APW Book Club: Dan Savage’s The Commitment, Round I

It’s tough to figure out where to start this discussion about Dan Savage’s The Commitment. I really liked the book in 2005, when it came out. But re-reading it as a married person, I loved it. I started crying during Dan’s mothers “scene-stealing, show stopping speech about love and commitment that should be entered into the Congressional Record” (Thanks Ira Glass, for that pull-quote.) And even David, eternal critic of books that I like, stopped reading the book last night to tell me how touching a scene between Dan and his six-year-old son was. And trust me, that never happens.

I figure we’ll discuss the book this week and next, because there is so much content in it (and next week will probably just be a free for all). As the cuttingly smart AGirl said in her cheaters-early-review of the book, “From a relatively circumscribed starting point, it sweeps out to touch on all manner of entirely universal issues in the most wonderfully disarming way.”

So when I stopped to think about what topic in this book fascinated me the most, it’s not actually gay marriage. What endlessly fascinates me about this book is be summed up in this question:

In the book, Savage grapples with how modern US society’s definition of marriage (gender prescriptive, restrictive, done by straight people) influences his desire, or rather his lack of desire, to be married. How does your personal view of marriage relate to what you see as society’s view of marriage? How does this affect the choices you make about your partnership?As blog-within-a-blog title of Reclaiming Wife implies, I’m really fascinated in the ways that we are able to shape age-old social institutions into be what we need them to be. Or, as someone wisely said in the comments at one point, I’m interested in stripping all of the cultural noise off social insitutions like marrage, and just let them be what they are at their core, which is, two people who love and are committed to each other.

Which is to say, I’m with Dan’s mom. I think the, “I don’t believe in marriage because I don’t like the definitions of marriage that my society is force feeding me” line is a totally cop-out. If you’re going to not belive in marraige, at least step up and tell me why YOU don’t believe in it, don’t just tell me that you believe all the cultural bull-sh*t you’ve been sold, and that you think you can’t break or change the rules. (Especially if you’re Dan Savage, rule breaker extraordinaire.*) Or as Dan’s mom far more eloquently says:

Jerkos have told you both that you’re not worthy of marriage. You could flip off the jerkos by doing the right thing and getting married anyway, but you’re way too clever for that. So you’ve decided to flip them off by refusing to get married. You say it’s ‘acting like straight people,’ and you say it’s a jinx. Well, I’ve got news for you Daniel. Life is a big jinx, and we’re all going to die. And you should stop worrying about acting like straight people Terry, and start acting like the person I know that you are – a serious, grown-up, responsible person who should be mature enough to make a serious commitment to the person he chose to start a family with, just like his parents did.

But I’m fascinated in the way what is culturally prescribed weaves together with what we think and what we want. How does it influence us? How does it not? How can we break away from it’s thrall? What parts of the cultural narrative are actually helpful? What parts are total cr*p?

At one point in the book, after writing a letter to some other advice columnists, the always excellent Carolyn Hax asks Dan, “Do you believe in marriage, or don’t you? Do your values demand it or not?” And he writes:

If I were to answer those questions honestly I would have to say that, yes, I do believe in marriage. I do. The trouble is that I live someplace where most people don’t believe in the kind of marriage I would have to enter into. So what difference does it make what I believe?

So that is, in essence, my question to you. What kind of marriage do you believe in? What difference does it make what you believe?

I’d argue that it makes a big difference.

Photo: My hands at the meetup, by Emily Takes Photos

*though he obviously comes around in the end, and this book is a rather eloquent love song to the complicated nature of making marriage what you need it to be, I think. Though it’s a lot of other things as well. Have I mentioned you should read it??

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  • abby_wan_kenobi

    Yay!! Thanks ladies in Durham for a lovely evening. Thanks Meg for giving us the opportunity. And thanks Internet for connecting me to awesome people I’d never have met otherwise!!

    What kind of marriage do you believe in? What difference does it make what you believe?

    I’m going all out here- this is long. I think I believe in marriages with fewer rules. My marriage is less “two become one” and more “two independent individuals keep on being two totally separate people but each slightly better, because they’re holding hands”. We’ve done away with some rules (because I read the marriage license very carefully and nowhere does it say we have to live in the same state. That living together thing is more of a guideline than an actual rule.)

    Our marriage is about the same things our relationship was about before we got hitched. We’re relentlessly supportive. We’re considerate. We tease each other constantly and the comfy sofa is a pants-free zone. We don’t watch scary movies or Project Runway together, but we do watch Sunday football. We love each others families. He still bowls and golfs and plays video games and I still go to concerts with my best friend and spend 4 hours a week on the phone with my mom. We still don’t do any of those things together.

    I think it makes a difference what you believe in a big way inside your relationship from the start. The longer your relationship lasts, the more that aspect fades to the background. But it becomes more visible outside your relationship as you become an example to those around you. Your definition of marriage becomes a working model, maybe inspires someone else to come up with their own definition.

    • Sarah M

      Wow, are you me? Besides that fact that I am happy we live in the same place and will continue to live in the same place, this is exactly how I feel. We have a lot of things that we love, love, love to do together (anything soccer related for example) but we are also totally happy when we are each doing our own thing. Maintaining my independence and my own self within this relationship is beyond important to me. We don’t need to be on top of each other and deeply involved in every single aspects of each others lives to have a loving, supportive relationship.

      Our whole apartment is pretty much a pants-free zone and I am perplexed that when we move into our house next month that I’ll have to choose between actually wearing pants or being the creepy neighbour who has their drapes closed ALL THE TIME.

    • Rachel

      THIRDED! (Coining a new word here. Work with me.)

      I even have a second bedroom in our house where I can go be alone in my own bed when I need to. Because it’s mine, and the cats like that bed more because that’s where they were once kittens, whereas they weren’t kittens on any of the other furniture in the house. And I have yet to do anything besides nap in that bedroom, but it helps to know it’s there and it’s mine and I can invite him into it if I feel like it and it also helps to know that he understands that’s just me and that I like to be alone in my own space sometimes.

      I agree that we’ve been sold the idea that we’re supposed to become one, and I’m not sure I buy into it. It drives me nuts when people say sex is the joining of bodies and souls, because it’s not like our skin magically envelopes both of us. We’re still two different entities that just happen to be doing wonderful things for each other’s physiological states. And so it is, I believe, with marriage: we’re still just two separate entities that occupy the same world and go to our own jobs and have our own families and our own struggles, but we eat cookies and ice cream in the evening together and are perfectly happy laying on the couch head to butt watching crime shows as a method of problem-solving and shutting the mad world out.

      • Sarah M

        In our new house there is a second small bedroom upstairs that has been deemed “my” room!! I am beyond excited about it. The one thing I missed most about moving out of my childhood home was having a space that was mine where I could close the door and sit quietly alone. I am a very social person but there is nothing I love more than quietly sitting in my own space. I am also glad that fiance understands this.

        • Lil

          eeek! my first comment, after long time lurking. But I had to *exactly* your comments, and add this, which is a reading that was give by our best man, who picked it out for us, and it is a fantastic summary of my thoughts on marriage.

          By Rainer Maria Rilke

          Marriage is in many ways a simplification of life, and it naturally combines the strengths and wills of two young people so that, together, they seem to reach farther into the future than they did before. Above all, marriage is a new task and a new seriousness, – a new demand on the strength and generosity of each partner, and a great new danger for both.
          The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of their solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side by side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.
          That is why this too must be the criterion for rejection or choice: whether you are willing to stand guard over someone else’s solitude, and whether you are able to set this same person at the gate of your own depths, which he learns of only through what steps forth, in holiday clothing, out of the great darkness.
          Life is self-transformation, and human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, they rise and fall from minute to minute, and lovers are those for whom no moment is like any another. People between whom nothing habitual ever takes place, nothing that has already existed, but just what is new, unexpected, unprecedented. There are such connections, which must be a very great, an almost unbearable happiness, but they can occur only between very rich beings, between those who have become, each for his own sake, rich, calm, and concentrated; only if two worlds are wide and deep and individual can they be combined….

