Should you get married? Marriage is one of the oldest institutions in the world. It’s also, along with education, one of the practices that have evolved the less since they were invented.
So I went on an investigation to find out exactly how marriage stood the test of time in the 21st century.
The results I found are clear: marriage yields more pain than it brings pleasure.
Find out why below.
1. Humans Are Not Sexually Monogamous
Marriage, most of the time, forbids you to have sex with other people. As such, we should wonder if humans naturally are monogamous.
The answer is clear: no, they are not.
Experts estimate that between 3% and 5% of all mammals are strictly monogamous. They reproduce with the same partner throughout their lives. If one of the partners dies, the other won’t reproduce at all.
Humans are far from adopting this behavior. We like sex (a lot) and want to have it with different people throughout our life. We like it so much that we “cheat”.
This notion of cheating is what made behavioral psychologists consider humans as socially monogamous. This term describes the practice for a male and a female to raise children together while not being simultaneously sexually faithful to one another.
We stay together. But we have sex with other people.
The expectation of sexual monogamy in marriage is therefore unnatural. It does not fit at all with our core behavior. In fact, about 4.4 million years ago, homo was polygamous. We shifted towards social monogamy around 3.5 million years ago.
If we focus in the last centuries, anthropologists have reported accounts of tribes and other cultures which adopted different marital systems. Some allowed polygamy for everyone. Others restricted it for men only, or for women. Finally, some even practiced prostitution.
Whatever the system in place, no society ever strictly practiced sexual monogamy even though societal rules compelled them to do so. At the scale of our species, it is in fact very recent. Psychologists estimate that it is no older than a thousand years old.
To conclude, there is no such thing as monogamy such as expected in the context of marriage.
Getting married, therefore, is anything but natural and instinctive.
2. We Change Through Time
My cousin met his wife when he was 16. She was 14. They started dating and later on got married. Today, both of them are over 50. And they are still happy together.
When I spoke about marriage with my cousin, he told me something I ignored about relationships.
“People take different roads in life. These roads influence your character. I am very lucky that my wife and I have been taking the same roads since we met. This is why we are still together”.
What he meant was that both of them had made the same choices at the same time. They both wanted to move into the same new place when they did. They both wanted to have children when they did. They both wanted to do what they did when they did it.
It demanded sacrifice, but this alternative was always better than splitting.
Let’s be clear. My cousin and his wife do not represent the norm. They are the exception.
They were not only lucky to have found each other but also to have longed for the same desires at the same time.
When you get married, you will have to accept that you may wish for different things than your partner at some point in the relationship. You will also have to expect the same from your partner.
However, marriage tends to restrict people’s propensity to act on their individual desires. It is deeply rooted in compromise since its main function is to preserve the integrity of the relationship. In a way, we could say that marriage does with your freedom what communism does with that of the people.
It takes it away to preserve the status quo.
3. Marriage Is Empirically Insane
When I rent out an apartment, I never rent it out for more than three years. I also always make sure I can get out of the contract after some months if I want to.
When I got my first job, I was pleased to know I had only two weeks of prior notice (when I go to an interview, the very first thing I think about is “how quickly will I be able to quit?”). Older employees had three months of prior notice (which I would have never accepted for the life of me).
When I signed my subscription with Spotify, I made sure to be able to cancel within one month. Same story with my phone subscription. And there are a million other examples.
The point is this: no one ever signs a contract for life.
People change. Their desires, identity, wishes, and life purposes fluctuate through time. Signing a contract for your entire life would force you not to change and remain the same.
In order for everything to remain the same, everything has to change.A Buddhist quote
Change is the natural order of the world. It is how life works. And this is why the law protects you against abusive contracts. Except for marriage.
It is somehow perfectly acceptable for two people to engage themselves in staying together for their entire lives.
It is such a good idea that everyone comes to party together to celebrate the union.
Let’s face it. Marriage is an insane idea.
4. Marriage Today Has Nothing to Do With What It Was Originally
Marriage is about 4350 years old. Marriage for love is 250 years old.
