The meaning of marriage - what does it mean to get married today?
Origin of the word ‘marriage’: where does it come from?
As with many things in life, to understand where you are going, you need to know where you have come from. The emergence of marriage provides an insight into the encompassing cultural influence it has had through the ages. The actual word ‘marriage’ first makes an appearance in the period 1250-1300 AD. To put that into context, Amsterdam was declared a city in 1300 and during this period the Aztec culture started in Mesoamerica1.
Marriage has its origins in the Latin word ‘matrimoniu’ meaning ‘mother’ and ‘the action, state or condition’. This then became the Old French word ‘matremoinme’ which developed into the Middle English word ‘maraige’. The original word could be used as a noun for husband in male form or wife in female form2. The longevity of the tradition and the universal nature of its applicability across countries, cultures, class and centuries are indicative of its enduring position in society.
Marriage: meaning and purpose?
“There is no choice more intensely personal, after all, than whom you choose to marry; that choice tells us, to a large extent, who you are."
Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed: A skeptic makes peace with marriage
The meaning of marriage can be broad and its specificities change from culture to culture, religion to religion and across the timeline of history. However, there are some basic premises upon which the concept is based. Marriage is generally understood as the union and commitment between two people in an interpersonal relationship that is recognized by an official institution, such as the state and church, and is of a sexual nature. It is also acknowledged by a community or social structure to which the couple belongs, such as their friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances.
The dictionary defines marriage as the state of being united as spouses in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law3. However, the understanding of the institution of marriage is at times controversial as it has expanded and diversified in today’s world.
Increasingly people are moving away from the religious connotations attached to the church and service, choosing civil ceremonies and alternative venues. With the legalization of same-sex marriages in some states and countries, and not in others, and the acceptance of polygamous relationships in some religions and others not, the meaning is expandable and contextual. Today people often find second love; it’s not uncommon to start dating after divorce or to get married again.
The idea of one great love does remain, but perhaps more so in fiction than fact. A more flexible perspective towards marriage continues to emerge with a zeitgeist of individual freedoms and diversity. In defining the meaning of marriage, its varied understanding across cultures, religions and legal systems suggest that an inclusive and contemporary interpretation is emerging.
The meaning of marriage has adapted alongside its purpose. And its purpose can be viewed through different prisms. The purpose of marriage can be romantically understood as an enduring and public statement of your love. It can be legally understood as a contract, and financially as a division and allocation of assets. And from a historical perspective, marriage was a means of securing your family’s favor and fortune, politics and even peace, known as a marriage of convenience.
The reality of marriage is that it was in many ways a means of socio-economic survival. Women tended to the home and provided children, and sometimes were even traded as part of an economic or political arrangement, and men provided financial security. However, with the transformed gender roles and social structures today, marriage has evolved to become less about practical subsistence and service, and more about romantic love.
The purpose of marriages can be varied, but one could say that the purpose of marriage today is simply to make a commitment to the person you love. As the ultimate relationship institution, it acts as the bedrock of stability, a secure touch point to reach out for in the challenging moments which arise in every committed relationship.
The purpose of marriage is to establish a framework for the bricks and mortar of everyday love, a frame of reference for lasting love, and a structure to aspire and hold on to. And this is no more clearly exhibited than the wedding vows, vowing to make a wholehearted, lasting commitment to your partner, to have and to hold from this day forward…
Enjoy the beautiful, personal wedding vows in The Vow ...
The Vow, Spyglass Entertainment, 2012