          • Erica

            I love Rilke. Do you have any more details for the source of this text? There are two similar, but not identical Rilke readings I have seen floating on the internet, and I would really like to get a hold of an actual book with this in it, and ideally a bilingual version because I would like our ceremony to be partly in German. I believe Rilke wrote something similar in the letters to a young poet, but I think this is from a different letter? Do you know which letter, to whom? Any info would be greatly appreciated! Thank-you!

  • bria

    i believe in a marriage that brings out the best in me. and on the days it brings out the worst – i want my marriage to be that light that brings me back to the shores of sanity. I believe that my marriage has tied me to a person I loved already, and vowed to honor and cherish before the show, in a way that magically resemble the bond I have with my blood family – parents, brothers, pesky grandma. meaning that even if it got bad and ugly, even if the worst happened and i had to run away, my vows would remain.

    everyone writes there own rules and has unique reasons to get married, stay married or forget the whole thing all together and just love. but for me, marriage clicked on a switch in my heart and mind that I didnt even know existed and allowed me to love more deeply and patiently. to love with my whole body, past present and future.

  • Jen

    Ah! Big questions! So little time for answers! But here is a quick thought:

    The “what culture tells me” portion may affect my marriage (ah! Married!) but mainly our public marriage. Aka what we put out there. It molds how we describe and show our marriage to others and what we keep personal.

    But I believe that people are going to do what they want regardless in their personal lives. And that to expand the definition of marriage we should all be a little more brave to put more of ourselves and our marriage out in the public light to show all the beautiful differences we have.

    True, some aspects of a marriage that are extremely personal are also by definition very public – like the name change issue! Changing a name is an extremely personal decision with lots of emotions running behind it and its one we can’t keep private so it becomes all the more confusing and crazy and emotionally charged.

    • I totally agree that there are two sides to marriage: the public and the private. The public side is where a lot of the cultural noise happens. The private is where you make your owns rules. Unfortunately the public and private do collide. The public chatter begins to rub against your own private expectations and it can affect your marriage.

      And I very much believe that we should all be a little more brave and make our private marriage a little more public. Not totally, because there are some things that are, well, private between a couple. But showing that your private marriage doesn’t live by society’s public notions of marriage is really important in order to shatter false expectations and cut the noise.

      • meg

        Ohhhhh…. I love that. I hadn’t thought about it in that way.

      • Ashley

        “And I very much believe that we should all be a little more brave and make our private marriage a little more public. Not totally, because there are some things that are, well, private between a couple. But showing that your private marriage doesn’t live by society’s public notions of marriage is really important in order to shatter false expectations and cut the noise.”

        THIS is very much important to me. I was so frustrated during the wedding planning process when all I wanted to talk about was what makes a marriage, why do people marry, what is a “successful” marriage. I couldn’t get a straight answer from any of my loved ones that wasn’t some form of cliche. J and I heard a lot of “never go to bed angry,” “keep God at the center of your marriage and everything will work out,” “always let your wife win the arguments.” I always wanted to ask, “what does any of that actually mean?” (Thanks APW for being my relief during those crazy months!)

        I want the outside of our marriage to reflect the things we value on the inside so that we might contribute more to the social conversation than cliches.

      • The longer we have been engaged, the more I have discovered that how importabnt the “public” aspect of marriage is. When we first got together, we both talked about not needing to get married to know that we were committed to one another. But then it turned out that other people needed us to be married to know that we were committed — not just to each other but to our (my) kids.

        You don’t realize how important the societal identifiers are until you are missing a critical identifier: wife, husband, mother, father. We took a vacation the other week with the kids. While we were on a tour, the tourguide asked my son to hold onto his daddy’s hand. The four of us kind of froze. My fiance looked like he was afraid the kids would tell the world, “He’s not my dad!” and my son looked afraid that someone else would tell him “He’s not your dad!” After a few seconds, my son grabbed my fiance’s hand and held on tight, a huge grin on his face. He leaned hard against my fiance’s leg and said, “I love you!” like he knew that my fiance would need to know.

        My fiance often talks about how he can’t wait until we’re married so that he’ll know what his role is and he can be a real stepdad, not just that guy who loves them.

        In my first marriage, there was no parsing of these societal roles because there was no complicating factor. We just were. Wife. Husband. But now that our roles, and the shape of our family, are more complicated because we do not fit the nuclear family norm, the public face of marriage feels far more important than it ever did before.

        In the court’s recent decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger holding Prop 8 unconstitutional, among the court’s findings of fact that I related to most and found most compelling was the desire of all of the couples to have access to words that everyone understands to define their love relationships to the public:

        “All four plaintiffs testified that they wished to marry their partners, and all four gave similar reasons. Zarrillo wishes to marry Katami because marriage has a ‘special meaning’ that would alter their relationships with family and others. Zarrillo described daily struggles that arise because he is unable to marry Katami or refer to Katami as his husband. Tr 84:1-17. Zarrillo described an instance when he and Katami went to a bank to open a joint account, and ‘it was certainly an awkward situation walking to the bank and saying, “My partner and I want to open a joint bank account,” and hearing, you know, “Is it a business account? A partnership?” It would just be a lot easier to describe the situation —— might not make it less awkward for those individuals, but it would make it —— crystalize it more by being able to say * * * ‘”My husband and I are here to open a bank account.”’ Id. To Katami, marriage to Zarrillo would solidify their relationship and provide them the foundation they seek to raise a family together, explaining that for them, ‘the timeline has always been marriage first, before family.’ Tr 89:17-18.
        * * *
        To Perry, marriage would provide access to the language to describe her relationship with Stier: ‘I’m a 45-year-old woman. I have been in love with a woman for 10 years and I don’t have a word to tell anybody about that.’ Tr 154:20-23. Stier explained that marrying Perry would make them feel included ‘in the social fabric.’”

        While we certainly have our private lives, and lead them they way that feels best to us as a couple, the public face of marriage is undeniably important. If it wasn’t, there would be no reason for marriage; we would all just go about our business holding hands and doing what felt right to us privately.

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of public vs. private aspects of a marriage, but from a slightly different angle. I feel like other people’s opinions and attitudes about our relationship will change post-wedding, but that our attitudes toward each other really won’t.

      Our private lives together are already very much like a marriage. Saying “I do” and signing a marriage license would not change our daily lives vary much it seems. What will change are people’s opinions of us. Because even though we don’t make any decisions without considering the other’s wants and needs, until we we are publicly/legally married, the world still sees us as separate people with separate (and singular) goals.

      I think people get too caught up in the public manifestations of marriage: the license, the wedding, the titles, the legal rights. These things don’t make a marriage. Not to sound trite, but it’s what’s in your heart. It’s funny (and sad, and pathetic) to see people try and “protect” something sacred by denying people the secular, peripheral stuff, when really they have no power over the human heart. This not to say that weddings and legal rights and such don’t matter. They do, and they’re worth fighting for, but it’s just weird that people think that by denying the legalities, you can prevent the bond from forming and the lives from being shared.

      • Liz

        “They do, and they’re worth fighting for, but it’s just weird that people think that by denying the legalities, you can prevent the bond from forming and the lives from being shared.”

        yes! and, it’s weird to think that because YOU think that bond does/doesn’t or should/shouldn’t form, it should have any bearing on a persons’ rights.

        which is shouldn’t.

      • Mmmmm, that gets at the quiet dignity of gay relationships that Dan talked about in the book. While straight couples can have a showy wedding (if they want) to try to prove the depth of their love, gay couples have nothing else but the length of their relationships to speak to their commitment.

