Marriage - What am I missing here?

Marriage seems to only make sense if you want kids. I simply do not understand why it should be a societal norm. 

Before you accuse me of being an incel, I've been in a relationship for the past two years with someone I love. Additionally, they actually make more than me (we both make 6 figures and the variance is about 20k pre-tax). They have far more saved than me, and are an objectively good person. 

However, I cannot shake the feeling that people change how they feel about everyone over time, including toward their SO. My parents are divorced, my parent's parents are divorced (on both sides), and it makes me extremely hesitant. My parents aren't some redneck trailer trash folks who got married at 18, they are both self-made doctors who dated for over 5 years before getting married. 

Why don't more people go the civil union route? Why is there this massive obligation to spend the rest of your life with just one person? I've seen love fade over time, and I've seen people's perspectives change over time. Proof of how much you love someone should be gauged by how you treat them, the lengths you would go to help them, and how much time you spend with them. The amount you spend on a ring/marriage and a legal document is meaningless. Plenty of married men beat their wives. Plenty of married wives cheat on their husbands and hate their guts. 

I would never ever sign a written document to stay with a company indefinitely, regardless of how they treated me. I have had the same best friend for about a decade, and nothing holds that in place. Even with immediate family, you have no obligation to keep them in your life as you become an adult. I realize all three of these comparisons are very different than marriage, but the point I am trying to make is that you are not tied to anyone or anything else in life. I am trying to say that no matter how much you love something, it is wild to assume you will feel the same way 10, 20, 30, and especially 40 years later. 

I realize that if you intend on having children (which most married) couples do, there are a considerable amount of benefits to being married. But can someone please explain to me why it makes sense to marry someone if you do not intend on having children?

What happens if your SO gives up and stops trying? What happens if you cheat on your SO, or they cheat on you? What happens if they do something unforgivable? What if after one year of marriage, they become a completely different person? I realize all of these are worst case scenarios, but sadly I've seen them all play out. With brilliant, well off couples, that you would think are living the American dream. 

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Comments (73)

  • Associate 1 in ER
Oct 25, 2021 - 12:08pm

So in other words, there are no inherent benefits to marriage if you have no intention of having children?

Not really lol

although I feel people take you more seriously at work if you're a married guy

Oct 25, 2021 - 11:52am

Are you atheist or something?

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

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  • Consultant in Consulting
Oct 25, 2021 - 3:44pm

Right, because no religious affiliation = not believing in anything. You do realize there are countless things worth believing in other than a higher power? Nice analysis you put together there Copernicus. I am currently thanking God you are not my research associate

Edit: So many religious nuts on this site, shouldve expected that. Keep downvoting, 99% of you all believe exactly what your parents did, with little effort to explore other faiths. 

Oct 25, 2021 - 12:07pm

Among many things, what you're missing is that it's not up to you. If you're in a long-term relationship with a serious/committed partner, if she is "normal", that person is expecting that eventually, you will make the commitment to marry. And if you don't/won't, expect that person to eventually walk, as they well should. Unless you both had an agreement from day 1 that marriage isn't in the cards, which is a very rare arrangement. Marriage is just how society works and the construct of marriage optimizes your life in so many tangible and intangible ways (that you won't understand until you're there). Finally, if you have any kind of social circle or active social life, expect to be perceived as an outcast or a weird guy when literally all of your friends are married and you are still running around lost in your 40s. 

  • Consultant in Consulting
Oct 25, 2021 - 12:15pm

I've been reading your posts for a while and generally agree. Respectfully, I think this is a horrendous argument. Your underlying point is marriage is expected because that's how it has always been done. 

Additionally, how would I be the weird one in my 40s? Are you implying that my friends and networks will no longer want to associate with me due to my marital status? Are you saying you lean on your relationship to boost your social score? My friends are people I have known since I was 12 years old. My mentors have always believed in me, regardless of relationship status over time. My social and professional networks will not dwindle simply because I opt to remain unmarried. What kind of people are you friends with? 

Your entire argument seems to be along the lines of you have to go to college to be successful because otherwise you'll be an outcast. 

Edit: Marriage will always be up to me. No one is going to force me into a life-long commitment I dont want to be a part of, or am not ready for. I actually cannot believe you said that. 

