Hidden Assumptions, Faulty Foundations

You got Married Meme

I recently deactivated Facebook once again. I say again because this seems to be a never ending cycle. Why? Who would ever dare to leave social media’s one and only overlord of our internet souls? I did. Here is why.

I left after I left a long comment. I should have just ignored or at least written my thoughts elsewhere, but I wrote a comment. The kind of comment no one ever reads because the scrollbar seems endless and the rant angry – I tried to avoid both to no avail. So what was the the topic du jour? Marriage.

Check Huffington Post and they will tell you “5 Good Reasons To Get Married While You’re Young, According to Research.” Or, they can offer you the other side, “23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged When You’re 23.” Good to see two sides on one publication, if you even believe there must be sides on the issue. Or you can turn up the rhetoric and you will find “I got married at 23. What are the rest of you waiting for?” on Slate. I think you see my point. Everyone seems to rage a little at the thought of when/why/how/who of marriage and mores want to share their prescription for marital happiness.

I am not saying I don’t have an opinion on the when/why/how/who of marriage. I do. Who doesn’t? But I don’t want to break down all my thoughts on the subject in one post.

An Anthropological Perspective:
Fundamentally, marriage is not new. Hundreds of years have elapsed and the idea/concept of marriage has oscillated from culture to culture. Monogamy – Polygyny – Polygamy – all familiar terms just to touch the tip of the anthropological iceberg. Marriage has served many different purposes, financial, cultural status, procreational, communal and even political treaty. It is common to all cultures in some form or another. Let me say it again – Marriage from this historical perspective is COMMON – It is easy because it has been embraced as a valid institution in almost all cultures. 

In my mind when I was reading through other angry comments on a posted article like the ones above, I was thinking why do so many people get bent out of shape over marriage? Why do some want to limit it? Why must some feel they must legitimize it? Why do others feel they must defend something so common as if it is a priceless pearl or diamond?

So what are all these friends of mine, who happen to be in the married young check box angry about? I would say a common thread I have seen is that a single person comes by and comments “So what, you can get married, what’s so hard about signing a piece of paper?” Nostrils flare and immediately a slew of comments of “marriage is hard work, “not just any two people should get married, I made a commitment,” and “who are you to say marriage is easy, you are single.” Whoa! So much heat!

Yet, I kind of agree, almost anyone in this country can marry. (I wish that statement rang with ANYONE, but I will discuss that another day. – Same Love). Seriously – people marry and divorce every day in this country. They get their tax write-offs. They establish a contractual agreement we call a license and guess what … it’s nothing new culturally speaking. Like I said, people have been doing this practice for hundreds of years. It’s common to culture for people to marry, form unions, start family units – that’s cultural anthropology 101.

My “AHA” Thought:
Then I realized something, trying to explain to the “I Married Young Crowd and My Life is Better for It” in anthropological terms that marriage is really common, quite rudimentary and just another foundational block in culture will not work. To me, that was frustrating. I am telling you the facts – it’s an old practice from bride prices to dowries to the changing of last names; it’s culturally defined.

Here’s is what I realized: We all have hidden expectations for marriage and underlying assumptions here. In the minds of those who were arguing with me when I said “marriage is easy, being a single working woman is hard” – they did not hear my anthropological evidence that marriage has existed longer than women’s equality in this culture, or almost any culture for that matter. They did not hear me when I said women’s rights still had yet to shatter glass ceilings in the working world, but marriage had always been a viable option for women, culturally acceptable. It was acceptable to marry, unacceptable to ask for equal pay.

My Mind: Marriage = Culturally Easy, Culturally Common. Woman CEO = Culturally Uncommon, Hard. Why could they not see this?

Their Mind: Marriage = Hard Word

Their assumption or underlying expectation about marriage left out just 1 word that without enumerating aloud, made all the difference. ONE WORD! That word is GOOD. Having a good marriage is well hard. I then understood none of my friends really ever saw marriage as being easy because the bar they set was not a cultural anthropological one – it was something spiritual or even ascribed to, if not a spiritual code, a very high personal ethical code. Marriage had the bar of always being good, not just a cultural, financial or procreative union. Therefore marriage was not just common or easy, but to the contrary it was hard, because mediocre is easy (think Britney’s 24hour marriage in Vegas), good is hard.

When they said Marriage – they implied without saying “A GOOD MARRIAGE.” – Assumption / Expectation!

Good is a whole new ballgame. They all felt they had worked to establish and maintain something they deemed far more valuable than a piece of paper, something more sought after than a tax break. My friends in their minds had fought for what they deemed good, marriage.

Then it clicked. The “I Married Young” side felt insulted when challenged with the “Single & Free” side’s argument that they settled, they sold out for an institution too soon and that setting was easy. Countless people were inflamed by rhetoric that would even suggest what they had was common or easy – why, because that one word good. They don’t just have a marriage, they have and fought for a good one, no matter their age. One word changes everything. Good. Now we were not just talking about marriage, the anthropological kind if you will, but the good kind, the kind tears and sweat build. In that way, they are right, a Good Marriage is hard, a medicare one is easy.

Just take away these two things:

1. We all carry assumptions, unspoken or otherwise that are often influenced by are perception of reality. For this article I talked about the underlying assumption when we talk about marriage, we are all seeing it as a “good one,” not just the institution.

2. Those assumptions that are based upon life practices that led to success are not prescriptive. What brought you happiness, marrying young, is not prescriptive and should not be shared as such. The same goes for the single and sassy type. Life is never prescriptive. Check your assumptions at the door and be honest with your underlying expectations you carry into any conversation.

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