Saturday, May 30, 2009


Recently I read an article in Time Magazine that challenged the institute of marriage. In “All but the Ring: Why Some Couples Don't Wed”, author Lisa Davis presents various arguments for why marriage is not only unnecessary, but even damaging to what it ultimately tries to promote: a lifelong commitment between two people. "Every day we're making this decision and this commitment anew," says one unmarried husband figure. "I'm not with you because there would be legal speed bumps to get through if we weren't. I'm with you because this is where I want to be." "People mistake the government sanctioning your marriage for commitment," says another.

Yet, remaining unmarried has impractical consequences. You can’t be on your spouse’s health insurance, for instance, if you are not married to him or her. And if you’ll have trouble explaining the decision to move in with your unwed partner to a too-traditional family, try explaining the decision to have a child while still sans-ring.

Marriage—and un-marriage (i.e. divorce)—has been such a prevalent topic in my life lately that this article really struck a chord. Right now, the finality of marriage terrifies me. I have never and will never consider divorce an option. This of course means that the person I end up marrying had better be the person I want to spend the rest of my life with (and a person who wants to spend the rest of their life with me!). Considering I have never even had a pseudo-serious relationship with a boy in my life, the prospects of this look dim. (If I haven’t tried this out, how do I know what I like? What works? What I can and cannot tolerate? What I have to change and improve in myself before I am wifely material?)

Previously, whenever skeptics and pessimists would scoff, “No one can have a happy marriage,” I would cluck and point to my parents. “They’re happy. They’re together. And we know other couples who are, too. So you can’t say that.” Lately, however, the idea of getting married has become less and less appealing. Seeing family members rip one another’s emotions to shreds over a simple impending marriage seems almost not worth the struggle, and seeing a close friend suffer through a divorce he never wanted makes me wonder if you can ever truly know or be happy with one individual person. Change is inevitable; in the past, I always thought marriage was the contract that meant a couple would work to change together and accept one another’s changes. I am beginning to second-guess that assumption. What is in a contract? What is a promise? It all comes down to trust.

Which brings me to this article. I have only seen one family follow this perceived-as-married-but-not-officially-wedded model, and they seem no different from any other family I have encountered. Thus, I had never considered reasons for actively choosing not to marry. I think there is something to be said for this, as it does force each partner to think of the relationship in a more active, participatory way. In this light, a wedding seems more like an end than a beginning: it marks the end of the effort to “keep” the other person. Maybe the option of leaving should always be open. I once had a professor who said that marriage should expire every seven years. At the end of those seven years, the couple would have the option of renewing. However, a lot can change in seven years, and if those two people were no longer compatible, then they should be given freedom to part ways. The more I watch relationships as a third-party observer, the wiser this suggestion seems.

Because I took such an interest in this article, I decided to forward it to several friends to find out their opinion on the matter. Rather than summarize their replies, I will simply quote snippets below.

What does it mean to get married if you are truly in love? After all it is a contract that is not necessarily binding, but I think like what the article mentioned, it has real and material consequences…. Marriage imputes roles in people -- husband, wife, in-laws on top of the roles they already play and it (in)directly exerts pressure to conform or live up to these additional roles…. Of course, marriage CAN be liberating -- it can assure the persons involved that the other half will not just 'walk out' of the relationship, or at least attempt to salvage a floundering marriage…. However, be it marriage or UNmarriage, it requires the respective necessary 'sacrifices', and to give up part of that makes what a person is to make room for another.—A

The Time article prompted me today to check out from the library Marriage, A History by Stephanie Coontz. For now, I can only say that it (marriage) works for me!—M

I do like the idea of "I want to be with you because I want to be with you, not because I'd have to jump through a thousand hoops to not be with you any more."…. Of course, that's not to say that I think that marriage is a silly idea or that I don't want to get married. I do want to get married SOMEDAY, just not right NOW. I'm in no rush, and I think that trips up a lot of people. They worry about biological clocks or very outdated views of virginity and so they get married just so that they can live together and have sex, because they think that if they have sex before they're married that they'll go to hell. And granted, I think the latter type of people have a very different view of marriage in general and are more willing to go the extra miles to not get divorced, but that doesn't make it any better.—K

