With the amount of wedding propaganda shoved down our throats by popular culture, how can women not be obsessed with it, asks Carrie Laski.
“That’s it. I’m deactivating my Facebook!”
I’ve heard this declaration several times over the past year from in-real-life friends who are sick of seeing engagement notices from their online-only friends. In a defiant move, my friends have been powering down from social media and tuning out news of our contemporaries’ nuptials.
The women I’ve seen deactivate for these reasons are fascinating, beautiful, and independent, many of whom are pursuing advanced degrees in their fields, and a few others have no intention of having children. Those characteristics make me wonder: With such full lives, why do these women care so much about other peoples’ marriages?
It’s a rampant condition among 20-somethings. Too many times I’ve watched a nice conversation over lunch or coffee quickly turn to Guess who just got engaged! or Did you see pictures from so-and-so’s wedding? I doubt my male peers experience this phenomenon when they sit down for a beer with their friends (I have no evidence for this and could very well be wrong). So, why are women so preoccupied with marriage?
The most simplistic explanation for marriage mania has to be media infiltration. Most girls can remember watching commercials featuring smiling brides and their smitten new grooms. Often these commercials were not even for wedding-specific goods like dresses, honeymoons, or themed dolls (shudder), but for regular items like lipstick or moisturizer. Don’t you want your ruby-red lips to stay ruby-red throughout the entire ceremony, kiss, and cake? The ads lead you to believe this is a very grave problem that they have addressed. Whew. Similarly, store display windows seem to come alive each spring with delicate china and white dresses meant for the masses of women who have finally achieved the goal of so many others, and almost every television series has at some point featured a story arc around a wedding. With the amount of wedding propaganda being shoved down our throats and up into our brains by popular culture, how can women not be obsessed with it?
But this media explanation only scratches the surface because although it lends insight into the preoccupation for weddings, it does nothing to demystify that of marriage, which runs far deeper, possibly all the way down to the idea of a woman’s desire for security. Historically, in western society at least, men owned and inherited property, worked for income, and managed financial assets. If women wanted to have a solid home and enough food/clothing/etc. to keep her comfortable throughout her life she would do well to find a husband who could provide those things.
This makes sense because to some degree we all are preoccupied with self-preservation. When I was growing up, if ever I would express interest in some expensive item my mom, with her usual tongue-in-cheek cynicism, would say: “Let’s hope you marry rich!” This statement perfectly echoes the antiquated idea of female dependence on men. Today, even though the income gap has not completely been eliminated (just take a look at this depressing list of the highest-paid CEO’s of 2012), women are taking their finances and security into their own hands by obtaining well-paying careers in typically male-dominated fields like medicine, law, and engineering.
If security is no longer the driving force for women to enter into marriage, what else could it be? Some might cite the more innocuous theory of companionship and love. Women, just like anyone else, hope to find someone they can confide in, someone they trust, and someone with whom they can share their triumphs and disappointments. But some sources ask the question: Does it necessarily have to be a husband? This French article says no. It gives reasons why a woman’s gal pals are “the new husband,” namely because they will provide more constant support than a significant other and are endless sources of fun.
I can certainly agree that my female friends are some of the most stable and wonderful presences in my life, but I won’t jump on the “Who needs a man anyways?!” train because I also know some superb men who I count among my best friends. I adore all these people but have no desire to marry any of them, so perhaps the real reason women want to get married is not the want for good company, but for something special, something above and beyond the love they have for their friends. They don’t just want a companion, they want a “soul mate.”
From youth we’ve read stories and watched movies about the quest to find that perfect person: the one who knows your thoughts before you speak them, the one who erases your fears with an embrace, the one who fills in what you are lacking. It looks different for everyone. Some of us want someone to sit across from at a restaurant, some of us just want someone to wander around the grocery store with, and some of us want someone to be the other half of a power couple. These are all great reasons, and I see nothing wrong with wanting to find such a person, but I do take issue with the line of thinking that says unless we marry this person, we have not truly found him/her. Why must marriage be the legitimizing factor of a union? Can we not have a soul mate unless accompanied with a marriage license?
Much of the frenzy around marriage could be just that. It is a way to prove to society and perhaps to ourselves, that we have ended the quest, that we have found our “someone.” Personally, I believe marriage, if we choose to enter into it, should be more than a Facebook album entitled “~OuR WeDDinG!~” It needs to be based not on convenience, material benefits, or heteronormative roles, but on mutual respect, understanding, and unconditional love.
Here I have to end with one of my favorite quotes from the endlessly relevant Emma Goldman. She sums up her speech “Marriage and Love” with these words: “If the world is ever to give birth to true companionship and oneness, not marriage, but love will be the parent.”
Note: For the purposes of this article I did not include speculations about why same-sex couples want to get married because I believe it is a separate issue given the current legal accessibility of marriage for same-sex couples in this country. Also I would not have enough space to voice my ardent support for equality in this realm.
Carrie Laski is a 20-something barista/writer living in Chicago. She enjoys discussing the psychology of relationships and also writes for thoughtcatalog.com.