Can We Please Stop Relegating Marriage To A “Business Transaction” When It Doesn’t Work Out?
Whenever I hear someone utter the phrase, “Marriage is just a piece of paper,” I always raise an eyebrow at how selective people can be on what pieces of paper make a difference and what don’t. We’ll put ourselves into thousands of dollars of debt over a piece of paper that says we’re educated only because we met a word count on a thesis and showed up to class, regardless of if what’s listed on a syllabus has truly prepared us for career or life in general. We’ve f**cked, cheated, and stolen for pieces of paper with Presidents’ faces on them, but when it comes to marriage suddenly we’re looking at a lifelong commitment as if it’s merely a Walgreen’s receipt for a Monster Energy drink. As I was scrolling through Twitter the other night, I came across an interesting debate on this concept, as a user named @raerenyse describes her ended marriage in a now deleted tweet as basically a huge waste of time and money while listing the costs of getting married to the costs of getting a divorce.
There wasn’t a detailed backstory listed, but the tweet resonated with many, receiving over 12,000 likes and 4000 retweets and the responses were filled with everything from applause to criticism:
It was interesting to see how people’s experiences and the relationships they’ve witnessed throughout their life shape their whole approach to love, commitment and what healthy marriages look like. I’m not the business-savviest person but I would even argue based on the tweet alone that if anything, the major coins are in divorce and not holy matrimony. But I won’t say that @raerenyse is completely wrong in her opinion. When I said “Yes, To The Dress” almost four years ago and professed to love, honor and cherish my husband for my life, in many ways I was also agreeing to certain privileges that unfortunately in many instances are only awarded to those with “a piece of paper” like health insurance coverage through his employer which I wasn’t eligible for without a marriage license. I also agreed to have in my income subjected to his debt in the event he was unable to pay bills on his own. But with marriage comes certain protections too, that whether we like it or not are subject to federal and state laws. If my spouse were to pass away unexpectedly without a will, by default I’d be entitled to any financial support he leaves behind and not find myself fighting in court over money I feel entitled to because I decided to be a live-in girlfriend for years. I also have the peace of the mind that when it comes to healthcare decisions for myself that I might be incapable of making at any time, I know that someone I trust will be able to make a decision on my behalf based on knowing me intimately and being with me every single day.
Trust and believe I’m aware of marriage is the ultimate union between church and state every year at tax time, or every time my husband’s income automatically makes me ineligible for any kind of government assistance, but to simplify vows that I made to someone I love to merely a financial transaction is a reach.
I’ve said it before: Marriage isn’t for everyone. I think the misunderstandings come when people believe marriage is entirely about love or adversely believe it’s solely a business deal. It’s work. It’s sacrifice. It’s about way more than falling in love and choosing buttercream or fondant icing for your wedding cake. In many ways it’s complete blind faith that the person who you feel spiritually attached to in 2014, will still inspire those same feelings in 2034. I don’t even consider myself a religious person in the least, but it was important for me to take part in a ceremony that announced to the world that this one person is different than the other men I’ve dated. This is the man I’m committed to building a life with. This is the person I want to procreate with purposely. This is the person who I will still order a cheesesteak with American cheese, ketchup, salt and pepper, sweet peppers and light on the fried onions even after he’s spent the day irking my entire soul because I never want him to be hungry. This is the person that already knows the punch line before I’ve formulated the joke in my head. Yes, we could’ve spent the rest of our lives doing the same things with the same feelings without making it official at Las Vegas’s Planet Hollywood in front of family and friends, but there was something about marriage for me that for me made it different from the rest of my dating history.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and the idea of marriage being a business transaction is no different than an education being a business transaction. You pay an institution thousands of dollars to get a piece of paper that says you’ve mastered knowledge in a certain field. While that doesn’t mean you can’t become a whole surgeon by spending a few years in medical section of Barnes and Noble doing self-guided research, you can’t exactly walk into an ER and save lives (at least without the risk of getting sued) without some kind of license. And while many people like to harp on how much the government gains from people getting their love recognized by the law, it’s misleading to say that marriage doesn’t in many ways protect people. I wouldn’t want just anybody out here claiming to be my spouse and having rights to make certain decisions that affect my life just like I wouldn’t want Joe Schmoe performing my c-section because he studied in a bookstore for a few years. Marriage in many ways makes people accountable to someone else, and separates those who like to play house and throw around words like “wifey” and “hubby” from those truly building a financial and emotional union that they can’t just walk away from with no strings when they get on one another’s nerves.
Divorces happen. Marriages don’t work out. And while everyone is entitled to their opinion, negative experiences with marriage doesn’t mean the whole institution needs to be discarded as a legal exercise in futility. So often people mistake the unhealthy marriages they witnessed growing up as an example that the whole institution is flawed. It reminds me of when The Chi actor Jason Mitchell shared his feelings on why he doesn’t believe in marriage or monogamy:
“I’ve seen marriage tear a lot of people down. I’ve seen marriage do more damage in my life. I’ve never seen a marriage last ever. I’ve never seen a marriage be faithful, I’ve never seen a marriage be fruitful, I’ve never seen a marriage do any of that.”
But never witnessing a fruitful marriage of support and unconditional love doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and it’s why I’m thankful to have witnessed parents who stayed committed in a marriage that meant so much more than a different tax status. Marriage is what you make it. And just like not all school loans lead to a six-figure salary, all marriages won’t result in Nicole and Boris Kodjoe marital goals bliss, but that doesn’t mean the idea itself is a sham. I’d imagine the same saltiness that comes with graduating undergrad in the recession with loads of school debt and no job to show for it is the same saltiness that comes with ending a marriage and thinking about the time, energy and money you’ve invested into someone only to end up single again. It’s a risk you take and a risk that doesn’t mean it was any less worth it because it didn’t work out. If my husband served me with divorce papers today, I can’t say I wouldn’t feel some type of way, but all I can do is move on knowing that I tried the best I could while collecting my spousal support. It doesn’t mean I did anything wrong by buying a wedding dress, feeding fifty people or attempting to blend my life with someone I love seamlessly. When things end it doesn’t mean it always has to be anyone’s fault or was a set up from the beginning.
Do you believe marriage is nothing more that a business transaction?
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.