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People are starting to bug me to get married. Why? What's the point? Where's the payoff?

Published December 16, 2010 1:17AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am a successful, attractive woman who has lived an extraordinary and happy life. However, I have finally hit that age when everyone and everything is focused on the question of marriage. Please help me to understand the reason why everyone makes it such a big deal, and why our culture caters to something as ridiculous as an institutional confinement of love?

I am constantly perplexed, from a purely anthropological standpoint, why in the hell everyone believes that lifelong couples hold the answers to great mythological secrets. My parents, who have been, by all accounts, in a happy marriage for well over 40 years, have agreed with me. My mother said, "Well, it is a sort of unnatural state when you think about it," and my father said, "It's not really accomplishment, it is just a kind of dumb luck or something." (I would say that my father, as it seems for most men, has benefited in a far greater way than my mother in the marriage.) To be honest, I'm not sure if either one of them has a thought outside of the other since they've been together for so long. They act as one at this point, almost without borders, and I'm not sure if my mom views this as a good thing. She has thankfully never pushed marriage on me -- even though, as I say, she has been happily married. They were both excellent parents, and remain my greatest supporters to this day. They both agreed that no one knows what the hell they are talking about when they say they'll be with someone for life -- that in many ways it's ridiculous to make that kind of vow.

And now, with gay marriage on the forefront of the march for gay rights, I have to wonder ... why? Is it so "the gays" can be more assimilated, look more like the straights so that they can be accepted? Is marriage the last true right? Really?! Ironically, my straight friends who are married are the ones pushing for gay marriage the most. Why'd they get married in the first place? Would they have married if black people had not been given that right? Could they have then looked in the faces of their black friends, like they do their gay friends, and say, "Come to our wedding and be happy for us!! And while you're at it, bring us a fabulous gift!!" Oh yes ... it all comes down to the gifts. Society applauds and lauds the marriage thing. You get financially and socially rewarded for being "in love" if you're straight!? Amazing!

I know the kind of vitriol that will be spewed my way for even bringing up this topic. People will imply that I have never truly been loved or know what love is -- which is clearly not true since I have such an amazing family and tremendous circle of friends. And, may I remind you again, I had excellent loving role models as parents. I have also had great love relationships. People will imply that I don't know how to commit or that I'm irresponsible -- which is also not true since I have made many a commitment in my life to friends, lovers, family, work and school. There also might be implications that I am selfish, immature and generally wayward -- or that I just don't know what it means to make sacrifices for others -- -which I have done numerous times with my family, work life and friendships.

There seems to be a general American belief that marriage makes one more mature -- somehow better than others -- even though some of the most emotionally immature people I know are hitched. Do people harbor such horribly judgmental attitudes about someone like the Dalai Lama? The last time I checked, he wasn't married to God or (wo)man, but I imagine he loves greater, and has far greater responsibilities than most. In my opinion, what it all comes down to in the end is the deep human fears of dying and insecurity. Marriage, in its most unconscious form, is simply a decision to live out an illusion that all will be well in the world if you just have one person to "save" you -- that you will somehow be immortal and live forever -- and that nothing bad will happen to you while you're alive. You are once and for all saved if you are married. Look at our daily news -- our culture perpetuates this fear of death -- -no wonder we're all hammered with the marriage message?! But guess what? Nothing is secure and we're all gonna kick the bucket!! Read some divorce stats for that information. Some of the loneliest, least creative and most insecure people I have ever met are married.

So, Dear Cary, what can I do to thwart these messages? What can I do to continue to walk my path, accepting it with or without "One Great Love" in my life, and continue to hold my head up high? What to say to those naysayers who don't believe that I am, and can continue to be, truly happy? Even with the "don't worry, no need to marry" messages from my amazing parents, it's hard to be a salmon swimming upstream. I am not opposed to finding a special someone to share my life with, but do not want to feel "less than" if I never do. However, the messages are strong and invasive -- like good advertising -- and even though I'm happier than most, I still feel like something is wrong with me for not thinking like everyone else.

In Love With Being Unhitched

Dear Unhitched,

Let's do an experiment. Let's imagine a world in which everyone in the world says what you think they should say.

What would all your friends and news commentators say in order to meet your standards? Have them say these things. Write out a few. Give each person the opinion you think he or she should have. Then consider people you don't know personally but whose opinions require some improving. Give them their opinions, too. Each must have an individual opinion or it won't be an opinion.

Give every individual an opinion that is acceptable to you. Write all this out.

It's a lot of work, isn't it -- providing people with their opinions?

When we see how much work it is to provide everyone with an acceptable opinion, it occurs to us that it would be more efficient if each person came up with an opinion on his or her own.

The problem, of course, is that we won't like all their opinions.

But since it's so much work providing them with opinions ourselves, maybe it's a system we can live with.

We do not want to be in constant conflict with those around us, do we? We want to live in peace. So how can we live in peace with opinions hovering around us that we do not like?

One way is to arrive at an understanding of what an opinion is, such that we do not have to live in open conflict with it, or fix it or change it.

An opinion is just a notion. People have their notions and many of their notions are like the notions of their neighbors. These notions are not well-worked-out ideas; they are just notions. It's not like there are all these serious philosophers out there creating intricate position papers on whether you should get married or not. People just have their notions. Some people want everybody to be married.

You have people and their notions and then you have the law. The law spells out what you are free to do without risk of being arrested. You are free, under the law, to remain single. There is no law saying you have to be married. Those of us who are intelligent and resourceful look for maximum freedom under the law. It's as simple as that. We take advantage of the world as it is and the freedoms it offers.

Making free choices requires us to accept the fact that not everyone approves of our decisions. If you require the approval of strangers then you are in trouble. If you are comparing yourself to others then you are in trouble.

Maybe if we didn't have the illusion of living in a democracy we wouldn't bother so much what people think. I mean, it's because what people think has some bearing on how laws are made that gets us into this. And, of course, in the case of gay marriage people's silly notions have the direct effect of depriving a class of persons a set of rights freely given to others. So people's notions are not always trivial in a democracy. I'm sort of kidding around here, so I hope you don't misunderstand me.

In your case, I just think you're worrying too much about the opinions of other people. They don't know you, or what you need. It's none of their business whether you get married or not. Do what you want. Let them think what they think.

The law is clear. It's legal to be single. You don't have a problem.

That Special Time of Year

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By Cary Tennis

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