This Is Why I Believe in a Thing Called Marriage


But that doesn't mean you have to

by Lauren Fitzpatrick, Contributor

bride and groom's feet

One of my co-workers recently came back from a wedding, full of stories about how beautiful it was and how happy the couple seemed. She scrolled through a few photos, then popped her phone back in her handbag and declared that she herself was never getting married.

“I don’t believe in marriage,” she said.

Her words kept coming back to me throughout the afternoon: I don’t believe in marriage. I’d heard people say it before, but not since I myself was married. It felt off; can you apply the concept of belief to marriage? It’s not like the tooth fairy or Neverland; it exists, and I personally can vouch for that. I was surprised to feel put out by her words, as if she’d said that all marriages are a waste of time, including mine. I interpreted her statement as saying that there was no point to marriage. If it was a pointless endeavor, why had I wanted to do it?

Getting married was a milestone I had penciled into my life from a young age. It wasn’t a goal, but one of those things I assumed I’d do: go to college, get married, have kids, run a successful veterinary clinic. The one foreseeable hiccup, that I was “supposed to” change my name, I had already solved. I would simply marry someone whose last name was also Fitzpatrick.

As an eight-year-old, it didn’t dawn on me to question the system. As an adult, I have to wonder why no one pointed out that it would be very difficult to juggle three kids and graduate from vet school by the age of twenty-five, but no one did. Unsurprisingly, neither of those events came to fruition (although I did figure out another rather obvious way of remaining a Fitzpatrick). Getting married, however, was something that stuck with me. I didn’t equate marriage with happiness, but I still hoped I would do it one day.

When I taught English in Korea, we asked the sixth-graders to keep a diary over a holiday weekend. Most of the entries were the same—I played video games or I made rice cakes, but one of the girls ended hers with the phrase marriage me never. She explained that over the weekend she’d observed the women working in the kitchen while the men relaxed, and concluded that once you were married you couldn’t have fun anymore. I thought about what my co-teacher had said, that once she got married she was expected to care for her in-laws and cook soup for her husband every day, even though she hated soup. If my definition of marriage matched theirs, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it either. Rather than get into a linguistically difficult conversation about cultural expectations, I told the student that she was absolutely right, she didn’t have to get married if she didn’t want to.

She was firm. “I don’t, Teacher,” she said.

I, on the other hand, did. Right through the moment when I said my vows, I didn’t analyze why I wanted to marry Jared rather than remain in a mutually committed relationship. I just knew that I did, like the way I know I prefer red apples to green ones. Despite the many origins of marriage that I am opposed to, I didn’t feel like I was signing up for a doomed enterprise or jumping off a cliff with the other lemmings. That’s not to say that there aren’t certain prevalent conventions that make me bristle—like getting so many letters addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jared Holmes—but it doesn’t make me doubt my decision.

The concept of marriage sounds simple when you’re a kid, and it’s easy to assume that one day you’ll meet that person and step seamlessly into your future together. As you grow older, it becomes obvious that finding one person who you want to spend your life with is no easy feat. If you do fall into a relationship and you’d both like to keep it going FOREVER (talk about a long time), that’s a big deal. Marriage gives us a way to celebrate that, to say to each other I choose you, let’s make this work. It is so full of hope and faith that I am able to find value in it, even through all of the baggage that it brings.

Of course marriage isn’t for everyone, even when it doesn’t mean being relegated to the kitchen with a pot of soup. One of my best friends confessed to me that she and her fiancé, parents to an adorable toddler, were basically getting married to please their families. “It doesn’t make a difference to me,” she said. “We’re already a family.” For her, marriage is a formality, a way of externalizing what already exists internally for her. Her explanation made perfect sense; even though I don’t feel the same way, I understood why she does. Marriage means different things to each of us.