Oct 25, 2021 - 12:28pm

Lol just because what he said is true doesn't mean you have to rage. Yes, it's up to you to do what you want but you will be that weird dude in his 40s that your friends will isolate away from. Not actively in sense of 'oh he's single, I'm not going to be friends with him' but more in passive sense of your married friends (most of whom will have kids) will have a lifestyle revolving away from yours. 

And yes, for 90% of people not going to college will make them outcasts among a college-educated friend group. Always exceptions to both of these but we're talking about the 90%

Oct 25, 2021 - 12:39pm

I've been reading your posts for a while and generally agree. Respectfully, I think this is a horrendous argument. Your underlying point is marriage is expected because that's how it has always been done. 

Additionally, how would I be the weird one in my 40s? Are you implying that my friends and networks will no longer want to associate with me due to my marital status? Are you saying you lean on your relationship to boost your social score? My friends are people I have known since I was 12 years old. My mentors have always believed in me, regardless of relationship status over time. My social and professional networks will not dwindle simply because I opt to remain unmarried. What kind of people are you friends with? 

Your entire argument seems to be along the lines of you have to go to college to be successful because otherwise you'll be an outcast. 

Edit: Marriage will always be up to me. No one is going to force me into a life-long commitment I dont want to be a part of, or am not ready for. I actually cannot believe you said that. 

No, that's not what I'm implying. What I am implying is that it will become increasingly awkward for you and your male friends when everyone is with their wives and you are seemingly tagging along solo in your 40s and you won't be as relatable. While your friendships may still be strong, you simply won't have as much in common as you used to given their evolving/maturing lives and you being in the same place you were before, and by virtue of that, you won't be as close to them as you were when you were all single, carefree guys.

  • Summer Associate in ER
Oct 25, 2021 - 12:19pm

My biggest hesitancy with marriage is divorce. The fact that one party gets rewarded immensely for breaking the contract is absurd to me. If the marriage contract was set up in such a way where neither party gets truly rewarded for breaking the contract, then I would be all for it. 

Oct 25, 2021 - 12:38pm

Take kids out of the question, countless studies have proven that married people live longer, are happier, more motivated, more likely to be successful, are healthier, than those who choose to cohabitate rather than marry.

  • Consultant in Consulting
Oct 25, 2021 - 12:41pm

Fair point, +1 SB. This is the most compelling argument made thus far. 

However, my counter argument is what happens to divorced couples? I would assume there is substantial amounts of data supporting the theory that divorced folks are more stressed, have more health issues, and live a shorter duration. 

How do you know your marriage will hold strong when more than 50% of marriages in the US fail. 

Oct 25, 2021 - 12:51pm

Yeah thats definitely fair, I think divorce has a lot less to do about your personality meshing well with your SO, and more about making and keeping your commitments. Sounds methodical, but when I hear of people getting divorced because theyre bored, like no one cheated or did anything wrong, I just think that they aren't being accountable and true to their word. So if youre bad at making commitments and staying true to your word its probably a safer bet to not get married to be apart of the hypothetically statistic that you quoted. Lifes about risks though, bigger risks bigger rewards. Statistics also point to the fact that the later you get married the more likely you are to divorce.

Its not really that weird of a construct when you look at it from the lens that it is how human kind continues existing.

Oct 25, 2021 - 12:57pm

Another interesting fact about marriage is that arranged marriages are (by a large margin) more likely to result in lasting love and success. Idk how moral arranged marriage is but that fact supports the contractual/promise part of marriage more than similar interests/personality

Oct 25, 2021 - 12:59pm

It's people who really don't care about their SO that ask these questions. If you actually loved your SO, you probably wouldn't be questioning marriage. I love my SO so much that I can't possibly think of a life I would want without them in it. AKA I fucking locked her down for life. It's expected/societal because it also speaks to your stability as a person. Married people are seen as more stable and trustworthy as they have at least one lifetime decision made (and seemingly stable/committed). Yes, you will still remain friends with your friends, but you life will remain where it is while theirs will grow and evolve. You'll have less in common with your friends, peers, and mentors/mentees. Also, you optimize your assets and liabilities. Twice the income with half the expenses of when you're single. Add in the eventuality of children... You're basically worried about effort. Yeah, there are ebbs and flows of effort in a relationship. No two years will be the same. That's part of human nature. You work through it if you want to succeed. Simple as that.

