This is a revised version of an earlier post titled ‘To Marry Or Not To Marry, That Is The Question‘.
A lot of my friends, especially recently, say that they don’t believe in marriage. This global, centuries-old institution is losing favour because of the political dynamics natural to any family, the complication of multiple opinions, conflicting agendas and excessive rituals. The world is starting to split up into hostile factions on this point, each side tossing barbs to the other (“You’re stuck in fairytale land!” clashes with “You’re commitment-phobic!”).
First of all, let’s distinguish the wedding from the marriage. The wedding is the formalization, the ceremony that symbolizes that two people are henceforth bound together, socially and legally. Customs may vary but this is the fundamental purpose of every single wedding ceremony conducted over the world. It is a ritual and like all other rituals, it only has as much significance as the people carrying it out, attach to it. It is true that no paper or custom can ensure or create a fulfilling union between two people. That has to be built by the two people in question, bit by agonizing, confusing, wearying bit.
Now let us consider marriage itself, beyond the rituals, beyond the superficialities of sindoor and rings. It is the meeting and combining of two people’s lives. It is the merging of assets, of tangible ones like money & possessions and of intangibles like career, eating habits, lifestyle choices etc.
Take the most basic human action of eating. Everyone does it. It’s difficult enough to decide on one meal to be shared by two people (eating place, seating, cuisine, taste, spice, vegetarian/non-vegetarian etc). How much more complicated it would be to repeat this for the rest of the two people’s lives? Multiply that several thousand fold for every other aspect of life above food and we start to see just why marriage is such a complicated affair.
This alone tells us that the only sensible way to start, is to do it in an organized manner. All the supposedly meaningless rituals provide a framework for two people to undertake this arduous venture. I’d say that it is a template at best and can (and should) be customized to the couple’s requirements.
Considering what a massive undertaking this is, it’s only prudent to account for issues and breakdowns. It’s a fool’s errand to go starry-eyed into something as big as a lifelong relationship and assume blithely that everything will work out in a ‘happily ever after’ way. Marriages are not always happy. Unions are not guaranteed to work. Compatibility may not last. While a relationship should only be undertaken with the hopes of it working, the possibility that it may not should also be borne in mind.
A discussion about marriage, especially one that attempts to be objective & rational, is incomplete without talking about divorce. What happens to the two lives that were joint together, if things don’t work out? The division of those aforementioned assets is a complicated exercise, one that often consumes the people involved, completely and leaves everyone dissatisfied. There’s no easy way to unite or to end emotional involvement; that bit is always going to be bloody. It seems wise to at least sort out the relatively easier things like possessions and even that’s not easy. A formal ritual is a process that can be closed most cleanly. If at this juncture, the law must be brought in as an impartial third party, it is only fair to have it be a party to the union right at the start, which is the legal wedding ritual.
Then there is the question of children. You may have the temerity to go against society and the strength to survive a messy breakdown, outside the structure of marriage. However, can you guarantee the same for your children? It doesn’t feel fair to thrust one’s life’s choices and their consequences onto one’s children, even before they choose it for themselves. Society still isn’t easy on the children of a single parent, especially an unmarried one, never mind an unmarried mother. Whether a couple ever has children or not is immaterial. This is far too important to overlook what might be even a remote possibility.
You should not have to run around desperately in search of a partner. You shouldn’t need to sucker someone into the grand party of a wedding. Singledom works for a lot of people as do non-conventional relationship structures. However, if you do decide to make a lifelong commitment to another human being, marriage is a clean, convenient way to do it.
A version of this is posted to Love Beckons.