Yes, marriage has its faults, one of the most obvious being that we can’t all agree on what it looks like. To my former student, it’s a fun sponge. To my co-teacher, an added level of responsibility. To my colleague, who has since voiced doubts about monogamy as a whole, its traditional definition appears to ask more than she’s comfortable with. To my friend, a legal document. There are a million reasons not to get married, yet we keep doing it.

I have tried and tried to get to the heart of why I still believe in marriage, and I struggle to articulate it. What I have come to understand is that it doesn’t matter who believes in marriage and who doesn’t. It matters that I do, and that Jared does, and that we approach it on our terms. Our definition of marriage may be different from my co-worker’s, but it has to be. In that respect, marriage is a little bit like a fairy: in order to make it work, you have to believe it’s real.

Lauren Fitzpatrick

Lauren graduated from Indiana University with no idea of what to do next, so she got a working holiday visa for Ireland. Over the next ten years she worked her way around the world, picking up a Master’s in travel writing and an Australian fiancé along the way. She is now based in Newcastle, Australia, and still doesn’t understand what “settling down” is supposed to mean.

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  • Grumpy Anon for this

    I’m always floored that people have to search for a reason to get married, when it’s very definition is that it’s a contract conferring legal benefits and responsibilities. It is a legal way of taking care of someone you like so much that you want to provide security.

    I saw Joy Behar explain that she finally married her long-time love because she knew an unmarried couple who ran into major problems when one of them landed in the hospital. It finally dawned on her that she had no protections in place. To be honest, I thought she was a dumb ass not to think of that before.

    Yeah, a lot of people say marriage isn’t necessary anymore. I guess a lot of people just don’t care to inherit property or money from each other, provide insurance benefits, designate pensions, or be the next of kin in the event of a disaster. It beats the hell out of me. It really does.

    • TeaforTwo

      To be honest, I didn’t think about any of this when we were getting married. But the jurisdiction I live in has pretty strong protections for common law spouses. We were already required to file our taxes together, shared benefits at work and had designated pensions. At Year 3 of cohabitation (which we hadn’t reached by the time we got legally married), we would have had nearly all the same protections as legal spouses, including rights to alimony if we broke up. I understand from previous threads that things are way, way different in the US.

    • Not Sarah

      To be honest, my boyfriend and I don’t care about inheriting property from each other. We both make similar incomes and have assets. He’s suggested he might donate his entire estate and I’m okay with that. We don’t have pensions. Getting married will cost us more in taxes, we currently have no plans to have children, and it is cheaper to carry our own health insurance than to share it. We don’t have to get married for him to be my emergency contact.

      • emmers

        It’s true that you can choose someone as your emergency contact without being married, but I always think about what would happen if I were to become very ill, very rapidly, and if I weren’t able to communicate (or show them where my emergency contact was listed), what would happen if my partner wanted to know my medical condition (or be able to visit me/ offer input to the doctors). That’s one things I appreciate about marriage– I feel like my partner will now be more protected in that way.

        • Not Sarah

          Oh I absolutely am with you on that part and is one of the main reasons I want to get married some day! :) I was mostly refuting Grumpy Anon’s last paragraph.

          • emmers

            Got it. Haha, grumpy anon makes me think of GrumpyCat!

      • Amanda

        I can certainly see your point and am mostly in agreement but just because you have similiar assets and incomes now and don’t have pensions now and currently both have jobs with health insurance that is equally as good….doesn’t mean that you always will. Also, if you know that your boyfriend plans to donate his entire estate, that’s awesome but if he doesn’t make a will and something happens to him you might be the only person who knows his intentions but you wouldn’t necessarily have any say in what happens.

        I’m not saying that marriage is for everyone or that you should get married for the legal aspects of it, I’m just saying that it certainly does help with the legal aspects of life. Also, of course you can jump through all of the legal hoops of making sure everything is laid out just as you both would like but there are still some limitations and it also requires that if/when something happens you have and provide all of those legal documents. The legal official-ness of it all is one of the big reasons why homosexual couples around the country are fighting so hard to be able to marry and you can get pretty close without technically being married but there are still hurdles.

