The Meaning of Marriage

Four years in, I still find it hard to pin down the point of marriage.  At the time, it felt like the right thing to do, like something that I wanted, and so I said yes.  But, being honest, it’s hard to make clear, in day-to-day terms, what the difference is between being married and being in a long-term relationship.  People ask me and I’m always frank about that. 

This is why I love this submission from Liz (of Liz Wan Photography).  It makes me realise that there IS a point.  There IS a strong argument for marriage, that applies to me.  It’s about choice, about choosing to let someone in, about there being a difference between the person you’re married to and those that share your DNA.

Over to you, Liz:    

I became a wife last summer. I am new to this whole game and whilst I am still enjoying it very much, I expect lots of challenging times to come. But rather than write about how it’s all going, I wanted to share my personal view on the meaning of marriage as I used to be pretty cynical about it myself. But if you are thinking, “oh don’t even bother to try and convert me” – I’m not. I really, really don’t judge people who don’t want to get married, I don’t ‘pity’ them and I don’t wish all my single or unmarried friends would get married – REALLY! (am I being persuasive enough?!) More to the point, this is about how I would explain the meaning of marriage to two very young female members in my family.


I have two beautiful nieces. One is currently 7 and the other is soon to be 15. In recent years, they have endured their parents breaking up, getting back together and breaking up, getting back together and breaking up again. Even when both parents have continued committing to being the best parents they can be, I can’t help but think that the process has been anything short of painful for the girls. Thankfully things have settled down and their parents (my brother and his now ex-partner) are friends again.


I love my nieces to bits but because I don’t get to see them too often I’m not really their first port of call when it comes to family and relationship advice. My teenage niece is quite shy and known for keeping her feelings to herself. I often thought about her and how the parent situation would impact her views on relationships and marriage. Her parents never married and my other sister who they are much closer to is in a more-than-decade-long term relationship and is not married. Not anymore anyway. Even both sets of their grandparents come from broken relationships.


One day I thought to myself, if the girls asked me, how would I explain why I got married myself? (erm apart from the obvious which is I love my husband to bits) What is the point of it? Isn’t it just a piece of paper or a bit of pretty metal around your ring finger?


Here is what I came up with:


There is a saying that you can’t choose your family. And it is true. You can’t choose your parents; you can’t choose your brothers and sisters…you can’t even choose your children. Whilst you can choose to have children, as much as you might try to influence, you can’t choose who or what they become. But there is one exception.


You can choose your husband or wife. It is precisely this choice that makes marriage so special. By saying “I do” you are making that one person your family – and yes that is a big deal because who comes before family does? You don’t give up on your family just because you fall out or go through hard times. You can’t just forget about them like you do with your primary school friends because you’ve out-grown each other.

For me personally, the joining of two people through marriage always rekindles those ceremonial film scenes I used to see where two kids would cut their palms and then grip each other’s bloody hand in a macho hand shake to say “we’re blood brothers forever now!” I admit this is not a very romantic view of marriage and I’m glad there’s no blood drawing in real marriage ceremonies! But I loved the strong notions of loyalty, friendship and trust that those scenes used to give me. And that is what marriage should be about. But there is also more to it than that, by choosing the person you marry, you are really telling the whole world how much you love this person. You love them so much you want everyone to know that you wish to commit to each other for love, faith and support forever.


Now is that just a piece of paper?

Categories: Becoming A Wife, Marriage
10 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted May 13, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Great post! My boyfriend and I got engaged this year after 8 years together. I didn’t think marriage was for him and as much as I liked the idea of being married it wasn’t a ‘deal breaker’ for me. Which meant that I was utterly surprised when he handed over a ring while walking along a bridge one day. If you asked me why I felt the need to be married the cynical part of me can’t help but feel it is just an ingrained sense of social brainwash. On the other hand I do feel that it is a statement we make. Not to family or friends or wider society, but to each other saying exactly what you are saying. That I choose you. I know divorce happens but I saw us as a forever-thing pre-ring and I don’t know if it is just some magic drug that your brain releases when you get a ring on your finger but the love that I feel for my ‘fiance’ is only greater and our support of each other in the last few months has only strengthened our bond. I think I chose good.

    • Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      “An ingrained sense of social brainwash”

      I love this! It does feel like that sometimes, doesn’t it. But on the other hand it sometimes feels like the only sensible decision there is. I know that neither of the above statements are wholly true, but I do think there are a lot of women (and I’m sure there are men who think this too) who disagree with the “institution” of marriage yet want some form of public binding commitment to their other half.

      • Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        On of my friends wants a civil partnership as she is uncomfortable with the terms husband and wife and what they stand for. For me though being married is a chance to start to redefine those terms.

        • Zan
          Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

          I think this is it – the concept of getting married is evolving. Not as fast as I’d like! (same-sex marriage for example). But it should be up to people to decide what it means to them, and as more people do that, the less people will feel they have to conform to certain ‘stereotypes’ within a marriage. The essense of marriage, the commiting yourself aspect should be what is most important surely? The rest is what you choose it to be.

  2. Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I feel that something has changed since we got married and I love it. I like the blood brothers analogy – its the sense of solid permanence that is somehow even stronger with the ceremony.

    I had a conversation with my cousin about this, as a family lawyer he was somewhat cynical about marriage, but then he felt, like we did that the ritual of a marriage ceremony is a really good way of marking a transistion in a relationship to something that feels different.

    I actually think the ritual of the ceremony, whether it is just the two of you and an emergency witness from the street/another wedding party or all your family and friends and thier friends is something that really does feel special and does seem to demarcate something. It is like the blood brothers thing only somewhat more formal.

    I’d have more to say on it but we then proceeded to get very drunk so I can’t remember what else we said, but it was an interesting discussion and I do think there was some truth in it.

  3. Zan
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I love this post. Especially as it’s a question I’ve asked myself in the past. I have friends who are in a long-term committed relationships, one couple more than 20 years and aren’t married. But Liz’s words say what I guess I’ve always felt – it’s about choosing someone, saying they are the one you want to be your family. And there is the element of it being a very public statement and why make that if you both know that you’re ‘forever’ anyway? But that’s maybe what it’s about – saying to everyone else in the world that this is your person, your partner and you’re choosing to spend the rest of your lives together.

  4. Christie
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I love this post and I wholeheartedly agree that marriage is much more than a piece of paper.

    Growing up I saw my lovely Mom get married 3 times (Husband number 3 is a winner!), I always admired her for not being afraid to take a chance when she loved someone but for me? Absolutely no way under the sun was I ever getting married. I had no interest in going through the experience I’d seen my Mom deal with, if it ended anyway, what was the point. And then I met my now Husband and I realised that it wasn’t just my decision if I loved the person I was going to spend my life with. Marriage was important to him and frankly after 7 years together, I’d gone past the point of being afraid that it would fail. I still have the occasional anxiety twinge that it will and that a divorce would be far more difficult than a “break up” but that’s total rubbish as well.

    I love being married, I loved standing in front of everyone I care about and publicly stating that this man was the one for me and hearing him say it back was immense. We’re about to celebrate our first anniversary after what’s been one of the most difficult years of my life and he’s been a constant source of support for me. I have no doubt that he would have been whether we were married or not but I do feel a special closeness from marriage which has been lovely. I also still have an internal giggle every time I say the word Husband which is nice!

    Marriage is such a personal choice, my Brother is adamant that he’ll never get married because it’s not important to him and because of the divorce experience growing up. I can’t wait for him to settle down with someone that he loves who does want the marriage situation to see how it impacts him then!

  5. Liz Wan
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Wow! Thank you Anna for posting this – felt a weeny bit embarrassing but I’m glad for the share because everyone’s comments and personal insights so far (thank you Christie, Zan, Siobhan and Michelle too) have made me re-realise that this is an important to subject to explore even if you don’t agree with marriage – I think whichever position you take it is important that you know why you think/feel/choose whatever you think/feel/choose! I told myself quite early on that I never wanted marriage because I thought it was a recipe for unhappiness and that it was ‘an ingrained sense of social brainwash’ that I didn’t want to conform to…I hope this post encourages more people to explore or re-explore their feelings about life-long relationships and find a meaning that helps them see their choices clearly and find happiness!

  6. Gwen
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I have very mixed feelings about marriage. My parents were never married (to each other anyway) and the thing I can’t get my head around is whether marriage really is more significant or lasting than other significant points in a couples relationship. I can understand what you’re saying about deciding to get married to declare that you are a family, but for me that isn’t as significant as actually having a family. If you make a person together, you are linked for life. A marriage can be dissolved, having a child can’t.
    I can’t decide whether I would like to marry my partner or not. To me, it’s the marriage that’s more important than the wedding and I think that most of my friends are at the age and stage where they seem to be forgetting that- perhaps they are in the prime of that “social brainwash” highlighted above!

  7. Meredith Phillips
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 11:23 pm | Permalink


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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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