In a world that changes as fast as ours one wonders why people still get married. During the 1980s and 90s there was a definite anti-marriage theme running through our social discourse. But today marriage is as popular as ever and growing. In fact, on average, a wedding takes place every 3 minutes in South Africa, 24 hours a day every day of the year! And the number of weddings increases by around 2% annually.
From the time we climbed out of the trees and conquered the valleys and the hills marriage has been a part of our way of life.
In very early times a male simply took a woman to be his and in this way the race was propagated.
As we civilised the concept of marriage became more formalised but was primarily a way to protect wealth, property and bloodlines and for hundreds of years arranged marriages were the norm across many cultures. In Hebrew law if a man’s brother died he was required to marry his wife. In ancient Greece there was no ceremony, it was just decided. Any idea of love or courtship was not part of the deal and certainly involvement of the bride was non-existent.
In Europe, it was only in the latter part of the first millennium, around 865, that saw the introduction of the idea that there should be mutual consent in a marriage and possibly even some affection. By the 1200s this had become more popular and the Christian tradition adopted the concept that marriage should include love between partners as Christ loved the church.
However, arranged or contracted marriages remained firm particularly among the upper classes of British and European cultures. And marrying outside your class or station and certainly outside your culture was verboten.
The marriage ceremony became more formal in the 16th century requiring the presence of a priest and at least two witnesses. A tradition that has continued to the present day and which is still a requirement in South African wedding ceremonies.
Interestingly the engagement ring is almost universal. The ring represents eternity and whatever forms marriages have taken through the centuries it was always considered to be a lifelong commitment.
The one thing that defines marriages in the present (and just about all endeavors of modern man) is choice. This began with the industrial revolution which spanned 200 years from the 1750s to the 1950s. But things really ramped up in the technological revolution in which we find ourselves today. The choice of partner is probably greatest in all of this. It is not just possible to meet and fall in love with someone half a world away, it is ridiculously easy: Ease of travel, skype, twitter, facebook. Fall off a virtual log and you meet people.
Although arranged marriages still exist in many parts of the world the modern idea of marriage is one of choice and mutual participation. And when it comes to the ceremony very often the groom has very little to do other than show up on the day.
Thus, love and affection are now dominating factors in marriage but it still remains a legal contract and both parties should be aware of the implications.
And to answer the question with which I began this post: People still get married because they find they survive better together and having someone to share the victories and the losses of life is a fantastic aide to our survival. In a chaotic and turbulent modern world that need is greater than ever.
Marriage has come along way and by all indications it will become ever more popular as the explosive growth in the wedding industry shows.