On Sunday morning I picked up Sunday Life, one of the supplements (and my favourite weekend lift-out) within The Sunday Age and started reading. I came across an article by Lena Chen, on marriage.
Chen’s article made some valid points – on social justice and who’s allowed to get married and why people get married and why it’s not just about big dresses and seven tiered cakes. All points that I nodded to and agreed with. Except one. This one:
“There’s nothing inherently ‘special’ that marriage brings to a relationship.”
That’s the point when I stopped and thought, ‘Hmm, I don’t think so.”
And so I tweeted that despite the fine points made in the article, I disagreed with that one and wondered how Chen could claim that to be so when she has not ever been and is not married.
Chen has since contacted me via Twitter and raised various points as to why she sticks by what she says – backing it up with statistics and stating that a marriage is only one because it’s legal and that ,“Marriage doesn’t imbue relationships with meaning,” and the only reason people marry is for Government incentives and that marriage does not necessarily equal love and so on and so on.
Despite all of her efforts, I still entirely disagree with her statement. And, in true Sandi Sieger fashion, I let her know that. That despite Chen’s fine points, I cannot and will not ever agree that marriage does not offer anything special, or meaningful, to a relationship.
Chen is unmarried. Try as she might, assume as she will, she cannot know what it is like to be married. She can guess, imagine, empathise and use as many stats as she likes, but the fact remains that she’s unmarried.
When I raised this with her, she said, “I (also) don’t need to have been married to be able to make statements about the institution if I back up claims with logic.”
Well, yes Lena, yes you do.
I’m not a mother. Assume and guess and use logic all I like, until I am one I will not fully, completely be able to make statements about being a mother with any form of credibility.
More so, as a married person, I do not assume that people who are unmarried aren’t in “special” and “meaningful” relationships. So I don’t really appreciate it when people make statements about my relationship that are entirely incorrect.
The truth is, when it comes to love, you can take the graphs and stats and logic and throw it out a window because it’s irrelevant – there’s no place for logic in love. You can talk about reality, and divorce, and how marriage is a, “Western and privileged idea,” all you like and it will not make a squiddly do of difference.
Perhaps some people that get married don’t do it for love. Perhaps they do it for comfort or convenience, or in countries that I would label as ‘backward’ perhaps they do it by arrangement or to provide their family with eighteen goats – but they are not my reasons. I did not get married by force or because of expectation, due to ease or comfort, or because I wanted to start a small farm.
I got married because I, and my husband, wanted to. We chose to. Because marriage is something we value.
Has marriage strengthened our relationship? Yes. Has it enhanced our relationship? Yes. Are we happier? Yes. Do we love being married? Yes. Do we believe that our marriage has meaning? Yes. That it’s special? Yes.
Yes, yes and yes.
To suggest that what we have isn’t special, or meaningful, is entirely incorrect. To suggest that what we had prior to marriage wasn’t either is also incorrect. My point is, that for us, marriage only added to something already great and made it even better. And how or why that happened is something beyond a survey questionnaire or a logistical explanation – something shifted, slowly, and changed, slightly. Something about the way that we feel and the bond that we have and that something is between us – and us alone.
I wasn’t to know that was going to happen – but I wasn’t self-righteous enough to assume that it wasn’t ever going to either.
You cannot sweep ‘marriage’ up into one exact category and stick a label on it – just the same way you can’t do that with ‘family’ or being ‘single’ or ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’.
And whilst I can only hope that, one day soon, all people will be allowed and granted the right to marry, I cannot and will not apologise for being one of the lucky ones who is able to. Chen is right, marriage is a privilege, and one I take as being so.
In reality, I care not about people’s relationships – I believe everyone should be able to do as they please and live as they like. But what riles me up is people that make statements, on my behalf, that are unfounded and unfair.