It is a fallacy to believe that marriage is good because it has existed for such a long time. It is not the case at all. The reasons, context, and nature of marriage have drastically changed since marriage first appeared.
First of all, people live longer now than they did at the time. In the past, marriages would last a maximum of 20 years as men were likely to be killed in wars, and women to die giving birth.
Second, the purpose of marriage was widely different. Originally it was established to form alliances between two groups, such as two tribes, two countries, two cities, or two families. That was the fundamental problem of Romeo and Juliet. They couldn’t get married because none of their families wanted to be associated with the other.
Marriage was not about the spouses. It was about the groups they belonged to.
The reasons for marriage were strategic and tactical. In Middle-Age Europe, marriage was practiced to avoid wars – and divorces led to institutional splits.
As such, few spouses expected loyalty from each other. Most often than not, they were married to the person they had to marry and were having sex on the side with the person they liked.
Marriage had nothing to do with love.
It was about power.
Then society changed. The idea of marrying someone you liked slowly made its way. This led to a situation that didn’t exist previously: what happens once you don’t love anymore?
5. Your Marriage Will Most Likely End up in a Divorce
Portugal has the highest divorce rate in the world peaking at…70%. It is followed by Luxembourg, Spain, Cuba, and Denmark. Besides Cuba, the top 12 countries in the world are all Europeans.
Does it mean that Europeans like each other less than do other countries? No. Europeans get divorced because they have the means to do so.
There is a clear link between economic growth and spike in divorces. When people make more money, they can better cope with divorces because living on their own will be easier. When they barely make enough money to pay expenses, they’ll think twice about getting divorced because living alone may be financially difficult.
Lack of access to resources is one of the main reason why women have a hard time leaving abusive husbands. They wouldn’t be able to live on their own if they did.
Marriage ends up being a prison for these women, with no way out.
6. You Are Much More Likely to Be Abused (Especially if You Date Men)
According to the NCADV, 20 people suffer from mental or physical abuse initiated by their intimate partner every minute in the USA. That’s about 10 million men and women per year. Furthermore, 1/3 of women (that’s 42 million people) and 1/4 of men have experienced psychological or physical abuse from their partner.
In France, it is estimated that 94 000 women are victims of rape or rape attempt each year. In half of the cases, it comes from their partner or former partner.
In Brussels, 50% of women have been abused by their intimate partners.
As we can see, people getting into relationships are likely to be abused. Marriage only hardens the possibility to break up or escape than “just dating” does as it includes legal components.
When we look at the numbers, we have the right to wonder if marriage does not bring more misery and suffering, than it does happiness and fulfillment.
7. Married People Are Not Happier
If you google “are married people happier”, you will end up on a variety of websites outlining how happier married people are – especially women – which is why you should get married.
Let’s unpack this.
When we ask married and single people to estimate their levels of happiness, married people do tend to rate it higher. However, nothing guarantees that marriage is what makes people happy.
What if happy people were the ones getting married instead?
This question interested Elyakim Kislev, Ph.D., from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He noticed that there was this idea that married people tended to be happier, and healthier. He decided to investigate the topic. What he found was entirely different than what was thought.
Marriage didn’t make people happier, nor healthier. It was happy people that were more likely to get married, while sick people were more likely to go through a divorce because of their burden on the relationship… Nice!
The same was deemed true regarding salary. Married people seemed to earn more. But it was in fact the high-earners that were the most likely to get married.
Married people, therefore, are not happier, healthier, or richer. They got married because they already had these three characteristics.
Furthermore, in light of what we have already discussed, I would personally tend to believe that married people are more miserable.
When we add the domestic violence and abuse to the number of divorces, the lack of freedom, and the stress that it induces on spouses, it is hard for me to imagine how marriage could make people happier.
After all, if marriage did make people happier, the percentage of divorce shouldn’t be higher than 50%. It should be lower.
As we have seen, this is far from being the case.
As a result, we can conclude that marriage may, in fact, render people more miserable than they would have been just dating, or remaining single.
