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Marriage: A dying institution
31/07/2010 00:00:00
by Mtshumayeli Ndebele
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THE circumstances of the world and our society are continuously changing, and so do the opinions of people. That which may be thought right and found convenient in one age, may be thought wrong and found inconvenient in another.

The institution of marriage has been evolving over the years as a result of the changes of circumstances in our society. In the past, marriage was something people thought one was supposed to do, a part of the natural cycle of life, but one wonders whether it is still relevant in our society or it is just a sinking Titanic.

Everyone wants to meet “the one”, get married and live "happily ever after", but is it really attainable in this day and age? In reality, how often are you able to accurately predict who your “one” is? Perhaps this concept of finding “the one” has become mere wishful thinking.

There are several reasons why marriage as an institution has been weakened and is in crisis. Just look at the divorce rate and failed relationships in today’s’ society.

Decades ago, marriage was a necessity. It was about stability, upward mobility, and continuing the family name. It was a way of controlling procreation and ensuring, as much as possible, that the children would be raised in a stable, two-parent family that would pass along the knowledge and social principles of the society. Women were not as independent as they are today, they needed to be provided for and marriage presented them with a bread winner.

In societies of past generations (African or Western), marriage was very much a vessel for stability as depicted in several literary works, think Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights. But Western civilisation has continued to move toward a more individualistic culture and marriage is seen as too restrictive and oppressive and limiting the freedom of individuals to express themselves.

For starters, our lives have become so complex and dynamic that it is increasingly becoming difficult for two people’s lives to be compatible and for them to commit to living together for the rest of their lives. The family structure as our fore-fathers knew it also changed dramatically in the last half of the 20th century.

The traditional nuclear family with Dad, Mom and Kids has been largely replaced by new configurations, including “blended” families, single parents and unmarried couples with children. The connection between marriage and children has long since been broken. People routinely marry with no intention of having children, and have children with no intention of marrying. People are not judged for raising a child on their own and there are many single parents who are making it on their own.


Of course, it is healthier and ideal for children to be raised in a stable two-parent home, but it is a fact that today’s social circumstances are making this more difficult. Almost all of us know at list half a dozen (relatives or friends) people whose relationships did not work and are raising their kids as single parents.

The status of women in society has changed dramatically as they have been emancipated; they are independent and capable of surviving without any male figure in their lives and in some cases they do better than their male counterparts. They don’t need a man as a provider like in the past, they need to be themselves and don’t have to behave in a certain way just because they are married.

We are living in a time of societal freedom where women’s careers are not frowned upon. While it was regarded as a curse for a woman not to find a man to marry in the past, today quite a significant percentage of highly successful women are not married. This is most likely because their careers are making it difficult for them to fulfill the traditional role expected of every wife.

In the past, sex was a prerogative of married couples only and heavily attached to procreation but in today’s world it is no longer viewed in that way. Sex has become to be acceptable outside marriage and a source of entertainment. Two adults can easily have an arrangement to occasionally engage in sexual activities without any emotional connection.

These arrangements are not only limited to sex workers. Many professionals (both women and men) who are busy with their careers and not ready to start a family make such arrangements with a member of the opposite sex for sexual fulfillment. These relationships with no strings attached are viewed as better than the relationships where one has to be committed and care about the other person.

With scientists so close to the HIV/AIDS vaccine, such arrangements are likely to be a permanent feature in the lives of future generations. There are a lot of career women who do not need a man in their lives except for casual sex and these days with all these sex toys like vibrators, who knows, men might no longer be required at all.

Men on the other hand who in the past depended on their wives when it comes to cooking, washing and other house chores now have access to restaurants and fast food chains for nourishment while cleaning staff take care of the house chores. The point? Partnerships are less necessary than they were 60 years ago.

Too often, marriage is an attempt to possess another. When humans love someone, they are afraid to let them go. People are afraid of loss and what better way to secure someone than marriage? It provides a false sense of security. It definitely makes ending the relationship more difficult, and this is why the number of people choosing cohabiting is increasing.

Cohabiting allows greater freedom, offering the sexual and emotional closeness of marriage while retaining the autonomy of singleness. The partners in a cohabiting arrangement are independent individuals who enjoy freedom from the gender roles inherent in the husband/wife relationship. Cohabitation is thought to enable couples to live with each other in a way that is free from the restrictions imposed by outdated marriage vows.

An essential aim of cohabitation is that each partner should achieve self-fulfillment. Moreover, it is easy, convenient, and socially accepted by modern society. When one or both partners are no longer satisfied by the relationship, they are free to seek self-fulfillment elsewhere.

The traditional marriage certificate in the next generations is most likely to be replaced by another form of certificate that will not be as binding as the current one. Maybe the next thing in line will be "vows of caring", which binds you to take care of the children, if any, after the parents decide to go their separate ways.

Although marriage is not facing imminent extinction (it is most likely a matter of generations before the whole idea of marriage disappears), the bottom line is that the trends of the future are leaning more towards cohabitation than marriage, and as a result the institution of marriage will continue to weaken. Whether or not it dies out completely remains to be seen, but there are not a lot of prospects for an increase in marriages; it is very unlikely.

If one had predicted in the days of Mambo, Mzilikazi or Lobengula that in decades to come social circumstances would dictate that men only marry one wife, that individual could have been seen as a lunatic because in those days men married up to ten wives. Today polygamy has died a natural death, although it remains in small pockets in Southern Africa. The divorce rates in today’s society point to the fact that the marriage institution is following in the footsteps of polygamy.

May all the married couples soldier on and ensure that they achieve their “happily ever after” goal and not be discouraged by my opinions. Lets continue to love and respect our significant others. To all other brothers and sisters out there who have not been so lucky in finding a perfect partner, or those whose relationships have not worked, do not despair, do not think that there is anything wrong with you, it is merely because marriage is slowly being naturally phased out by societal systems as it is no longer compatible with today’s way of life.

Marriage is now an outdated and over-romanticised practice. I admire all those who have realised that marriage is not for them. I admire them because at least they have acknowledged that because of today’s social circumstances they would not make the ideal husband or wife and have refrained from marriage so as not to hurt somebody else.

Mtshumayeli Ndebele is a Zimbabwean student based in South Africa

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