I get questioned, more than you’d believe, as to why I got married – imagine if I asked someone in a relationship why they were not? I get questioned, more than you’d imagine, as to why I changed my surname after marrying – imagine if I asked someone why they didn’t? I get questioned, all the time, from people I hardly know, about everything to do with my marriage – and all the assumptions and jokes that along with that – and I never question anyone about their relationship.
I’ve had people raise their eyebrow at me when I’ve said, “My husband.” It’s as if I’m someone that’s bound to a house, dust brush and mop in hand, slaving over a stove, devoid of an opinion and far too young to be bound up by it all. And I wonder, ‘Is that really what people think of a wife?’ If it is, no wonder they have such a low opinion of marriage.
I’m a wife – an independent, opinionated, hard working, young, spirited, loving, compassionate, happy wife. I love cooking. I even have an apron, or three. I clean our house, and do the washing, and pick up socks, and run errands, and iron clothes, and god damn, I even bake blueberry pies. I also run two businesses and juggle jobs and passions and interests and hobbies and a social life. I do things alone, often, and I’m as capable as clever.
I don’t need a husband to help me form an opinion, or to help me navigate a map, or to make decisions for me, or to hold my hand when I need to buck up, or to pick up the pieces when the pastry crumbles.
I was raised to walk, not crawl. Stand up, not sit down. I was taught to do, not delegate. Act, not talk. Bake my pie, and eat it too. It just so happens that, along the way, I found someone amazing and talented and funny and smart to share life with. Someone that picks up the pastry, even when I don’t ask them to.
What we had was always special, but it’s been made even more so by being married.
And Lena Chen can say all she likes, however she wants to, but our marriage is special and it has meaning – a ton of it – and we’re the kind union that doesn’t slot into a list of statistics, or fit into a graph. Perhaps a pie chart is something we’re much more suited to…but even then, if it’s not blueberry, or apple and rhubarb, we probably won’t be.
There’s a reason thousands upon thousands of people worldwide are fighting for the right to marry – because they want to be married. They want the option of being able to participate in a marriage. And they wouldn’t be fighting, so hard, if there was nothing inherently special about marriage or if it was entirely devoid of meaning.
30 thoughts on “Marriage…And Meaning.”
Great article, Sandi.
John Lennon said something about marriage, that holds true today:
“Rituals are important. Nowadays it’s hip not to be married. I’m not interested in being hip.”
I love John Lennon, and I love that quote.
I, most certainly, am not interested in being hip.
I really like this article Sandi and I agree with your viewpoint. I have recently stopped reading Sunday Life because the articles seem to be glibly written about worklife balance and the cons of having children – those topics don’t really work with my tasty breakfast!
I married at 26, and some people told me I was ‘too young’, and that marriage wasn’t necessary. But for me, it really was necessary and I felt a definite shift in the value and weight of our relationship upon marriage. However one elects to cement a relationship, the decision to commit to another is one to be respected. A public committment in front of our family and friends who will be there to support this unique union was essential to our commitment. Marriage is special, and something I hope all will have the right to experience should they wish it.
You said it right; the decision to commit to one another deserves to be respected. As all opinions in life deserve respect, so too do all choices. I chose to be married and that is something people should respect – even if they do not understand it.
Loved reading your post Sandi!! So true~ I’m married as well and a lot of what you wrote resonated with me in terms of our reasons for getting married. Lately I’ve been seeing so many misinformed media articles that I think that it’s well argued responses like yours that give some journalists a much needed reality check on what they’re writing.
If people are going to attack marriage, they need to realise what they are attacking with most of their comments are the people who are married. If they want to do something constructive, and if they genuinely believe in what they are saying – fight and attack the very things they dislike about it, with the Government or organisations they want to take it up with – don’t attack the people who have made a choice to be part of a club. Because sometimes, someone like me might bite back.
And thank you!
This was such a fantastic post Sandi, and such a pleasure to read! I am not married, and probably wont be getting married any time soon, but I hope that one day I will be able to share something special like that with someone. I agree, people don’t have to be married to have a special relationship, some people will never be married and their relationship can be just as strong and just as special.
