By Tom Burns
I cringe whenever I hear a young person say, “I can’t wait to get married.”
I’m not saying that because I think marriage is awful. I’ve almost been married for 20 years, and it remains the best decision I ever made. But what makes me cringe are the reasons why those people seem so eager to settle down and sign a marriage license.
Because I rarely ever hear them say anything like “I really want to experience unconditional love” or “I can’t wait to figure out how a joint bank account works” (two very important aspects of actually being married.)
But getting married does NOT mean that you’ve gotten your shit together. Yes, I realize that getting married is considered to be one of those major life milestones like buying a house or having a kid — those checkpoints that we’re all supposed to pass on the way to adulthood — but, trust me, simply getting married is no real accomplishment.
ANYONE can get married. You find a willing partner, you go sign some forms. That’s it.
If you want to be fancy about it, you have a party with flowers and cake afterwards.
(Let me stop and acknowledge that there is a whole other layer of meaning to getting married for people in the LGBTQ community who live in areas that refuse to recognize the legality of their unions. In those cases, the sheer act of signing a document is a major act of social rebellion and change. I only hope that, one day, those who were previously denied those rights can eventually treat them with the same casual apathy that the people on Married at First Sight do.)
I’m just going to put this out there — Marriage, in and of itself, is a completely WORTHLESS act.
The act of getting married has NO inherent meaning. The fact that you consented to marry someone else neither adds nor removes anything significant from your life. But, just because the act means nothing, that doesn’t mean that marriages don’t count. They do. Marriages matter.
The fact that I signed some papers and got married means NOTHING.
The fact that I found the perfect person for me and that I’m sharing my life with her means EVERYTHING.
My marriage is exploding with significance, life-changing emotion, gravitas, and Earth-shattering weight because of who my wife is and what our relationship is. My marriage matters. Not because I got to check it off some big life-milestone purity list, but because it is filled with everything my wife and I brought to it.
At the end of the day, marriages are empty vessels. They’re containers, they’re inherently hollow.
But my relationship with my wife is dense, packed tight with import and meaning. Our relationship is a sign that I DID get my shit together, that I found something significant in my life, and our marriage is just the purse we use to hold it in.
We didn’t have to get married. We could’ve Goldie-Hawn-and-Kurt-Russell-ed it forever, and that wouldn’t have taken anything away from the life we’ve built together. In the end, we just decided to get married as a way to show off that relationship to the world and to get some great kitchen stuff from the bridal registry at Crate and Barrel. (The tax write-offs aren’t bad, either.)
That’s why, when I hear someone young say “I can’t wait to get married,” I just hope they know what they truly should be waiting for.
Because nothing changes in your life just because a judge signs a marriage license. That one act won’t make you happier, less anxious, or wiser. That license won’t be your golden ticket into the secret world of grown-ups that’s been lurking in your peripheral vision ever since you left college.
No one should worry about whether or not they’re ever going to get married or have a wedding. What people should worry about is finding another person who feels like home to them, finding a person that, when they’re together, makes them more than the sum of their parts.
That doesn’t have anything to do with marriage. It has everything to do with luck. And love. And serendipity. And if you’re one of those lucky bastards who finds that, getting married is just something fun you can do together — if you want.
So, if I have one piece of advice to pass on, it would be stop worrying about getting married.
It’s just a piece of paper, a party, a thing to check off a list. Spend more time opening yourself to new people, looking for where you fit into the world.
And, if, one day, you find the perfect person to complement your particular brand of crazy, getting married is just a fun participation ribbon you can pin to the relationship you so painstakingly built together. THAT is what getting your shit together really looks like.
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