    • Kris

      I’m with you, grumpy. But I can also see how, for people whose lives are different, this might not be so obvious. Because of our respective educations we faced a sort of engineer’s dilemma (“sooner, better, cheaper…pick 2”). In this case My Career, His Career, Living in the Same Zip Code. Job opportunities in my field concentrate around urban/high population density/high income areas, for him it’s just the opposite: rural/low pop density/low cost of real estate areas.

      Without the protections of marriage (coverage under his insurance, community property, etc) I would have to make “my career” one of the 2. And with him lacking the same protections he would have to pick his career. That’s 2. Not looking good for our relationship. I imagine if your respective careers didn’t have that kind of geographic incompatibility (or some other issue that makes it obvious from the start that love won’t be enough and there will be a major sacrifice/change in plan required for the relationship to work long-term), you might not think the legal protections were all that important. “Eh, it’s just a piece of paper”

      What always baffled me was the people who’d have a kid (or kids!) with someone and then say “we’re just not ready for the commitment of marriage” *blink* *blink* (I’m not saying everyone should be married to their co-parent, just that this specific thing always seemed odd to me. How is marriage a bigger commitment than making a baby you’re both 100% responsible for…forever?)

      • Sarah S

        I had a professor in a sociology of families class tell us, “Marry anybody you want, but for God’s sake, be careful who you have a child with!”

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      If you were like me, this wasn’t a message that was conveyed much growing up. It’s not that I needed a reason to get married, exactly, it’s just that I was taught that the risk WAS in getting married, not in staying unmarried in a long term relationship (which some of my immediate family has chosen.) One nasty divorce can totally flip the way you see marriage, which can then be passed onto your children.

      • Maddie Eisenhart

        My grandmother, for example, was never going to get remarried, because she would never want anyone to stand in the way of her kids getting her money if she died. THAT is the kind of messaging I grew up with. SO yeah, I definitely needed some justification for marriage.

        • My grandmother has turned down many marriage proposals, because she never wants to feel the way she felt with my grandfather ever again. In fact, that whole side of my family has seen a slew of very nasty divorces, and my parents and one aunt and uncle set are the only people still married. I needed some serious justification, too.

    • The legal “benefits” is actually what has turned me off the institution of marriage for a long time.

      For one thing, the legal protections are not consistent across different jurisdictions, so a marriage in one state or country means a different thing than in another. For another thing, the fact that these benefits can be systematically denied to gay couples where gay marriage is not legal (also take note that interracial marriages were illegal as the 60s and still face discrimination), makes me think of marriage are a heteronormative/white privilege. I don’t know, the history (including current history) of marriage as a legal institution is not very pretty.

      Partly because of these frustrations, we looked into being in a common-law relationship, and in signing all the power of attorney forms etc. in order to give us the legal protections we want. I personally love this idea: that we could customize our own set of legal protections instead of taking de facto what is prescribed in our jurisdiction, deciding what was truly important to us in our definition of commitment. I mean, on the flip side you have people signing pre-nups to protect themselves from the legal risks that are unwittingly thrust upon you, so being able to define your own legal protections has a certain beauty in it; although you could say it’s naive to put faith in a more convoluted legal process that’s sure to cause non-straightforward problems further down the road instead of just taking de facto what’s given and will work in our current system.

      But there’s something about these default legal benefits and risks (that are inconsistent across different locations) that make me uneasy, and that often we accept them without questioning make me uncomfortable. (Hailey had a great essay about spousal perks on APW earlier this year.) Perhaps my feelings are similar to how some people refuse to believe in certain religions because that religious institution has committed some horrible crimes in the past and expect you to go along with their values, while others would argue that the religion still offers a lot of good things that are not to be negated. In this sense, maybe marriage is something that you can believe in (or not).

