The world recently stopped to watch the fairy-tale courtship between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
It reached its pinnacle as millions round the world witnessed it unfold into “The Royal Wedding”.
Throughout the epic ceremony featuring celebrity guests galore, impeccable outfits, poignant sermons and ethereal musical performances, Harry was transfixed on his beautiful bride. Meghan beamed from ear to ear, sparkling with elation.
They melted the collective heart of a nation, perhaps the world, as we were reminded of the beauty of marriage and the joyful celebration of two souls destined for each other. For so many of us, marriage seems like an essential right of passage; the epitome of love and a coveted, freeing reward from the dizzying whirlpool of the dating hustle.
In fact, marriage, with all of its strange traditions and perhaps absurdities, is an expectation that many of us never question.
It’s ingrained in our culture and history – from the white dress signifying purity to the awkward first dance and the patriarchal “giving away” of the bride by the male head of the family. You can’t help but wonder if these traditions are still relevant and if these rituals are romanticized traditions that aren’t really relevant anymore.
Obviously these questions and the ceremony itself are a personal choice for couples and their families. When I surveyed a spectrum of my married girlfriends, the general consensus suggested marriage was important for improving the solidarity of a relationship. In many cultures, it remains the ultimate sign of commitment because you feel bound to your partner and stronger in the knowledge that your love is sanctioned within the community. How wonderful, right?
However, when you dive a little deeper and swim beyond the calm surface of the marriage bond, you’ll find many women have concerns about the practical positives of being engaged.
To a certain extent, I can understand. A client of mine – let’s call her Talulah – dated a man for almost 20 years, and one morning, he decided to walk out of the relationship because a midlife crisis led him into a fling with a 25-year-old yoga instructor.
When asked, Tululah said the new woman was “the leggings type with perfectly glossed hair tied up in a hair clip.” She went on to describe the other-woman’s effortless, smooth skin and minimalist makeup, likely due to a dedicated diet of raw snacks and a green tea.
Tululah felt that without marriage her decades-long relationship disappeared in the blink of an eye – actually two big, beautiful, doe-looking eyes!
But I know when people make a commitment to each other, they tend to work harder on saving their relationship before throwing in the towel. So something was off.
Perhaps that something is a partner who has emotionally checked out and an inability or a reluctance to see this on one or both parties. We all know a simple piece of paper won’t magically protect your relationship and ward off the temptations that can happen when you meet other people. On the flip side, it’s important to consider that some people may stay in a relationship or marriage even though they feel trapped. Their heart may have checked out.
In today’s world, the thought of an expensive marriage ceremony, a legal contract, and the potential downside of a financial war that accompanies divorce can be a huge deterrent to couples considering whether or not to marry. Who wants to settle for a difficult and not-so-happy ending, especially if social norms have changed and more people are not taking the marital plunge?
I know the family expectations I’ve had to grapple with when it came to marriage. I was born in Cameroon and raised to believe marriage was the obvious path. You grow up, get a college degree, meet a family-approved man, marry him pronto, and immediately get cracking on with baby making front.
As a stubborn and headstrong young lady, I spent many post-university years shunning the pleas of my mother, who would threaten me with talks about my looming menopause (I was 23!) and the perils of empty socializing.
But honestly, men were an afterthought in my list of priorities.
I’m not alone. In many cultures across the globe, women are not only cajoled but forced into marriage. Traditional communities in countries such as China, Pakistan and Israel entrust senior family members to negotiate a spouse for their daughter based upon religious similarities and what they identify as practical compatibility. Who can say no such romantic notions?
If Mum and Dad choose wisely, BINGO! Said daughter lands herself a hot (whether this means sweaty hot or sexually charged hot is up for discussion), like-minded, devoted spouse, WITHOUT the dating drama and multiple heartaches that women of modern Western societies have to endure.
All this, plus a perfect union of religious or spiritual commonalities, has historically proven to be a formidable recipe for a great union. I say this because arranged marriages statistically enjoy a global divorce rate of only 6.3% and account for more than 26 million marriages. Of course, while these marriages have a higher success rate than love marriages, many are often fraught with all kinds of other problems including the fact that some women in arranged marriages would rather poison themselves than divorce!
I’m cynical about arranged marriages because I know the stigma attached to divorce within these traditional communities plays a role in the absence of divorce. Vishnu, a fellow life coach, and (gasp) divorcee, warns that “you will cause parents to have heart attacks and grandmothers to insist that they’ll jump into the village well out of shame when divorce happens.”
With no support and the threat of all that drama, who wouldn’t want to just grin and bear it?
Ultimately, it’s important to consider that marriage may not be for everyone. Our diverse experiences and values help determine our path in life. For many women, falling in love and getting married will always be the Holy Grail. For others who see too many trade-offs or incumbrances – whether they be career progression, the freedom to travel, family or cultural expectations, and spiritual practices – these may be more important and take centre-stage.
Whatever your choice, know that It’s easy to feel victimized by external influences and pressures. When peers are getting hitched left, right and centre, it’s natural to question our normalcy. No wonder so many of us dive into the wrong relationship? But never forget that today, women have more choices than our groundbreaking sisters who fought for our freedom and equality. Let’s not dishonour them or pin ourselves down with dreams of white picket fences if this is tied to expectations that others have for you.
Make the best choice for you. Marriage is but one wave in a vast sea of opportunities and experiences. Understanding the tides and currents of a relationship will help you to stay afloat.
You can chase after a current, let go, or submerge yourself in the vast experiences of the ocean. The choice is ultimately yours.