What is marriage?
I realize what a loaded question this is. And on this, my third wedding anniversary, I coincidentally happened on a Penn and Teller: Bullshit episode on “Family Values.” If you’re not familiar with Bullshit, it was a popular Showtime program running from 2003 to 2010, aimed at debunking pseudoscientific ideas, popular beliefs, and misconceptions. Penn and Teller host the show, typically take an abrasively libertarian point of view, and there are usually people interviewed for the show from both sides of a given topic.
In the “Family Values” episode, the idea/institute of marriage comes under fire as impractical, restrictive and, according to one arguably misogynistic radio personality, entrapping to men, as he remarks, “[We] are paying for use of a vagina.”
One professor of History and Family Studies claims, “There is no such thing as a traditional family… the idea one man one woman, nuclear family […] that’s a pretty rare family form in history.”
Also mentioned is the fact that marriage historically was rarely about romantic love, but rather protecting family interests and assets. Arranged marriages were common, as was the existence of lovers other than one’s spouse.
While it can (and has) been pointed out that Bullshit is usually fairly one-sided, with Penn voicing over interviews rather than allowing for actual back and forth debate with said interviewees, I found enough valid points to sort of dishearten me with the idea that romantic marriage is a fairly new (and often unsuccessful) endeavor.
I’ve always considered myself a romantic at heart, and although I try to be pragmatic, I want to believe in love. That’s not to say that I think there is only one soul mate out there for any given person. Were that the case, given the size of the world and the number of people in it, it would be highly improbable that so-called “true” soul mates would find one another in their lifetime. Still, if you can find even one person you can trust, confide in, lean on, have fun with, and love, you are a lucky person.
So, considering my cognitively conflicting ideas of pragmatism and romance, I thought it over…very briefly…and decided to rephrase the question to myself.
What is marriage…to me?
In short, it doesn’t matter what the statistics say, what marriage has historically meant, what other couples are doing, what “biology” says, or even what religions say about marriage. At least not to me. The only thing that matters to me are the values I’ve internalized, the values my husband and I agreed upon when we discussed what marriage meant to us, and what we want out of our relationship. In my husband I have a friend and someone who knows my heart (and my body) well. And hopefully we can pass along our values and ideas of love on to our daughter.
- Penn & Teller Bullshit: Family Values (milkandcookies.com)