Relevance of marriage?

As Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, filed for divorce after 40 years of being married, there was a buzz. A seemingly content marriage (so widely seen throughout Gore’s presidential campaign) which was all goody-goody for the onlookers disintegrated right under their noses and something tipped the scales. Newspapers filled columns, experts gave opinions and psychologists went berserk writing analyses of the phenomenon. Many argued in the favour of marriage and many, against it. Some advocated that marriage is a happy thing and some shot it down as stressful. There was a frenzy in written media and many pertinent questions were raised, one of which caught my attention: “If marriage is so good, why are so many people getting divorced?”.

There have been zillions of articles counting virtues of being married – emotional security, stability, satisfaction, content sex, happier children, less stressful lives etc etc etc. After counting these benefits, it would seem natural that people ought to get married and lead happier and secure lives. The ground reality seems opposite! More and more people are opting for cohabiting or remaining single. More of the married ones are calling it quits (in India itself, the divorce rate has gone up 50% in last 20 years) too… what is happening?

In a traditional context, marriage gave us sex, children, financial security and emotional satisfaction. With time, most of these have been made available outside the institution of marriage. Getting sex outside of the marriage is not something one needs to think too much about. There are plenty of avenues available, paid or unpaid, real or virtual. Children are no longer a benefit either. Lesser number of people want children and it is possible to have them raised with hired help in various forms. Two down for marriage benefits! These days, people are financially secure long before they decide to take the plunge, so lo! Finances are taken care of too. That leaves us with this one last thing: Emotional satisfaction.  Ummm……..tricky one…….

For all practical purposes, it is this pillar that’s sort of holding the institution of marriage now. Married people are happier…….or so say most of the ‘surveys’ and ‘analyses’. But, I came across another ‘survey’ that claims that happy people remain happy after marriage and sad people, sad. Marriage really doesn’t add or take away much from people’s basic nature. Uhm……interesting. The survey goes on to add that people who are happy in their marriage are equally (or nearly equally) likely to be happy being single as well. I am not so sure I agree but I don’t disagree out and out either. Maybe, there is truth to it! Attitude, after all, is a very important aspect to how one treats any event in life.

But where does this put marriage now? Sex, finances and children are more or less taken care of and looks like emotional satisfaction isn’t being altered seriously by marriage either.

So, I throw the discussion open…….what’s your take?



  1. Vinod said,

    June 3, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Mama said stealing is bad, I quit stealing.
    Mama said lying is bad, most of the time I avoid it.
    Papa said you should study well and get a good job….
    I followed…..
    Papa said now its time to marry…..
    I nodded and married…..
    My papa and mama were busy in bringing me and my bro till date….
    Now they are busy in playing with my son and searching a bride for my brother
    So they never got time to read such articles, forums, research papers, surveys and finally the time to think about the subject….
    Thats why our elders insisted to read Ramayana, Mahabharatha and Puranas and involve in some spiritual work after the age of 50 so that they will not try to question their relations after 30 or 40 years being together…..
    Now I try to follow them 😉

  2. Ananth said,

    June 3, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Interesting perspective. Marriage has nothing to do with all the points you have attributed it to without looking at the social context. At some point, marriage was necessary for legally getting these aspects, like sex, children, finance (for women) and emotional support from the opposite sex. These points give us a higher probability of being happy. Then there was the society, which did not allow you to have these without marriage, even if the law permitted. Now the society is changing and there are mixed perceptions about whether marriage will bring happiness or not. Whether marriage brings happiness or not is in the perception of it. I would say, get married if you ‘want’ to, get divorced if you ‘want’ to and stay single if you ‘want’ to. Don’t worry about whether or not this would lead to happiness or not, that can never be predicted. As I often say, happiness is a choice, not a consequence.

