Opinion | Marriage and love are not one and the same

By Genna Edwards, Staff Columnist

Netflix’s “Love is Blind” finished up last Friday with an explosive finale of terrible, terrible weddings.

The premise of the show is that contestants are placed into individual “pods,”  date a bunch of people without seeing them, get engaged without seeing them, then finally see them and spend the next two weeks preparing to get married. It’s ridiculous, I know, and I watched all of it. I’m part of the problem.

To make it to the end of “Love is Blind,” contestants have to tie the knot. The implication here is that marriage is not just equivalent to love — it’s the physical manifestation of it. This mentality has infiltrated Western culture and society to the highest degree. Every Hallmark movie and every other rom-com paints marriage as the be-all end-all. You’re not truly in love, truly devoted, until you’re legally bound to someone.

But marriage does not equal love, and our culture’s obsession with it as such is mentally and physically harmful to women. To equate marriage with love is to be complicit in the domestic violence and unfair division of labor that marriage as an institution tends to include.

Marriage in America began literally as an institution of ownership. Tying the knot was created to legally bind all of a man’s “assets” to him — his house, his woman, his children. It was financial in nature. The practice of fathers walking their daughters down the aisle was considered an exchange of a good — the father “owned” the daughter and was giving this “object” to the husband, the next man who would “own” her.

Marriage was also used as a method of tying wealthy families together to build their legacies and assets. Dowries, still prevalent in parts of South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, were used as a further example of the transactional nature of marriage — families traded their daughters around, trying to find the most wealth to tie them to, and then the exchange of goods began. Nowadays, after the Industrial Revolution, two world wars and the rise of more balanced economic prosperity between men and women — though still not all that balanced — marriage has shifted in meaning. Now that automation and industry have given the American populus more leisure time and larger pockets, one can try and find love.

Our modern notion of marriage has evolved so that it is the meeting of two souls — it is, at its core, about love, partnership and happiness. Every media outlet drowns us in this, and we perpetuate it ourselves. We celebrate celebrity marriages with full-page spreads. We gossip over who in our friend group will tie the knot next. Advertisers beguile us with dresses and cakes, and we search these things out, creating wedding mood boards and imagining what we’ll look like walking down the aisle.

Our culture doesn’t like the talk about what happens after we get married. We marry for “love,” ostensibly, but then what? What tends to happen after the knot is tied, and even before, shows that marriage doesn’t necessarily equate to love. If love is a practice, an action, American marriage has some serious issues.

Domestic violence in American marriages is rampant. Domestic violence is rampant overall, yes, but it becomes trickier in marriage — it can be harder to leave when you’re tied to someone legally, when your home and children are at stake. There are many reasons women stay in unsafe relationships, and if they’re married it makes it that much harder to leave. This isn’t just heterosexual couples, either — LGBTQ+ married couples are just as likely, if not more, to experience domestic violence at the hand of their partner.

Marriage is hand in hand with violence against women. Contrary to some beliefs, marriage does not make a woman safe from violent threats. Because rape and other sexual assault most commonly occur with someone the victim knows and trusts, marriage may only open the door to more opportunities to get hurt — and current statistics are likely lower than the reality on this, due to women who do not report abuse.

Then there’s the issue of the gendered, unequal division of labor. Marriage comes with its historical, sexist set of gender roles, and these roles unfortunately haven’t stopped affecting the well-being of women. A study found that a husband’s expectations will always come first, with male desires ranking higher in how a household is conducted. Considering that many men are not as willing to help out with cleaning and childcare as they may claim, this puts the burden on women, who are working more than ever.

Mothers still deal with the majority of childcare, even if their working hours stay the same after a birth. This is called the “second shift.” The idea is that after women come home from traditional workplaces they then must get to work on household labor — a second shift for which they aren’t compensated. This division in gendered labor, with women working more than men and becoming emotionally and physically exhausted, reflects itself in marriage happiness levels. Women are more likely than men to be unhappy in their marriage.

As an institution, marriage is tied to domestic violence and unequal labor that leaves women hurt and unhappy in its wake. Domestic violence is not love. An unfair division of labor that only benefits men is not love. Until these essential issues of marriage are fixed, and until we as a culture buckle down and try to make marriage a better institution for all, marriage cannot be equated to love. Marriage could and can include love, in some cases, but for many women it does not.

Marriage is not the best way to show love, to be in love or to love someone — there are other avenues, and there are ways to make marriage safer and equitable. Unfortunately, due to the history of marriage and why it was created in the first place, we may not ever be able to make marriage a feminist institution. It wasn’t based on love then, and for many it doesn’t signify love now.

Let’s drop the pretense — you can’t support marriage and ignore its negative effects. Love is a positive thing and should be a positive thing. Marriage, for many, is not that. Don’t get the two confused.