      Long story short — I will be getting legally married; my more unconventional notions won’t cut it with family expectations, and I have all kinds of romantic definitions of marriage that I’d prefer to focus on instead, but from an ideological standpoint the legal one isn’t one I’m totally comfortable with.

  • SavannahHeilig

    My now husband asked me to marry him after I was bitten by a venomous snake and had to be hospitalized for three days. He was not able to get any information about my condition, make any decisions for me when I was sleeping or puking my guts out, and felt horrible watching me freak out because I had no insurance and had no idea how I was going to pay for an ambulance ride/hospital stay. We got engaged last fall and married this spring and one of the major deciding factors was so if anything ever happened again we could take care of each other. Also, we’d dated for six years and the only reason we hadn’t gotten married is because we just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I never really needed a reason to marry my husband, in my mind there was no reason not to.

    • Jennifer

      This is very similar to the reasoning my partner and I had. We got married because he got sick of me being stuck in a job that was making me miserable. And I wasn’t able to quit said miserable job until I had the reassurance of continuing insurance coverage (darned chronic conditions). And that — with the chronic illness I have, he now has the ability to be by my side and help me find really good medical care when I need it.

  • Sarah

    We have some Libertarian friends who were in a long-term relationship. When the woman brought up marriage to her male partner, he said he wasn’t opposed to it but needed a legitimate reason to do so. After a few days she came to him and said “We won’t have to testify against each other in court.” They were married shortly thereafter.

    • Ames5

      Sharp lady!

    • Meg Keene

      As someone married to a lawyer, I think those particular marital protections are… undersung.

      • Sarah

        Yes, I lived in NC when Amendment 1 (banning gay marriage) was passed. The 2008 gubernatorial candidate mentioned how many hundreds of protections marriage confers and why he opposed this amendment. Banning gay marriage truly is denying equal protections under the law.

    • vegankitchendiaries

      BRILLIANT.

  • Juanita

    “If you do fall into a relationship and you’d both like to keep it going FOREVER (talk about a long time), that’s a big deal. Marriage gives us a way to celebrate that, to say to each other I choose you, let’s make this work. It is so full of hope and faith that I am able to find value in it, even through all of the baggage that it brings.”
    This. So much.
    In the midst of month 15 of being engaged and the end coming in sight (8 more months), I always thought as a kid if you were the marrying type it would be so easy. But with family concerned over how young we are (he’s 25, I’m 22, we both have degrees), all the usual family expectations, and money things just not falling into place, yet, it feels so overwhelming. But then I sit back and remember why I’m taking all this stress on. I found my forever person, if anyone else gets that or not is whatever. Getting married feels like such a chore, but I want that and even though my community isn’t always 100% with me, I want to make those promises in front of them. So in some ways we’re doing it for our own reasons and also so our community can see what we’ve known for a long time. We’re together, forever, no matter what comes. Thanks for your words this morning.

    • I was about your age when I got married. (Been married 2 years, so now I’m…ya know, still not that much older.) We initially weren’t going to have a wedding with all our people in attendance. But then we did, and it was SUCH an important milestone to be able to stand up in front of all of them and show our community exactly who we were as a couple, what we meant to each other, and what we intended to do together. After the wedding, I heard from several people how great it was to witness my partner and I opening up about our relationship. We’d kept things relatively private in general during our years together so far, so I think folks liked getting a real glimpse of us as a couple (metaphorically speaking, not that our relationship was a cloistered secret or anything.)

      So…YMMV, of course, but I just wanted to say that a wedding as an opportunity to share with your community what you’ve built with your partner and what you’re promising one another is such a cool thing! I guess I’m extra dense since it took my own wedding to realize that even after years of reading APW. ;)

      • Juanita

        That sounds a lot like us even down to the we keep our relationship relatively private.

