Why is marriage such a big deal, anyway? This is essentially the question posed in a long-form essay by Jill Filipovic on Bustle.com. The article posits that marriage and motherhood are “no longer the milestones of adulthood” for women because, in a nutshell, women are now independent beings who don’t need a man to feel successful.
Filipovic quotes numerous real-life independent women essentially asking why other life events — like a birthday, a book launch, or a promotion — can’t be treated with the same amount of pomp and circumstance as a wedding. If a wedding is no longer the marker of a woman’s transition to adulthood — nor is it her only marker of success as a woman — then why do we still view weddings as such a major deal? The answer is simple: a wedding is not a marker of success, it’s a marker of fulfillment.
Filipovic spends much of her essay discussing the ways in which women were historically much more limited in their choices when it came to leaving their parents and starting an adult life. In the past, says Filipovic, marriage was “a kind of servitude.” She calls the image of “the attractive white American housewife” a key piece of “pro-American and pro-capitalist propaganda” and asserts that “modern conservatives” are all chomping at the bit to shove women back into this outdated box. But Filipovic’s obvious overgeneralization (for which she provides no citations) aside, it’s a mistake to equate the state of matrimony, with the way in which it’s been implemented at different times, and in different places.
The women that Filipovic interviewed all said that marriage no longer felt like an achievement or a marker of adult success. Jane Church, an entrepreneur, said she was “excited about getting engaged” but didn’t feel that she had “accomplished anything.” Her company getting a grant, though, that was a real marker of success. Deanna Zandt, a Brooklyn-based digital consultant, asked her friends to treat her 40th birthday party as if it was a wedding and was upset when some of her friends treated it like… a birthday party instead. Samhita Mukhopadhyay, the executive editor of Teen Vogue, told Filipovic, “I was really hurt by my friends who made no effort to come to my book party who I had done huge things to come to their wedding.” So, here’s the million dollar question: why is wedding not like a book party?
Let’s put the past aside, for a moment. We could spend time discussing whether or not a man’s role ought necessarily to be outside the home, and whether a woman’s role ought necessarily to be inside it, but we don’t actually need to broach this contentious topic in order to discuss the issue of why marriage is important in the modern age. All we need to know is this: does having a partner to spend your life with — raise children with, be joyful with, grieve with, and grow old with — fulfill you to the same degree as publishing a book (or turning forty)? Marriage is not an achievement — it’s not a Girl Scout badge you pin on your vest and show off to your sad little unmarried friends while gloating — it’s the fulfillment of a deep human need.
Studies (like this one, done in England last year) show that married people are happier than single people. This makes sense. Having someone to share your life with is better than being alone. This is not to say that you can’t be happy if you haven’t yet found that special someone, only that when you do, you’ll be happier. So marriage — the joining together of two individuals into one family — is a momentous, life-changing, and life-affirming event. Even if, in this day and age, a wedding doesn’t always mark the woman’s emergence from childhood into adulthood, it does still mark a deep and long-lasting (one hopes) shift in the trajectory of her life.
But there’s another way that marriage is different than a book publication or a promotion or a birthday: a marriage isn’t only about you. Joining your life to someone else’s — learning to compromise, learning to lean on each other in times of need, learning to communicate, to disagree and move forward, to parent together — are all things that marriage teaches you in a way that nothing else can. And learning those things allows you to grow and progress as a person almost as if you’re — dare I say it — growing up.
“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” if a woman is using a man in order to get a ride to work. But women — and men — need partners to share their lives with because they’re human beings and human beings need to connect with one another in order to feel fulfilled. And marriage is the deepest, most fulfilling, most meaningful connection we have. In modern society, women may enter adulthood without getting married or becoming mothers — and they may never do those things — but that doesn’t negate the importance of those events. In fact, it ought to elevate them.