(See introduction and disclaimer to this series here, and other posts in the series here.)
I think this is the conclusion to the series. There's a new page with all of the posts listed here.
What is the tradition?
I'm really talking about two separate things here: the getting married and the having a wedding.
A marriage is a legal, religious, or cultural agreement that gives the parties certain familial rights. The wedding is the act of creating a marriage, through a - often religious - ceremony and cultural traditions. A wedding is generally a community event, perhaps seen as a blessing or support of the marriage being formed.
What is the origin of the tradition?
In various forms and contexts, it's a tradition as old as humankind. Marriage has historically been used to form alliances between groups and countries. It built economic and business partnerships. It creates (intended) stability between partners and for any children resulting from the marriage.
The wedding as the formation of a marriage seems like any other cultural ceremonial traditions - it's a rite of passage, a spiritual recognition, a community celebration.
Why do people still follow it?
Even though long-term non-married partnerships/cohabitation is becoming more accepted, there can still (especially in certain subcultures) be a stigma against not being married. Some may view even a committed partnership as less stable than an actual marriage (because obviously the legal paperwork will make the relationship itself work out, always!).
There are a variety of legal benefits from being married, such as rights to be next of kin for inheritance or medical care, joint ownership of property, health insurance, and lower taxes (there is such a thing as the "marriage penalty", but the with current US tax laws, depending on your type and relative levels of income, you're very likely to come out ahead). There are ways to create legal contracts that give you most of the same benefits, but in a marriage they're all consolidated into a nice, simple one-page contract.
Weddings are done because they're fun, and people want to celebrate this (ostensibly) huge life change with their family and friends.
Why is that crap?
Weddings are crap because in our middle class society, we don't do big events like that. It's most people's one chance to show off and be part of a huge celebration like that. They see the rich throwing huge weddings and think it's a wedding thing, so it's accessible - when really it's a rich people's party thing. It's also a bit odd when it's not a huge step, not a rite of passage - because you've already long since committed to each other, formed a household, and perhaps even had children. So there's no significant change happening at the wedding.
The other benefits, legal and perceived stability, are just that - perceived, and arbitrary. Romantic attachments, realistically, are not exactly known for being stable. Why in the world do we think lust is the best way to form the connection with the other parent of our children? Many people have the most stable relationship in their life with someone other than a romantic partner - parent, sibling, friend. Can a romantic attachment be steady through the years? Of course, many people's spouse are their closest friend. But it's far from universal - if anything, I'd say that's the exception that proves the rule.
You also don't need a legal contract to have a lifelong relationship. Many friends are friends forever - simply by choice and trust. They don't need the government involved in telling them how to treat each other or how to support each other. A commitment might be beneficial to a child; a marriage is not necessary for that commitment.
What am I doing with this tradition?
Well, we got married, of course. If I could do the wedding over again, I wouldn't. I would use the same money to fly our immediate family to Colorado and do a self-officiating ceremony. While the wedding was fun, and it was nice to see all of our loved ones in one place - it's really fucking weird to throw a party for everyone, for all of your various groups. My work friends, my college friends, and my cousins, were all acquired in my life at different times for different reasons, and just the fact that they all know me is not necessarily reason for them to socialize together. I'd rather have made it about just the two of us and our immediate family, than our entire circles.
Being legally married, versus just committing ourselves to each other, was important to me for a few reasons. It's easier than contracting for the same benefits separately. It appeases my anxious nature to have things in writing and formally agreed upon. It was also important to my family, who sees it as an important distinction in life and a statement about the relationship - I might not agree, but it makes familial relationships significantly easier to have it be "official" to them.
All else being equal, it made sense to take advantage of the established understanding of what a "marriage" is. It says something to my family about what we are, it says something to society about what we are. Which I don't always see as a positive - does society need to know what our relationship is? Is it anyone's business? Not really. While I don't regret being married, there are definitely ways in which getting married was simply the path of least resistance.
How did/will you handle this tradition?
I would love to have a lively debate and conversation in the comments! Please join in!
Dissenting opinions (from the post itself or other commenters) are welcome, but I reserve the right to delete any comments that personally attack me or any other commenter.