        • The idea that the only way to prove the depth of your commitment is by the length of your relationship, is one of the things that is so problematic to me about denying a group of people the right to marry. In some ways it sets up this idea that your relationship will only be recognized as important or valid if it has lasted a very long time (and possibly not even then). One of those important growing moments for me was realizing that a long-term relationship does not equal a good relationship – that having been together for X years doesn’t prove anything except you’ve been together for X years. Having met my wife not long after a 10-year relationship ended, I was so careful to really look at the quality of the relationship we were building and not just how long we had been together. Such a basic thing to learn, I know – but it took me to my late 20s!

      • I’ve been working through the public-private implications myself, and I’m finding it really hard to realize that, once we sign those papers, everyone thinks its somehow different. I’ll be a wife suddenly, and the essentially-married life we had before, that we were happy with, will now be perceived differently and with different judgments. From one day to the next: PoofPrestoChango for everyone else looking inwards on us. And then, even if we don’t want to change, the pressures of those expectations creep in. We can’t pretend that the public and private aren’t intertwined.

        It’s why I agree with Ms Bunny that the personal needs to be a bit less private. That the more voices we have discussing what it really means to be married, the more we can make space for the rich differences we each bring to this valuable institution. And yes, I think it’s a very valuable institution, and it’s why I’m bothering with the civil paperwork.

    • sarah

      For me, marriage is about two things:
      1. Public recognition of our relationship
      2. Protecting the private parts (hehe…private parts) of our relationship

      For me, the rest (no pants, supporting each other, loving our babies, mercilessly teasing each other, etc, etc) is just “a committed relationship.” For me, that stuff doesn’t necessitate marriage. But, having other people view us as committed adults in a family — that necessitated marriage. And protecting our legal rights to take care of each other and our not-yet-born children — that necessitated marriage.

    • Liz

      re: public versus private.

      i don’t know if it’s the high school teacher in me, but even though i’m not a mom (yet), i’ve always had this subconscious notion that one of the many purposes of my life is to serve as an example for the generations to come (those that are near enough to witness it, at least) somehow, i treat all of my decisions this way- there’s always a question of what will serve as the best example, coupled with the idea of what will be best for me.

      though aspects of my relationship with josh are rarely put on the table for conversation, it doesn’t mean that i wouldn’t be ok with it. i’m always very aware of living in a way that i would be proud to share and explain with someone who hasn’t yet made the mistakes i already have.

  • LeahIsMyName

    I loved this book. I read it in July after seeing that you’d be reading it together on this website. I couldn’t attend a meet-up, but I love that you’re doing a discussion here on the blog.

    “What kind of marriage do you believe in? What difference does it make what you believe?”

    To answer the second question first, I don’t think it makes any difference to anyone but myself and my fiance what kind of marriage we believe in. The only thing that matters is that we agree on a definition.

    To answer the first part of the question: we’re in the process of coming up with that definition, but one thing that’s always been a part of our relationship discourse is the idea of a team. There’s something so unbelievably comforting to me about having someone on my side, all the time. He’ll bail me out when I can’t take any more, and I’ll gladly do the same for him.

    As to the larger question about society’s interpretation of our marriage, I’ve now come to the comfortable position of not caring. But I *used* to care. See, I was married before (it’s obvious now he was the wrong person), and I hated being called “wife,” and I seethed with anger when someone referred to me as “Mrs. HisLastName.” I fought against the cultural position of wife tooth and nail, because I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as whatever that means.

    With my FH, though, there is none of that angst, no anger. We sorted out our own issues on our own, we understand our positions in our little partnership. We work for equality, even though we sometimes screw up.

    When I read Savage’s book, his mother’s speech quoted in your post made me cry because I substituted in words that apply to my situation: instead of “acting like straight people” I read it as “acting like conservative/old people” and realized that I was being totally stupid.

    It doesn’t matter what the rest of the world *thinks* goes on in my marriage. It doesn’t matter if my mother is supremely relieved that I’m finally not going to be “living in sin,” as she would say. All that matters is what’s between B and me, and the fact that we’re committed adults who are ready to join a cultural institution of committed adults.

    I figured it out: I can participate in a cultural institution on my own terms, and it doesn’t matter if no one else knows my terms.

    Thank you for such thought-provoking questions. This is why I read this site!

    • “To answer the second question first, I don’t think it makes any difference to anyone but myself and my fiance what kind of marriage we believe in. The only thing that matters is that we agree on a definition.”


    • ka

      “I figured it out: I can participate in a cultural institution on my own terms, and it doesn’t matter if no one else knows my terms.”

      I love this.

      • meg

        Hum. Not sure if I agree. As BunniesandBeagles said above, I think it might be good if all of us were braver, and showed more of the truth of our marriages publically. It’s scary, but that’s how we start to change public perception, and the cultural dialogue on the issue. Think about it this way – LGBTQ couples don’t have the option of passing, so they have to do the uncomfortable and difficult work of outing themselves over and over and over – putting what is different about their marriage on out there. For those of us that are in mixed gender relationships, we have the option of passing. We can say, “Hey, we’re just like everyone else and what you expect us to be” on the surface, but be something different in private. Perhaps (not sure, but positing), part of the fight for marriage equality is for all of us to stop passing and start being truthful about what our relationships really are like.

        Besides, I’d argue that they way people in your life treat your marriage, DOES end up affecting the private sphere, especially if the public perception is in conflict with the private truth.

        • LeahIsMyName

          True, true. I agreed with the above commenter as well.

          But for me at least, the only way I feel able to do any of that “outing” or “airing” of any part of my relationship is to first establish a really strong foundation in my own mind, and with my partner, of our definition of marriage. Since I’ve been slightly uncomfortable with my position in a marriage, it’s been essential for me to step back, redefine everything, and then move forward, which is what I understand Savage to be saying in his book (or his mom saying, I guess).

          I agree that same-gender couples don’t have the option to take all the time in the world to negotiate this understanding, and that really sucks in the biggest suckiest way possible. But I still think it’s essential that everyone do it, whether or not they can take their own sweet time.

        • sarah

          I more than exactly this. I precisely this.

        • ka

          Yup, I don’t think this and what Bunniesandbeagles (which I was totally inspired by) was saying are mutually exclusive. What I got out of this (though I’d obviously to defer to Leah on her intent), is that you CAN participate in a cultural institution on your own terms. That first part really succinctly stated something that is new to me – that marriage is what you and your spouse make of it. The second part said to me that you have the option to keep that definition private, especially while you’re working it through. Not that it’s always the right thing to do, but it’s there.
          The idea of community keeps coming up here (I would argue that it’s a cornerstone of APW having read through to the beginning), and the idea of marriage as a step you take in front of and with your community. But I think there’s a difference between sharing the truths of your marriage with your community (friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors, etc) versus society at large (eg that customer service rep that INSISTS on calling you Mrs. John Doe even when you are Dr. Jane Sassy-Doe). Usually in the first instance you can really have an impact on people by having a conversation and sharing, and in the second (though you might still have a chance to impact someone) it’s often easier (and saner) to let some things go.

  • Wow, Meg! Way to start this off!

    Actually, exactly to your whole post. This was much less about “gay marriage” to me as it was about “Stop. Define ‘marriage.'”
    And this to me was priceless.

    • And my favorite part, the other part I cried on (excluding the father-son talk and the bit with his mom–how I love his mom!) was the part outside of their party, where they truly marry each other.

      “I marry you.”

      This is the catalyst for my current marriage plan. I am still holding that part in my heart.

  • Camille

    I can’t speak for everyone, but in my head ‘our marriage’ is our public face, and ‘our relationship’ an intimate, private space.
    Part of our ceremony describes marriage as a symbol of our commitment to each other. But we’ve made those commitments before in small ways and big ways, so that while a ceremony was important, it was important for a wider array of reasons than to affirm our commitment.

