Should We Put a Ring on It? Students Changing Views on Marriage and Tradition

 

In Ireland in 2015 there were 22,025 marriages recorded. This represents 4.8 weddings per thousand up from 4.5 in 2013. The average cost of a wedding in 2015 was €23,200  and approximately 18% of Irish couples took out a loan to pay for it. Given that we now need a 20% deposit before we can buy a house in this country, I think it’s fair to suggest that weddings and marriage as a whole may start to become a little less common.

I personally have little to no interest in getting married. I believe that weddings are too expensive and with property prices so high, I believe the money would be better spent buying a house. I wanted to investigate other students attitudes towards marriage as an institution. The Marriage Equality referendum opened a national conversation but how we define marriage. But what do our generation think about the traditional institution when it comes to their own future?

Do you want to get married?

Conor Duffy, a 22 year old Neuroscience student did and outlined his reasons. ‘I’ll say yes to this one, because I’ve always imagined having a wife and kids. But it’s contingent on the person. It’s more important to me that I find a person that I want to commit to than I find a person who wants to get married.’

Jasmin Jeys Pampana, a 21 year old Erasmus student from Italy took a different view. ‘If one day me and my potential boyfriend/girlfriend will decide to get married it will be just in order to obtain legal rights. I don’t need to sign a contract to show someone that I love them’.

Sinéad Harrington, a 21 year old European Studies student from Trinity College said ‘honestly I’m not sure. I don’t have really strong opinions on this.  I think that a solid commitment can exist without a legal institution, but I can see the symbolic importance that marriage has for a lot of people’. But she said it ‘isn’t something I’ve thought about a lot and I still haven’t settled on an answer’.

Grace Conway, a 22 year old Theology student from Trinity College said almost getting married at 19 gave her more than enough reservations on taking the leap. ‘To be honest, it’s because of a bad experience. I very almost got married when I was just nineteen, luckily it wasn’t legal and so it didn’t have major implications for me when everything fell apart with that person’.

Do you think marriage is important?

Jasmin was critical of the perceptions and societal drive to have to get married just for the sake of it. ‘Personally, I don’t think marriage should be considered as something that everyone needs to achieve. Marriage should be about promising each other ‘eternal’ love, but nowadays people seem to be more interested in just getting married rather than in the person they choose to marry.’

Ben Scott, a 26 year old medicine student in UCD said marriages’ intertwined links as an institution of the Church might put more of this generation off of it when they get older. ‘I think marriage can be a very nice symbol of a healthy relationship. I think it also has quite a sinister undertone due to its relationship to the church in this country. I would not be concerned if I was in a happy relationship in my 30s 40s etc and not married.’

Conor Duffy said marriage still had an importance in formalising or recognising a relationship for life, especially when looking to raise a family. ‘Many people aspire to have a family, and for many people that family will include having children. Marriage can be seen as a kind of formal, defined way of doing that, of having your family recognised in a more official way. So, as an institution, I definitely think it’s important.’

Has your view of marriage changed in the last 5 years?

Andrew Blennerhassett, a 22-year-old Economics student from Trinity College said the marriage Equality referendum played a big part in changing the meaning of marriage. ‘I think that coming up to the marriage referendum a lot of the discourse changed the way we see marriage for the better. Ireland has gotten significantly more progressive in its views and I think that has only accelerated in recent years’.

Potema agreed her view had changed as well recently, ‘I’m currently 25 and relationships come and go. I’ve changed as a person the past five years and my outlook on things, my perspective, has shifted with that. Realising things about myself and how that slots me into society has made me think a lot about how things such as the marriage referendum of 2015 affects my life. I would like to think a lot of people’s views of marriage has changed in the last 5 years’.

Jasmin however said in Italy marriages perception was still very traditional and entrenched.

‘People dream of their marriage since they were children. Marriage is seen as an inevitable achievement so everyone grows up thinking that one day they will have to get married’.

