Tying the knot for the noose?

Renae Burgess asks if young Australians are more eager to say “I don’t” to marriage.


At the tender age of six, I found myself surrounded by my giggling group of friends and a dizzying array of bubbles in the front yard of my house, being married off to my best friend. My maid of honour, as I suppose she was at the time, took the entire event very seriously, whereas my apparent husband-to-be ran away before he could contract cooties. Despite being left at the alter and having my dreams of marriage shattered, the very next day at school my ex-fiancé and I sat together and shared our lunches, and that was pretty much just as good.

Now at the less tender age of nineteen, as I notice climbing divorce rates, the commonplace of de facto relationships, single parenthood, out-of-wedlock births and the ever-increasing societal acceptance of sex, dating and cohabitation, I begin to wonder if the tradition of marriage is becoming out-dated among the younger generation?

Is it that we view marriage as the end of an era? A straight shot into true adulthood? The end of fun and freedom as the bonds of societal expectation slide around our fourth finger? Marriage is deemed more of a responsibility, a notion passed down from previous eras of history than an act of love and commitment these days. When you weigh the centuries of social conditioning against the tradition, for a generation who has witnessed so much change technologically, socially and culturally, can we really be blamed for rebelling against what can be perceived as an archaic contract of ownership?

Or is the tradition of marriage now even more import and genuine than it ever has been in the past because of our social change? In the majority of cultures throughout history, marriage was the one-way path to having children, and gaining social and financial stability or advancement. In today’s society where women and men alike can work and own property, vote and climb the social hierarchy on their own merits and hard work, does the act of saying “I do” mean more because there’s no other reason than wanting to?

What can we expect for the future of marriage? Are we stuck with it ’till death do us part, or are the 20-to-30-year-olds already signing their divorce papers?

A shift can already be seen in the popularity of marriage since 1970, particularly among young Australian adults. Those who do decide to marry are doing so later than the average age in our past, with the median age of marriage for women being 28 years old, and 30 years old for men. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, “In 2011, under a third (29%) of young adults were, or had been, married. This was less than half of the proportion in 1976 (64%). In 1976, around two-thirds (67%) of 24 year olds were, or had been, married, compared with 14% of 24 year olds in 2011.”

Obviously, marriage is still a tradition that is remarkably important and worth fighting for for some, as can be seen in the ever growing marriage equality movement internationally. However, half of the 20-something year olds I asked insistently shook their heads at me, claiming they “don’t see the point” of getting married.

“You can get divorced anyway, so what’s the point? It’s not natural to be with one person for the rest of your life,” said Sebastian Hazell, 28.

It seems it’s becoming increasingly unclear why society insists that two people need to be married for a long-term relationship to be deemed legitimate, and many young Australians are questioning the pressure that’s placed on proving their commitment to each other for the sake of others.

“My partner and I have been together for seven years. I finally proposed to basically shut her mother up about it, but after we got engaged, we realised that we really didn’t need to get married. Why do I need to spend $20,000 in a church to prove I love someone?”, said Daniel Cornelius, 28.

There are the other half, however, who still value the tradition of marriage for the fundamental qualities it embodies.

“Even though divorce rates are 1 in 3, I still like the idea of that binding ceremony that says ‘this is a real, permanent thing,’” said Ashley Kelly, 19.

The beauty of the 21st Century is its proven capacity for change and progress, and like many other aspects of society, marriage today is multifaceted and often only understood on a case-by-case basis. From traditional Christian celibate-until-wed marriage to historically sacrilegious open marriages, the tradition of standing at the altar and proclaiming your love for someone is not a restrictive act, but can be a liberating one that ensures trust and support no matter what.

“When I proposed to my fiancé, I wanted to show her that I was done. I wanted to show her that there was no one else that I wanted to share my life with,” said Lachlan Jordan, 26.

Set to be married to his fiancé in October, Lachlan believes whole-heartedly in the confirming power of marriage. “It makes it official. It’s the last, grandest gesture we have.”

With half of the younger generation rallying for it, and the other prepared to slam shut a dusty, out-dated chapter of history, there can be no doubt that marriage still remains an important part of society, even if it is one that is trying to be rebelled against.

Is marriage an out-dated, unfashionable social construct that is slowly edging its way towards redundancy the same way my young ex-fiancé edged his way towards the gate of my front yard? Only time and our generation, it seems, will tell. But, if you do find that ”till death do us part’ is a little unnecessary for you, I can’t see a fault in just sitting together and sharing lunch as many days in a row as you please. And if others judge you too harshly for it, perhaps it’s merely because they’re starving hungry for what you have.


Image: Dennis Skley flickr, no changes made

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