    Us being married is exciting for a lot of people, not the least of which ourselves. Our parents, both of whom are separated, were incredibly happy at our ceremony. Our younger siblings who have watched our relationship grow and will perhaps use it as a template for their own. Our friends and coworkers who were probably most happy for good food and free beer ;)
    But what I’m getting at is that few of these people feel entitled to comment on OUR relationship because that is strictly between us. Our ceremony, as the beginning of our marriage, invited many people in to witness. Our relationship began with just us to witness.

    So while I avoid discussing what makes our relationship work, I believe in encouraging a discussion between our marriage and the world. Discussion breeds change, and our behaviors in private and in public avenues of marriage can affect the whole institution.

  • So what difference does it make what I believe?

    all the difference in the world! well, what you and your partner(s) believe, seeing as that is who you are marrying. it perhaps also matters what certain friends and family believe, depending on the extent to which you believe your marriage is about community and/or family, rather than just the direct participants (as i do).

    i am, after all, not marrying “most people,” so, while their definition of marriage does have an effect on me legally, it doesn’t effect my marriage at all! now, if only i knew quite what my definition of marriage is (something i suppose i ought clarify soon).

  • Class of 1980

    I’ve never felt all that influenced by any predetermined idea of what marriage is. Marriage is fundamentally two people throwing their lives together. What the details look like, is up to the two people in the marriage.

    In some things, I lean toward traditional roles, and not at all in others. I have taken the time to think about the areas where I am “traditional” and am sure that none of it is based on knee-jerk assumptions.

    I am also looking at areas where I have suppressed my true inclinations because of absorbing messages from society that those inclinations are not important. Sometimes society is wrong.

    If certain ideas of marriage push your buttons and upset you, then you need to ask yourself what is going on. But if you know your personal arrangement is working for you, then why spend time worrying about the uninformed opinions of others?

    So much of the unhappiness people feel in life comes down to not being true to themselves and it leads to a life of continual frustration. If you don’t do the work to figure out what works for you, you will eventually become either angry or sad all the time.

    The older I get, the less I care what other people think about my choices and the less I care about theirs. I hope I keep moving in that direction because it gives me a greater sense of calm.

    • meg

      Ah, but some of us find it endless fascinating and helpful to look at society’s constructs of social institutions. It helps us figure out how we are un-wittingly limiting the way we think, and they ways were we can push ourselves to broaden our thinking.

      Besides, that’s what the book is all about. The way socity’s view of marraige comes into conflict with two people and their decision making about their own relationship.

      • Class of 1980

        To be clearer, I do think the examination of self and society is important. But once you’ve made enough progress in that area and made some choices, I think it’s good mental health to shut out other people’s expectations.

        There are a lot of things about my life that are unconventional. It isn’t because I was trying to be different; it’s because the conventional stuff didn’t fit my situation or inclination.

        I also think you get less heat from people when you quit caring. People can sense when a person is self-assured and not to be messed with, which seems to get easier with age. Then again, I’ve always been a very willful person. ;)

  • I have found it extraordinarily difficult to define what marriage means to me, which leads me to believe maybe I really have been indoctrinated by society, my family, etc. Because I always knew I would get married. I always knew I would have a family. Neither of those were ever questions in my mind. And now I’m trying to understand why I need to get married, and all I can come up with is wanting to be a family. But we could be a family without it, essentially. I can (and will) continue to wake up next to my fiance every day regardless of whether I’m legally required to be there. But I guess I emotionally need the paperwork to say, “There. Family.”

    So if I replace the word “marriage” with “family”…what type of family do I want to have? The kind that takes trials as they come, shaken by them but less shaken than if we’d faced each obstacle alone. And makes sarcastic comments under their breaths to only each other. And gets one another excited about things that totally seemed mundane before. And dances. Often and poorly. That’s the sort of family I was raised in, and that just naturally carries through to my new family. I look at my fiance and think, “I am for you.” And that’s really the only way I can think to explain it.

    • Sarah

      That’s just beautiful.

    • Erica

      Just don’t hold it against your future sons or daughters if they just happen to dance reallly well! ;)

  • Liz

    this is an interesting post, meg, because it’s exactly how i felt through the whole book. it mirrors how i feel about the whole legalized-gay-marriage debate in general.

    how our culture defines marriage should not impact how i define marriage.
    how our government defines marriage should not impact how i define marriage.

    tangent- this is what i want to scream at those who oppose legalizing gay marriage. the government does NOT have the right to define marriage for anyone- and they don’t for me. they only have the right to ensure and protect OUR rights (most especially not to deny them). having the same health insurance, sharing a last name, and knowing one another’s medical information are governmental rights as assigned by marriage. but they in no way define marriage. so if you disagree that someone else’s marriage is valid, it should NOT dictate whether or not their rights are protected.

    my definition of marriage involves monogamy, premarital chastity and taking divorce off the table. but those of you who are married without the involvement of these ideals are no less married in my eyes. you’re married in your own way. i’m married in mine. our culture, our government has no say in which is correct. only our individual moral compasses and preferences do.

    to me, marriage had little to do the signing of legal paperwork. it had little to do with the exact words said (though i did find it important to carefully make sure they reflected our promise accurately). the essence of my marriage is promising a commitment to continue to love, enjoy, protect and better one another- even when times get hard. marriage is promising to become a better person and to help the other become better- as painful as it may be sometimes. it’s promising to set my selfishness aside and make “US-ness” a bigger priority than my own happiness*. that promise is not made valid by the certificate or the public ceremony- but those trappings certainly strengthen its power. i’ve never felt pressure to conform to any certain definition of marriage as prescribed by our culture. but i do become frustrated when some ideals are touted as “the only way.”

    what i believe about the definition of marriage entirely shapes my purpose and intents. it shapes how i wake up next to josh, and why i make an effort to see him before lying back down to sleep. it’s. huge.

    (*this becomes invalid in the case of any sort of abuse. but, when one is abused, there is no “US-ness” to protect, anyway)

    • meg

      “what i believe about the definition of marriage entirely shapes my purpose and intents. it shapes how i wake up next to josh, and why i make an effort to see him before lying back down to sleep. it’s. huge.”


    • sarah

      Liz… you rock.

  • Katelyn

    Ok – get ready. I know this is SUPER long. But everyone here always has such wonderful, wise things to say, so I’m hoping someone else has been in my boat and was able to make a decision either way.

    Honestly, I don’t know what my personal definition of marriage is. Some definitions I’ve gleaned from other people (that I identify with) are:

    2.A team
    3.A family
    4.A 100%, no matter what commitment
    5.A partner to share interests with
    6.A supporter to encourage independent growth
    7.An honest, objective listener and advice-giver
    8.A source of love and comfort when sh*t breaks loose

    But the problem is, we’re already all of these things. After 5 1/2 years, we’ve grown up together, forming our lives both together and separately. He’s considered part of the family as much as my sisters-in-law, and the same for me. We’ve made big mistakes, had big fights, gained weight, lost weight, gained it back, partied, studied, been to funerals and weddings and first days of work and had quarter-life crises… all together.

    In my heart, we’re “married”. Same goes for him – although he may not use the “married” term- because he doesn’t like what marriage means societally.

    For him, the societal definition is comprised of all the married people we know –

    1.Where one person is demanding/controlling and the other a pushover,
    2.one person racks up all the debt while barely working and the other person slaves away,
    3.people married too young or
    4.too naïve or
    5.because they think it will somehow “fix” their relationship (the WORST, in my book).

    Both of our parents are still together and we respect and admire their relationships – but seeing our peers going into marriage with such a different view on what it takes to make a relationship work for a lifetime just turns him off to the idea completely and makes me supremely confused.

    His perspective is more “Why?” and mine is more “Why not?” And we continue to discuss it – and he continues to stop me in my tracks while trying to convince him that marriage is a good thing.

    Why do we need a piece of paper from the government? It’s not going to ensure that we’ll stay together forever – that’s an internal commitment, one we’ve already made.

