Why Do We Get Married? Better Advice Investigative Series: We Dig Into the History of 'Why'
Updated: Apr 4
What is marriage? Why do we get married? And why do some of us choose to go through the ceremony of it all? A month ago I returned from our friends Tom & Mimi's destination wedding in Mexico and it had me thinking about these questions. About marriage.
I thought, how much do we really understand about marriage and where it comes from? Do we understand what marriage has meant to people over the past 10,000 years? And specifically today, why do we spend all that time, money and energy to host the celebration of marriage? The pre-wedding parties, the formal ceremony, the speeches, the fancy costumes, the wedding dress, the dinners, and the infinite details in between. It's expensive, stressful, and a ridiculous amount of work. So why do it? And who are we doing it for?
In this 3 part series we'll look at very idea of marriage and the lost meanings behind it. We'll unravel a wedding tapestry of what marriage was, is, and why we still do it today.
The idea's behind this evolving story are complex. Marriage is not what it once was. And somehow, our 1950's ideal of marriage has overshadowed a much different truth to it's actual history. Surprisingly over the past 200 years, marriage and it's motives have changed drastically. The findings were intriguing.
The surprising part wasn't that virtually EVERY TYPE of marriage we can think of today did actually already exist in the past; the revelation was that socially our wider view of WHY we marry today in the 21st century is completely different to our overall timeline of the past. Where marriage was once a necessity, it has now become something altogether different.
It turns out the evolution of marriage is really an echo chamber to humanity itself. A mirror into what we as a people make important. So inside the basic ideas of survival, status and love, we'll learn that the history of marriage represented our values, beliefs and now more than ever, our dreams. This new and broader idea of marriage, first realized in late 18th century Western Europe and North America, certainly delivered a beautiful ideal. But it also created a new form of uncertainty at a global scale - divorce. What marriage is today and what it means tomorrow is changing.
It turns out the evolution of marriage is really an echo chamber to humanity itself.
Poetically however, in the end, after the research was done, behind the meaning of marriage today and the purpose of it all, there remained a simple yet elegant truth. One revealed through our own experiences.
But to understand what this all means, to really comprehend the WHY, we must step back into the past, and then to a recent present. In this, the story of marriage we'll go back in time and then fast forward to a most recent event I witnessed first hand in Mexico not long ago.
So I started my research...
WELCOME TO BETTER ADVICE.
Welcome to "Better Advice." In this new series we'll bake a deliciously layered cake filled with historical facts, trusted philosophies, my best friend science, real life experiences and ZERO hydrogenated fats - you know, the bad stuff that will kill you. It's a new blog format providing insights from a variety of sources and perspectives. The goal of this series is to dig deeper into the WHY, in a way that's culturally educational without being boring! We'll provide some of the lessor known histories and stories we don't read every day, and we'll back it up with facts and of course, no preservatives.
It shouldn't be a surprise that living an inspired life is more than just doing what you love daily. Living consciously, exploring new ideas, and continuous learning are all important elements to the inspired life. Cultivating, feeding, and nurturing the mind are all part of the process.
And if for some reason, none of the above interests you; If you're not a fan of deliciously baked mind-cake, yes I just created a new term = "Mind Cake," then enjoy this series for all the new information you might not read every day.
Since your days are also very busy, I'll split out the Better Advice into easily digestible blogs, so they won't take more than 10 mins to read through them. And at the end of each Better Advice series we'll tie it all back to the inspired life journey.
Ok, so enough about that. Let's get started...
p.s. MIND CAKE!
THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS ARE 100% GLUTEN FREE:
Why do we get married? And in this day and age, why do we still go through the ceremony of it all? And specifically, why do we spend all the time, money and energy to host the celebration of marriage?
First, WHAT IS MARRIAGE?
