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“Marriage is just a certificate that financially binds you to another person,” I said.
“No, it’s not! It’s more than that.” I’d struck a nerve.

A couple of days ago, my friend and I got into a heated argument about marriage. It started out as a joke: I was satirizing the consumerist culture behind marriage’s ceremonious BS. But – when I noticed he was not on board with my bit in the same way he usually was – we both started getting defensive.

College students preach the importance of making financially sound decisions – we don’t order food we won’t eat at restaurants; we are stingy with our gas money; we’ll work an extra shift at the Caf for a larger paycheck. Every penny counts. That’s why this culture around marriage is so strange to me. Is marriage not – to some degree – an investment as well? If so, wouldn’t it be important to evaluate the financial risk? If not, why is there social pressure to achieve an arbitrary label?

WeddingWire’s Newlywed report states that the average cost of marriage in the U.S. is nearly $39,000. To put that in perspective, the average student loan debt for college graduates is about $2,000 dollars less. You could pay off your college debt and celebrate with an extravagant vacation with that money. Even so, if I were part of that lucky couple, I would opt to save at least $28,000 of that to cover the cost of our eventual divorce (considering the average cost of divorce in Minnesota is about $14,000) and then split the remaining money evenly so we both can go on extravagant vacations, separately.
My friend was not amused by my statistics. However quick I was to be cynical, he was just as ready to remind me of marriage’s cultural significance. It is a symbol for love that dominates modern society. It is in art, film, music and writing alike. Our entire adult dating life leads up to the moment when we find the person who best complements us, and the person with whom we would be best fit to spend the rest of our lives will not always be a financial asset to us. And they should not have to be. Being happy and comfortable trumps being miserable and financially secure every time.

I contended by saying that although you cannot separate marriage’s modern cultural significance from the practice itself, it is still important to acknowledge its history. Traditionally, marriage was looked at as a security deposit for owning land and property and a means by which people delegated heirs. There are some regions which continue to view women as included in “property ownership.” In some cultures, the amount of spouses you had represented your socioeconomic status – monogamy became widely accepted because many people could not afford the costly luxury of multiple partners. Arranged marriages are still common practice in some regions. Point is, love never seemed to be in the picture.

However, I will admit my friend had a point. Regardless of marriage’s long, elaborate, monetary-centric history, institutions have the ability to develop new meanings and grow into something else. The United States’s culture of marriage has shifted to value love over money. By and large, finding “the one” does not mean finding “the one who can be the best financial benefit to my future children and me” anymore. We root for Romeo and Juliet because our culture believes in fighting for true love. Happiness and security are not luxuries anymore (nor are they mutually exclusive). That being said, it is still important to step back and recognize the history that led up to this culture flip and ask yourself if marriage is right for you before you commit. It still is an important financial decision to make, and it is important to make that decision wisely. For all we know, Romeo and Juliet’s tragic ending avoided some massive legal fees during a very messy divorce.

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