  3. June 3, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks Pritesh, for writing without bias. I agree with Ananth’s thought. And I have been telling many when they came to me about advice on whether to get married or not. I have no conclusive evidence that marriage makes us any happier, although it seems to have worked out well so far for me. I will not be stupid enough to claim that I know I have met my soulmate or something. I still proudly or shamefully belong to the part of the population for whom sex isn’t so easily available outside marriage. At least, I never thought it was. 😦 Also, child has been the singlemost positive addition to our relation. His coming has brought out affectionate aspects of our personality more than anything else. His presence definitely acts as a catalyst in the mutual love between me and my wife.
    Marriage (not the ceremony but the idea of building a home in conjugal pair with some form of a contract to heavily invest on the relation in terms of money, time, energy, emotional involvement), if done between a ‘matching’ pair, definitely has tremendous benefits. But, ‘matching’ is the catch. Nobody can tell whether or how much two people match. Astrology takes a shot, but we all know about their dwindling credibility. So, the point comes back to where Ananth left. Marriage, like happiness, is a choice. Consequently, there’s an element of gambling. And this gambling continues through the life. There may be times when you are heavily winning. But there are times when you are losing too. In those moments, one has to take a decision as to whether to continue investing or to call it quits. No one can tell a priori which will work.

  4. Ananth said,

    June 3, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    In any case, I am happy that there ‘IS’ a choice now. Others don’t like choices because they lack the security that comes with a prescription.

  5. Sandeep said,

    June 3, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Nice question.

    To me, marraige seems an unnecessary notion imposed by our own creation called society.

    Two consenting humans being who enjoy the same intellectual plane and like to spend time with one another enjoy as good time as “happily married couple”.

    If i am permitted to take the definition of marraige in traditional sense, then it carries many values associated with it. Some of them are listed below:
    1. should have sex with marraige partner only
    2. by all means, should try to bear children and bring them up according to social norms and instill the locally accepted social values in them to complete the circle.
    3. should take care of each other finalcially, socially, emotionally and mixture of all rest of “allys” 🙂

    Above values when fulfilled in toal, are referred to a “sucessfully and happy family values” which helps to build a “structured” (may not be happy or unhappy) society. So as i see, marraige is a social obligation.

    Two humans of same or opposite sex, who voluntarily accept each other as a relaible partner in thier own terms, makes a GOOD couple by my standards. Getting married then is just for the sake of convenience of getting social and national (passports and other id) acceptance. I remember the incidence when french president Sarkozy came to India with Carla as his girlfriend and then Indian Government had a problem since protocol-oriented beurocracy (similar philosophically to a “structurally strict society”) pointed out that girlfriends are not defined as state guests 🙂

    Changing timings has opened up new qustions as to define loyality in relationships. “Hiding facts” = Cheating (to me its as simple as that). So sleeping with others but hiding it from a partner is as great an emotional crime as physical crime of beating up.

    Children pick up facts of life what they see at home. Most of us have been trained to see to marraige as the only alternative to live a “happy” life in society.

    Please of sharing a life is an entirely individual entity. When two person agree to live together, The “We” should become a big “I” without destroying the individual identity.

    Another very relevant question that pops up is about reliability of working out of any arrangement. All constants are variables. There are no guarantees. Whatever be the case, being true to urself and hence to your partner is the only way out.

  6. Karthik said,

    June 3, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Interesting point ! I have probably very conventional views on this topic, not bcos they’re conventional but because I believe in them ! 🙂
    Firstly , I think marriages are now under stress more than ever before due to the increased importance we attach to the notion of personal freedom . We’ve gotten so used to doing exactly what we want that we seem to have difficulty in adjusting and finding a middlelground. A generation or two back , life anyway needed a lot of adjusting and sacrifice so people naturally had the ability to adjust in marriage too. Now with everything else becoming a lot easier , our expectations from marriage too has increased .

    I believe, like Ananth pointed out , that happiness is a choice. But I also think its important to learn to adjust and grow with another person, and the right attitude towards that can genuinely make us happy . Marriage, I think is more than an emotional thing – it also involves a good deal of personal growth. And with the whole world changing so quickly , I think its v good to have a person around to keep you grounded and sane, while everything else changes, and also to have another person influence you in positive ways .

