YourTurn winners: What does marriage mean to you?

Kitra Katz, first place
Maren Elkins, second place
Ka Vang, third place
Wendy Leon, honorable mention
For those who spend days dreaming of the designs on their wedding cake’s icing, I can only send my good wishes … Marriage is a choice to be made by the individual … and absolutely no one should ever feel obligated to enter into it.

Editor’s note: For most teens, marriage is so far in the future that it can be a difficult topic to contextualize in personal terms. But, the contentious subject has been in the news a lot lately, so we were interested in your thoughts on marriage as an institution and the relationships you’ve witnessed that have framed your opinions.

Judges were impressed! They found a majority of the 72 submissions to be unexpectedly sensible and genuine. The four winning essays stood out in terms of varied perspectives, examples and analyses.

First place ($100 prize)

Kitra Katz
Minnehaha Academy

Judges notes: “(Kitra) painted a picture from personal experience and used that experience to respond to the question. I thought it was very well-written and imaginative.”

When Fred Katz met his future wife for the first time, he wasn’t exactly Prince Charming. In fact, he was drunk. However, by the end of the night, he sobered up enough to convince her he was actually a pretty decent guy and asked her out to dinner. From then on, Fred and Charlotte—my grandparents—went on a date nearly every single night, and quickly fell in love. So quickly, actually, that by the seventeenth night, Gramps popped the big question, and they were married 25 days later. My grandparents had barely known each other two weeks—two weeks!—before they decided to get married. Married. One commitment. For life.

People probably said they were crazy. People probably said they were moving too fast, and maybe they were. But in the end, they were really just in love. Head over heels, pass the tissues, mushy-gushy love. And their love lasted through five states, three children, seven grandchildren and more than 50 years of marriage. It lasted until my grandfather passed away on June 4.

I remember sitting in the waiting room at the ICU with my grandmother, my parents and my aunt and uncle. I remember being allowed to go alone into my grandpa’s room, and kissing his forehead, telling him goodbye. But one of the things I remember best, was Charlotte kissing my cheek, reaching for my hand and telling me how Fred had lived a full life. And he had, with my grandmother right by his side.

Though Fred may not have introduced himself to Charlotte as her Prince Charming, in the end, that’s exactly what he became. And what he was until the day he died. She found true love, true adoration.

So two months ago, when I sat next to my grandma on her couch and she started to talk about marriage, I listened.

“I don’t know why some young people nowadays don’t get married,” she said. “They are missing out on so much joy. Promise me you will get married, Kitra. Will you promise me that?”

I only had one answer.

“I promise.”

Second place ($50 prize)

Maren Elkins
Southwest High School

Judges notes: “(This essay) wonderfully describes the personal and cultural tensions in how marriage is defined, and (Maren) responds with a clear, engaging voice to explain her interpretation of realities that have been created for (her) by others. Wow!”

Since I was 5-years-old, the word “marriage” has evoked a very distinct image for me: bride and groom, side by side, bedecked respectively in an exquisite cream gown and a smart black tuxedo. I’d frequently replicate this event with my plethora of stuffed animals throughout my preschool and kindergarten career, always crafting the iconic costumes out of paper and Scotch tape. Pairing male Dalmatian puppy with female ginger kitten, male parrot puppet with female owl, the latter of which would emit a hoot of celebration when I squeezed her plush belly. The guests, arranged in lines, would afterward enjoy all manner of plastic confections. Eventually, I grew bored, and the animals were swept away, my mind shifting to its next activity without a thought to the gravity of the ceremony I had just reproduced.

My parents both remarried when I was in third grade, and it was only then—at age nine—that I began to understand just how marriage was defined. The weddings themselves were vastly different. My mother’s took place beside a glittering lake, with scores of noisy guests trailing over verdant expanses, while my father’s passed in under a half hour, within an air-conditioned government building attended only by myself and a pair of witnesses.

I began to understand at this point that what I had before trivialized in play was something of immense significance, something which, with just a handful of words and a gesture of devotion, tied together entire families, transcending differences in culture and custom. Marriage is the ideal for a couple, the flawless union. Right?

Certainly not.

Marriage, as I learned once my mother engaged in it for the benefit of my then-unborn younger sister, is about financial welfare. Marriage, I understood when I saw my father’s girlfriend assume the title of “stepmother” sans gossamer veil, is a legal contract—albeit one heavily weighted by the associations that society and pop culture heap upon it.