For people who do choose to be married I think there is definitely something very special that means so much more than the recognition it brings or a piece of paper. Something special that is different to each couple.
Again, a fantastic read. Thank you!
Thanks Natasha x
*taking a bow*
Sand this is an amazing article. I am a young married woman and everything you states detonated with me. I married recently at the age of 21 and people told my husband and I that we were too young which is really frustrating. How can people tell others how to live their lives I would not do it so others shouldnt. Your arguments against lens were 100% how can she comment on married life when shes not married. My husband and I married because we love each other, committed to each other and because we wanted to. Your piece was a beautiful piece on marriage, one day I hope everyone can have the CHOICE to get married just like I did!
Thank you Tracy, I’m glad you liked it. And I stand by that exact point – how can someone make such comments on something as important as marriage without ever having experienced it themselves? I don’t believe they can. Some things you need to do and feel to understand.
It’s great doing things together! For example, I will help you eat the blueberry pie.
It’s good to have someone to eat pie with and to be able to call them my husband x
Firstly, I loved Kaz’s comment. But not as much as I loved this post! I boycotted Lena Chen’s article halfway through reading it, and after reading this post I know why. It seems that Lena Chen is vehemently against considering other people’s views – because as you said, she actually does not know what it is like to be married, and I read her arguments to you to the point of sheer frustration before rolling my eyes and wondering how on earth you could be bothered (which is a testament to your tenacity). What I’d like to say to people like Lena is marriage is special at least because for one aspect of our lives, in one moment, we decide to look past our own bullshit and someone else’s and promise something entirely impossible, that we put everything aside and vow to love them eternally, no matter how difficult it may seem. In an increasingly selfish world, that’s about as special as special can get. Walking away is too easy, as is never getting married for fear of it. Trying to say forever and seal it publicly, privately and personally, is the kind of thing that makes marriage more special than the likes of cyncial people could even imagine
‘Vehemently against considering other people’s views’ is the exact way I’d describe my personal experience with Lena Chen so far.
I love what you just wrote Sarah, absolutely spot on. You cannot get more committed and special than that. Marriage isn’t the easy option and the fact that people do it weighs far more than others who claim it’s just a ‘piece of paper’. What they’re missing is that piece of paper MEANS A LOT.
I can’t believe I’ve come this late to read this post and feel like I’ve just joined a VERY long line of people who wish they were married to you, Sandi. Oh wait but Kaz already is, so…
Great read, lovely. As a single person, going to a wedding on Saturday (which I am excited about) – your post will give me an extra something to smile about as I see a great couple take the next step together – pie and all.
Haha, thank you Cheryl x
Great post, Sandi. x
Thanks Gabby x
What a beautifully written article.
Thank you Steve.
Unfortunately, the 140-character limit on Twitter doesn’t allow one to be as nuanced as desired at all times. So to clarify briefly some of the points I brought up, especially in relation to this excerpt from your post:
“I got married because I, and my husband, wanted to. We chose to. Because marriage is something we value.
Has marriage strengthened our relationship? Yes. Has it enhanced our relationship? Yes. Are we happier? Yes. Do we love being married? Yes. Do we believe that our marriage has meaning? Yes. That it’s special? Yes.”
I don’t deny that people’s relationships have meaning, but what I do point out in the Sunday Life piece is that relationships have meaning regardless of whether they’re state-recognized. If you and your husband existed in a society without the legal institution of marriage as we know it in the Western world, your relationship wouldn’t be any less meaningful just because you didn’t know of or participate in marriage. When you say that marriage has “strengthened” and “enhanced” your relationship, I suspect that you mean your relationship has been strengthened and enhanced by the act of committing yourselves to one another, not by the actual process of applying for and receiving a marriage license. The former can exist without the latter, without involving the government into your lives, do you know what I mean?