    The only concrete reason I can think of is tax/insurance benefits. It would feel… wrong, for lack of a better word, to get married just because of monetary benefits – and heaven knows a wedding could easily eat through all the potential savings for the next few years.

    I wish I could explain this feeling inside of me so that he could understand it. But I also fear that this feeling inside of me is some kind of doubt of what we have. And not being able to define exactly why I think we should get married only strengthens his well-thought out arguments as to why not.

    • meg

      Hum. Well, for me, it actually was important to make a public commitment in front of my community. I thought it wouldn’t be that different than a private commitment, but I was hugely, hugely wrong on that point. Swearing to something in front of the people we care about most, and asking them to hold us to it… that was huge. HUGE. It made me feel like my soul changed. For us it also mattered that we were joining an age old institution, something that had sustained and supported generations before us. Plus, we felt that we were able to shape our commitment and our marriage, to make it what we needed to be.

      And… yes. I think the legal benefits of marriage are important, which is one of the many many reasons I fight for marriage equality. It’s not just the monetary benefits (though those are good), but the legal right to care for your partner, the legal right to be their closest family member, the legal right to make end of life decisions for them, the legal right to share property. Those can be taken away from you in an instant without marriage. The fact that people I love can’t GET these rights yet, made me think really really carefully about how important they are, and not take them for granted. So do I think they are worth getting married for? H*ll yes. The legal right to make your partners end of life decisions is an integral part of the enormity of the public commitment you are making, a commitment that’s hard to break, a commitment that can change your soul.

      • Liz

        yeah yeah! the legal/governmental aspects of marriage have little connection for me with the rest of my marriage. the paperwork isn’t necessary to make my marriage legit- but it IS necessary to gain those much-needed rights.

      • I want to second this “public commitment” thought. When my wife and I first started talking about getting married, I was the one a little more skeptical of this institution, and this was I kept coming back to as the most important reason for getting married (to me).

        I love my wife (obviously) and I wanted to be with her not just for the foreseeable future, but for the rest of my life, and I wanted us to build a life together. You can do all those things without getting married, but I do think the public commitment is important for two reasons, first it lets folks unequivocally know where you stand. Dan Savage says in this very book that one of the reason that marriage equality is so important is that straight folks know what to do with it (I’m paraphrasing). When you meet someone new, especially if you are in a same-sex relationship (although this is also true, I think or anyone, in a long-term committed, non-marital relationship), and you talk about your girlfriend or partner, people don’t really know what that means. There is a wide range of commitment in those words (from we’ve been dating for a month to we’ve lived together for decades, have a house, a kid, dogs, etc). But when you say you are married, or refer to your husband or wife, people know what that means. They understand that you intend to build your life with this person – and that is a very powerful thing.

        The second reason I think the public commitment is important is that it holds your community accountable to your relationship a little. By coming to your wedding (and we had a specific community affirmation in our ceremony), people are saying in ways big and small that they recognize you as a unit and that they will support your relationship. Obviously this is imperfect (some folks who come to our weddings are not as supportive as we would hope), but it was still a very powerful amazing transformative thing for me.

        • Emily

          thanks for posting this,aah moment
          starting my journey to marriage,4 kids, 15 years together.

      • I need to exactly this a million times.

      • Yup. Totally.

        Also, I like the idea of a public ceremony because the support and affirmation of your community will, I believe, actually strengthen your marriage in subtle and long-term ways.

        Yes, when it comes down to the hard work and private details of our union, it’s all about Brian and me. But in the same way that he and I are strengthened, stretched, and supported by being in a committed relationship with each other, *our marriage* is strengthened, stretched and supported by the commitment that our community has to us, and us to them.

        To me, “community” includes our loved ones, conservative Aunt Rose who *almost* didn’t attend our interfaith ceremony, our government, and even complete strangers (gay or straight) who I hope will feel supported in their commitments as much as I feel supported in mine. It’s strength in numbers, it’s humankind’s tradition to LOVE in order to survive, and it’s the least we can do for one another.

      • Class of 1980

        And the piece of paper from the government isn’t meant to extract a promise that the couple will be together forever. The paper is a signal you’re sending out that your relationship is stepping up to the legal rights and responsibilities it confers.

        • Class of 1980

          Also –

          Government’s ONLY role in marriage is to determine legal rights and responsibilities. Marriage certificates were never intended to define the emotional component.

    • ka

      hey katelyn, i wanted to reply because i’ve been there. (i also feel like i don’t have a meaningful thesis of my own to contribute to this convo–and that i need to finish the book and have a deep convo with the boy as to what our definition of marriage is, stat. :-) )

      but yea, been in your bf’s shoes. i got there a little differently, as it was having no parental example of marriage to inspire me, and having a grand-parental example of a 50+ year marriage of which i got to see the “in sickness” and “for worse” parts where i saw what they missed out on because of their marriage, not what good came out of it. so i never wanted to get married. but for my fiance marriage was always important. he grew up in almost an identical scenario, but it had the opposite effect–he saw grandparents who made it work and were incredibly lucky to have each other and their marriage, he saw what he missed out on by not having happily together parents.

      it took a while for me to come around. but here’s how i approach it now:
      a) there’s nothing wrong with the legal/monetary reasons being motivating. this is one of the most concrete advantages to being married, not just co-habitating (and one reason why marriage should be available to everyone! like meg said!). this is especially important to me, as i have no blood/legal relations to make decisions for me should i not be able to. i can’t even imagine what would go down if something happened now, before we were married… (funnily enough, i’ve been stalling going through with it for the same reasons! i have great state-regulated health insurance that i will lose when we marry because it’s income-based. so yea, not looking forward to his more expensive, less helpful insurance.)
      b) aside from what i consider the practical reasons for doing it, i look at getting married as something i can do for my partner. this may be silly, but if you’ve ever seen “he’s just not that into you,” the whole ben affleck/jen aniston storyline is pretty much us. i sobbed like a baby and made him watch it while i said “EXACTLY!” basically, it was never important to me, but it’s important to him, and so that makes it important to me. don’t get me wrong, i’m not treating it lightly, rather, my commitment to him is already made, but if he needs me to do this to cement it, then i will. (that and while the marriage gene may have been dormant, i totes have the wedding gene!) only time will tell how going through the ceremony and making that public commitment affects me, though reading everything the ladies here say, it makes me way more excited to be married than i ever would have been with just the examples in my “real” life.

      so, personally, i came around and i did it despite seeing friends around us getting married in situations very similar to what you describe. one of them recently got divorced and i was surprised by how strongly the news affected me and actually reaffirmed, not undermined, my desire to get married. because i think what we have is solid, and special, and can potentially serve as an inspiration and example to those around us of what a marriage CAN (not should) look like.

      but that’s just me, not your boyfriend. all i think you can really do is try to articulate and share as best you can, that it’s important to you, and why it’s important to you, and that you respect his opinion all the same. something else to consider, is what is more important to you: marriage, or him? from what you wrote it sounds like him. that was something my fiance always made clear to me, that he would like to get married, but only because he wanted to be with ME forever, not because he was out looking for a wife or kids, etc.

      sorry for being so rambly, and hope it helped. :)

    • Kashia

      My Mum and I were discussing marriage and I was arguing that it was just a piece of paper and what did it matter if the commitment is already there etc. She told me that as someone who has been married twice, it matters. It’s not the piece of paper from your government (although that is what grants the legal rights) it’s saying the words in front of your community.

      She said that making that commitment public, in front of the people that you love best in the world, adds to the gravity of the relationship that you are in. That then on those days or months or years when it seems like maybe this isn’t worth it, or those times when someone else seems more attractive than what you have at home, you remember that you made that promise to your spouse and also to your community. You remember that they are there to help you, and to support your marriage. She said for her it makes the choice easier, and she never regretted that extra pressure, because for her, going home to her husband and sticking it out was always the right choice, even when she thought it would be easier not to. She said even on the days when she felt like she really really didn’t like her husband, she remembered that she made that commitment to her favourite people in the world and that for them she would not give up, and for him she would not give up.

