Why Get Married?

Naya Rivera clearly “don’t chase ’em.” She replaced her fiancé, rapper Big Sean, and within months married another man, actor Ryan Dorsey (on the same day she originally planned to marry Sean: June 19). Now I’m all for a girl navigating her freedom post breakup—maybe a little flirting, dating, remembering how fine she is and what a fool her ex was—but marrying a completely different person than you were planning to three months ago seems a bit much. 

It’s very true that some of us do our grieving while in the relationship, before it ends. I read once that half the time we’re in relationships that eventually finish, we are actually breaking up.

Regarding Rivera, the first thing that came to my mind (past YOLO!) was how difficult marriage is, how even more difficult it can be if we don’t choose our partners, and to marry, overall, meaningfully. What happens when we get married because we think doing so is something we accomplish at a certain point in our lives, or when we marry as a reaction to the pain we’ve experienced due to a recent breakup? 

Marrying anyone for reasons other than wanting to commit your entire life to him/her, because s/he is just that freakin’ amazing, means one is most likely entering a marriage with divorce on the menu.

That being said, why are we so infatuated with marriage anyway? We understand the institution of marriage was created to form alliances that would eventually lead to more secure economic and political bonds. It just became a sacrament in the late 1500s, and became a romantic notion some time after that. Women became obsessed with marriage because, traditionally, a woman’s ability to draw suitors (and their wealth) determined her “worth.”

For Black American women post-slavery particularly, marriage meant having access to a human right once denied to them. Although we understand now that we are worth so, so much more than the men who “court” us, and can live productive, happy lives without being wives, it’s hard to escape the fairytale we’ve been sold about our prince—his coming, his sweeping us off our feet, and his carrying us into our happily ever after. 

I speak in a generic “we” for all women, but I understand that times have changed, and with them, so have women’s attitudes towards marriage. The women of our generation often marry later than our mothers, and plan to live, fully, until our wedding days come (if they do at all).

What happens when we get married because we think doing so is something we accomplish at a certain point in our lives, or as a reaction to the pain we’ve experienced due to a recent breakup?

I talk to women all the time who focus so much on getting married that they make poor decisions about whom they marry. Some of them view marriage as an important step towards adulthood and a thing to mark off life’s to do list. Others are just exhausted with being alone. They want someone to fold into and help carry the heavy load life assigns them. Regardless, marrying simply to say one is married doesn’t consider our partners much at all. 

Professor Mark White argues that people who marry for reasons such as those I’ve discussed here “…place the highest value on the end result—marriage—and as a result they wind up using the other person merely as a means to get it. It’s not about the other person and being with him or her—this other person is just a way to avoid being alone.” 

Rebound marriages are no better. I’ve seen those: some poor heartbroken fool trying to prove to an ex, who is probably worth less than a newly minted penny, that s/he is indeed lovable and worthy of a lifelong commitment—dragging some other poor fool into the middle of a bunch of unresolved idiocy.

Rebound baes have their place in the breakup recovery process; they are the names you call with laughter as you sit with your girlfriends 20 years later. They’re no more ready to be your husband than that worthless ex you’re still trying to impress. It’s inevitable that one’s self esteem is affected after a breakup, whether it’s her decision or not, so one has to take time to come back the center and remember the difference between not being chosen and not being worthy. It’s unlikely that anyone can navigate all of those feelings and be completely devoted to someone else in the ways that marriage requires.

This isn’t a post about Naya Rivera and Big Sean as much as it is a conversation that seeks to understand why we set ourselves up to lose when we know we love winning.  Winning may be creating a lifelong partnership with someone we can’t imagine a day without, or being single and free. But it certainly doesn’t seem to be marrying someone for the sake of saying, “I’m married.”

Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and solider of love. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.