Is Marriage Still Important or Does It Just Make You Miserable?

Because of the onslaught of positive reviews, I recently felt compelled to check out FX's summer sitcom Married. The plot, a married couple with children, is something I can most certainly relate to at this point in my life. Both of the show's leads, Nat Faxon and Judy Greer, are fabulous comic actors and deserve their individual days in the sun. Plus, Jenny Slate plays Faxon's wacky gal pal and I would marry/adopt her if she was willing. So I tried it, and it's pretty funny. Enough.

I don't often find sitcoms worth watching past their pilots, but I've already watched a few episodes of this show. As mentioned, the acting is good, the writing is fine, but there's something I don't like about it and it was hard to put my finger on at first. This married couple don't really seem to like each other all that much. They love each other in a Roseanne and Dan Connor kind of way - foibles and all - but unlike that real-feeling married couple, Faxon and Greer don't like each other. I don't understand why they are still married.

As a television sitcom whose focus is dysfunctional married life, FX has tapped into some new territory. But for a married woman with children, this has got me worried. Is this the obligatory path of the married couple; husband always wants sex, wife always has headache, kids are obnoxious, we can't afford the luxuries we really want. Can marriage be chalked up to just those things, and if so, why is anyone still getting married?

There are about a million research studies about the state of marriage and coupledom, many contradictory to another. Marriage makes you live longer, makes you miserable, married women are happier than single, married women are less happy than single, married men with hot wives are happier, the key to a happy marriage to for the wife to be thinner than her husband (weird), and the list goes on and on.

Recently, the topic of marriage du jour is related to the trend in millenials taking their sweet-ass time to tie the knot. More often, they are cohabitating for what is being described as a "beta-marriage," meaning something like a trial run. Tom Keane, writing last month in the Boston Globe is worried that all of this is going to mess up the entire institution of marriage and then where will we all be? Anarchy!

Are people happier after they get married and why do people get married anyway? It's certainly worth considering, especially in light of the current struggle for marriage equality. I can only speak for myself, and I am quite happy being married. But I was also pretty happy with my guy before we got married too. It's been five years now. I think it was the same, but I also forgot what I ate for dinner last night. So there's that.

Since we've had our children, though, I will say that things have gotten more difficult. Lack of sleep aside, we now have more to worry about, argue about, and drink heavily about. I wouldn't say that having children has put a damper on our relationship, but it has changed things a lot.

I decided to take this topic to the streets - or the interwebs - and ask some recently married couples and cohabitators how they felt on the subject.

Of the newlyweds I spoke with, Craig Hlavaty, who you may remember as being a writer for this publication, has been with his now wife since March 2010 and the two got married this past summer. Hlavaty is one of those millenials who are bringing the average number of marriages in the country down, but he chose to do the deed for that old fashioned reason: he and his wife are in love.

"Plus, saying "my husband" and "my wife" just sounds cool," he says.

But does he feel any differently about his wife now that they are legal?

"I feel somewhat different being married as opposed to when we were engaged or just dating and living together," Hlavaty continues. "I have a responsibility to my wife to be the best person I can be, and now my goals have another person in mind."

Monica Danna-Garcia, who works as the Chief Strategy Officer at The Black Sheep Agency, is another newlywed; she and husband made it official last fall after three years together. She echoes Hlavaty's statement about love being the reason for marriage. Like much of the research on the subjects suggests, younger people aren't not getting married because they are afraid of commitment, (I know, double-negative) they just want to make sure it's all going to go well. Understandable.

"I think it (marriage) was a great way to solidify our commitment..." she says. But she continues that it's not always easy.

"Something about making something official changes things. Some for better, some for worse," she continues. "I feel like after we were married, I felt more settled and complete, which allowed me to seek happiness in other areas like career or friendships, so in a way happiness expanded, but in other ways the "dating phase" happiness was gone, but placed with a deeper relationship."

But is the idea of feeling more responsible for another person or having a deepened relationship a product of our culture telling us that we should feel that way? There is a new school of thought that marriage is a little, well, outdated. Writing for Time magazine last month, Jessica Bennett cites research that nearly 40 percent of millennial respondents stated that the "till death do us part" model of marriage needed to go the way of the dinosaur. Couples are looking very differently at reasons for needing to get married and many don't think there is a reason at all.

Once such person I spoke with that feels the legal unionization aspect to marriage is sort of wacky is Sarah Schellenberg, who manages the Programs and Services at Fresh Arts. Schellenberg has been with her significant other for 11 years and feels their commitment to each other doesn't need any signed affidavit.

"Neither Michael (her partner) nor I feel like marriage would add anything to our lives," Schellenberg states, "but, I especially, feel like it takes some important things away. For me, I'm very uncomfortable with anyone, other than me and him, having a stake in our personal relationship."

She goes on to say that it makes more sense for her to be committed without an organization, government or otherwise, telling her how to do it. Without a piece of paper forcing the other person stick around, he/she is doing so because they just really want to.

What I found really interesting was that none of the people I spoke with mentioned having children as a reason to get married, if they even wanted them in the first place. This is a trend as well. A recent study out of Johns Hopkins University found that 64 percent of mothers gave "birth at least once out of wedlock," with roughly one-half of these women never saying "I do." Although many of these are single millennial mothers, not all. Twenty-eight percent of children born had parents that lived together, just not in a formal union.

"Kids didn't have anything to do with why we got married." says Danna-Garcia, "We do plan on having kids, but I would have been fine having kids not being married."

And Schellenberg and Hlavaty aren't talking about having children right now or if at all. "We'd like to have vacations for now instead of kids," Hlavaty says, while Schellenberg doesn't see kids anytime in her future.

Despite the modernizations affecting marriage, this country still has an alarmingly high rate of divorce - yeah, still about half of all first marriages - so it's no wonder that the current generation feels like it all needs a refresh. But who is the happiest in all of these scenarios; married without kids, married with them or cohabitating? Who knows! It's been said a million times and I'll say it again: To each his (her) own.

Let's just hope that none of these mergers wind up like the couple on the show Married because they just seem miserable.

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Abby Koenig
Contact: Abby Koenig