Sinéad argued that the concept of ‘marriage has been constantly changing for hundreds of years, and I think it still is changing. As to how marriage has changed very recently, I think that particularly amongst my generation people are regarding marriage as less inevitable and necessary for a stable, lasting relationship’.

Do you see marriage as the only way people can commit to each other for life?

Ben stated he felt ‘if a relationship is healthy it does not need a binding agreement such as a marriage to keep 2 people together. Living together, having children together is much more important than a ceremony which has been greatly diluted by social progression.’

Andrew, ‘no, I think we have seen a change in the way relationships form and evolve. You aren’t stuck in marriage due to divorce so I don’t think it’s integral to commitment.’

Potema said ‘a relationship, is not about finding someone who completes you, but finding someone with whom you can share your completeness. If someone were to force themselves into marriage in order to feel commitment then I get the impression they are just trying to fill in a void.’

Do you think marriage is valued in modern society?

Conor said he didn’t think so ‘but that’s because marriage means something different today than it used to. Marriage today is about love and commitment. A few centuries ago, it was about formalising relationships between families and social order. The modern definition is better, but is also of less value to the structure of society’

Andrew concurred to argue that ‘it has dropped in importance greatly, whereas it was considered a vital part of building a family in the past there is a huge rise in fertility rates outside of wedlock. In the earlier half of the 20th century you were expected to marry early and stay with that person the rest of your life. The advent of divorce combined with a society that has become less secular year on year has led to a change in these views’.

Grace said ‘it depends on who you ask. More traditional families often see it as something which is important, but I think a lot of younger people in the post-90’s divorce generation don’t see it as something essentially valuable anymore. It’s not an absolute anymore, certainly not in the west, it’s more of an opt-out system’.

Would you prefer to take your partner’s name as your own?

One of the most enduring traditions passed on through previous generations is the practice of taking the man’s surname, but perhaps that too is beginning to become less and less the social norm or expected among young people.  

Grace said she wouldn’t take her husband’s name. ‘I like my surname, I’m an only child and my late father’s only heir. I really don’t want children so there’s no possibility of passing on the family name, but I think it’s important for me to keep that sense of identity in myself, knowing where I came from and who I owe everything I have to’.

Ben: ‘I couldn’t care less. As long as my wife was happy with her name (be it mine or hers) I’d be happy. My kids are having my surname though.’

Jasmin said ‘that if two people are married they still are two different people and they still have two different identities. Adopting your partner’s surname would mean that you are giving up on your identity to take in your partner’s. I would never do that’.

Conor said that he would like his family to have the same surname. ‘I think it would be a positive thing for any family I have to have a unified identify. That being said, I think the gender expectation is a bit arbitrary. Your name is part of who you are, and I think it’s unfair to always expect the woman to be the one to change that’.

Potema said she wasn’t sure, but wouldn’t give up her surname automatically. ‘My family hold a lot of value in our name. It’s a pretty basic surname but they feel a lot of pride regardless when it comes to the family name. I already have had enough trouble with names when it comes to family, my first name being Potema. Names are powerful. There’s a lot behind a name and they can have a lot of significance for individuals. It’s a lot to think about’.

Marriage, But on Our Terms

So what can we conclude from these answers?  It’s clear that marriage is different for everyone. People approach this subject with a different view depending on their background, their beliefs and their own experience. As most of the participants have pointed out, that experience can be negative or positive but it will almost always shape your views. I’ve had a primarily good experience of marriage in my family yet I have no interest in it myself.

While I don’t believe that marriage is a dying institution, it seems clear to me that students don’t think it’s as important as it once was. A progression in views has meant that we can have families without getting married without the stigma that once surrounded those born out of wedlock. Marriage is no longer something that is expected of us. We’re more inclined to have several important relationships before we choose to settle down and I think that’s a healthier place for our society to be in. As many other societal institutions have found interacting with our generation, we’re more likely to redefine it to suit ourselves, than let it define us.

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Rachel O’Neill |  Features Editor

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