      (and yes her first marriage did end, but trust me it was not for lack of trying…rather it was two people who married young and grew into very different adults. My parents on the other hand, have been married for 30 years now and still act like love-struck teenagers around each other even though they have been through some really difficult things.)

      • Liz

        totally. making it public makes it… for lack of words… “real.” it’s easy to make a commitment to which you won’t be held. it takes an extra bit of purpose to say, “yes, i’m willing to say this in front of anyone willing to listen.” and know that you’ll be held to it.

        that’s how i ended up with an engagement ring. i don’t need one. jewelry doesn’t make the difference between “committed” and “not.” but it does publicly represent to everyone else- “hey, i want you to know that i have a person.”

        • That’s a really interesting sentiment about an engagement ring, as opposed to the way I look at mine as a visible reminder of his love for me to see daily (especially when he’s so far away). I’ve always taken the public aspect of engagement rings to be, someone owns me — which I hate with a passion. It’s great to flip it around and say publicly I want you to know I have a person.

          • Liz

            ownership = barf

            i love the “reminder that i’m loved” sentiment!

        • rose

          I like BOTH these engagement ring thoughts.

          My fiance is wearing an engagement ring (as am I); we both took issue with the idea that I would wear a public symbol of unavailability while he did not. It just kinda reeks of woman-as-property (a sentiment unfortunately expressed in lots of wedding-related traditions) – women are tagged as taken, but men are free to appear single. Sorry, but, um, NO. We’re both equally available. Which is not available at all.

          Side bonus: explaining to people why he’s wearing an engagement ring has provided awesome opportunities to talk about our views of marriage and weddings and tradition and symbols and the like. I think even little conversations like that count toward the need that folks were mentioning earlier to be more public about the seemingly private aspects of our marriages/relationships, as part of the larger fight for equality.

          • Liz

            we did the manring, also. unfortunately, everyone just assumed he had great taste in man-jewelry and that it was meaningless or fashion or whatever.

          • K

            My fiance is also wearing an engagement ring! It has brought up some questions, but mostly positive conversation. I am glad that he decided to wear it — I find that it makes the “public” part of our engagement more real — more two-sided. To accept an engagement ring is to accept a gift of love, and it makes sense to me for that to be mutual from the get-go, not wait until the wedding to be reciprocated.

    • Katelyn

      Thanks so much everyone – as always, very articulate thoughts – lots to ponder. And lots to talk about.

      I think what I’ve realized most is that I *have* been a little dismissive of the legal rights from marriage – the bigger ones, like end of life situations and shared property. They are a big deal – and exactly the kinds of things that I believe should be available to all couples.

      And coming from a long-term monogomous relationship, I definitely understand how other long-term monogamous relationships can feel marginalized compared to married couples, despite potentially equal levels of love and commitment. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to same-gender couples. So I send my warmest, most heartfelt wishes to everyone fighting for what they deserve.

      • Katelyn

        Sorry.. despite potentially equal OR GREATER levels of love and commitment

      • meg

        Ohhhhh! And you can’t be forced to testify about your spouse in a court of law, because your conversations are privileged (literally). Can’t forget that key point, can we?

    • sarah

      I think that the tax/insurance benefits are kind of the smallest bit of the legal protections that marriage offers (although I did realize this year that if we’d been able to file jointly (we’re gay) we would have saved $3,000 this year alone… over the course of the full eight years that one of us is in school and filing jointly would really benefit us — that’s over 20k… that’s a down payment on a house!).

      The big legal protections for me are:
      1. when your marriage is legally recognized, it’s really hard to loose access to your children
      2. you get to see and care for your wife/husband when they are very ill

      It’s in moments of crisis that we don’t think about that often that the legal protections really matter.

      • Katelyn

        Yeah. I think the “very bad things could happen and I would have no rights” thing hits me at the deepest level. And makes me realize even more what others don’t even have the opportunity of having.

    • LeahIsMyName

      That’s exactly what I thought before I got married the first time. He was saying “Why Not?” and I was saying “Why?” But at the wedding, I realized that, even though I didn’t know it had happened, the social value of marriage had penetrated my brain. It felt different, and like Meg, I knew it was different from a private commitment. (It also felt wrong, but that’s another story.)

      Now that I’ve found someone who I truly feel no hesitation about marrying, I’m actually looking forward to signing that legal contract. Something appeals to me about the historical meaning of marriage as not so much a romantic linking, but more of a legal and public contract. I dunno why, but somehow I’m happy to participate in this facet of my social environment.

  • Sarah

    Yes! I feel like this book explores a lot of technical issues (cohabitation? monogamy? children? dogs? gender roles? enabling addiction?), which can seem a tad pedantic after awhile. But those last few chapters – the kid, the mom, and the “I marry you.” – are so gorgeous!
    But to your question: I think that, societally, marriage has become more of a choice than it ever was before, which frees us to define it however we like. But for me, a good strong marriage is a team for life, happier than the sum of its parts, and built on respect. A marriage should inspire those in it and those who interact with them to feel a little safer, more grateful, and more hopeful. (Can you tell I’m a bit of a dreamer?) So I think beliefs do matter to others.
    Ms. Subrosa posted a great belief [Thanks, Cate!] that I’ve been throwing around lately, which is that what being married gives you is time to sort through your relationship’s garbage and not constantly question the validity of your relationship. It gives you a greater priority than whatever you might be fighting or worried about – you’re a family, for better or worse. Committing to share the rest of your lives makes you as inextricable as parents & siblings, and that’s powerful.
    I grew up very romantic, but also questioning the idea of “The One” and romantic fate. I still think Mr. Man is entirely too perfect for me not to have some sort of divine forces at work, but I believe marriage is more grounded when it’s a choice. There could well be someone equally great for me out there, but I choose to be grateful for all that he is, and make our life from here. I find that the love I feel for him is not the “I would die for you” kind of ardor I expected, nor is it something I’ve never felt before. And I feel society wants me to say that is. But it is everything I wanted, and as someone once said, it’s even braver and more important to say “I would live for you.”

    • Sarah

      “which is that what being married gives you is time to sort through your relationship’s garbage and not constantly question the validity of your relationship. It gives you a greater priority than whatever you might be fighting or worried about – you’re a family, for better or worse.”

      This. I love this. It’s so true. I’m the type to be plagued by doubts when I feel something is too good to be true. Which led to the “oh-my-god-I’m-falling-in-love-with-him-what-if-he-finds-something-about-me-he-doesn’t-like-and-breaks-up-with-me-noooooooooo” chorus in my head during every tiny little disagreement. The curse of an over-thinker.

      Being married eases that worry, as we have the space and time to let the little things be little and work out the big stuff, knowing that we made the commitment to each other to stay, to see it though, and to love, no matter what.

      And the perspective that our little baby family is the most important thing … not the disagreements. It’s a good feeling, getting our priorities straight.

    • That Cate. She says the wisest things.

    • Nina

      Wow, that is some wise, wise words from Cate. I’ve been mulling similar thoughts in my head for a few weeks now, trying to put my finger on exactly what subtle things have changed in our relationship since getting married and I think this comment is right on the money. I feel that since being married I find it easier to just let little things go, whereas before I might have poked at them as a way to test the validity of the relationship. Now it’s just us, in a partnership for better or worse, and I can lean us towards “better” by letting silly things go.

  • Amy

    I base my definition of marriage on the incredible examples that I was lucky enough to grow up with.

    Marriage means that you choose each day to continue loving your partner, and that love gives you a secure place from which to build your best self. I believe in marriages that are forever because you can’t build on a foundation that you’re not sure of. All of the crap about having to live together doesn’t matter, since there’s no rules about how close you have to stand to love somebody.

