Everyone spends their whole life dreaming about their perfect wedding day, right?
So many TV shows, movies, and books today perpetuate the idea that the ultimate goal in life is marriage. Why isn’t just being in love enough? With marriage rates continuing to decline in the United States, why does the media seem to suggest that people are still fixated on getting married. Is this really the case?
A prime example of this is the Netflix show Love Is Blind. Season two just aired, and the premise remains the same as in season one: Thirty men and women speed date for ten days in closed pods, separated by a wall, stripped of all distractions from the outside world, and can’t see each other. They can only connect on an emotional level and must base their attraction solely on their conversations. If they decide at the end of the ten days that they have found “the one,” they can decide to get married, sight unseen.
The show’s message is solid—attempting to eliminate the oftentimes superficial ways people go about dating today, and trying to prove that emotional connections are more meaningful than physical attraction. Despite this seemingly positive social experiment, the idea that simply being in love isn’t enough, that couples need to get married in order to be fulfilled, remains an underlying theme. Some couples in the show, despite being comically incompatible, seem so determined to get married that they are willing to overlook certain red flags in their chosen partners.
Even though the couples express their doubts about saying "I do," they continue to try and make it work with their partner in order to get married. Why? Do they really want to get married that badly, or is the show just making it seem that way? As we continue to move away from traditional and outdated gender roles, the old reasons for getting married no longer apply or hold value for many people. Because of this, fewer and fewer couples are getting married.
Interestingly though, even though marriage isn’t forced anymore, 81% of U.S. adults who haven’t been married express a strong desire to get married someday. Given the fact that marriage rates are declining in the United States yet the statistics show that many people still hope to get married at some point, there is an interesting and confusing tension.
Attitudes toward marriage continue to evolve over time, but it is worth questioning how the media plays into this. The Illusory Truth Effect states that the more times something is repeated to you, the more you will believe that there is truth to it. The fact that we are constantly presented with the idea that marriage should be the end goal may have something to do with the fact that a majority of people still express a desire to get married.
Just like in Love Is Blind, incompatible couples often stay together for a long time, trying to make it work. Even though these couples might not believe they are right for each other, many of them stay in the relationship, trying desperately to make it work, just to get married. This might have to do with the fact that a lot of the media we consume tells us that other people have a strong desire to get married, and so we believe the truth is that marriage is a good thing that we should want as well.
Social cognitive theory also states that, among many other things, we learn through direct observation of others and their actions. This could be another factor contributing to college students and many other people trying so hard and wanting to get married. For instance, a large percentage of Penn students fill out the Penn Marriage Pact. Learning certain behaviors through the media we consume like the idea that you should try to work it out with your partner even if you aren’t compatible in order to get married might explain why we see this in the real world.
The next time you watch a show like Love Is Blind or The Bachelor, or consume any type of media that pushes the narrative of marriage as the ultimate life goal, try to reflect on whether or not you truly believe that, or if you are simply being persuaded. So why are marriage rates declining if studies show that people want to get married? Perhaps it's because while the media does have a strong effect on people, that effect doesn’t brainwash them, and they are able to eventually see that marriage isn’t necessarily their own goal.