Without reinventing the wheel, lets look to our trusted friend Wikipedia for a simple definition of marriage that crosses cultures and hints at it's evolving meaning:
"Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock, is a socially or ritually recognised union between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between those spouses, as well as between them and any resulting biological or adopted children and affinity (in-laws and other family through marriage). The definition of marriage varies around the world not only between cultures and between religions, but also throughout the history of any given culture and religion, evolving to both expand and constrict in who and what is encompassed, but typically it is principally an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually sexual, are acknowledged or sanctioned. In some cultures, marriage is recommended or considered to be compulsory before pursuing any sexual activity. When defined broadly, marriage is considered a cultural universal. A marriage ceremony is known as a wedding."
Great Mr Wiki, but that only scratches the surface of what marriage has meant to the peoples of cultures of our many ages.
THE KEY TO UNLOCKING MARRIAGE STARTS WITH UNDERSTANDING THE CULTURES IT WAS CREATED IN.
So lets go back further, and take a deeper look. Do we know when the first recorded marriage ever took place?
I'm glad you asked.
THE VERY FIRST MARRIAGE
Disclaimer, the following is highly unlikely to be the VERY FIRST marriage, but I liked the title, so we're sticking with it. Plus, these ancient weddings were actually written on a very old form of paper, so if THAT doesn't make it official, I don't know what does.
Elephantine Papyri dating from the 5th century BCE are a collection of 175 ancient papyrus letters, legal contracts and other documentation from the Egyptian places of Elephantine and Syene (Aswan). Spanning a period of 2000 years , these legal, cultural and religious documents consisted of significant recorded events in Hieratic and Demotic Egyptian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Coptic places.
And while we may not have the paperwork in this blog to prove it (yet), records of marriages were known to exist even earlier than around 500 BC:
"Sumerian Culture. Earlier in the Sumerian culture there is evidence of recorded marriages about 2,300 BC. It's possible that these contracts extended thousands of years prior to this to 4,000 BC to the start of the Sumerian culture complex."
So with records dating back to potentially 4000 BC, marriage is not a new thing. It's a very old idea. In fact, it's much older than we can even imagine.
HOLD ON TO YOUR DESIGNER DNA, THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GET A ANTHROPOLOGICAL.
UNDERSTANDING OUR CULTURAL ORIGINS
Let's take an honest look in the mirror, long before razors, eye cream and botox was invented, at a certain creature that was slowly climbing the evolutionary food chain. Yes I'm referring to "Humans" who anthropologists actually prefer to call Homo Sapiens. Homo Sapiens first walked the earth some 200,000+ years ago, and were an ordinary creature in almost every way except for a few minor differences. But those minor differences added up to something incredible.
The Homo Sapiens ability to connect and bond with each other in larger groups started a chain reaction no one could have predicted.
COGNITIVE REVOLUTION = WORLD DOMINATION & Marriage too
All of the above was made possible in what's been coined the Cognitive Revolution. In this incredible evolutionary step, human brain developed in skills of relationship building for the benefit of the species. For it's survival and ultimately for it's domination of all other species on the planet.
"Some of these human universal patterns are cumulative cultural adaptation, social norms, language, and extensive help and cooperation beyond close kin. It has been argued that the development of these modern behavioral traits, in combination with the climatic conditions of the Last Glacial Maximum, was largely responsible for the human replacement of Neanderthals and the peopling of the rest of the world."
Over time, the earliest versions of Sapiens learned to build relationships, to organize in tribes, and to share ideas in ways no other species were capable of. Yuval Harari, in his book Sapiens, positions that the evolutionary leap for humankind was just the right mix of brain development, chemical reaction and neural networks that triggered what we call today as love and companionship. And even before Sapiens roamed the earth, there is evidence that we may have lived this way in groups, with extended families in tribes, for approximately 2.5 million years as Homo Erectus.
Yuval Harari positioned that both love and now modern day marriage are relics of tribal necessity created from the demands placed on a mother to raise her infants. The saying goes, it takes a village.
