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I used to cry at weddings when I was in my 20s.
The vision from the pew of the beautiful bride and dashing groom—professing their desire to always be best friends, to love, cherish, be faithful, trust, and respect one another, until death do they part—was sweet.
I would hold back tears, thinking, what a beautiful moment; two souls joined as one. Cue the doves, and bon voyage to the happy couple on this magical and romantic journey!
But, alas, pragmatism has crept in over time. Enough friends have gotten divorced, are hanging in for the kids, and doing their own thing while still married, to make me cast a more cynical eye on the whole enterprise.
A few years ago, the Pew Institute did a survey, “The Decline of Marriage and the Rise of New Families,” and found that 4 out of 10 Americans think marriage is becoming obsolete. The survey also found the younger you are, the more likely you are to agree.
It makes sense, right? Times have changed. The same survey reported that while more than 70 percent of people were married in the 1950s, today it’s more like 50 percent.
A 20-percent drop seems almost modest when you think about the changes the last 60 years have brought American society. Women’s lib brought new choices to women. The two big ones—more career opportunities and more available birth control—were huge deal changers. Women don’t need to be married for financial reasons and don’t need to have children, unless they want to. As Irina Dunn put it most eloquently, in the post-liberation world, “a woman needs a man, like a fish needs a bicycle.”
When you think back to when marriage became a good idea in the first place, we can blame it on the agricultural revolution. Before that, hunters and gatherers rolled in egalitarian tribes, one for all and all for one. After they figured out tools and farming, it was a short trip to start dividing land and property, including wives and children.
The men took to the fields, and the women took to the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. Organized religion stepped in to help keep everyone in line by slapping penalties of damnation on those who contemplated sex outside of marriage or rearing children out of wedlock, further solidifying marriage as the way to go.
So, why do people get married these days when it’s no longer necessary and has pretty bad odds (50 percent) of working out long-term? For a declining percentage of the American population, religion still plays a role.
But I think it’s optimism.
Optimism that the heart swell you feel today looking at your partner will still be there in 20 years. Optimism that the fiery passion and lust that you feel today for your partner will still exist in 30 years. Optimism that another person can make your life happy and complete.
Without optimism, life can be a dreary slog under grey skies. So, I’ll take my chances and gamble on love.
My eyes will be open, and I won’t shed a tear as the bride comes into view. But I’ll raise a glass and toast to the uncertain future of the bride and groom and be the last to leave the dance floor.
Life is, after all, about love.