8. You Will Lose All Your Money (When You Divorce)
When it was revealed that Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, and CEO, cheated on his wife Mackenzie, they got divorced. As they had not signed a prenup prior to getting married, the couple had to negotiate who owned what.
Together, Jeff and Mackenzie owned about 16% of Amazon shares. The divorce could have been ugly and settled in court, but the couple was particularly friendly in their parting. Mackenzie took 4% of the shares ($36 billion), surrendered her voting rights to Jeff, and also left him all of her shares in the Washington Post and Blue Origin, the spaceship company.
This type of divorce (and inheritance) are rare, especially when THAT much money is involved.
As such, the costliest divorces in history was that of Alec and Jocelyn Wildenstein, for $3.8 billion in 1999 ($6.07 when adjusted for inflation).
Rupert Murdoch and Maria Torv’s divorce settled for $1.7 billion in 1998 ($2.7 adjusted for inflation). The third most expensive divorce was between formula 1 mogul Bernie Ecclestone and Croatian top model Slavica Radic, for $1.2 billion in 2009 ($1.45 billion today).
No need to further highlight how ugly and expensive divorces can get. On top of sharing half your net worth with your spouse, you’ll also have to pay a lawyer. And fight the person you used to be in love with.
9. The Wedding Is Expensive
I love going to weddings. It’s fun, you get to meet new people, and you eat for free.
The reason that is so is that marriages are bloody expensive. In the US, its average cost is $38 700.
Given the fact that newly married people are most of the time young and in debt already, there might be other things to spend $40 000 on than a wedding.
10. It Weakens Your Relationship
Despite what you might think, marriage does not make your relationship stronger – it weakens it.
As we explained, the idea of marriage was to get two people together to help two groups make an alliance. Since marriages weren’t made out of love, the contract helped make the alliance more real, more serious. If it hadn’t been for marriage, the spouses would have no reason to stay together since…they didn’t like each other in the first place.
Logically, marriages existed to prevent people from divorcing.
When people started getting married for love, the idea of marriage should have evolved. The contract in itself wasn’t necessary anymore, since the two spouses were together willingly. They didn’t need any other external reasons to be together, since they wanted to.
Unfortunately, it didn’t.
From an alliance, marriage evolved to become a “contract of presence”. Getting married to someone save the spouses the risk of seeing the other suddenly walking away the next day. It enables them to relax and chill because they should never be alone anymore – ever.
Marriage isn’t as much a contract than it is an insurance policy against celibate. And that’s a problem. As soon as a couple contemplates the idea of getting married, they also express the need to reinforce the relationship, outlining how it may not be as strong as it used to in the past.
You normally don’t need to strengthen that which is already strong.
Marriage, in a way, protects the spouses against the risk of not being loved anymore. Similarly, it jails the spouse that won’t want to stay in the relationship in the first place.
As such, I believe that marriage may be a subconscious indication of a couple who, afraid to break up due to faded love, look for another reason to stay together.
If you need another reason than love to stay together, then it means love may not be as strong as it used to be. In that case, getting married may be the last thing you want to do.
There is, therefore, no such thing as a marriage for “love”. It’s a paradox. It’s an oxymoron.
11. Marriage Is Mainly a Way for Men to Control Women
Society is organized as such that men do not get to choose who they date. They are given permission by the women that agree to date them.
It’s not socially constructed. It’s biological (genetic) behavior.
As such, as marriage evolved, society saw in it a way to guarantee a wife for each man – and to avoid him great frustration by the same occasion.
This is what spurred Jordan Peterson to propose a solution of “enforced monogamy” whereas each man could be assigned a woman to date – and one only – to decrease sexual frustration (and violence) in society.
This is insane.
This reduces women to a role of quenching their husband’s sexual appetite and making children at the same time. It is conceptualizing women as an extension of men – not as autonomous individuals in a free and equal society.
This idea has been further established in different religions and faith (Islam and Mormonism, among others), whereas men were allowed to practice polygamy, but women…weren’t. Marriage helped men control that their wives weren’t sleeping with other men while guaranteeing them rights to sleep with other women.