It may not be 50-50, but it sure as fuck beats zero-zero. The real divorce rate is much below 50%. People who get divorced once are more likely to get divorced again. Ex: See my father in law who has been divorced 3 times... My parents are going on 36 and couldn't be happier. 

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  • Consultant in Consulting
Oct 25, 2021 - 1:12pm

You definitely rolled in prepared to prove your love to your wife and to tell me how Im a sociopath because I dont love my SO and its proven through contemplating marriage. Couple thoughts though: 

1. Marriage is the biggest decision of your life. There isn't a SINGLE decision that even closely compares to it. So apologies for asking anonymously on the internet why people seem to go through it. As previously stated, I have seen the bad side of marriage. Much worse than you have, clearly, otherwise you would understand my perspective somewhat. What I havent witnessed firsthand, I have experienced indirectly. 

2. I already stated I love my SO. I have never loved anyone more, and dont expect to. And yes, I too couldnt imagine life without her. However, the entire thesis I have already stated, is that people change. 

3. 50-50 does not beat 0-0. You have clearly never seen horrendous divorces. They destroy lives, including the children. They lead to extreme depression, drug abuse, etc. This applies to parents and children alike. 

Your whole post reeks of a naive perspective, and one that was cultivated in an environment where divorce was never factored into the equation. 

Oct 25, 2021 - 2:28pm

2. I already stated I love my SO. I have never loved anyone more, and dont expect to. And yes, I too couldnt imagine life without her. However, the entire thesis I have already stated, is that people change. 

3. 50-50 does not beat 0-0. You have clearly never seen horrendous divorces. They destroy lives, including the children. They lead to extreme depression, drug abuse, etc. This applies to parents and children alike. 

Your whole post reeks of a naive perspective, and one that was cultivated in an environment where divorce was never factored into the equation. 

I don't understand how this doesn't apply to what amounts to a common law couple separating, too.

Effectively the only argument you can possibly present against marriage is the legal financial commingling.  Which is a reasonable thing to be concerned about.  But it sounds like you have a teenagers perspective on this, and most definitely a man's.  Lets say you don't get married, which I think is fine, FYI.  You have the exact same intention to commit to each other as a married couple would.  You live exactly the same life as your married friends, just without the government stamp of approval and the necessity to file joint taxes.  Great.  What happens when you split?  What if your partner hasn't been working?  If she's not on the deed to the house?  She isn't entitled to any of what would have been marital assets, which means that maybe she's trapped in this relationship for financial reasons.

That sword cuts both ways.  Sure, having someone you love in your life is fine, and at the end of the day there isn't an actual difference between being married or not as it relates to the strength of your relationship, societal norms notwithstanding.  But no one goes into a marriage expecting to be divorced, the same as you don't expect to leave your SO.  The question is what happens when that occurs.  You're looking to protect yourself financially, basically.  Whereas for most women especially (I would think), a minor but good reason to get married is for their financial protection.

Oct 25, 2021 - 1:00pm

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Oct 25, 2021 - 1:08pm

Your argument isn't necessarily wrong, but I would keep in mind that you are coming at it from a certain perspective and life experience (family full of divorces). Excluding kids, other reasons to get married:

- Security / Commitment - not financial security. Not every day, month or year is great. Knowing that you have a partner who will stay by your side when you're at your lowest, when you're super busy, when you have a year full of life events outside the relationship, etc. I'm not saying to take your S.O. for granted, and you can say this happens without a marriage, but being married gives some additional security that if you have a long period of time where you're main focus is elsewhere, your partner isn't leaving on a whim.

- Societal norm - less because other people do it, but more so you don't have to do deal with questions from other people. To be 34 and in a relationship with someone for 12 years, people just start asking questions / looking at you funny if you're not married

- Wedding celebration - whether for themselves or other people, people enjoy a day just about themselves and their person

- Other Financial Benefits - Insurance, taxes, etc.

  • Consultant in Consulting
Oct 25, 2021 - 1:20pm

Another very well articulated argument, which I completely agree with (+1 SB). I have an extremely strong bias against marriage, and it objectively impacts how I perceive the partnership. It is unfortunate, but regardless I cant change where I come from. 

