Probably everyone on Earth is well familiar with marriage jokes, and have even heard the same one’s multiple times, often at the expensive of wives, with the husbands painted out to be the poor shackled victims. Here, I offer a counterpoint: Is it even probable that a woman is both married and happy?
For multitudes of women around the world of late, it seems, it is not. Gone are the days where women were willing to stick out everything from abuse to adultery to plain neglect. In unprecedented numbers, women especially are just packing their suitcases and, prioritizing their happiness on the merry way back to the single life.
Women, the traditional heart of the home, child-bearers and raisers, and the epitome of desire for family, suddenly changing their minds on what fulfils them most? Unthinkable. When change comes calling, everyone and their aunt begins to wonder? What could be causing it?
Recent research on depression- and its most common causes- suggests that marital bliss might not be all it is chalked up to be. Shockingly, married women are identified as one of the least likely categories to be happy and suffer from depression far more frequently than single women of the same age group and social status.
Indeed, most young women in this day and age see marriage as a choice or possibility instead of as their only option or even just an eventuality. Many either go into marriage with exit plans in mind- in the know about cheap divorce, while many opt out of marriage altogether, stating the institution to be outdated or primarily patriarchal- benefiting the man far more greatly than the woman.
In truth, the above opinion may even be rooted in fact: statistics on depression suggest that marriage is beneficial for men, providing them with stability, from love and a nurturing environment as well as a sexual partner willing to provide genetic continuation and a role as perpetual caregiver for their material lives. Married men in the long term, are in better physical shape after the age of fifty, as well as mentally more sound and less stressed, not to mention fifty per cent less likely to commit suicide than their single counterparts.
But then again, if marriage is supposedly providing significant psychological and material stability to men, why are they also hopping so frequently from one marriage to the next? Why are remarriages and stories of leaving one wife for another becoming commonplace? We found it funny that Ross Geller- from the hit TV sitcom ‘FRIENDS’- married nearly three different women in ten seasons, but how close is that to our reality?
There has been a shift in the general perception that marriage for life is now over, or at least that it is out of the ordinary and worthy of celebration rather than the societal norm. People are beginning to speculate that serial marriages and diverse relationships- till death or divorce, do us part, rather than unshakeable monogamy – will be the common family dynamic of the 21st century. If they are to be believed, marriage, as the world has known it, is to be replaced by dating, and live-in partners- a series of monogamic episodes of incalculable intensity, passion and periods. Marriage, if ventured into at all, will be so done with an open mind and acceptance of reality- it may not be forever, and more often than not will end in divorce, not death.
As they say, the simplest truths are often the hardest to face. The common explanations for the downfall of this sacred institution are repetitive and predictable, often rising like sounds of a perpetual echo chamber. It suggests the discontent has risen from the basis of who does the most work, and who benefits from it? From grocery shopping, meal cooking, children raising, and multitudes of menial house chores, it is all about who got the better deal out of the marriage and who got the recognition for all the hard work and unseen effort. Perhaps it was only logical that in a pro-con analysis, women began deciding entirely for alternatives of marriage.
Perhaps traditionally, with the roles of marriage divided and balanced- husbands the external providers, with women the internal nurturer of hearth and home, it was easier to sustain. In the modern-day, the roles have reinvented themselves. Women and men are vastly different from their ancestors, seeking individual satisfaction and growth rather than that of a familial dynamic. With both partners working, and the role of providers shared, women complain about the inherent bias against them as providers, both in the world at large and in their personal lives. With the shift in expectations and personality, there is a disconnect perhaps in the very fabric of what held the institution of marriage together that is, perhaps, the dependency on either party. As women reinvent themselves, men struggle to find themselves relevant in the aftermath, without embodying that which has so long been reviled as elements of the weaker sex, emotional acuity and flexible compromise.
I think perhaps, that while there is truth in both sides of the argument, we may have been too quick to dismiss the institution altogether; diversity can be embraced while also exploring the possibility of retaining relationships, by going back to the basics and researching what is required to allow people to live together with dignity, equality, happiness and mutual respect, all of which can culminate into a love that lasts “for as long as they both shall live”.
As human beings, marriage and long-standing relationships are still important to us. Love truly is the force upon which the world turns, so before we construct more obstacles than concessions for people daring to imagine a love that might linger from the halcyon days of youth to serene old age, let us call a cease-fire to the argument steeped in millennia of gender roles and consider these well-known words by Fredrick Nietzsche “it is not lack of love but lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages”. Is it not possible to dismantle and reconstruct institutions such as marriage, while still holding on to that which is good in them? Surely if we try, men and women can work out new marital roles that suit them, and create a balance that lasts through the new age.
If not, well, the divorce lawyers are always more than willing to make a profit off their backs. Some things will never change.