In the past, marriage was pretty much compulsory for young people. Over the last few decades though, marriage has become increasingly optional.

The wedding itself proves to be an unnecessary hassle with awkward family photos, expensive dresses that will never be worn again and best men armed with embarrassing stories to share with guests. All the suffering might not even be worth it. According to BBC News, 42% of marriages end in divorce. With divorce being a statistical and cultural norm, is this a valid cause to put the vow “till death do us part” to rest?

Mahlatse Mokgotlha, a first-year BCom Law student, is an exception to the cultural expectation that all women rush to walk down the aisle. She says that getting married would restrict her from living her life to the fullest. Mokgotlha says that if she changes her mind, she will get married when she is 35.

BSc second-year student Pumeza Ndobeni agrees with Mokgotlha that the mid-thirties is the ideal age to get married. Her reasons for postponing marriage are centred around her desire to establish herself first. She added that she thinks that couples who marry young are more likely to get divorced. First-year BSc Quantity Surveying student Maya Kriel disagrees and says that waiting until your late twenties or early thirties to get married means that it is more likely that you won’t marry at all. She hopes to marry her current boyfriend by the time she is 22.

According to Dr James Cunningham, associate professor of clinical finance and business economics at the USC Marshall School of Business, women are generally more career-orientated now, making them less keen to tie the knot. He says, “Financial independence, especially together with contraceptive freedom, has greatly increased choice [in getting married].” He also blames the high divorce rate, the reformation of divorce law and the simplicity of the divorce process.

Canadian relationship expert and consultant Debra Macleod says that women who live with their partners while they are dating expect to marry the partner, although this is not always what the partner wants. “Living together means that a man doesn’t have to pursue his girlfriend any longer,” she says. Macleod explains, “Men and women have very different ideas about what living together means. Women typically see it as an almost inevitable step towards marriage, while men see it as a no-obligation ‘test drive’,” and she mentions the expression, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

She notes that men who live with their girlfriends or who did so before marriage demonstrate a lack of passion towards the women and a lack of enthusiasm towards the relationship. She says, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a man say, ‘Well, we’re not married so it doesn’t really matter,’ or ‘I just married her because she wouldn’t shut up about it,’ or ‘I only proposed because everyone expected me to.’”

She says that a woman who lives with her partner becomes increasingly anxious about him popping the question while it becomes easier for him to avoid it. “Christmas comes and she hopes for a ring, only to be disappointed. Her birthday comes and she hopes for a ring, only to be disappointed. Her sister gets married and she hopes for a ring, only to be disappointed. You get the idea.”

Award-winning blogger and writer Tauriq Moosa questions the relevance of marriage in his The Guardian article, A man’s perspective on why engagement rings are a joke. He addresses four suppositions that people have about marriage and refers to them as “myths”.

The first of these is that marriage is a tradition. Moosa says, “Love shouldn’t be completely unconditional, but it also shouldn’t be a gun to the throat.” No one should do something just because it customary to do so. The second supposition is that marriage is a public declaration of love and ensures that people know that his or her partner is off the market. He notes that, “There is more to be worried about if we need to ‘secure’ someone, like a raging animal, with a ring or certificate or other public stamp.”

The third is that married couples are better at parenting. Moosa points out that, “It’s not marriage alone that gives couples magical parent powers.”

The last supposition is that marriage offers legal and financial benefits. “It’s not that much different from the infamous ‘green card’ scenarios, where citizenship is obtained or a visa extended due to marrying a local.”

There are some people who still hold their very conservative views on marriage, while others are rapidly changing their perspective to adapt to the growing trend of getting married when you are young or not getting married at all. In the end, if you are the person who will be saying “I do”, it should completely depend on you.

Photo: Oan de Waal

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