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Alternet Explains Why Marriage Doesn’t Matter April 18, 2010

Posted by Onely in As If!, blog reviews, Reviews.
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I heart this hilarious and insightful Alternet article about Why Marriage Doesn’t Matter. It points out that:

Women are carpet-bombed with the idea that marriage is their happy ending from their first viewing of Cinderella to the last potboiler Rom Com they saw starring Sarah Jessica Jennifer Kate Meg Julia Whatsherhair.

True and straightforward, right? But I’m astounded at how many Alternet readers–normally a pretty progressive bunch, doncha think?–went all right-wing-family-values on author Liz Langley. Several long-married people shrieked that she’d offended them by disparaging their life choice–a life choice that endowed them with special wisdom and compassion for others that the author supposedly doesn’t share, as well as legal privileges that the author would be wise to avail herself of. For example:

. . . I am newly married. I was engaged for love. I married quickly because I needed health insurance. I think that if people choose not to get married, or don’t find that love that’s fine. I understand that Alternet is not often here to play nice to both sides, and usually I appreciate that. I do, however, feel offended by this article. There are a lot of benefits to marriage both emotional and practical. All I read here is “Oh, you got married? hag.”

If this were the Daily Mail or some other trash news outlet, I wouldn’t be surprised at the caliber of commenters. But it’s Alternet! Hence my manic quest to comment on the other commenter’s comments.  (Which you can see if you go to the article.)

The discussion is yet another example of how marriage is so disproportionately revered.  Even an intelligent, open-minded readership such as Alternet’s freaks out when someone challenges the Marriage Myth, the way people freak out when they see someone kick a puppy.


photo credit: Toomas & Marit Hinnosaar


1. Alan - April 18, 2010

I have to say, the article was a bit snarky in parts:

“$20K? On a party? What are you, Keith Moon? If you want to be the center of attention for 20 minutes before being locked down for life it would be cheaper to just rob a liquor store.”

I can see why that might upset some people.

The majority of the negative comments seemed to be the tired old argument, “How do you know you won’t like it if you don’t try it? I tried it and liked it.” Which you can apply to practically anything, from becoming a missionary to joining the Marines to getting a degree in fine arts. It assumes that people aren’t smart enough to limit their choices to things that are appropriate for them.

I do wonder if it’s a good use of time to argue with people on comment threads. There are people out there whose minds can be changed, but I’m not sure blog commenters would be my first choice. For all we know these people are trolls, who don’t really believe what they say but are just looking for a fight. Or maybe they’re fanatics whose minds are set in stone. Be interesting to see some research on what these people are really like…

2. Alan - April 18, 2010

Going back to that second point, I wonder why people assume that others aren’t smart enough to limit their choices to things that are appropriate for them.

Is it because they assume that anyone who makes a different decision than them must simply not have thought it through? A fairly arrogant assumption, but one that I think is common (especially in politics).

Or is it because these people are themselves not introspective, and thus have to try everything out before coming to a decision about it? A kind of solipsistic belief, but one that is also common…ie “Everyone else must have similar abilities and personality traits as me.”

Onely - April 19, 2010

Alan: interesting thoughts, as usual; I think the arrogance you’re describing also starts wars….


— Lisa

3. Therese - April 19, 2010

Yeah, even the left is very marriage obsessed now. I think culturally we are still in the process of seeing marriage for what it really is: a legal contract enforced by the state that provides certain people with certain benefits. People are not ready to differentiate between their “relationship” and their “marriage”. They are two separate things–one is essentially a business deal, the other can be very romantic and wonderful. In short, we are still in the “honeymoon phase” when it comes to out perceptions of marriage.

But anytime anyone does anything off the beaten path like remain single past the age of 30 (gasp!), criticize marriage (double gasp!), or get married in a civil ceremony in their apartment with no mention of God and no $30,000 bill (gaaaaaaaasp!!!!!!–that was me by the way) they will be attacked. I’m so used to it now, it barely bothers me anymore. I have bigger fish to fry!

4. autonomous - April 19, 2010

Just think, half of those people commenting about how offended they are will end up divorced.

Seriously, how many couples are truly happy with each other? My guess is that many put up a front and plow through because they are too terrified to dissolve the arrangement.

Thanks Onely, for helping me to remember that there is no shame in being uncoupled. I ended my romantic relationship this weekend and am having to remember and recapture how happy I was before getting so involved. Oh, and the reason I ended it? His “happy” marriage ended last year but the drama and damage is ongoing.