    At the end of the day , I think marriage is what one makes of it If you think its a burden it is, else it can be fun I guess .Anyway, i think the notion of marriage is probably more relevant that ever before . One can intellectualize about it , but that in my opinion , will only take away the charm.

  7. DDey said,

    June 4, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Hey Pritz..
    Nice thoughts. 🙂 About the Al Gore story, getting divorced at 40 might still be OK (considering that they might have got bored of each other after so many years! 😉 I am usually shocked at cases when people get divorced after a few months/years….thats when it reflects that they were just not meant for each other, but 40 years is ok!), but anyway, jokes apart, I think ‘living together’, ‘getting married’ , ‘divorced’ are individual choices..and they perfectly fine. ‘Marriage’ is a human societal ritual. Interestingly, if you look around the world, marriage does not have equal importance and significance evrywhere. In Europe, its common for couples to live together and they might decide (after decades), sometimes after having kids to get married! And the ‘reasons’ for getting married? Again…varies from one individual to the other on one scale; from one country to the other on another scale. Not everybody might be marrying for the 4 reasons you’ve mentioned. It might be emotional stability for some. It might be (only) financial stability for some. In a country like India, it might be ‘the society’ for quite a few. It might be (only) sex for some. It might be (only) kids for some. And getting divorced is a very, very individual choice….Its better to be free than to suffer everyday, if things are not working out well on either side. After all, its only the two who know the whole inside story. No one can be in both their shoes and sya what they should/shoudn’t have done!
    The bottomline: As long as an individual is deeply happy and satisfied where he/she is, life is good! 🙂

  8. madhurima27 said,

    June 4, 2010 at 4:36 am

    Hi Pritesh,
    Well written and thought provoking.
    Marriage is an institution that is probably losing its’ relevance today in some manner and gaining it in others- lemme explain.
    I remember studying about types of marriage in my sociology course at college and marriage was related to dharma, artha, kama and moksha and to the stages of life- brahmacharya, grihasta, vanaprastha and sanyasa. What i feel has happened today is that the frame of reference has changed. Like you said, marriage is no more an act to fulfill certain human needs. So, in that sense the relevance has changed. The trail of independence may have seeped into marriage and made us less tolerable to adjustment and compromise. However, i feel one thing is today people are more cautious about a decision this big in their life. I see people either consciously getting into wedlock bcos they want to get married to the person or consciously avoiding it. There is still a fragment of people who get married bcos thats a natural progression, naukri mill gayi, paisa achcha kama liye…chalo shaadi bhi kar lete hain. Am concerned about this section bcos i begin to wonder if they are marrying for the right reasons.i dont know whether it is right or wrong bcos i have seen good and bad marriages around me and it is scary at times. I do hope that youngsters who claim to have a rational thinking and to know the ways of the world choose wisely, but again isn’t wisdom also relative.on a personal level, I think marriage is one of the most beautiful things that happen to an individual…you begin to see from a new perspective, become more patient, learn new things and appreciate how much another individual can begin to mean to you…you grow as a person, you blossom as a daughter, sister, wife and friend…:)

  9. Gopal said,

    June 4, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Marriage has been instituted in human race as a means of living harmoneously. As we grow more attached to material things, we need to pass on the things aquired in our life ,to our children or spouse. Hence the mariage has been instituionalized to pass on the family tradition, values, assets etc.
    Of course nothing can control the passing of genes which is basis of procreation.

    The added benifts are finacial security, sex, emotional security etc.

    Choosing of partner and living together for long period till death is an art and emenates from the attitude and upbringing.
    Living happily in the marriage is also a choice as ananth said earlier.

    I am of the view there must be some modifications in the instituion of marriage.

    Every marriage to be made valid for 20/25 years ( till children become adult)
    then again choice to be given to the couple if they want to be together or not.