    What I believe matters because the definitions of marriage aren’t like the definition of a kilogram, which is locked in a vault somewhere in France. Marriage is intensely personal–you never hear somebody say “our kilogram”, but nobody would refer to their relationship with their partner as “a marriage” instead of “our marriage”.

  • tupelohoney

    This question made me think of what my dad told my older brother before he proposed to his now wife. My brother was seeking my dad’s advice on marriage and my dad’s response was something along the lines of “You’re ready for marriage when you’re ready to make that other person the most important person in your life.” My first reaction when I heard this was, “Well, what about my sister/dad/grandma/mom/etc and their importance to me?” Then I thought, well, one day my sister will find her “most important person” and grandpa was grandma’s “most important person” and on and on.

    And I didn’t take his advice to think of it like a ranking system or that my love for my fiance is more important than my love for my sister, but I think I agree with my dad. I do think that my fiance is the most important person in my life (my life partner!), and in the most simplistic of ways, sharing life with the most important person to you is what marriage is. In 23 days I’ll be able to call him my husband, and I’ll be so happy to.

  • Darn, I wish I could have made the Vancouver group! Curses…

    What kind of marriage do you believe in?

    Our definition: Marriage is when two people make a formal agreement to become a legal family unit… to strive to respect each other and meet each others’ needs for the rest of their lives.

    I want to say schmoopy things like “love”,”humour”, “trust”, “soulmate” and “having each other’s backs”… but some of marriages just aren’t like that. That doesn’t make those marriages any less valid (sadly).

    What difference does it make what you believe?

    We’ve recently been asked some of our resolutely unmarried friends, “Why would you get married?”. Their tone was very much, “Society’s approval means that much to you? LAME.”

    My answer: “Marriage is what you make it. We thought about it for a long time, and it felt right.”

    Kevin’s answer (he’s been married before): “I’ll tell you why not to get married… don’t do it to fix something or because you think it’s the next step! Do it because it feels right. For us, it felt right.”

    Obviously not the most resounding argument in favour of the ol’ institution. But that’s the thing… we don’t think about marriage — ours or anyone elses — as an “institution”. Marriage is what you make it… each marriage is as unique and has its own rules.

    We view marriages as unique, individual entities… not partnerships that must conform to one “marriage” mold, or that have joined the ranks of a single whole. This has big implications for
    a) how we view our own community, the law and society-at-large
    b) how we expect/demand/wish our own marriage to be viewed by others (individuals, the government)
    c) how we VOTE, baby.

    • I should also mention that prior to getting married, we were common-law partners for seven years… legally recognized by the government of Canada, filed taxes jointly, all that jazz.

      So for us, the decision wasn’t about the legal benefits. It wasn’t about “society’s approval”. It wasn’t even about our family’s expectations… they pretty much considered us married anyway.

      So why did we do it? It just… felt right. That’s all I’ve got. (And yes… it does feel different. Safe and strong and wonderful.)

    • Nina

      Join us next time! Our first meeting was small but awesome.

  • What you said about the whole “I don’t believe in marriage because I don’t like the definitions of marriage that my society is force feeding me” line being a cop-out really rings true for me. Despite having some amazing examples in my life, for a long time, I was fully in that camp, but discovering this blog, along with better understanding those amazing examples I have, has really helped me realize that society’s view of marriage doesn’t have to have anything to do with my view of it. There’s a lot of freedom that comes with that, and a lot of responsibility.

    While I’m still not 100% sure what sort of marriage I believe in (beside an equal, loving partnership), I just wanted to say thanks for helping open my mind.

  • What we believe about marriage matters hugely. We need to remember that ‘society’ is, believe it or not, just all of us, collectively. So a shitty societal definition of something, means that a lot of individuals hold shitty views. Hence why thinking about, and challenging, and questioning *out loud* our individually held assumptions is so important. Because society’s dictats on various issues change one individual at a time, but society as a whole is much less likely to get a-changing if everybody just sits quietly on their hands with their newly found values. A point that Mr. Savage makes eloquently in the book when speaking about his multitude of straight friends and family celebrating their gay marriage, and refusing to quietly conform any longer.

    • Yes, yes, absolutely yes.

      And that bit of the book was brilliant.

    • meg

      Yesssssssssssssssssss. One million times exactly.

  • Michele

    Eff me. I have been ruminating upon this ALL DAY. And you know what? I can’t answer these questions without being overly base or overly complex. In the words of P over at What Possessed Me, “this is an outrageous question with an impossible answer.”

    That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop thinking about it, or stop TRYING to answer it. But right now, I can’t. At least not with words.

    • Alyssa

      Honey, I am right there with you. I’ve been neck deep in documents all day, and after reading all the great and smart responses, I STILL don’t know what I believe.

      Scratch that, I know what I believe, I just am not sure how to articulate it into words.

  • LPC

    When I got married, I did it because a) I wanted to have children b) I felt validated because at the ancient age of 29 finally a man wanted to make me his bride. Clearly those were not the greatest of reasons. Without those reasons, I can only see 2 other points to getting married, a) for tax and legal purposes b) to let everyone (including the two of you) know you mean it, that you’re not leaving this person’s side, that you will, in fact, be there when death does you part.

    Are there other reasons to get married that I am missing?

    • meg

      Religious reasons. Also, wanting to tie yourself to your history and culture. Not mandatory, but not lightly dismissed either.

      I think B is tricky, and true more often than we’d like to think… because it’s very socially acceptable. Encouraged even.

      • Point B kills. I have to sit and listen to smart, successful, but single lady friends moan about this ALL. THE. TIME. And now I have to shut up about it because I’ve said my piece on it enough times, and now I’m just the luckily married one, so what the heck do I know about it anymore? Whereas, I had discovered my own validation through my own messy process *before* my relationship with the boy. Which is a huge part of why I think I was then so ready to be married to him.

        Major bone of contention for me, this.

        • Maddie

          Ugh. Drives. Me. Nuts. I’m in my relative early twenties and it’s frequently assumed that because I’m married I suddenly no longer have a care in the world. Um…no? I might be biased because I once worked with a straight up *crazy* girl who would refute any complaint I would make about ANYTHING because I was married (and what could possibly be the matter when you have a man who loves you?!) To me it also reinforces the idea that women lose their worth over time, which makes me very uncomfortable.

          • Willow

            On a slightly tangential note, in a weird way I can see where your crazy workmate is coming from because so often all of the dramas in my life ARE made better because of the person who loves me. That constant support and unfailing back-up person get me through so many tough tough times.

            I guess the point is you don’t stop having problems when you meet someone you want to marry, just if you are lucky they help you out with the problems that continue to crop up.

    • Arachna

      I did it for the second b. And said so in my vows. I wanted him to know, our family to know, our friends to know, the government and perfect strangers to know that we’re partners in life. Serious partners with legal rights and everything.

      Personally I love the 50% (I know actual state law varies but as a simplification) money/assets split – that’s how I knew I wanted to marry him, I wanted to give him everything I had and couldn’t imagine wanting to claim my income as mine only and felt perfectly comfortable having rights over his. It baffles me how many people not only don’t like this aspect of marriage but enter into marriage with no desire for that monetary share. Money might sound shallow but it is not – it’s what you have, its what you spend most of your waking hours earning, its about providing, its a very basic way of being a team. Duplicating those rights to income etc. would be pretty hard absent marriage. I’m not saying everyone who isn’t into that shouldn’t get married (god forbid! as we keep saying on APW how marriages frequently look different, awesome different) but please for gods sake get a prenup and get is all hammered out before you do if you feel that way.

      I am terrified of good friends of mine marrying for the first b. No one has yet but I can see how their own beliefs and experiences are pushing them that way. :(

      • Erin

        “Personally I love the 50% (I know actual state law varies but as a simplification) money/assets split – that’s how I knew I wanted to marry him, I wanted to give him everything I had…”

        I’m rolling this around with a few other comments to the tune of, “We don’t just become one single organism when we get married, we have separate identities and need to maintain them,” and the Rilke quote above (how is he so fantastic about love?) that describes embracing the beautiful, impassable distance that exists between two people.

