Eight Reasons Why People Get Married

For the last several years, I’ve been utterly baffled why I was never told that people get married for different reasons. Like, radically different reasons. It was sort of a given that the word “married” or “marriage” sort of means the same thing for everyone, when it clearly doesn’t.

So, in addition to the infinite kinds of marital relationships, I’ve found a few reasons why people get married:

  1. For Socio-Economic Purposes
    1. Subset A: For Survival. Anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, archaeologists, and social psychologists have indicated that when hard times come to our species (and they do come!), people (like others) group together and cooperate. They share resources, establish communities and protective territories, etc. In cultural contexts that a patriarchal (which are most of them throughout history), marriage is essential for the survival of women. Without social and legal rights for women, and without financial access, religious and community support, it is impossible to simply live as a single woman by yourself. This is why, for example, provisions were made in the Jewish Torah about divorced women, widowed women or women taken from war: they were uniquely vulnerable. Marriage was the only way to ensure survival in these cases. There are certainly other such scenarios, but on the whole, living with another person (still today) is just economical: one house, one kitchen and bathroom, one set of bills, etc., all used together. It’s efficient (and also has explicit tax benefits in many countries).
      1. Comment: with the legalization of credit cards, mortgages, loans, bank accounts, and other features of modern life for women in the last half century, women have become more able to live on their own than ever before, and that, in turn, has allowed women to make higher demands on the character of men. (Women no longer have to depend on men as they used to.) Because men are not used to this and usually not up to the challenge, among other reasons the marital rates have plummeted and single moms (and dads) skyrocketed.
    2. Subset B: For Socio-political and Economic Dominance (e.g. Royal Intermarriage). Although this category overlaps the former (which patriarchy is a form of dominance, and patriarchal marriage certainly is), I’m referring to political, large-scale dominance. Marriage was used throughout Europe’s history (and others) to prevent wars, secure allies, annex land, transfer wealth and inheritances, etc. It was a tool in the hands of those who wanted to be more powerful.
    3. Subset C: For Inheritance (“gold-digger”). This category also overlaps the above but is more specific. It involves no royalty, no kingdoms, no political apparatus (except the state as an enforcer of marital contracts). Some men marry women who are wealthy for their wealth, some women marry some men who are wealthy for their wealth, etc. I’ve seen some attempts of this in the lives of people I know.
  2. For Reproductive Purposes. Some people get married strictly to have a family. They may be men or women; I have met both in my life who find it their calling to reproduce. But in my experience, they tend mostly to be women (that is, it seems women want to have families more than men, though this could just be a stereotype I’ve boughten into, or a misperception).
    1. Subset A: For Family Only (“give me babies”). There are some people who only get married because it would be socially awkward and disrespectable to have children without this formal institution. In this category, the person wanting children has no love or interest in their spouse.
    2. Subset B: For Family, Contingent on Spouse. Some people will not get a family unless they have a spouse that they enjoy being with, and maybe even love. They desperately want children (“give me babies!”) just like Subset A, but are less tolerant towards mediocre spouses. That is, they only want to have a family if they are able to secure a good spouse, not just any spouse.
  3. For Social Respectability. Some people get married because they’re pressured to by family and/or society.
    1. Subset A: For Public/Career Reasons. Some people get married simply because society tells them they must to be a respectable person, or to have a respectable career. I think of “Saint Augustine,” who “In 385ended his relationship with his lover in order to prepare to marry a teenaged heiress,” because that was essential for his career in the Roman court. Or, I think of many conservative churches that look down upon single unmarried men and prefer to hire married men as pastors.
    2. Subset B: For Family Reasons. The pressure to marry from family can be overwhelming, especially if the person is still living with them. Mothers and Fathers can induce limitless shame into their children’s lives and minds for being single in their late 20s or 30s or 40s or whatever. Some people simply capitulate to this pressure, whether they actually want to get married or not.
    3. Subset C: For Cultural Requirements. Child marriage is forced onto 12 million girls every single year. Thus, many people are married because they simply didn’t have a choice not to be married. To resist this choice would be to alienate themselves from their friends, family, and entire community. They may be directly punished as well.
  4. For Immigration Purposes. Many people get married to become citizens of a particular country (because they like it more, or had to, or were trying to escape various hostile living conditions). This happens hundreds of thousands of time per year just in the United States. Marriage is one of the most effective and efficient ways to change one’s legal status with the government (in certain countries; sometimes just the opposite is the case–such as having a Palestinian passport and being married, where you may not be able to live together, or interracial marriage is simply illegal due to Israeli apartheid).
  5. For Sexual Purposes. Some people get married because it is a moral license (within their religious or moral framework) to have sex with another person. This particular framework is popular in homeschool, conservative evangelical, and traditional religious perspectives where all sexual experience before marriage (with or without other individuals) is considered sinful. Teenagers are often pressured into getting married early instead of later (see the many works of [early] Joshua Harris and others), and there may be little regard for love, friendship, family, or other dimensions in this orientation. (This view is also a subset of “purity culture,” which has been shown in many books to be morally, spiritually, and sexually harmful to adherents; women, for example, spend their entire lives training themselves to be non-sexual persons until the wedding night; then, they are supposed to change into a fully developed sexual person (literally) overnight in order to please their husband. These irrational, unfair expectations create much frustration and often lead to marital conflict, and may help explain why evangelicals get divorced more often than the general population.)
  6. To Boost Male Happiness. Many men get married because they believe it will make them happy, and many women get married to men because they believe it will make their husband happy–and they, with their husbands, also believe that it is their sole responsibility to achieve this end. Like child marriage, this view is strongly supported in conservative religious circles that appeal to ancient texts on marriage to support patriarchy, and involves any number of coercions. This kind of relationship is unidirectional and centered on the man’s career, desires, and choices. Both partners in this kind of relationship see it as their divine duty to uphold male authority in all spheres of society (whether or not they may have children).
  7. Out of Desperation. Many people get married because they don’t know what else to do with their lives, and find singleness too meaningless or boring or intolerable. They may not have any unique relationship or connection with the person they are marrying, but want to undertake a kind of “marriage project,” especially since there are societal pressures that reward this kind of framework. It’s something to do, at least for the moment. (Most marriages end in divorce anyway).
  8. For Love and Companionship. Some people get married because they love one another and want to live in that kind of committed relationship. They may or may not have any intention to have children, or to pursue a particular career, or satisfy various cultural, religious, legal, and social pressures. They commit themselves to one another because of enjoyment and their value of not “the institution of marriage,” but their value of the other person. In some cases, love may transcend the “institution of marriage,” resulting in its legal dissolution, or in new relational dynamics and possibilities that do not have the kinds of restrictions typically imposed by this thing call “the marriage.”