I think the most compelling reason is absolutely the security / commitment angle, and it really can reinforce how committed you are toward one another. This is actually the only reason I would probably get married, using it as another method to prove my long-term determination to make it work. 

Oct 25, 2021 - 2:23pm

Also, chicks like special things and to feel secure. Marriage comes with a special ring just for her, a special day with friends to celebrate love and commitment, and possibly a special honeymoon to focus on the love and commitment with each other.

Without marriage and without kids, you're a few moves away from being single and with another person in a day, a week. This breeds insecurity. 

I think a proper question is - what does she want? Does she believe in marriage? Happy wife, happy life.

It sounds like you have some trust issues about making a lifelong commitment - where did this start? Are your parents or her parents married?

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

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  • Associate 2 in IB-M&A
Oct 25, 2021 - 2:36pm

A lot to unpack here. I think first and foremost though is that clearly there are many people who shouldn't be married - I've seen far too many get married because they (or honestly the bride) wanted a wedding / felt social pressure vs. actually wanting to commit to that person for life. If you watch the 1st season of master of none, there's this whole subplot about getting married to the person you are dating because you happen to be dating at the time in your life when most get married. That is a huge mistake, obviously, and I think there is a lot of pressure to do it, regardless of the disastrous outcome. 

The flip side though - taking what you've said about your own relationship - is that marriage is so powerful precisely because it is so difficult to get out of and so final. You are literally saying you will sign something for life - which you would never do in any other context. So in that sense, it is the irrationality of marriage that makes it such a powerful statement to your significant other. Obviously people cheat, obviously people view marriage in different ways (look at Kerouac and Hemingway for example), obviously people grow apart - but my personal opinion is that the real point of marriage in a modern context, assuming you truly do want to spend your life with this person, is a demonstration of your commitment. 

If you're not willing to make that commitment - that's OKAY! However, you need to understand the ramifications of asking a significant other to make a lifetime commitment on just your word - it telegraphs that maybe you aren't as serious as you say you are.   

Also a quick edit (on the Master of None train) to include the quote from The Bell Jar which always hits me like a freight train: 

"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."

  • Consultant in Consulting
Oct 25, 2021 - 2:59pm

Another great point, and probably my favorite response on this thread (+1 SB). 

1. I absolutely feel that the majority of people get married because they feel societal pressure to, or that it seems to "be the thing people are doing" at their age (late twenties, early to mid thirties). There is a tremendous amount of pressure for women to settle down and get married, as young as possible. This is such an outdated perspective, people no longer die in their mid 40s. This mentality is a prime example of broken mindsets when it comes to marriage. 

2. Thank you for acknowledging that not getting married is an ok thing to do. Personally, I believe it is too. I would almost argue that by not getting married, you are incentivizing your partner that they need to continue to be a good partner throughout the relationship. Many 22 year olds are probably ready to attack me for saying this, because they havent seen how many marriages end in divorce, or with parents sleeping in separate bedrooms for the majority of their "marriage". 

Personally, at least for the near future, I still do not think it makes logical sense. I believe marriages gives people the incentive to phone it in, just like tennure. I believe that marriage allows people to feel the need to not contribute as much. I do not know if I agree with splitting finances, and again my GF makes more money with better hours than me. She is objectively smarter than me. 

I grew up in an elite suburb, full of successful doctors / lawyers / bankers / entrepreneurs. The majority of my friends came from parents with horrendous relationships. I think most people are extremely naive when it comes to marriage. I think they put slightly more thought into marriage than they do which college they attend, and thats why divorce rates are so high. 

Personally, I have trouble getting locked into a lifelong commitment with anyone or anything. I have seen the most stable people change tremendously over a decade, leading to a horrible marriage / divorce / general relationship. 

Many people may feel differently, and/or can say with more certainty than me that they know it will work out (e.g., religious belief or more confidence in their partner). 

The last point I will make is I actually have more faith that my partner will remain consistent in her desires for a partner long-term than me, but I am not faithful enough in myself. What if after 10 years I am no longer happy in a relationship?