        I’m trying to focus more on the this is a really cool thing and a way to really connect with our community and not so much on the this is hard and frustrating aspects. I’m looking forward to this milestone, but I’ll be glad when it’s over.

    • Lizzie

      My reasons exactly! Even though my now-husband and I were in our 30s when we got married, so we didn’t have the age-related concerns your community is voicing, we still wanted our commitment to be public and witnessed by those close to us (and let’s be honest, some not so close). We had our celebrant include a “community vow” where she asked the guests as a group if they would support our marriage, and if so say together “we will” (luckily for us they did). Like you I felt the wedding itself was kind of a chore, but putting our “insides” “outside” (to use commenter Violet’s metaphor) for that moment was worth it. It’s like a happy, beautiful “SUCK IT” to the naysayers.

      • Juanita

        “A happy beautiful “SUCK IT” to the naysayers.” so going to remember that one. But I really like the idea of a community vow and how you expressed it! I’m going to keep that in mind for how I want my wedding to look and also to remember a little bit of why we’re doing what we’re doing.

  • Violet

    Once I stayed over at my mom’s house, which is a townhouse she owns, but in a joint community. I was awakened one morning by a guy on a ladder outside my window and subsequent banging on the roof. I was pretty startled. The association didn’t need to give us advance notice because they own the “outside” of the house, and my mom only owns the “inside.”

    I think marriage is like that. There’s the inside and the outside, but they can affect one another. You know how some people say “marriage is a piece of paper?” They are right, but only if you’re looking at just the inside of the house. Relationships that are serious, or long-term, or committed, or what have you, can *feel* the same as marriage… on the inside. But the outside doesn’t really see it that way. People who say “the whole point of marriage is the legal protections” are right, but only if you’re just looking at the outside of the house. It doesn’t acknowledge that for some people, marriage changes the feel inside the house also.

    Some people’s barriers between inside and outside are strong. They might feel it’s only about the inside, or only about the outside. The guy on the ladder outside wouldn’t affect them inside. Other people’s barriers between in and out are semi-permeable. These are people who feel differently about the inner workings of the relationship once outside acknowledgment is conferred. Or people who can’t stomach getting married themselves before there’s marriage for all. The outside affecting the inside.

    • Juanita

      “It doesn’t acknowledge that for some people, marriage changes the feel inside the house also.” I don’t know if this was intended with any spiritual ideas, but I know that’s a major reason I do want to get married, because, I feel we have a good “inside” already. But I also believe it subtly changes you to stand before others and declare what you have with someone else. I really like this analogy.

      • Violet

        Interesting, I didn’t think about a spiritual component! But like your story, we knew we were each other’s person *young,* so we felt pretty married internally for a long time. Since we couldn’t really get married when we “knew” (social convention of marrying right out of high school not being considered ideal where we’re from), we waited. After the wedding, my partner felt an internal shift, whereas I didn’t. That’s why I tend to think of it in this way, because I can’t figure out how else some people think lots about the social or legal implications, others think lots about the personal relationship ones, and others consider both or experience a shift as the outside forces influence their inner world.

    • Jess

      Wow. This is really insightful and really beautiful.

      • Violet

        Thanks!

    • KC

      That is a lovely analogy. And also why I do not ever want to “own” a townhome which has that sort of “no notice required” rider… :-)

      • Violet

        “And also why I do not ever want to “own” a townhome which has that sort of “no notice required” rider.” Right on! It was pretty jarring. And I’m usually a compartmentalizer, but in this case even I was like, “How can you claim the outside of the house is not even related to the inside of it!??” Hence, my musings on marriage.
        And thanks. : )

    • This is beautiful and should be a post.

      • Violet

        Thank you!

  • TeaforTwo

    For me, the key deciding factor in wanting to get married was the commitment to permanence. I know many unmarried couples in long-term committed relationships, but it felt to me like we could make it to 10 or 12 or 36 years by bobbing along (which would still take work, and require commitment, but would be gradual and incremental) but I wanted one clear moment when we said “Yes. You. Forever.” Our wedding vows didn’t make public something we already knew – they were a defining moment when we made a set of promises. We weren’t married, and then we were. That’s what I wanted.