        One of the things I believe about marriage is that this generosity (I want to give him everything I have, he feels the same) is part of what sets it apart from other kinds of relationships. It’s not just us joining into a super-organism, and losing ourselves. It’s a continuous exchange of giving ourselves to each other across the distance that separates our identities, and gratefully accepting everything the other has to give. Blood relationships often have this quality, but with a marriage it’s chosen. On my best days, I want to give him everything I have — my time, my attention, overlooking his annoying quirks, the last bite of my Gen. Tso’s chicken — and the beautiful thing is that generosity begets more generosity in the rest of my life. On my worst days, I still know that when I withhold my generosity, I’m not just hurting him. I’m withholding it from that separate entity, our marriage, that needs this generosity from both of us to thrive.

        If this is the kind of marriage I believe in, you’d better believe I want it to be true for everyone. I’m obviously not getting into the legal aspects, or the social aspects; those have been discussed elsewhere. So if this is true, does it matter what I believe? How? Liz mentioned above how your marriage can be an example for those around you. Yes. And as I said above, the generosity in our marriage, of spirit, of acceptance, of possessions, catalyzes more acts of generosity in the rest of my life. It’s almost like a spiritual practice.

        All right, I just put myself into a really blissful “I love marriage!” mood… Back to work.

        • andthebeautyis

          This is a really beautiful description of marriage. I am now going to seek out a reading about generosity. Thank you!

  • Maddie

    You know, I think that there is something very powerful about a public commitment to each other (as opposed to the legal commitment or private relationship, which are powerful in their own rights.) To me, there is a certain level of accountability when you make a thing public. It’s like when you tell people you’re going to get in shape and then suddenly your outward declaration makes the goal manifest itself more powerfully. And while that’s kind of a shitty analogy, the point made is that whether or not we realize it, marriage is a huge risk and the public acknowledgment that you are aiming for an ideal is a big leap to take together.

    To me, at it’s core, marriage is the creation of family. While I am similar to many of the previous posters in that I relish my private life, my separate spaces, and the differences that make my husband and I unique, at the same time we are infused in each other’s identities so much so that were we ever to separate, his influence on me would be great enough that I can’t ever be who I was before I met him. And I guess you could say that about a lot of relationships, but maybe it’s the combination of this fusion and the public declaration that makes a marriage for me? Honestly, I’m just as baffled as others trying to explain it…

    …but what I do know is that it is absolutely important what I think about marriage. And what you think. What all of us thinks. You’d be so surprised to hear how many people just don’t think that there is an alternative to the existing standards for marriage. I tell people that we haven’t merged our bank accounts yet (I’m trying, Meg – I promise!) and it’s like I’ve shown them them the light (I’m not joking, people are blown away). The more we share the idiosyncrasies that make our marriages unique, the more we break down the restrictive definitions of marriage that a) convince couples in loving, committed relationships that marriage is not for them and b) allow for discrimination like the Defense of Marriage Act (Hello! If there is no single definition of marriage, then there is nothing to defend!)

  • I’ve been thinking about this all day, and mostly what came to mind were song lyrics. One song in particular, that I returned to over an over again while we were engaged, is ‘Witness to Your LIfe”
    By Lori McKenna. Here is an excerpt from the chorus,

    “All you really need is someone to be here
    Someone who never lets you disappear
    And I will be that witness to your life
    This may just be a softer place to fall
    But somebody will answer when you call
    And I will be that witness to your life.”

  • LPC

    Let me just say that you all are not having this discussion just for yourselves. I promise:).

  • LeahIsMyName

    Can I just say that I’ve never seen so many smart people commenting on the internet? It’s astonishing, really, that every person on here is scary smart and articulate. As a new commenter here, I need to be on my game! :)

  • Aimee

    I believe in a marriage that is honest, trusting, understanding, compromising, supportive, and that fosters a safe environment to pursue our dreams or retreat from the world into. I believe in a marriage where two people come together and make a commitment to one another that they both agree upon. For my husband and I, that means monogamy although it wouldn’t have to if we both agreed on other terms. It also means that we are legally and financially responsible for one another.

    Marriage to me seals that commitment and makes it “permanent” in our community. Although we all know divorce is possible, marriage is still a larger statement than just saying we love one another and have found all the above qualities in another person. This is why I truly believe that right should be made available everyone. We should all have the ability/right to state in an easily recognized manner (ie; marriage) that we are declaring a certain level of commitment.

    The main difference for me in marriage is that my husband is my family now. He is my next of kin and my beneficiary. In the eyes of all of our family and friends, we are together and counted as a definite pair. We have created our own secure unit of 2. A place in the world that is sacred and safe and full of love and trust. Our family of 2 makes its own rules and values, has its own hobbies together, and still allows for the autonomy of the individual with alone time and independent interests. Oh ya, and I get to be called “wifey” affectionately :)

    • Maddie

      I just can’t “exactly” this enough.

  • Tricia

    So I have been relating to marriage through metaphors, but I found that the metaphor that resonates most strongly after the wedding is not the same metaphor that captivated me before. Before we were married I was primarily relating to marriage as a shared journey we were embarking on together. This is still a powerful metaphor. It is about being partners and sharing the load. And it is about committing to make choices that keep bringing you together rather than sending you off on separate roads. This was the metaphor that ran through our ceremony and the metaphor that we embodied by backpacking (10 days) in to the location where we were married.

    But now we are married and it surprised me to find that the journey metaphor was no longer the first one that leaped to my mind when I thought of marriage. Now we are setting up the systems (shared financial systems, etc) that will shape our marriage and I find the most powerful metaphor to be our marriage as a home we are still in the process of constructing that will house our baby family (and continue to house it as it grows and changes and matures). It is built on a foundation of love that was laid before the wedding and we sketched out the plans in our many conversations before the wedding. We laid the hearthstone, the heart of the home and our marriage, at our wedding by publicly committing to spend our lives together. Now we are framing in the walls and giving it shape and structure that will affect how we live and the shape of our marriage and our lives for years to come.

    I suspect that the years (and decades) will continue to bring new ways to relate to marriage, but ultimately, for me, it is all about building a life together and making a commitment to share that life through the good and the bad and I agree that making that commitment in front of community is a very powerful moment.

    And I do think marriage changes things, but in subtle ways, at least for us. When people ask, I tell them that married life is pretty much the same. And that is true, but it isn’t complete. Marriage has changed things in little, yet important, ways, but two weeks in, I’m not really ready to talk about them yet. Nor do I really think I have completely grasped what they are. But it does matter.

  • Priscilla

    Ok, ok, I’ll buy it! I’m going to have to read it on the honeymoon at this point instead of pre marriage, but I’ve got to read this now.

  • I just chimed in to say I LOVE Carolyn Hax.

    My definition of marriage: a commitment to a person that I intend to keep for life, but not one that is made on the day of the wedding – it’s one that was made in our hearts and minds long before our wedding day. The day itself celebrates it and makes it legal, but does not bring it about.

    We talked once in comments about how I would be devastated if there had been a problem with the expensive catering but we’d be fine if there were an officiant issue. I can honestly say now that I’m married that it was true for me, what I said: our officiant almost didn’t show up (he had always intended to but was on vacation the week before and didn’t answer phone calls, which freaked us out). In the end, he did, but in the interim we had a great plan to either have a commitment ceremony and go to the JP the next working day or quickly ordain a friend online. Honestly, we were OK with it two days before the wedding and were happy, but not peeing ourselves with relief, when our officiant did come through…because it would have been OK. So I can say in all honesty that my wedding day was no bringer of a life-changing moment or drastic sea change…it was a celebration of what was already true. I feel now as I felt then – committed, but now (as Offbeat Bride’s Ariel once put it) in 3D.