I had a problem with marriage because of its religious and patriarchal connections. I agreed with many other "Committed Unmarrieds" that marriage was not necessary and that as long as you and your partner are equally committed to each other, who cares what other people (including society) thinks. But now that T__ and I are more committed to each other, I'm thinking more about how our relationship affects other people…. Also, although I understand why others would not want to get married, I think our society pushes for it, definitely through the legal system…. Maybe things will change, but probably not in the close future.—S


Joel said...

I'm not in a relationship and recently I've been thinking whether I would want to get married or not, should the circumstance arise. I am happy being single and in control of my life. Plus nowadays divorce is the "easy out" for most people. Way back when, people would stick it out.

I think it's fine for two people to live together and never marry. They might take flack from other family members or whatever, but it's not their life.

K said...

Yeah, that's the only thing... the families. My mom was on my case for the past two weeks about getting married to my boyfriend. My dad doesn't want me getting married yet--I don't know if that's because he thinks I'm too young or because he doesn't want to lose his baby girl.

Daniel said...

trust me on this: all parents should seriously mind their own business when it comes to their offspring's marriage. and joel, divorce is not "easy."

Miss Arianna said...

Book to check out: All About Love by Bell Hooks

Love is an action, not a feeling. People these days get married because they want the wedding and not the marriage. Weddings are a marketable commodity and our society thrives on consumption (the dress, the cake, the honeymoon) so many people idealize the wedding itself without realizing the consequences of a marriage, which is what leads to the high rate of "starter marriages" in my opinion. I have a friend in an open marriage who has been married for 12 years and is happy. I think that's a viable alternative to Unmarriage. I'm skeptical about whether marriage is healthy, but I think it makes practical sense for the tax breaks, property ownership, and custody of children. I think part of the problem is that people think they are SUPPOSED to get married; that it's some kind of milestone in our lives like graduating from high school. Instead I think it should be viewed more like an option. If it happens, great, but it's not necessary to get married to have a successful and happy life. And it's also not necessary to get married to be deeply in love. If you need to prove to everyone else that you are committed by a ring, far be it from me to judge you, but when I find the person I want to be with I hope I will trust them to be faithful and loving with or without the vows.

agoldste said...

Miss Arianna, I will certainly look up that book. And I totally agree--I think marriage is very much treated as a milestone that we are expected to pass, just like getting our driver's licenses, graduating high school, etc. I agree that you don't have to be married to be in love and I also firmly believe that there are many potential "perfect" partners for every person; there is no such thing as a "one and only." There only becomes a "one and only" when you choose that person to fill that role; they did not preexist.

Sorry Plato, but as beautiful as the idea of being separated by the gods is, I don't buy it.

K said...

I agree with almost EVERYTHING Miss Ariana said, except for the open marriage thing. I don't disagree, but I'm curious how that works, and what the pros/cons are versus an open relationship.

Neen said...

Very interesting. Incidentally, I know that at both of our places of employment, Joe and I have the option to consider the other a "domestic partner" on our health insurance, even as an unmarried couple. This is becoming more common in places that have legalized gay marriage/civil unions or are recognizing those performed in other states.

Joe and I will have been together for 5 years this October and have lived together for most of our relationship. An actual wedding seems like more of a public recognition of the commitment we already have than anything else. That's certainly not a bad thing, but I don't feel rushed toward it at the same time.

I do know that I would not marry someone that I hadn't experienced living with first. It's really not until you move in together that you learn each others little quirks and habits. Our relationship grew and changed a lot the first year we lived together.

Also at issue for me is that while the GLBT community is beginning to gain traction with legalization of non-traditional partnerships in several states, I find it disturbing that these relationships are still not legally recognized by so many states. How can I support an institution that withholds rights from a significant portion of citizens? It is an ethical question I struggle with...