Law in Contemporary Society
This is an edit of Yinan Zhang's first paper


Marriage, as an institution, significantly impacts society- evidence by the public’s large scale participation. Although many people rush to exchange vows, it is questionable whether they have fully contemplated all the consequences of the union. People, to a certain extent, marry because of society’s expectations, which have created an ideal of marriage. Parents expect children to reach pivotal life stages marking their maturity and responsibility; marriage is viewed as the ultimate stage of adulthood. Society promotes an image that a life spent with one spouse is the only way to achieve happiness. This concept is so ingrained into our minds that we often fail to think beyond the boundaries of societal restraints and consider other alternatives. While monogamous marriage has its benefits and downfalls, there are alternatives and solutions to the inherent difficulties of marriage which need to be considered in order to make an informed decision regarding one’s future and happiness.

Benefits and Downfalls of Marriage

Concededly, marriage confers many benefits upon members of civilized society. This is not surprising since our society promotes legal unions in the furtherance of order. Married couples enjoy unique legal advantages such as tax reduction and special property status. Monogamous marriage, particularly, caters to an aspect of human nature that desires stability and security. We want to be assured when we go home after a long day work, or when we are immobilized due to illness, that someone will be there to comfort and care for us. However, we often fail to consider the disadvantages of marriage until after the union fails. We envision a perfect marriage, where spouses live harmoniously and hold hands through old age. Regrettably, statistics show a different reality. In the U.S., approximately 40% to 50% of couples divorce. Divorce proceedings are expensive, including attorney fees, and often lead to inequitable division of assets between parties. Even if we disregard the financial consequences, emotional turpitude may caution us before entering into such a union. Fewer life experiences rise to the level of hatred than those held by former spouses towards each other. Divorced couples feel betrayed, confused, and lost after they lose the other’s companionship. Married couples that remain together often find themselves in no better a predicament. Among married couples who have experienced infidelity but remain together, there is often emotional pain and veiled distrust. On the other hand, couples that are able to maintain a stable relationship often find themselves in an arrangement void of passion. The relationship deteriorates into daily monotony consisting of work, chores, grocery shopping, and child-rearing. Perhaps other channels for emotional happiness exist.

Benefits/Risks of Singlehood

The most apparent alternative to marriage is singlehood. However, this path contains its own inherent pros and cons. A truly single person (uncommitted to any partner) frees himself or herself from the obligations of marriage. The most obvious advantage of singlehood is the sexual freedom. This is important from an evolutionary perspective, because of the biological inclination of human beings to embrace several sexual partners simultaneously. Males desire to pass on their genes by impregnating as many desirable females as possible. Females strive to guarantee the survival fitness of her children by seeking the best genes from the most sexually desirable males. Females also endeavor to secure a safe and nurturing atmosphere with dependable and caring males. Unfortunately, the male predilection to spread his genes and the female desire for dependability often conflict against each other. Singlehood avoids the gap between evolutionary needs and the social realities of marriage. Moreover, two relatively-unbound individuals reduce the impact of jealousy, since a non-possessing social relationship lacks the reliance and expectation interests created by marriage. However, singlehood has its own flaws. Without a long term partner, there is little emotional stability and a lack of familial connection. Additionally, single parents may face immense difficulties raising children, and this could adversely impact the well-being of the child.

Other Alternatives

A less extreme remedy for reducing the risks of marriage involves a prenuptial agreement. However, this pre-arrangement serves as a minor solution to only the monetary concerns of a failed marriage. And some find this remedy unappealing because it undermines the trust and commitment aspect of marriage, since the couple already plans for future disintegration. On the opposite extreme of the spectrum, we may reconcile our biological needs by expanding marriage to include polyandry/polygamy, where individuals have open relationships with multiple partners. While a handful of people in our society embrace this alternative, it is unlikely to be recognized by our legal system in the near future, since it would require a complete topple of the existing institution. In the end, whether we choose to maintain a complete sense of “self” through singlehood or strive to merge our identity with a life partner through marital union requires a balancing of the benefits and risks of each lifestyle. Nevertheless, we have an obligation to our own happiness to ponder the full extent of each choice’s consequences. While each decision is wrought with inherent benefits and disadvantages, individuals should judge for themselves which option best suits their goals and needs, rather than blindly following the conventional path of marriage.


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r3 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:28:17 - IanSullivan
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