Has there ever been a weightier word so open to interpretation?

Of course, everyone views wedded bliss through their own personal lens. A thrice-divorced dad probably sees getting married in a slightly different way than a young girl in her Disney princess phase. Even in an institutional sense, the definition of marriage varies greatly in interpretation across different cultures and time periods.

Here, we'll take a brief, narrow—and all-too Eurocentric—look at marriage and how we got here. Then we'll see how some forward-thinking people are repurposing this ancient institution and taking it into the future.

A brief history of marriage

Modern marriage and our feelings about it are complex, in part, because they stem from competing concepts: pair-bonding and property ownership.

Paleontologists have found plenty of evidence that some prehistoric humans formed pair bonds, likely to focus on procreation and to offer mutual protection from external harm. With the rise of agriculture and animal husbandry, humans produced surplus food and had time to manufacture products, unlike their hunter-gatherer forebears who struggled to survive daily. With surplus food and products