“Why would I bother to get married? It’s just a piece of paper.”

My 20-year-old niece and I were sitting at my kitchen island, sipping Starbucks.

I shrugged my shoulders, not giving her a response. In a way, I thought she had a point. Getting married doesn’t come with a lifetime warranty. It doesn’t give you a one-way ticket to lifelong bliss. It doesn’t provide you with an ironclad guarantee against the trials and tribulations relationships fall prey to. But the more I thought about her belief, the more it saddened me.

Don’t get me wrong. Marriage isn’t for everyone, I know. Maybe you tried marriage and it wasn’t what you thought it would be. Or maybe you and your partner feel like it won’t make any difference to your commitment. Maybe you are Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. You do whatever works best for you and your life.

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But. 

There is a reason so many have fought for marriage. Because it does matter. The words. The vows. The promises. The “I Do” and “I Will”. The “Til death do us part.” They all matter. 

My husband and I have been married 23 years. We were high school sweethearts. We have lived life side by side longer than we have lived apart. Some people say,

“You missed out.”

“You married too young.”

“You should have waited.”

“You should have dated other people.”

I hear you. When I think of our kids getting married at 21 years old, my immediate reaction is, “Whoa, stop the freaking crazy train!”

But.

It worked for us. It continues to work for us. If I had the choice, I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat. It has taken a lot of love, acceptance, compromise, forgiveness, and mutual respect. It has taken growing up together. It has taken putting the toilet paper roll over, not under, refilling ice cube trays before returning them to the freezer, and enduring 19 hours of Lord Of The Rings movies because someone loves them. So, so much.

And it has taken a marriage certificate.

Marriage is more than a public declaration of love and commitment. It is more than the tax, legal, and medical benefits it provides. It is more than a ceremony, a symbol, a tradition. These are all important aspects, yes. But they don’t tell the whole story.

Marriage is saying, “Of everyone in the world, I choose you.”

Marriage is saying, “For better or worse, I’ve got your back. I am here.”

Marriage is saying, “Wherever this journey takes us, we’re on it together.”

Marriage is saying, “You are my person. And I am yours.”

Marriage is becoming a family with someone. It is growing a history, a legacy of solidarity and strength.

Marriage is walking out the front door. But always walking back in.

It is seasons of intense love and passion. It is seasons of barely liking each other and struggling to co-exist. It is seasons of holding on tightly, eating Kraft Dinner, drinking cheap wine and cuddling on the couch because you can’t afford anything else. It is seasons of exhaustion and worry and busyness. So much busyness.

It is seasons of contentment and shared interests and staying in bed together until you’re so famished, you have to eat or die. It is real. It is joy and grief, laughter and tears. It is liking and disliking. It is anger and hurt. It is love.

People will argue you don’t need marriage to have love. It’s true, you don’t. But sometimes? Love isn’t enough. As much as you want to believe in the fairy tale ending, it’s just that. A fairy tale. Life happens. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes marriage is hard. So hard.

That piece of paper? It gives you something worth fighting for. 

That piece of paper? It does mean something. It means that when things get tough, when darkness overshadows the light, you will try. You will do what it takes to light a small spark, to reignite the flame. Because that is what commitment looks like.

That piece of paper? It’s a declaration. A proclamation. A promise. It’s the tie that binds when all others have unraveled and are laying in shreds. It’s the thread that can be used to weave the tapestry back together again.

That piece of paper? It’s not a guarantee you will win the fight. But it is weighted in love, commitment and sacrifice.

And paper? It is stronger than you think. It beats rock. Every single time.

Heidi Hamm

Heidi Hamm is a writer, wife and mom of 6-year-old twin boys who are nothing alike, and their 8-year-old sister, who won’t admit that she really does like 80s music. She loves bookstores, Starbucks and peanut butter. You can find her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/heidihammwriter/