You probably know at least one person who has refrained from getting married because s/he says “I don’t believe in the institution of marriage.” or something similar. While I understand many of the arguments people make for retaining their “single” status indefinitely, I think “not believing” in marriage is, well, a load of crap.
I recently read an article about a woman who ended up getting married to appeal to societal norms and to reap the rewards that come with “legitimizing” her relationship. See here for the story. While she says she doesn’t believe in marriage, she also says she enjoys the recognition that comes with using the words “married” and “husband”.
The fact is, marriage is a social contract that has evolved over time into what it is today – and that can be a variety of things. I’ve met married people who don’t spend the workweek in the same town as their spouses. I’ve met others that include three or more people in their marriage (though only two can be recognized legally). I’ve known married couples who despise one another but can’t seem to make the leap to divorce. And I’ve known other couples who were completely devoted to one another and never needed the legal or societal recognition of a “marriage”, but still considered themselves married.
Long ago, marriage was only a social contract dealing with property. A girl was the property of her father until she (and her dowry) became the property of her husband. Many marriages were arranged. Either the spouses learned to love each other or they learned to satisfy their needs for love elsewhere.
In modern times, marriage has evolved to become the legal recognition of a couple’s love and devotion to each other. Arranged marriages are seldom seen in Western society. Couples now are able to define their marriages for themselves. Legally, there are no guidelines (as far as I know) beyond some archaic adultery laws that aren’t even enforced any longer.
I can’t even really define what it must mean when people say they don’t believe in marriage. Are they saying that they don’t agree with the patriarchal history? Are they saying they think people don’t take the vows seriously enough? Are they young and trying to differentiate themselves from their parents? How can a person not believe in something that really, truly does exist? It’s like saying you don’t believe in the sun. The semantics of the statement are baffling – marriage exists (just like the sun) whether you want to recognize it or not. And if you don’t want to recognize it, well then you shouldn’t. But I would say that means that you can’t attend other people’s ceremonies or celebrations. That you can’t send anniversary cards or gifts. That you refuse to recognize the legitimacy of other people’s marital commitments.
Stating that you “don’t believe in marriage” is just plain stupid. It oversimplifies any legitimate objections you might have to the social, legal, or religious instutions and the impact that marriage (or singlehood) has on an individual or couple. And it makes you sound like and idiot who can’t explain the reasoning behind your dislike or opposition to a long-standing human tradition.