But even more importantly, this early version of humanity united to make family out of strangers, strengthen tribes and secured bonds that benefited a collective group. There was strength and happiness in numbers and a collective sense of family that we might have lost in the 21st century.
Surprisingly, tribal bonds ran so deep that it's members may have treated each other as son or daughter, regardless if they were related by blood or not. And while we can't actually go back in time to witness this first hand, there is a recorded incident in the 1600's of this very thing.
A STORY OF ANCIENT TRIBES AND SEX
In the Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents a french missionary who lived with and observed the Naskapi Indians, a tribe untouched by 'modern man' in the 1600's, called their behaviour strange and promiscuous. The frenchman noted that wives of tribesmen would have sex with many other men of the same tribe, with consent from their husbands.
When the french missionary asked the tribesman how he could allow such freedoms of his wife, and how the tribesman would know if the child born was even his, the tribesman replied in great effect, "Thou hast no sense, you frenchmen love only children of your body, but we love all our tribes children."
So, in this case, the tribe collectively helped raise all it's children. If a child was crying, the nearest adult would not look for it's parent, but instead give it comfort. An evolution of sorts had taken hold, connecting everyone in the tribe together, as one.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: The writers of the-inspired.com would like to note that we do NOT condone or recommend polygamy or polygamous relationships in any way because I think we all know how those might end...
Weird" Al Yankovic - Amish Paradise
But if you're not convinced, I did find this website link which seems legit.
And if you are Amish and reading this post (which shouldn't be possible) that's cool too.
Ok, lets move on...
But then at 10,000 BC everything changed. The early ideas of companionship and what could have been called marriage was lost to the first towns and cities of the pre-modern world.
THE AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION - NOT GLUTEN FREE
Insert, what Yuval coin's the greatest fraud of our time, the Agricultural Revolution. This revolution can be considered a fraud because it was coined as an evolutionary breakthrough, a marvel of human ingenuity. One of humanities golden achievements. No longer would we hunt and forage on a daily basis, or walk the jungles to scavenge for food. Predators that attacked us at night would now fear us instead. For the first time we'd sleep soundly at night in our fenced villages and wall homes. We'd eat well during the day with security in our agricultural abundance of wheat and domesticated livestock. Leisure time would be ours and as a whole, we'd be better off for it.
But all of this, in reality, was a lie. The agricultural revolutions costs would be great. And only a few would truly benefit from the agricultural revolution:
"...the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud."
So with the agricultural revolution in full effect the tribe, in a traditional sense, was lost to the majority of Homo Sapiens. The idea of "Blood Family" began to matter more, not from a sense of love, but from one of economic might, position and survival. Instead of working together within our tribes, the families within these new agricultural communities competed against each other for status and land. Enter complex social structures, and 'The Family' position within larger organized groups took hold.
Godfathers too became more important.
BEFORE THE 'REAL' GODFATHER
From 10,000 BC onwards, cultures rapidly advanced into towns and cities and into complex social structures and class systems. Marriage was now a strategic arrangement for all within a culture - rich, middle class, and poor. A new cultural norm took hold.
Or as author and historian Stephanie Coontz states in her book, Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, this new social construct was created for one reason:
"For children to give their parents new In-laws!"
Stephanie Coontz, has appeared on national television and radio programs, including Oprah, the Today Show, The Colbert Report and dozens of NPR shows. Her research shows that marriage was a way of making strangers into relatives through the new idea called "Wife." In this role the wife helped build or maintain a families social class within their community.
"Which is why the word for "wife" in many languages means 'peace-weaver.' "
And peace weaver she was. The upper classes used marriage to secure a family name, create alliances, sign peace treaties and gain wealth. The middle classes used marriage as a business arrangement. The lower classes married to expand a labour force, or to add additional farmland to their adjacent fields. Marriage brought wealth to parents' favourite children, and shunned the rest. And so for thousands of years marriage was far too important to be based on a feeling, something as ridiculous and irrational as LOVE.
