant anti-marriage-ist, I found myself joining a fight for the rights of marriage. And I saw that for other people, marriage was something very different than I had thought. None of these discussions rested on ritual or expectation or sacrifice. These were people who had profound stories of discovery, understanding and love.
Instead of being blinded by the Disney princess-infused visions of submission, of loss of self, of singular happiness in life resting on the shoulders of a man, I learned how to strip away the unnecessary bits and realize what was underneath was what the GLBT community was fighting for: two individuals who loved each other and wanted to be with each other so that they could share and help each other in the strange, difficult fight that is life. Thatâ€™s it. Thatâ€™s all that really matters.
Maybe thatâ€™s even something more straight people can take a lesson from. Weâ€™ve taken our own rights to it for granted for so long that maybe weâ€™ve forgotten that. Rather than the line we so often hear that gay marriage is â€œdestroying the sanctity of marriage,â€ it seems to me more likely thatâ€™s the thing that might restore marriageâ€™s true meaning.
However, the real lesson here is one of self-analysis and thinking critically. I had accepted something as fact for so long in my life I was missing the reality. In fact, I was missing a very beautiful reality, one that enriches our lives and culture. I still may never get married, and thatâ€™s perfectly okay. But not only can I more fully appreciate the happiness of others who have done so for the right reasons, I can rest assured I have a clear understanding of it. As well as the knowledge that sometimes clarification doesnâ€™t come from where you expect it to.
(Note – I developed this piece a while ago. Yesterday, Pixarâ€™s release of their â€œIt Gets Betterâ€ video and particularly the gentleman at the 5:22 mark of the video reminded me I should polish and publish it.)