There are many things that might motivate someone to get married.  If one were to ask what inspires most people to get married in America, the most common responses would be “we’re in love”.  But such is not always the case.  The idea of marrying someone based solely on this emotion has often been viewed as deviant.  In fact the most common reason people used to seek out marriage was to “establish cooperative relationships between families and communities”[2] as a means of pooling resources for the better of the community. 

The History of Marriage

Indian Bride and Dowry: Hindu Bride and DowryFor most of history, marriage has been viewed as a way to maintain proper social order.  A woman would rarely seek out a man based on attraction.  Often a woman would not seek out a mate at all, but rather leave the task to her family who would negotiate the terms of the marriage with the bachelor’s family.  Dowries would be paid to the groom’s family, in a sense selling the daughter for money, animals, food, or other resources.  This helped ensure strong communal ties by bringing families together and was often the only way a family could reduce the burden carried by the woman’s family to care for and protect their daughter, especially since many women simply could not generate their own income or own property.  The groom’s family benefited by the marriage by protecting their lineage via the consummation of children and also helped maintain a workforce within the home.

It was only very recently that couples sought out each other based on the erratic and unpredictable emotion of love.  Even then, however, marriage was seen as a necessity because “an individual simply couldn’t survive trying to do everything on his or her own”[2].  For this reason, work was often split into masculine and feminine jobs, each complementing the other.  Women were in charge of the domestics while men were expected to fund those expenses.  

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, women began to enter the work force in record numbers.  While the Vietnam War required women to begin working outside of the home, many women chose to stay in the workforce even after their male counterparts came home. Thus began a major revolution in the division of roles between the sexes.  While many men still carried the idea of being the heads of the home by generating the bulk of the income, many women were no longer satisfied with their presumed roles as domestic servant.  As more and more women became wage earners, the need for marriage declined[3].

How the Desire to Marry Has Evolved

Despite the drop in the need to wed, marriage is still a common goal for men and women worldwide.  This is likely a result of the Cinderella Fantasy or the belief that “a mate will be the all-in-one solution to our every need; that if we find one perfect person, we’ll have a best friend, lover, companion, caregiver, and escort”[1]

Cinderella and Prince CharmingJust like the story books we read as children (the ones in which a damsel in distress is saved by her knight in shining armor), we are taught to believe that we need someone with whom to grow old; that we are, in a sense, incomplete until we find our soul mate.  Though many men and women might be more than happy to live their lives uncoupled, there is a strong cultural expectation that marriage should be the ultimate goal and those who do not marry, be it by choice or not, are viewed as abnormal.  As Naka Beamon suggests, “They [society] know what motivates you; more than anything else in the world, you want to be coupled.  If you are a single person of a certain age, they also know why you are not coupled: you are commitment phobic or too picky, or you have baggage”[1]

With such common beliefs about the importance of marriage and the social faux pas surrounding single-hood, it is no wonder people continue to seek out marital union despite the likelihood of it ending at some point.  Interestingly, the act of divorce seems to be more socially acceptable than choosing a life without marriage.

While the concept of marriage has a long history, the motivation to obtain one has changed greatly throughout the years.  It is interesting to look back at its roots to see how marriage has evolved, and one can only imagine the many places it will go.