All of this goes back to the fact that marriage itself and marriage alone does not CAUSE commitment or love or any of that good stuff. People often make active decisions about those things before getting married (thus demonstrating that marriage is not a causal factor, but a correlative one), and there are also folks who don’t love or want to commit to those they do marry. Does that mean that your relationship is devoid of meaning? Absolutely not. Just that whatever meaning you attribute to marriage is more likely something that evolved from your relationship itself and would be present regardless of whether you ever made it official with your husband.
I don’t deny that either Lena – I pointed out that prior to getting married, our relationship also had meaning. I’ve pointed out to you, numerous times, that exact fact. And I know what you’re suggesting, what you’re getting at, and I can see your side of the argument but what I cannot understand is how you are entirely unable to open your eyes, expand your mind, for just one moment to possibly understand my side of the argument too.
Whether it be the Twitter comments, or this blog one, you are simply going around and around in circles about the exact same thing, just worded differently. You fail to acknowledge my other points on marriage (or my other questions) and keep saying, in various ways, the exact same thing – which is founded on your opinion. And again, you continue to suspect and assume on behalf of my marriage, and marriage as an institution itself, without knowing what it is like to be married.
Marriage does not cause love, of course it does not. And if I were not married I wouldn’t love my husband any less. But there’s something we have – something recognised by Government, by state, by law, by our union in this very Western world that we live and love and participate in – that you have not experienced and are therefore, in my eyes, totally inept to make such lurid judgements on.
My suspicion is that you’re far more concerned with being ‘right’ about this than you are with wanting to genuinely consider my opinion. That, or you’re so heavily swallowed up by all that you believe you cannot actually, literally, see beyond it all.
Either way, just remember this; you wrote the Sunday Life article. You sought me out on Twitter. You found this blog and chose to comment. I didn’t initiate this debate, but I’m sure happy to continue it for as long as you’d like to keep coming back at me and presenting the same argument.
And just so your clear, I like my marriage certificate. You’ve just inspired me to frame it and hang it on my wall, because the more you write, the more vitriol you scribble, the more proud I am of doing something, believing in something, honouring something that you so obviously dislike and quite clearly do not or are not willing to understand.
To be perfectly frank, this was not meant to come off as “vitriol” in the least, and if there’s anything I’ve written that you interpret to be vitriol, please do point it out. The reason I’ve repeated my points is because I didn’t believe I made myself clear, given the excerpts I read from your blog, which seemed to imply that I thought your relationship was meaningless. I just wanted to clarify that wasn’t the case.
I also wanted to make it clear that I’m not against considering your arguments. I go to weddings, celebrate other people’s marriages, and once wanted to be a wedding planner. I have thought about marriage — both as a personal decision and as a social institution — much, much more than the average individual, written hundreds of pages on the topic, and in doing so, have considered many arguments similar or nearly identical to the ones you’re making. I think a lot of this goes back to you believing that I can’t possibly know what it’s like to be married and therefore cannot speak about it. But while my personal decision to not get married is, indeed, a reflection of my opinion, my statements about marriage as an institution are not. They are simply the facts. I could also very well get hitched next week, but I know it wouldn’t change a single thing about my relationship, nor would it make me more qualified to talk about marriage than the two years I spent studying it.
I think it’s important to have these discussions and while I do think I am “right” (in the sense that I believe what I am saying and am not arguing for the sake of arguing), I also recognize that you probably think you’re “right” too — and that’s probably to be expected. We both have strong opinions. I also do not dislike your marriage itself or think that I know anything about it. Do I dislike the marriage institution? Yes, but that’s because of its extremely misogynistic history and its continued discrimination against those who opt out from it. That has nothing to do with people’s individual relationships with each other, and I’m not making an personal judgments about your particular relationship, though I feel like you’ve made a lot of assumptions about me.
Thank you Lena, for pointing out that my marriage is not meaningless, and that you’re open to my argument. Up until now, I had no indication that you thought that. I understand that Twitter doesn’t allow for in depth conversation, but I managed to point out that all your points were (in my opinion) wonderful, except the one about meaning. As you hadn’t acknowledged any of mine, I didn’t think you were open to them.