    As an aside – we never bothered to celebrate an anniversary when we were dating. We both agreed it didn’t feel relevant to us, in part because it was the anniversary of what? Of the time that we watched Mad Men and made out on my couch? Or of the time we had a conversation about agreeing to be “a thing” a few weeks later? Neither of those felt huge enough, and we’d done both of those things with other people.

    But then! Sunday was our first wedding anniversary and guess what? Having an anniversary is THE BEST. It really is like a secret holiday all about the two of you. No guests, no expectations. Just being in love and getting dressed up for dinner. I think I like anniversaries better than weddings, maybe.

    • Em

      Yes, EXACTLY. It was the same for me. For me, I never dreamed about the dress, the wedding, the party, as a child. I had parents that got married to save their relationship when I was born and then unsurprisingly got divorced when I was 10. For most of my life, I have been against/uninterested in marriage. So when my wife and I decided to get married, I had a hard time articulating why – even to myself. I mean, you can love just as hard, commit just as deeply, raise kids just as well, etc etc regardless of your marital status.

      I realized that to me, the difference is that when you marry, you’re taking a stand and consciously naming your commitment, right at the beginning (ish). You’re looking out at the rest of your life, and declaring, “I will still be here with you at the end,” and then you’re loving & committing & raising kids (or not) within the parameters of that. You’re deciding at the outset, blessing your decision, and then carrying it out for the rest of your life. How crazy amazing is that??

  • Sara

    I know this isn’t the point of the article, but thank you for putting “I believe in a thing called love’ in my head. I’m sure it’ll be stuck there all day now. :)

    • Basketcase

      Hilariously, that song is my (completely non-musical) husbands ring tone on his phone. I love it when his phone rings <3

    • Amanda Michele Rhaesa

      This is a direct quote from my partner while we were working on building our wedding playlist. “What’s that hair music where ship gets attacked by fuzzy thing and guitarist beats it back with his awesomeness.” This is also why I love him so much. I picked a keeper guys.

  • emilyg25

    Marriage is very, very important to me, beyond all the legal protections and such that it brings. I was struggling to understand why I valued it so highly and I realized that it all comes back to that permanence. Because it’s so hard to dissolve a marriage, when you get married, you’re committing to make it work in a bigger way than I think you can do in a long-term relationship. For a commitmentphobe like me, that’s a big fucking deal.

    On the other side of the coin, my parents take their decision to move in together more seriously. That’s the anniversary they really celebrate (still, 37 years after getting married). They view their decision to get married as just cementing what they already knew: they want to spend the rest of their lives together.

  • joanna b.n.

    When we got engaged, I liked the idea of getting married to my hubby – it just felt nice to take yet another step closer to show my love for him. But at our wedding ceremony, the fact that he stood up in front of all those people that we love and trust and have known us forever and was ready, nay eager!, to commit himself publicly to me meant something way beyond what I could have predicted. And so to me, that was marriage – being willing to shout to the world – I AM IN LOVE WITH THIS PERSON AND COMMITTED TO THEM FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. And stand there and put rings on and the whole deal. Doing that for each other meant something that just moving in together or introducing each other as fiance didn’t quite do.

    • Gina

      Yes! Watching my husband say those words and be so overjoyed to take that step with me was one of the best moments of my life. Not because I didn’t believe he was committed before, but because his commitment to me in front of our people solemnized and solidified that commitment.

