Marriage is one of the most important and deeply rooted traditions in our global society. No matter what your thoughts are on the importance of it, the fact still remains that it is deeply ingrained in our society.
The union between two people is a tradition as old as time, and you can find marriage in some shape or form in every single country, society and culture on earth. Throughout history, marriage has taken many different forms.
In The Beginning…
In the beginning, marriage was created to enable primitive people the ability to breed in a safe environment. It also dealt with property rights and most importantly, acted as a safeguard for gene pools and bloodlines. It was such a practical process, in ancient Hebrew law you can read that if a woman's husband died, the husbands brother was then expected to marry his brother's widow. If that still happened today, your family would probably have a lot more to say about your potential dates!
As romantic as these practicalities might come across, the union of two people has always been built on love and lust as much as it has been related to economic stability.
The engagement ring is a roman symbol representing eternity and everlasting union. And the reason the ring is placed on the 'ring finger' is because it was once commonly accepted that a vein in that finger ran directly to the heart. These ancient times bought so many of our modern day traditions. Did you know newlyweds used to drink a honey drink during certain phases of the moon in order to increase their chances of conceiving - that's where the term 'honeymoon' comes from - who knew?
Will You Marry Me? All Five Of You?
In the past, throughout the world, the meaning of marriage was different from culture to culture. Some cultures were endogamous which meant they had to marry within their own family or tribe. Some were exogamous where they were allowed to marry outside of their tribe, or location. And many cultures were polygamous which meant the men were able to marry several women at a time. Polygamy was officially banned when the Roman Empire came to an end, when various relationship laws were bought in that protected and honoured monogamous relationships. With this change in law, the seeds of marriage as we know it today were sown.
In Europe, marriage truly was an institution. Early Christian theologians wrote at length about the subject of marriage, which then led to the Christian church embracing the ceremony. During this time, marriages began to be conducted by Christian ministers but it wasn't until a few hundred years later than the Catholic Church declared marriage to be a sacred ceremony, sanctioned by god. In Catholicism, modern marriage is still considered to be a matter between the man, woman and god.
“A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
In Victorian times romance truly blossomed and became the primary consideration for choosing a lifelong partner, which is why courtship became so formal. If a man liked a woman, he couldn't just waltz up to her and have a chat. He had to be introduced to her formally and only after various formal meetings and occasions was it then socially acceptable for the pair to be seen having a chat in public. The entirety of the courting process was monitored and watched by the parents and the man would always ask the woman's father for her hand in marriage, a tradition that doesn't happen as often today.
And lets not forget the most recent history made within the subject of marriage - the legalisation of gay marriage. At the beginning of this year, gay marriage became legal in 17 different countries around the world, a fantastic sign of progress within our global society.
This is just a brief overview of just some of the different areas of marriage history throughout the world. Marriage has deep roots in all societies and comes in many different shapes and forms, even today. Modern marriage today means many different things to many different people. In the UK at least, it still remains a tradition and institution, despite divorce statistics rising every single year. So why do we still do it? If 34% of marriages are expected to end in divorce by their 20th anniversary (ONS), why do we even bother?
Traditional marriage still holds a place in our society. Legally it has some benefits in that it protects partners from messy breakups where nobody really has any rights of ownership (cohabiting rights really are pointless). And the ceremony itself does still hold a lot of romance. For some, the religious aspect of it is huge. A Christian guy I once knew told me that, marriage without god would be great but, knowing god has blessed his marriage is amazing so why wouldn't he do it that way? That was the best description of marriage from a religious perspective I have ever heard, and as far as I know he is still happily married to his wife 5 years on.
Regardless of the formality of it all, it is still a celebration of love, there's no getting away from it. When you're engaged, knee deep in wedding invites, favours and post it notes telling you to call back 8 million people about the event, you can easily forget about why you're doing it in the first place. And if you're single, it can be easy to go over to the dark side and consider marriage to be a waste of time and money, especially when you see relationships and marriages around you ending quicker than you can say 'told you so' bitterly. But there is a reason so many of us still dream of that day we officially declare our love to another. Marriage isn't right for everyone, but that doesn't mean it's not a great tradition if it's done for the right reasons. Love conquers all, in all its forms, and for many, marriage is still the purest and deepest commitment two people can make to each other.