  10. Pushpa said,

    June 4, 2010 at 10:51 am

    It is very heartening to see that youngsters give marriage such serious thought.
    I really cannot understand how people can get bored of one another after 40 years of marriage. Boredom must have happened even earlier, so why wait for 40 years? If you waited for 40 years why not the remaining time of life ? You could make new friends and keep busy and do interesting things, not necessarily together and yet share your experiences with one another.
    Yes as so many of you have said, it is one’s choice to be happy or not, however you are and also one’s choice if you get divorced or not.
    That being so, it is sad that having reached the maturity of their age, they have not learnt the lessons of life and are still so egoistical.
    Each to his own.

    I agree with Karthik that Marriage involves personal growth and I agree with Madhurima that we blossom in the several aspects of our being.( as a wife, mother, daughter, sister etc)

  11. Arun said,

    June 4, 2010 at 11:43 am

    I strongly agree with Mr.Gopal. Esp. “….Choosing of partner and living together for long period till death is an art and emanates from the attitude and upbringing….” Very true. This is where love plays a vital role.

    When you think someone is very special, you can share you life with him/her and if the other person reciprocates the feeling, its great. It has all the makings of a perfect life.

    But then marriage is only a start, where two individuals get to know each other in a different dimension and from a different perspective. Things may not go as expected, tolerances and thresholds may vary. But ultimately, its love that keeps the marriage going, makes people to compromise and accept certain things that cannot be changed.

    Divorce is just an official declaration of an already broken marriage, like how we have a reception to announce the marriage !!

  12. laasya said,

    June 4, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    interesting point and well made!! I can only see marriage in the larger context of a happy life. The moment something is made to sound compulsory or “how can you not do this” it loses charm and sparks rebellion both as far as i m concerned!! and thats probably part of the trouble leading to the higher divorce rates for instance..our generation is brought up very differently from the last, and that means if as is so often the case atleast in india, the parents are picking for you, then it could well be that their idea of an ideal groom or bride is not yours! so this needs a comfortable parent child relationship where both can talk to each other and see where they differ and make a realistic choice at both ends. after all you better have more than a small say in your life’s decision!

    alternately if you re the picker i agree partly with karthik in that people probably have unreasonable expectations which translates to ‘i ll stay comfortable but you adjust to my habits now” which very few educated and independently brought up girls today will buy! i disagree about the notion of marriage being any more relevant though..i think at all times and days it would be fun and provide a constant point to have someone well suited to you around! how you do it is your lookout but i think the key point is ‘well suited’!! earlier women were conditioned to adjust to their husband’s way of life anyhow so there was far less room for conflict. whereas now there are two already half rounded and financially and otherwise independent lives to deal with! so of course it needs more nurture and care.the point is if you want to do it and want to do it for that person of course!

    i agree with arun that a divorce just announces an already broken marriage..and with ddey that you should live happily separately any day rather than uncomfortably together. at the end of the day each person has to find out where his or her happiness lies..but i d say a) make sure you know your own limitations or expectations befor involving another person, and b) i personally do feel that marriage is an extension of having a very close friend//its just that the calls for adjustment are higher! and i never saw so much debate on the pros and cons of friendship! :)so it seems to me the trouble is either in picking your friend or in adjustment!

  13. Shamit said,

    June 4, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Marriage can be seen as a worldly method to undivided attention and devotion to an individual of the opposite gender – as an indirect means to the divine; sex is the connecting or initiation mechanism only (that cannot be the focus – although libido plays a role).

    Pati Parameshwar, or Patni Parameshwari (did I coin a term here?? :)) for the worldly minded Grihasta Jeevan is a means of attaining God through undivided devotion as per scriptures and great saints!!

    It is also about sharing and caring undoubtedly – balancing human emotions etc in psychological terms.

    Individualism I don’t know if it is something new – as everyone is responsible for their moksha/liberation has been there in the Hindu treatises from long….