MEDIEVAL ROADSIDE WEDDINGS
While we can look to many cultural references, Anglo-Saxons from 410 to 1066 AD clearly epitomized this new dawn of marriage. Over this 600 year period the idea of marriage as "peace-weaver "took a defined role with small tribal groups eventually forming kingdoms and sub-kingdoms.
"The Anglo-Saxons were a people who inhabited Great Britain from the 5th century. They comprise people from Germanic tribes who migrated to the island from continental Europe, their descendants, and indigenous British groups who adopted some aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and language. Historically, the Anglo-Saxon period denotes the period in Britain between about 450 and 1066, after their initial settlement and up until the Norman conquest. The early Anglo-Saxon period includes the creation of an English nation..."
Medieval wedding customs during this period were far less formalized than what we experience today. Sorry all you Officiants, there was no official paperwork needed back then. Simply an 'I Do' between the man and the woman was enough to lock marriage into place. And while the Church attempted to control how people got married, officially marriage did not require a priest either. So without paperwork, legal contracts, and priests, people married where ever they wanted:
"Although the church controlled – or tried to control – marriage, couples did not need to marry in a church. Legal records show people getting married on the road, down the pub, round at friends’ houses or even in bed. All that was required for a valid, binding marriage was the consent of the two people involved. In England some people did marry near churches to give greater spiritual weight to proceedings, often at the church door (leading to some rather fabulous church porches being added to earlier buildings), but this still did not necessarily involve a priest."
While marrying someone on the side of the road may sound spontaneous and very romantic, it was just a quick and effective way to make the arrangement official. But there was ONE bit of paperwork required, if you were a good church abiding citizen of your village...
THE HAMMER AND THE NAIL
After the marriage was completed, in Anglo-Saxon tradition, a note would be nailed to the church door as notification for the church and community. It's not clear who supplied the hammer and nails but the reason was simple. This note gave notice of the marriage AND provided an opportunity for the church or community to dispute the marriage for reasons such as:
1. The man or woman was already married.
2. The man or woman (or both) was a murderous criminal and should actually be in jail.
3. The man or woman is actually brother and sister, or first cousins, or in some other way too close in blood to be married (Come on people).
4. The man or woman had taken monastic vows i.e. They were already married - to God.
5. The man or woman attempted to marry during Lent or other important religious holidays - again a definite no no.
This courtesy notice was appreciated but many church doors were being damaged in the process, so a change was required. And more seriously, the church had realized their could be added value (and money perhaps?) of formalizing marriage into its institution. But how?
ENTER THE CHURCH
In the 12th century the Roman Catholic Church finally decreed that marriage was now a Holy Sacrament of the Church. Holy Sacraments to the Roman Catholic faith included things like Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confirmation and now also marriage. Officially for the first time, marriage became part of a higher social structure. Marriage was the glue to build family alliances, to structure wealthy kingdoms, and it now found itself within religious institutions.
Divorce and conflicts resulting from marriage may have also played a part in bringing marriage into the church. By taking this step, it helped smooth out clergy paperwork:
"Marriage mix-ups bothered the clergy since, after much debate, theologians had decided in the 12th century that marriage was a holy sacrament. The union of a man and a woman in marriage and sex represented the union of Christ and the church, and this was hardly symbolism to be taken lightly."
Marriage was serious business now. And that significance was about to grow. And so too, was the happiness paradox. In the centuries that followed, never before would so many act and demand that they have the RIGHT to be one thing. That is, to be HAPPY.
In Part 2 we'll look at the impacts of the Renaissance, Enlightenment and the new definition of marriage we find ourselves in. We'll also unravel why divorce rates have reached critical proportions. BUT most importantly, we'll look at the experience of marriage, where the ceremony comes from and the surprising truth behind it all.
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Part 2 coming soon!