With the month of love behind us and grocery store aisles full of heart-shaped chocolates, rose bouquets and stuffed animals being replaced with the next holiday season’s decorations, it is easy to reflect on what Valentine’s Day promotes and its place in a modern age where committed romantic relationships are no longer seen as a necessity for happiness.
Despite the growing narrative of female empowerment, Valentine’s Day celebrations have a habit of making it seem like the whole world is in love and making those not in relationships feel lonely and less-than. Watching the corporate push for romance each year always makes me wonder: Is monogamy realistic?
The modern world is built on religious principles, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. The three largest religions in the world, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, each promote marriage and childbearing in their teachings. These religions alone account for over 50% of the world population, meaning that marriage is seen as a natural step for anyone in a relationship to billions around the world.
Reaching a certain age without getting married is seen as taboo, even in a culture where we preach individuality and independence. This, of course, is a social construct that affects women much more than men. Unmarried women are seen as “old maids” while men tend to get the title of “eligible bachelor.”
I am not denouncing marriage and lifelong commitment, but rather suggesting that it shouldn’t be expected.
In the past, life expectancy was shorter and it was more socially acceptable to have multiple wives or affairs outside of your marriage. Today, the average life expectancy in America is 77.28 years. If you get married in your 20s, as is typical in almost every state, this means you are committing to over 50 years of monogamy. While being married for half a century may seem amazing, it is important to remember that reaching this number of years is a triumph, not the norm.
Around 50% of all marriages end in divorce, with the probability of divorce going up every time someone gets remarried. Mississippi, although it boasts higher rates of religious practice than most states, has the ninth-highest divorce rate in the country. My question is this: Why do we push marriage on young people in society when we know for a fact that it only ends in happiness roughly half the time? We tend to be shocked when marriages end, but the truth is, most of them do. I think the more shocking statistic is that less than a third of Americans over the age of 15 have never been married. And why is it that so many marriages don’t work out? The answer is simple: being monogamous is not as realistic as everyone thinks.
This isn’t to say that monogamy isn’t possible, but rather that it isn’t likely in a relationship meant to last a lifetime. With a national population near 350 million, perhaps there are just too many fish in the sea.
Falling in love makes marriage and monogamy seem simple, but after 20 years, or 50 for that matter, how many people still feel the same way? People fall out of love just as easily as they fall into it, so maybe it is time that we acknowledge that while love may be beautiful, forever isn’t always as realistic as it seems. And really — if love is what we are celebrating, is it so wrong to allow ourselves to experience it more than once in a lifetime?
Liv Briley is a junior integrated marketing communications major from Lemont, IL.