Recently, a reader emailed me some wedding trivia they thought would interest me. Would it surprise you to learn that 4,153,237 people were married last year? It certainly surprised me—particularly since I thought it would have been an even number.
But something else struck me about that figure: the fact that so many people continue to get married, year after year. And it's not like we have to. Not like the '40s and '50s, when you had to prove you were married to get a hotel room and getting pregnant out of wedlock meant being shipped off to "boarding school" (which was another way of saying your aunt's house in Wisconsin). Now, of course, you get a reality show.
Even in the '60s and '70s, marriage had its advantages. A single woman couldn't buy property easily or adopt a child. And my own mother, who was very progressive and modern, tried to buy a car once and was told to bring her husband down to the lot.
Those of us considering marriage today find ourselves with even fewer practical benefits. Sure, you can file your taxes differently, and you can manage your spouse's estate. But that probably doesn't get you all starry-eyed unless you're an accountant.
So you would think, with our modern attitudes about co-habitation and equality of the sexes that we would be over this whole "I-take-thee" business by now. But according to the CDC, six people out of every thousand get married every year, and the number keeps going up.
I guess my question is…why? What is it that keeps people coming back to the altar for more?
I know what you're going to say, and you're wrong. It's not about love. I mean, love is great and everything, but it's not exclusive to married people. Many people in this world cannot legally marry the person of their choosing, and yet they are still in devoted, committed, loving relationships. Conversely, I have seen couples in restaurants go the entire meal without speaking, secretly wishing the other would choke on their Never-Ending Pasta Bowl.
If we agree that love exists outside of marriage and remove it from the equation, I can see only one advantage to marriage that no other state of your union can offer. And it's a monster. A perk so huge, that many women jump at the chance to be married without fully appreciating what they're jumping into.
What is this fantastic and exclusive bonus?
I honestly believe that for most women, the marriage is not as hotly desired nor as well planned as the wedding itself. Women can research and deliberate for a year about what feels right to wear and never really ask themselves what feels right to do.
And we encourage this, of course. We make so much of this day that entitlement feels natural and right. The modern bride is not just unapologetic; she is righteous in her bitchery. The wedding is her reward, her day, her dream realized. And, God help her, she thinks it's cute—in the same way some women wear t-shirts that say "SPOILED" or "BITCH" on them. It's sobering to think that somewhere in this country, women are watching Bridezillas and shouting, "You go girl!" to the television set.
It's ironic, isn't it? Our mothers dreamed of marriage, and we obsess over weddings. They were defined by their husbands, and all we can think about is the dress. Princess is the new wife.
I've been writing this column for a year now, and it's realizations like this that have left me wondering if I want a wedding at all. And you know, I'm in the best possible situation here, because the man I love is present and generous, and would be thrilled to plan a wedding with me. But even so, the idea of the two of us getting lost in a year of party planning and financial stress is not what I want for us.
In my eyes, a wedding is a layer between me and the man I love. It's another thing to worry about and obsess over, and it's already a challenge to stay connected when you work as much as we do. A wedding means we shift our focus to everyone else in our lives, and I'm not sure I want to take my eyes off of him.
For me at least, not feeling compelled to have a wedding is great relief. But I have to wonder how many women would bother to get married if there was no ring, no gown, no flowers and dinners and parties and presents. If there were no fairy tale, would you still get married? If every wedding were at City Hall, would you want to do it?
I think it's an interesting question. Because let's face it, a marriage is much more like a day at City Hall than a day in paradise. In fact, there are some days when it's more like a day at the DMV, followed by leftover chicken and an argument about who was supposed to put gas in the car. In short, weddings are a fantasy, and marriage is life.
I find that just the opposite of depressing.
- April Winchell has been a talk radio host, a sitcom writer, an advertising executive and the voice of hundreds of animated Disney characters. In October of 2009, she created the hit website Regretsy.com, which led to the publication of "Regretsy: Where DIY meets WTF" in April of 2010. Even though she has been writing professionally since 1989, she still finds talking about herself in the third person really uncomfortable.*