So, sure, Valentine’s Day is coming up. Folks usually fall into one of two camps this time of year: there are those who hate the holiday and everything it stands for (maybe cynical or bitter), and then there are those who immerse themselves in chocolate hearts and stuffed bears given and received from their loved one(s) (hyper-affected by romance and myth). Those in this second camp, the Lovers, let’s call them, might be thinking about marriage. And after that, starting a family. It doesn’t matter if these people identify as gay, straight, bi, or something else—they are planning for the pinnacle of happiness, having a family.
But is marriage and family really the pinnacle of happiness?
Think about this a moment. Why do we privilege marriage and the rest as being so pivotal, so critical to the American Dream? One might even argue that the whole American Dream is built entirely around this idea. Too few people question this; too few people pause to ask, “Why?”
Does one need to be married with children to be happy? We are all independent people, at least we ought to be. Why do we, as a society (this also damn-near universal, by the way), place so much emphasis on marriage and family-making, which compromises individuality? Certain religions claim a marriage is a near-literal combining of two bodies of flesh into one. If I were to marry tomorrow, I would stop being Me and would be simply one half of We. I would get one half of a bank account, one half of a bedroom (or less). Everything I owned would no longer be mine—it would be ours. That doesn’t sound appealing to me.
I think it doesn’t sound appealing to a lot of people actually, if we put it that way. But lots of folks are caught up in tradition; in keeping-up-with-the-Joneses; with meeting the expectations of their families, communities, and even the government. Marriage is such an imperative that it excludes any other options form the minds of most people.
But there are options. Marriage need not be the option—it is simply one option. And marriage isn’t right for everybody. According to recent statistics, it doesn’t seem to be right for about 50% of Americans, because look at all the marriages that end in divorce.
I have family members who have been married numerous times—like, way past the “three time’s a charm” rule. I wonder if they’ll ever accept that marriage isn’t right for them. And that is completely fine. There are other ways to pledge affection to fellow humans—ways that do not limit us to only one person at a time. To expound on these other options is probably a topic for another column, so I won’t touch upon that here. I myself have been toying with ideas of marriage alternatives. I haven’t named or fully fleshed-out what these other things might look like, so I don’t think it wise to start going on about them now.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to vilify marriage. Marriage, for some people, is a wonderful thing that brings both people an incredible amount of joy. I’m not saying marriage is a mistake. What I am saying is a mistake is not to question marriage as the only proper fitting life path for you. If you have explored other options—whatever those might be for you—and find that none of them work for you, then maybe marriage really is the right thing for you. Still, you never know if the grass is greener on the other side unless you go over and have a look for yourself.
If you reader, like me, are terrified of the idea of being owned by another person for the rest of your life (and owning another person), if you get bored with relationships quickly, if you ask yourself, “Will I ever find the right one?” you might want to consider other options. I mean, humans aren’t really designed to mate for life. In fact, very few animals do mate for life. Of the vast number of creatures that exist in our world, there are only a comparative handful that do. Our closest relatives, primates, do not. It makes me, at the very least, question whether humans are meant to be monogamous. There is nothing about binding oneself to one other person for the rest of his life that makes him inherently better, wiser, more stable, more loving.
I think we should start thinking about monogamy and marriage like how we do about sexuality. Perhaps the majority of people (claim) to be straight, but it’s not as if it’s a norm and anything else is a deviation from that norm. Heterosexuality is just one amongst many sexualities (we’re talking challenging heteronormativity here, folks). Similarly, marriage should not be seen as the norm, but simply one option amongst others that are equally valid.