  14. Sathya said,

    June 5, 2010 at 9:51 am

    The conversation drifted away from marriage as an institution to an individual’s perspective.

    Were Adolf Hitler alive today, he’d scorn at the world today and say “See, what you low lives have brought it to.” Adolf Hitler’s dream of a pure ‘superior’ race is dying out, and along with it, several other values. His idea wasn’t wrong, only the means he went about achieving it were. If you held a sense of pride in your family, you’d try to make it superior (in Hitler’s terms) and with each family trying to better their next generations, the world would be a better place. (Sniff) I’ll hold back a tear for this ideal notion.

    “In a long run we’re all dead”, said John Maynard Keynes reiterating the American dream of individualism. A ‘new world’ order started then.

    Marriage (along with other institutions) were set in Hitler’s society but used today in an American context. Increasing rates of divorces only indicate an increase in individualism.

    So much for looking at the big picture. If I were to speak of marriage from an individual’s perspective, it’d be American – ‘I’ would look for constant support, more comfort and what not (entertainment? ;-)). However, I’d also expect a partner to complement me in increasing a ‘lasting’ happiness level. I’m on the middle grounds with everyone else, lets say with a touch of idealism 😉

    Ah yes, I forgot to mention: Hitler didn’t believe in healthy competition, but neither do the Americans! The world is choosing between the two.

  15. Shamit said,

    June 5, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    What timing – Researchers Study Brain Scans for Insight to Marriage

  16. dee said,

    June 5, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    now i’d have loved to write a lot of stuff here had i not been disillusioned with the idea at present.
    i think the only thing marriage should be is legal and social acceptance of two people living together, who really want to live together.

    now all this talk about security and stability is bull. if marriage really bought stability then people would have been ‘happy’ in marriage. for a relationship to sustain 40 years, love is definately important.

    now there might be an argument about love not being a forever lasting feeling. people who’ve been in relationships say that things change after marriage. some people feel that the guy is not the same guy she fell for and the girl is not the same girl he fell for.
    although i’ve not had the misfortune of experiencing it first hand, but if it is true then there could be two solutions.

    you stay in a marriage even if you’ve realised that you dont love each other anymore, because its such a big social crime to leave one’s spouse. our religion talks about ‘hamesha saath nibhana’ n stuff.. so you go on finding happiness in spirituality, or other people’s business, of still in getting your own children married.

    the other option is to file for divorce the way the Gores did.
    i think they did a fine thing. at least that way you dont have to wear a plastic smile on your face.

    now being a hopeless romantic that i’ve always wanted to be , i’d still like to believe that love lasts forever. that kind of love has something sacred in it, and even if things go wrong in marriage or a relationship (which is the main reason for people not being happy in a relationship/ marriage), that sacred thing gets them through. if you marry for love, you should never have to file for divorce. and if you have to, then you never loved in the first place.

  17. Shuba said,

    June 5, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    I like your objective approach to this rather wrought topic !
    To me marriage is simply a partnership. A friendship outside that of my family. A partner who shares my journey in life, it’s trials and successes. A Lerner who stands shoulder to shoulder with me not afraid to race ahead or fall behind but is always in my line of sight. And of course the sex and parenting is part of this important equation 😉

  18. Vinod said,

    June 5, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Baap re!
    Itna saara responses!!!
    After reading all these I learnt that there are so many perspectives to Marriage 😦
    and my comments (the first one) seems to be very mean 😦
    But, to be frank, friends, I never thought so seriously about this subject called marriage and after reading so many thought provoking analysis, I never want to think so seriously. I want to take life as it comes. Eat good food, fool around and enjoy little things in life. I am also happy that I got such a wonderful partner who thinks like me and enjoys all little things in life and takes care of me like a child!!! Love her…..

  19. Ananthakrishnan said,

    June 15, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    What a fantastic discussion. Summing up all these thoughts, there is only one thing I can think of. Marriage means different things to different people and everyone has an opinion about it.

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