What Does Marriage Mean?

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What would have been unthinkable in my parents generation—the right to marry who you love, no matter the gender—has become legally acceptable. In my children’s generation, it will become mainstream. This cultural shift has made me think about what it means to be married in our times. I’ve concluded that marriage today is about finding individual happiness. A good match is not about improving family social standing, providing a cultural framework for raising children, or meeting social expectations—important considerations in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 21st century, it’s about finding one’s soul mate. Is this a healthy change? I think it is.

My life reflects this evolution. When I got married, for the second time, at age 62, I put a lot more thought into the decision and the marriage vows than I had for my first marriage at age 21. Writing my book, Letting Go, forced me to come to terms with how much I had changed.

A friend gave me an analogy for the ideal relationship which continues to inspire me: a couple in love can be like two candles who remain separate but whose flames come together to make a brighter light. The idea that I didn’t have to give up my individuality, that I could be my own person which, enmeshed with another, could elevate us both, was liberating. A far cry from the days when women were considered the property, first of their father and then of their husband. It was not until 1973 that women in Oregon were allowed to keep their own names when they married. Until the Oregon legislature passed that law (by 2 votes), women were required to take their husband’s name.

Here is an excerpt from my wedding vows for my second marriage, which I feel capture the right marriage relationship: “It is not your responsibility to make the other person happy. But the quality of your presence and partnership with the other person will have a lot to do with the happiness that abides in your home. A successful marriage is not a miraculous gift. It is rather a human achievement. Happiness through marriage has something of a mystic quality about it. There are no universal rules, but we know that life through marriage can be made radiant.”

4 Responses to What Does Marriage Mean?

  1. Thank you for this wonderful blog! Today is our 34th wedding anniversary and you’ve captured how we live our lives. I have the name I was born with and am very much my own person, to which my husband and children will attest! Yet we also thrive together. Best to you.

  2. Mary Beth, Congratulations on 34 years of marriage–a wonderful accomplishment. Cheers to you! Susan

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