Whilst I agree that study can help you make informed statements on marriage, I don’t believe, still and not ever, that you can understand or “get” the meaning of a marriage from a textbook, or through statistics. E.g. – I know people who have studied child care courses, who know all the ins and outs of babies and toddlers, but when they’ve had children of their own, there is so much they’ve discovered and learnt that was never covered in their training or study. And so much they felt, that was certainly unable to be translated through their study. Marriage is much the same, I believe. You can read and study and spend eighteen years on the subject, but without ever having experienced it, you’ll always be missing a piece. It’s like cooking – you can’t know what it’s like without doing it. You can read a recipe and study technique, but the best training and practice is done whilst cooking.
If you had of asked me prior to marriage if I thought anything was going to change, I would have said no. Absolutely not. But things did. I wasn’t to know what marriage was going to add to my life, because I hadn’t experienced it before. I had someone write to me the other day saying they had read my piece, and were amazed with the exact same thing; how being married had changed their relationship, and added something extra to it.
I understand that I may be a lucky one. I married for love and I have a wonderful husband. I know that not all marriages are like mine. But then not all relationships are either. If someone is in a stagnant relationship, chances are getting married will only provide them with a stagnant marriage.
I did make assumptions about you. Based on what you said, and solely on what you said. Whenever anyone puts out a strong opinion, they need to understand they’ll most likely get a strong opinion back. Just like I do.
I’m not an expert on marriage, but I am married. And I believe that qualifies me with the right to discuss it. And whilst I do agree with your other sentiments on marriage, I believe it’s time people, like me, started showing the positives to marriage. So much is said in the mainstream media about marriage, and so much of it is negative. So much of it is founded upon divorce rates and stupid reality wedding shows and that’s not the reality of it…at least not for the people I know, and the family I grew up in. The thing about marriage is, for the people who can participate in it, it’s the ultimate union – and not an easy one. There’s nothing simple or easy about marriage. I know a lot of people who opt out of it not for your reasons, but because they don’t want to tie themselves down in the eyes of the law, because they want the freedom and ease of being able to walk away when and if they want. Some of them don’t marry, and they use some of the reasons you presented, when the truth is they are scared. Marriage isn’t easy, especially in this ever-evolving world where there is so much that is uncertain, but that’s partly where the strength lies – throwing yourself into something that is so heavily criticised, so often portrayed in a negative light and finding that you not only love it, but thrive in it – well, that mustn’t be easy for the naysayers out there, but it’s the truth.
You’re entitled to go on with your beliefs and opinions on marriage, and I respect those, and I’m entitled to say it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me – better than all my incredible career moments and my amazing life so far – and that’s the beauty of the world we live in, the Western world, dare I say it, in that we can both think two entirely different things, and both hold such strong opposite beliefs, and still exist happily. Forget marriage, there’s something about that worth being thankful for.
That’s exactly why I wanted to respond — I felt like we were talking past each other even though we agree much more than we disagree. I do concur that many people shy away from making things official in the legal sense because they don’t want to commit to someone for life. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not wanting a life commitment (which is probably not right for everyone anyway), it’s a shame that we can’t talk more openly about how marriage can be great for some people and a poor fit for others without alienating the married or the non-married. The ideal society in my book wouldn’t advocate either position as the norm/goal 🙂
I agree, open discussion is the key. Marriage is such a personal thing, it’s sometimes hard to not take it that way. High five to us for moving one step closer x
Fantastic post and I completely agree with you on pretty much everything you said! I’m a young bride too (was 22 on the wedding day) and changed my name and say “my husband” – some people are all “awwwwww” and some people judge me negatively, that I’ve given something up. Well I might have done but it is so absolutely worth it.
All I need to do is learn to bake a blueberry pie!
I agree – so worth it.
Perhaps I should share the blueberry pie recipe? Haha.