With same-sex marriages very much in the headlines and divorce rates still hovering around the one in three mark, you might believe that the traditional institution of wedlock was dying.
But despite these doubts, research by marriage-statistics.findthedata.org indicates that unmarried twenty-somethings are more likely to be depressed, drink excessively and report lower levels of satisfaction than their married counterparts. For example, only 35% of unmarried men declare that they are ‘highly satisfied’ with their lives, compared with 52% of married men and, among women that report being ‘highly satisfied’ with their lives, 29% are cohabitating, 33% are single and 47% are married. According to the same source, as of 2006 in Belgium, 36.26% of women aged 25-29 were married, and 55.36% of 30-34-year-olds – the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicates a rise in the number of weddings involving brides and grooms marrying after the age of thirty.
According to University of Maryland College Park Assistant Professor of Philosophy Dan Moller, an argument called the ‘Bachelor’s Argument’ is that loveless marriages (if love is a marriage’s principal reason) are undesirable, and many marriages that begin happily eventually turn sour, so therefore marriage should be shunned.
But, even with the financial risk of marriage when measured against the divorce rate, the perceived threat posed to individual liberty and gender equality, and the questioning of the necessity of having a relationship sanctioned by government or religious authorities, more and more young people are standing together before their communities to declare their love for each other, so why?
Tom Barker, 39, a computer technician from St. Austell in Cornwall, told Together: “It is so much about give and take – I don’t think you realise just how much until you take the plunge; even if you have been in a long-term relationship before you decide to formally commit, as we were, making a public statement of it means that the pressure is double to make it work.
“For myself, I very much think that marriage as an institution will endure and, for myself again, I couldn’t have chosen a better woman to make my life commitment to, and we have two lovely boys to prove it.”
Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard took the opposite view – his relationship with Regine Olsen, who exerted enormous influence over his intellectual development, philosophy, and theology, has become the subject of study in existentialism, as Kierkegaard called off their engagement, despite their mutual love. While he indeed seemed to have loved Regine, he was nevertheless unable to reconcile the prospect of marriage with his vocation as a writer and his passionate and introspective Christianity.
Franz Kafka would have seemed to have been in agreement – an entry in his journal entitled ‘Summary of all the arguments for and against my marriage’ concluded: “I must be alone a great deal. What I accomplished was only the result of being alone.” In addition, there is a famous very early critique of what we consider traditional marriage to be found in Plato’s Republic, which recommends group marriage.
Simon Jones, 42, a consultant from Lincoln in the UK, has never seen the attraction: “I have been with my life partner Julie now for nearly twenty years, and neither of us have ever felt the need. Frankly, I am not really sure why people feel the need to make such a formal statement – if you love each other, as we very much do, then that is and has been all the bond we need.”
Of course, the basis for marriage has changed considerably over history, and the changes in the ages at which people marry reflect such cultural variances. Marriage was initially based primarily on economic expediency, with its role being to provide political and financial maintenance or gain. Then in the modern age, as an outgrowth of the Protestant Reformation and its emphasis on the individual, the ideal of the ‘companionate’ marriage or ‘reasonable love’ grew in stature, which made two people well-matched partners (companions) for marriage, with the attendant obligations and responsibilities including, but also going beyond, the private household.
So, whether the present renewed interest in the institution lingers, or even grows, remains to be seen, but there should perhaps be comfort taken in the fact that separate souls are still willing to commit so completely to each other.