So much for equality.
The idea of ownership prevailed over time. One could say it may still be culturally applicable. For example, the notion of rape within marriage did not exist in France before 1993.
If a man and a woman were married, it could not be conceived that the wife could be raped because being married, she belonged to her husband. She could not disagree to a sexual act.
Marriage, as such, never benefited women as much as it benefitted men.
Even though society has evolved and women are much freer than they were, marriage remains an institution invariably benefitting men over women.
12. It Takes Your Freedom Away
No need to elaborate on this one. As a contract, marriage takes your freedom of going wherever you desire, having sex with whoever you desire (and that desires it too), and doing whatever you desire.
This is the idea of getting married that spurred Lily to leave Marshall in the TV-show How I Met Your Mother. Aware she hadn’t done nearly everything she wanted to do in her life, Lily left Marshall to live experiences she knew she would no longer be able to live when she’d get married.
Let’s be honest. Marriage takes your freedom away.
13. Love Rarely Lasts a Lifetime
In fact, it lasts 3 years, according to most scientists.
In the US, marriages last an average of 8 years.
If you ask me why I’ll tell you that couples love each other for 3 years, have a kid which entertains them for some 5 or 6 years more, then realize they no longer like each other and get divorced.
Some marriages may last a lifetime.
Love rarely does.
14. You Will Most Likely Be Cheated On
As I was looking for fun facts and figures for my article about the economics of Tinder, I found out that 30% of users on the app were…married.
Cheating in a marriage is much more common than you think. According to official statistics, 15% of married women and 25% of married men cheated on their partner in the US. Once we take sexual intercourse out of the picture, the statistics reach a staggering 45% for men, and 35% for women.
The actual statistics, however, are likely to be higher since few people ever admit having cheated (not even to themselves).
15. You Are Tightening Your Fate to That of Someone Else’s
When my friend moved from the Netherlands to Belgium, his Dutch girlfriend was desperate. Her life was in the Netherlands. She had no wish whatsoever to move to Belgium (I mean, who would, really). But she did because what mattered to her was the relationship she had with my friend.
Mind that they weren’t even married.
Hearing the story, I froze. When you get married, every decision you make becomes more complicated because you are not the only person to take into account in the picture – your spouse is there too.
Should you or your spouse get a promotion abroad, desire to move out, or to spend a year chilling in Thailand, the other will have to follow.
The choice is huge. The consequences too. Either way, one will have to sacrifice his or her life to follow the other – or to stay. They will have to choose between their own lives, or their marriage.
When you are getting married, you de facto merge your life with your spouse’s.
And while traveling or relocating is something, there are worse events happening in life, such as getting sick, or getting a stroke and remaining paralyzed.
One of my family members spent two years taking care of her husband before he died.
It’s not pretty. You don’t want to abandon the person, but seeing them decay day after day and losing their independence for which you have to compensate yourself is close to living in hell.
16. Betrayal Will Hurt
Ever heard of Jerome Cahuzac? He was the French minister of economics and finances until 2012 before he ended up in…prison.
His crime? He evaded taxes.
Jerome had been a long-time politician. He was smart. He studied to become a surgeon and even had his own clinic with his wife, a dermatologist. They made a lot of money during that time. Since taxes in France are astronomically high, he opened a bank account in Singapore and left there about €20 million.
Jerome may have been French president as I am writing this. Unfortunately, it will never be the case. When he got divorced, his ex-wife signaled the authorities that her ex-husband had been frauding for decades.
Jerome lost everything. His job as a French minister, his friends, his family. He was excluded from the Free-Masons and his political party.
He retired on the French island of Corsica, never to be seen again in public.
This story is far from being the only one. When people get divorced it can be ugly. There have been as many wives betraying their ex-husbands as husbands betraying their ex-wives.
That same year, French president Francois Hollande was photographed visiting his lover, while his wife was waiting for him at the Palais de l’Elysee.
She subsequently wrote a book, telling how the socialist president mocked the poor, calling them “toothless”.