Onely - April 19, 2010

Autonomous — thank goodness you’re autonomous, eh? Good luck recuperating back to your happy single self. Breakups suck, even if you’re awesomely autonomous.

— L

autonomous - April 26, 2010

Thanks to the evolving onely mind, I didn’t change everything and let go of my life as I had in the past. The relationship was a happy enhancement at first, then it was a drain, so here I am. Not much is changed from before the relationship started (won’t go into self-discovery here), so it doesn’t suck as much as it could.

Lauri - May 4, 2010

autonomous- I really have to wonder how happy married people are with each other. I looked around at the married people I know, and I wonder what their partners see in them. Not that they are bad people are particularly unattractive people, but what makes them SO special that someone is willing to attach their entire lives to them, change their name to their’s, share all of their finances, and never have sex with or even look at anyone else??? I mean I can’t fathom it. I would never have married any of the married people I know. For me to marry a guy, he would have to be pretty freaking amazing. I mean it is your whole life! And if it’s not your whole life, it has to be someone worth the pain, hassle, and expense of divorce!

5. sharongilo - April 20, 2010

Marriage is definitely not for everyone, but for many it fits very well, considering human nature and how to have a lifestyle that fits our needs … I would encourage all couples considering marriage to do some pre-marital counseling — it really can help in many ways to be as certain as one can be, that you are deciding to marry for all the best reasons that bode for success …

Alan - April 23, 2010

I don’t think anyone here is disputing the fact that marriage fits some people well.

And I hope you’re not posting this just to promote your book…

Onely - April 24, 2010

Agreed, Alan. As you well know, Lisa and I try to be clear that we don’t dispute people’s right to get married if they feel it fits them, but rather we dispute the idealization of marriage and how that idealization pressures people into doing stupid stuff (um, six weeks?). As we all know by now (‘we’ being the singles’ advocacy movement peeps), that idealization is so ingrained in our culture that any sort of criticism of it is often interpreted as marriage-bashing on a broader scale, largely as a knee-jerk reaction by people who are really just surprised more than anything. = )


6. Tessa - April 22, 2010

I loved the Alternet article and I love this blog. I’m new here so I want to first say a big THANK YOU to Lisa and Christina for putting together such an informative, eloquent, and humorous site. I have long held many of the ideas and concerns that I have found expressed here, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to find that I am not alone–I’m onely!

Regarding people who get married for health insurance and other benefits (things that should be available to everyone whether they are married or not), this made me think of how various groups in the U.S. have historically claimed certain rights on the basis of being white instead of pushing for these rights to be extended to all people. White workers in the early 19th century excluded black people from labor unions to emphasize their whiteness and worthiness, and nonwhite immigrants to the US who were denied the right to become naturalized citizens under the Naturalization Act of 1790 filed lawsuits seeking to demonstrate that they were in fact white and therefore entitled to citizenship (as opposed to arguing that citizenship should be available to everyone regardless of skin color). A lot of scholarship has come out in the last few decades on this process of “becoming white.” So here’s a question: is getting married the non-married person’s equivalent of becoming white?

Onely - April 24, 2010

Thanks Tessa–you raise a *really* interesting point. Let us know if you feel up to a guest post about the degree to which marriage privilege parallels (historical) race privilege. One criticism levied against the singles’ movement is that “singlism” is not on a parallel with “racism”. Even though the singles’ movement never actually claims that singlism is as damaging as racism (well, most singles don’t, anyway), people sometimes think we’re making that claim. That said, both Isms do exist within similar (damaging) frameworks of privilege/exclusion, as you point out.

Tessa - April 24, 2010

Thanks Christina, I don’t feel up to a guest post just yet but here are some more thoughts:

I would never argue that marriage privilege is on the same level with race privilege. The connections between race and class that make racism such a powerful system of oppression don’t operate in the same way for other groups, like gays or singles. It might even be that, for some of us, our educational and class privileges are what enable us to remain out of the married mainstream. If I wasn’t so fortunate to enjoy a fulfilling career and a comfortable life on my own, I might have succumbed to the financial incentives and social pressures that push so many other people in our society into marriage.

My thought about marriage being a form of becoming white had more to do with the strategies different groups might employ to secure their rights. One way is to assert that one is worthy by being a member of a select group (white or married); a better way is to broaden the debate and push for the same rights to be extended to all. What I really hate about the glorification of marriage and family is that it narrows the circle of people that we are supposed to care about. What if we all invested as much time, love, and money into our larger communities as married people put into their own little families? Maybe then we would have a society where economic security, access to education, and quality health care were available to all, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, or relationship status.

