Three interesting events happened recently. One, Zerodha founder Nikhil Kamath proclaimed “I don’t believe in marriage I don’t believe in kids. I feel like being alone we think it is a bad thing because society has convinced us that being alone is a bad thing. Your ability to evolve is probably highest in isolation.”
Two, Times Of India reported that “scores of Karnataka farmers plan to go on a padayatra to a shrine in Mandya next month seeking divine intervention to get a bride, eight months after a similar effort by another group. The farmers say the crisis has been caused by reluctance among many women and their families to be yoked to rural life.”
And last: Shortly after the couple’s 45th wedding anniversary, a representative for Meryl Streep and Don Gummer confirmed that the couple have chosen lives apart.
It’s the last one that got me completely. WHY? I mean after four decades together, which seems like a lifetime to me, can you still feel the need to separate? So then what is the whole point of saying I do? Why do people get married at all? Whatever happened to “till death do us part?” Quite a pertinent question as the hitching market is abuzz again with jewellery buying at its peak, designers getting overworked, luxury destinations teeming and embossed invites despatched.
Clearing my confusion, the Shahs, who have been together for the longest, let me in on the secret of their lasting relationship, “even though we don’t have kids we’re happily married because we consciously find things to do together.” A union that happened decades ago in the US when they fell in love with each other is going strong today in Pune as they feel secure in each other's company reinventing their shared passion for bridge, golf and exotic vacations.
Love certainly is the top reason why people marry. Among other reasons, research points to the need for companionship, societal pressures, emotional security, legit procreation, financial synergy, a deep level of intimacy, lifelong support system and simply putting a stamp on the relationship.
Marriage is therefore defined as “a legally and culturally recognised union between two individuals, typically involving emotional, social, and often religious commitment. It formalises a partnership depending on legal and cultural norms.”
A friend who celebrated 25 years of wedded bliss this year added, “A bit of compromise and working together go a long way in cementing bonds between husband and wife.”
But that’s the issue, the concept of committing to one person forever is being tested, questioned and turned on its head today. Why not just live together? Or simply stay single? Why is marriage important to society?
That’s because sociologically “marriage is society’s support system that has political and cultural implications as it directly impacts concepts of love, values, beliefs and care.” No wonder couples who thrive do whatever it takes to make things work. According to divorce lawyers, two-way communication, small acts of kindness, trust, mutual respect, shared responsibility, constructive conflict, focus on common needs, genuine affection and appreciation are the secret to long-term relationships.
Putting a bit of a dampener on the rose-tinted view, French feminist sociologist Christine Delphy reveals that “within a patriarchal system, heterosexuality is a socially constructed institution that encourages marriage. Marriage enables the husband, as head of the household, to exploit his wife, by benefitting from her unpaid labour around the home, in support of his job and in producing and looking after children (his legitimate heirs). The marriage contract is a work contract.”
The marriage contract is a WORK contract. You can say that again!
On the flip side the top reasons for divorce apart from the obvious infidelity, domestic abuse and infertility include falling out of love, financial issues, marrying too young apparently, commitment phobia and what is being called ‘unrealistic’ expectations from the marriage or your partner. This last one is open to any sort of interpretation, no wonder the dice is heavily loaded against the institution as reported in the year 2023. The majority of the GenZers (85% according to one survey) “feel marriage isn’t mandatory for a committed relationship.”
In the book Don’t Marry Before You Are 30 Joy Chen kind of takes down society’s fantasy of marriage especially from the woman’s perspective when she points out: “just as society demeans every aspect of a single woman’s life, it romanticises every aspect of the marriage institution. We’re taught to believe that marriage is above all else what we should wish for, yearn for and work for.” Reminded me of the “gendered toys debate” where little girls were Barbied up in their pretend play with tea sets, size 0 dolls and make-up kits.
Emphasising that marriage is “NOT a magical elixir,” Chen quotes the Wall Street Journal to prove her point: “The more women are paid, the less eager they are to marry.”
Documentaries on Netflix trace the very origins of humanity to highlight the fact that “monogamy” isn’t biologically ordained. Evolutionary psychologists believe that non-monogamy is the general rule in a world that may also have examples of lifelong relationships that actually work out. Naturally, the belief that marriages are obsolete and on the decline is fast growing. Take Marriage Story, for instance. Superlative performances from its leads Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson portray a “jarringly realistic” drama of contentious divorce delving deep into the grief, anger and denial within relationships today. Reports suggest that divorce lawyers actually endorsed the film’s accurate depiction of relationship scenarios.
Keeping a whole range of such disrupters in mind those still opting for marriage are being advised to align their “pre-marriage ideology” which presupposes a partner with the same money mindset, procreation plan and most importantly belief that this “commitment” is a work in progress to be nurtured constantly despite challenges.
In her book Happy Relationships, author Lucy Beresford talks about the “Significant Others” reminding us that ‘Love isn’t just something we fall into. Long-lasting love, durable, fulfilling love takes a lot of hard work and self-awareness.”
She in fact goes on to tout the interesting concept of “being separate together” that says “it’s okay occasionally to remember to be me. I would go so far as to say for couples it's essential to know how to be separate together. For a couple to be content together, they need room to develop as individuals.”
For Beresford a healthy relationship is one where “each partner grows sufficiently secure in themselves that pursuing new directions (going away on a business trip, starting a new hobby, socializing separately) doesn’t pose a threat.”
As for love, certified bachelor Ruskin Bond in his personal diary A Book of Simple Living writes “Love is as mysterious as happiness – no telling when it may visit us; when it will look in at the door and walk on, or come in and decide to stay… I have known couples who grew old together and seemed reasonably happy… of course things don’t turn out that way for all of us. When I was young, I fell in love with someone, someone fell in love with me, and both loves were unrequited. But life carried on.”
He believes “nothing really ends happily ever after, but if you come to terms with your own isolation, then paradoxically, it becomes immediately possible to find a friend, And friendship is also love.”
Holding on to that thought we embrace sturmfrei, along with a whole range of relationship types from situationships to FWBs, from rebounds to LDRs, from asexual to polyamorous, from just for now to good old dating.
As for marriage, it seems from “happily ever after” it has gone to being a “drop set” for those who will “rep till failure.” In GenZ slang then marriage is definitely not marriaging the way marriage should marriage.
Views expressed by the author are their own
Suggested Reading: What Are 'Open Casting' And 'FONMO' That Gen Z Is Talking About?