There are millions of similar stories. In France again, 149 women were killed by their partner or ex-partner. Some years ago, the government created a law to punish those that practiced “revenge porn”, a practice of broadcasting intimate photos of your ex-partner on the Internet.
Betrayal by a spouse will hurt. Sometimes, it may destroy your life altogether.
17. Divorce Will Split Families, Friends, and Traumatize Children
Never date your friends. As soon as you break up, you will split the group. It will be terrible for the rest of your friends since you will never be all together again.
That’s what happened with Abba.
Furthermore, while getting married has the habit to bring two families together, a divorce will drive them apart. It is a similar story with friends, especially when they are put in the awkward position of having to pick a side (word of advice: never pick any side).
Finally, divorces traumatize children. They fail at school, develop trust issues, may get ADHD, PTSD, or become borderline.
When you get married and subsequently divorce, you are not the only one to suffer the consequences. All of your family and friends do too.
18. Marriage Doesn’t Mean Anything Since You Can Get Divorced Anyway
This may be one of the most compelling arguments against marriage.
At the end of the day, spending $40 000 on a party to celebrate a lifelong commitment that has more than 50% chances to end after 8 years and significantly destroy your life and the ones of your children is simply not worth it.
Getting married has no advantages compared to the risks you expose yourself to.
If you like someone, date them. Be a couple. Be happy. But don’t get married. It is useless. It is a fake commitment since, in the end, you (or your partner) can get out of it regardless.
Conclusion: It’s Time to Reinvent Marriage
I don’t think I need to highlight any further why you should not get married – unless you plan on dying 3 years from your wedding.
That being said, I do understand the need for certain people to make their union official. Marriage is a social activity they hold dear for cultural or religious reasons, and it wouldn’t be fair to take it away from them.
But marriage as it exists today, is unsustainable, and no longer adapted to our society. Instead of a ban or abandonment, marriage needs a reform. It is time to come up with a functional marital contract. A contract that expires.
As we have discussed, no contract is made for life. There is no reason for marriage to be the exception. Couples should have the freedom to choose the length of their commitment towards each other, taking into account that the world and its people are constantly evolving.
Nobody knows what the future is made of. Love may fade. One might cheat. While it is reasonable to expect your relationship to remain steady for 5-10 years, it is insane to have this supposition for your entire life.
Couples should stop getting married ad vitam eternam, and should marry for a certain period instead. 3 to 10 years appears to be reasonable. Love, according to science, lasts 3 years, and people get divorced after 8 years on average.
I see three situations that a fixed marital contract would help alleviate.
The first one is the desire to get a divorced before the expiration of the contract, at 8th year of marriage (as it is most often the case).
Could a 10-year marital contract incite the spouses to make an effort for two more years, overcome obstacles, and ultimately stay together?
I am persuaded that the possibility of a soft exit would incite spouses to attempt to save their marriage one last time and commit for the rest of the period, knowing that a failure from their part will trigger the end of the contract in 2 years.
I believe it would help overcome an obstacle they may not have overcome otherwise, which could lead them to stay together, and recommit for the longer term, maybe for life.
The second situation concerns their wish to split at the end of the contract. Should they agree they no longer want to stay together, the marriage would dissolve. There wouldn’t be any divorce, fight, and or expensive lawyers. It would just be a time to say goodbye to the other, and part ways in a friendly manner.
There would be no hurt feelings. No betrayal.
Finally, the third case concerns their shared willingness to stay together. In that case, the spouses will have the chance to extend the contract for another period of their liking, and repeat the process until they decide to split – or die married.
The Bottom Line
Marriage is insane. I said it, and I am not taking it back. In a world that may be drastically different two years from now, engaging yourself for life is the craziest (and probably dumbest) thing you could do, especially when this engagement depends on a variable you have no control over – your spouse.
Getting married is such an important decision to make, that I think one should inform themselves hard about it before making it, trying to plan for every possible aspect of it, including a more-than-certain failure.
As the statistics have shown, the odds are not in favor of the newly weds.
Quite the opposite.