Thank you for being open-minded enough to hear out my perspective, even if you strongly believe in marriage. I am not trying to persuade you to believe differently, only to share my own thoughts and experiences. 

Edit: IB Assoc. 2 I love your quote at the end and think there is so much truth to it. I have no doubt you're a brilliant dude with a good head on your shoulders. Thanks for taking the time to give my question some serious thought. It has actually moved the needle and has been the only post to do so. 

Oct 25, 2021 - 2:53pm

Eh I get your point. Neither my girlfriend or I are big into marriage, but the compelling case to me is in terms of being able to formalize talking about finances / prenups etc before you're forced to through being together long enough. You will functionally be married by common law here in Canada after a few years, so might as well commit to the fun wedding party if you're going to get locked together in the eyes of the law anyway.

Oct 25, 2021 - 3:04pm

"Marriage seems to only make sense if you want kids. I simply do not understand why it should be a societal norm." 

societal norm = most people want kids

if marriage makes sense for people who want said kids, that's why it's a societal norm.

Closed circuit. 💯

Oct 25, 2021 - 3:05pm

My buddies and I joke that we're only getting married and having kids for networking and career purposes. Plenty of billionaires and entrepreneurs who are divorced or been caught cheating, and some high level wall street guys as well. But all in all, when it comes to CEO's and company leaders, it seems that the majority of them are strong men with beautiful wives, multiple children, and who would be characterized as a power couple envied and admired by all. 

When I was in college, the guys that partied all the time and had access to that lifestyle were the most admired by their peers, but then that look became tacky. Post college the guys that were womanizers and play boys were the most admired, but then that look became tacky as well. At this stage of my life and a stage that seems to last multiple decades, it is the men with wives and strong families that seem to be the most (and permanently) admired. 

We're not lawyers. We're investment bankers. We didn't go to Harvard. We Went to Wharton!
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Oct 25, 2021 - 4:05pm

Congrats.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Oct 25, 2021 - 4:45pm

Is the post meant to be made in 1980?

It's 2021, people are referring to themselves as "they" and "it".

There is no societal pressure anymore dude. You can literally do whatever you want. Most people get married cause they think they are in love. Problem is they aren't actually in love, they are just "in passion".

  • Associate 2 in AM - Equities
Oct 25, 2021 - 6:33pm

Guy comes in here because he doesn't actually love or trust his SO & is taking his insecurities out on marriage as an institution. Classic 

  • Senior VP in AM - FI
Oct 25, 2021 - 8:29pm

People responding on this thread are likely too young and immature to grasp what the poster is getting at...I don't mean that in a bad way as age tends to sort this stuff out. 

The big thing here, as somewhat eluded to, but is making sure both people are on the same page. If your girlfriend has the same perspective then there is absolutely nothing wrong with what you are describing. Without kids there are very valid arguments for not wanting to get married if that is who both people in the relationship feel. What would be wrong is stringing someone along that either does not know your opinion or does not agree with your opinion. The only caveat is, and while not a reason to get married, basically in terms of a potential divorce, many states have common law type divorces where if you were in effect married in the sense of how you conducted your life for a prolonged period of time I believe there are still financial ramifications to breaking up. So this isn't some way to skirt divorce settlements. If anything, if that is a concern, getting married with a solid prenup is the way to do it. 

At the end of the day, if both people are on the page of course there is nothing wrong with such a lifestyle decision and contrary to what many people are getting all up in arms about, it does not mean anything about how much you love the other person or how solid your relationship is. Likewise, such a decision will not be detrimental to your friendships or professional life. 

  • Consultant in Consulting
Oct 25, 2021 - 9:26pm

Thank you for making the time to think about my perspective. Someone who actually has a unique and valid perspective on my situation. +1 SB, and great point about the common law argument. 

I think you understand where I am coming from. Ideally, like the majority of people in this world, I do get married, but at this point I do not enough faith in myself to make that commitment. Immature users are commenting that I dont have faith in my girlfriend, it is myself I worry about. It is always nice to get a response from someone older than myself that has a valuable perspective, so thank you.

Oct 25, 2021 - 10:09pm

Allow me to summarize the WSO collective take: marriage is a scam, but if you do get married make sure to spend 6 months' gross salary on a real diamond.

Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes.
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Oct 26, 2021 - 8:58am

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