This isn’t to say, of course, that it can’t be of momentous emotional significance. For some people, marriage is the perfect choice—including, I am overjoyed to say, all the men, women and others to whom the state of Minnesota has finally allotted their proper rights. But it shouldn’t be idealized. Relationships are ultimately too fluid to ever be encompassed and defined by our laws.

And so, in regards to such a specific union, I believe that everyone should do what’s right for him or herself, whether or not it fits our culture’s limited expectation. For those who spend days dreaming of the designs on their wedding cake’s icing, I can only send my good wishes—but the rest should know that their desired paths of partnership are in no way lesser. Marriage is a choice to be made by the individual, based upon personal goals and values, and absolutely no one should ever feel obligated to enter into it.

Third place ($30 prize)

Ka Vang
Harding High School

Judges notes: “Ka takes a brave stance against the cultural expectations her relatives have for her future. Rather than simply rebelling for the sake of rebelling, she gives tangible reasons for her argument.”

Marriage, to a small extent, is important to me, however I do not see myself getting married in the future. I clearly understand that others want to spend the rest of their lifetimes with their loved ones; however, I don’t think that a ring bounded around the finger and a marriage certificate is what defines true love. Honestly, I have seen many marriages around me fail and a part of me is scared to be in such a situation. Even though vows are made that clearly state both parties shall be together through the good and bad, I feel as if love never really does last. To avoid heartbreak, such as my married partner leaving me, I have decided to just not get married.

Another reason is that I want to focus on my education and my future career. Maybe because of the United States’ schooling system or its economy during tough times, I have been driven to think that the only people in life who truly succeed are those with an education. When I get older, I wish to dedicate all my time to my career. It’s something that I’ve been spending a lot of effort on, such as going to school. I feel that if I fall in love, get into a relationship, and then get married, I will be distracted from my true goal in life. And therefore, I don’t see myself in a marriage at all.

Though marriage is very important in my Hmong culture, I want to be different. I don’t want to be the stereotypical stay-at-home mom that defines a lot of Hmong women. I want to show my family and all my Hmong relatives that even though I am a girl, I don’t need a husband to get me far in life. That’s why I spend so much time on my education and if I were to go and get married, then I would be going back on everything that I believe in. Sometimes my Hmong relatives ask: “What about starting a family?” In the Hmong culture, having a family is a big deal. The children will go onto take care of their parents when they are old and they are the ones who continue our legacy. I, however, believe that later on in life if I truly desire a family, I can just always adopt. I don’t need to get married just for the reason of having children.

In conclusion, I just don’t see myself getting married in the future. After all, I don’t want to experience heartbreak. I can always fill the emptiness in me through the satisfaction of my work and I can finally go against all the standards that my culture has set up for me as a Hmong girl. Why? Because marriage is only a small part of true happiness.

Honorable mention ($25 prize)

Wendy Leon
LEAP High School

Judges notes: “Not only did (Wendy) open up about her perspective on marriage, but she also included actual numbers to back up her findings, showing she did her research in coming to a thoughtful and informed decision on marriage.”

When I was a little girl, I liked to play with my friends and pretend that I was a bride and I was going to get married to my best friend, Bryan. I liked to wear my mom’s veil and hold the bouquet from her wedding because I really felt like a bride that way. I used to say to my mom that I was practicing for my real wedding ever since that moment, to make it perfect on my wedding day. My mom smiled at me and said that it was a good idea. At the time, in my mind, a wedding was very necessary and important to show the other person that you love him a lot and you need him for the rest of your life.

Now that I have grown up, I don’t think that way. I’m still thinking that marriage is a very big step in life, but it’s not important to be happy or show love to the other person. Around 41 percent of first marriages and 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce. I think this happens because they don’t know each other as well as they thought. They didn’t spend time to talking about their thoughts or future ideas before. Or because marriage isn’t the same as being in a relationship.

I won’t say that I wouldn’t like to get married, of course I would. However, I don’t want to hurry to get married. I think to get married I would like to know the person that I am going to marry more, spend more time with the person and discuss plans and goals. I don’t want to get married and then end in a divorce as many couples nowadays. As a Spanish proverb says, “It is better to wait, than regret it later.”

We don’t need to get married to be happy in a relationship. We need to show love, spend time together and live everyday as if it was the last one with the person we love. Because what matters is love, not a piece of paper or, even less, a pair of rings.


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