Onely - April 25, 2010

I definitely didn’t mean to imply that you were putting marriage privilege on the same level as race privilege. I didn’t get that impression, but I was imagining that if we were to do a post on this topic, some people (usually matrimaniacs) would in fact get that impression.

One definitely does need to have a certain level of education and privilege in order to exist outside the married mainstream, which is why I get so mad when the marriage movement tries to “help” poor or disenfranchised people by pairing them up, thereby perpetuating the very privileging that shouldn’t exist in the first place. I posted about this on Change.org and a couple people (who, you could tell by their comments, saw marriage as inherently deserving of its privileged status) got really up in arms. Par for the course.


7. Carlysdating - April 23, 2010

I think the idea of marriage is so important. We were put on this earth to find love and happiness. To me, they are almost the same thing. I am so much happier when I have a significant other to share things with. I think expensive weddings are a complete waste of money. Instead of having an extravagant wedding you should buy a car. On my dating blog http://www.carlysdatingchronicles.com I hope to find a man to mary in 6 weeks!

Alan - April 23, 2010

Not everyone was put on this earth to find love and happiness through a romantic relationship, humanity is more diverse than that.
You may be happier in a relationship, but other people are not.

And I hope you’re not posting this just to promote your blog…

Lauri - May 4, 2010

ha! I can’t wait to see who you come up with in 6 weeks. Good luck on your life, you will most definitely need it!

Oh and “buy a car” is your alternative to a wedding bill? Cars pollute and make people lazy and isolated. Please buy something better than a car with all the money you “save” by not having a wedding with the man you find in 6 weeks.

Cameron - May 11, 2010

It’s been six weeks, and she hasn’t found her dream man. And in a recent post, she uses the phrase “eyes on the prize.” How soaringly romantic, right? But it gets better: the “prize” she’s referring to is a Winston engagement ring. But of course, mature adults should settle down and get married, ideally with the man luring the woman with a sparkly object.

8. Contented Single - April 30, 2010

Interesting article, interesting comments, interesting post. Tessa’s comments very thought provoking.
I still don’t understand why marriage is so revered when we all know so many disaster stories. There is so much that I find odd about it on a daily basis. Eg, overheard in my work tearoom, a bunch of women talking about how they check their husband’s cell phones to see if they’ve been up to anything. No, I know not all married people would do this, but of the 6 or 7 women there, they all had. Snooping, lack of trust, why do we revere an institution which contains this kind of behaviour? As, I said this is just one tiny example of what I find odd about marriage, oh and the fact that when you get married you make promises that are so easily broken. I am a person of my word so I don’t like making promises I don’t think I can keep. Not that I am against divorce at all, but it still amazes me that we have marriage as a legal union when it has such an appalling failure rate.

Like Onely, I am not against marriage, but likewise am against the idealisation of it, and any legal rights given to this institution that discrimate against singles or encourage people to get married for practical reasons, eg health insurance. I am also against how it’s seen as the default position in life. I can’t believe in this day an age that some people do not see being single as an option. In my conventional workplace, two married women, one 35, one 45 look in awe at my life, and say they wished they had stayed single as though they didn’t know it was an option.

People want to feel like they are doing okay in life, so they live the template lifestyle to show they are a success. So inside they might be dying, but they can check the boxes that say they are doing okay, married, check, house, check, kids, check etc.

9. Singlutionary - May 9, 2010

Marriage still seems to be this portal through which we find happiness. I think that there are a lot of errors in that thinking but it is so deeply ingrained in our culture and we’re having a hard ass time letting go of it.

In the olden days, I feel that marriage made more sense. You NEEDED two people and you NEEDED children in order to make life go. And people married younger because they died younger and they often got married right out of their parents houses and then had their own house — or their own bedroom. So marriage was about starting life — adult life — together.

All these traditions and concepts and feelings get confused in a culture where it is unwise to get married right out of your parents house. We have so many options for HOW to live life. This is fantastic but it creates a whole new way of life. You can choose how you want to live your life, what kind of job you want. You can choose to seek out marriage, to have children, etc.

But the feeling that marriage is important (even to non religious folks) is so so so deeply rooted. And it isn’t about the relationship itself most of the time but about the 30k announcement party to the world in which you say “I am”.

I feel this often because I often get the sense that “I am NOT”. I am almost 30 but I am pretty sure that I am NOT considered a grown up until I get married on many subconscious levels– even to myself.

Onely - May 12, 2010

Singlutionary is back! = )

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