  • Lauren from NH

    For me, marriage is a lot of things. It’s all that legal stuff which is super important, and the inside stuff like Violet said, the family and romantic feelings in between. When people say they aren’t into marriage, I tend to think some of them are talking about the crossing over rather than marriage itself. I think most people would have no issue with basic legal protections and loyal companionship, but “marriage”? Official marriage carries a kind of weight that makes some people uncomfortable. Weddings or the act of getting married (depending how one goes about it) is a rite of passage that (typically) legalizes, formalizes, and makes public a relationship, which contributes to a new air of permanence. And the idea of that makes some people want to run for the hills! “You want me to put my personal life up for public scrutiny?! We need the government to make our relationship “REAL”?! Fuck it! I’m OUT!” I feel these people and I admire their devil may care attitude doing everything “backwards”, having babies, then buying houses, or whatever the fuck they please, but also I really want some legal and social benefits, so “One marriage please, hold the church and the fillet mingon, thank you!”

  • Leah

    Thanks for this! Over the past year, getting engaged and planning and having our wedding, I’ve had conversations with many people around me who just aren’t that into marriage for any number of reasons – some well thought out, some less so. And I totally understand most of those objections to the institutions. But I am also someone who has always assumed marriage was in my life plan (if all went well). In all my thinking about it, the key word for me, that counters the doubters and scorners, isn’t ‘permanence’ or ‘commitment’ – it’s ‘family’.
    I grew up in a very close, loving family, and family was always an important concept to me – there are set of obligations and emotions reserved for those who are family, and new additions to the family (through marriage, birth, adoption) were always a very big deal. And that’s something I carry with me.
    I think, for me, you can be 100% committed to your partner for decades and decades, but that’s between the 2 of you, whereas marriage suddenly means there’s a formalized relationship between my husband and my mother, or my grandmother, or my nephew. It means I have the obligations to his dad that I have to my parents – and, at some point, that set of obligations will be difficult, it always is, so marriage is a conscious move to sign up for that. I’m not saying that partners who aren’t married don’t share in all of that, it’s just that marriage, for me, perpetuates the concept of an extended, continuing, multi-generational family. It makes it like birth or an adoption, rather than just an act of love between two people.

    So, anyhow, that’s my own set of reasons for why I ‘believe’ in marriage, to throw into the discussion mix

  • vegankitchendiaries

    Loved. This. Post. It’s made me think some more about the ‘reasons why’ for marriage. I really identify with a lot of what Lauren and others have brought up: wanting to have the public statement of commitment in front of your community. I very much felt “locked in” with my partner before we got married, but it felt damn good to proclaim it front of our people and then have a dance party afterwards.

    One of the biggest draws to ‘a wedding’ (not marriage) for me was the RITUAL. I live in North America, and am non-religious. No Bat Mitzvah, no confirmation, no quinceañera… my school didn’t even have a prom. I do feel like my modern, Canadian life is a bit devoid of tradition, you know? I have always loved attending weddings because I feel like that’s the only cultural ritual, outside of Santa and secular/capitalist Xmas bunk, people like me can expect to be a part of.

  • Manda9339

    This is wonderful.

    On the other side of the coin, I have friends who made clear to each other before they got married that they, “don’t believe in divorce.” I’ve always had a hard time with that statement because, hello, it’s a thing that is real. But I get where they are coming from. They don’t see it as an option for them, and I would like to be married like that. I just want to leave room in my head for other people’s decisions and feelings about it as well.

    • We’d be in the group with your friends who say we don’t believe in divorce. It’s definitely something that happens and we both know of situations where it’s the best thing to happen. So perhaps it’s just that most people leave out the “for us” part at the end of their statements, either about marriage or divorce, that makes it seem like such a weird statement.

      • Amy March

        I wouldn’t call “we don’t believe in divorce” weird. I’d call it super judgy. I think it’s a lazy way of talking that has the potential to really hurt people.

        • Ashley Meredith

          How would you phrase it instead to be less lazy and hurtful?

          • Amy March

            “We’ve decided that we don’t view divorce as an option in our marriage.”

            Or just nothing. I think it’s a really difficult sentiment to share without sounding smug and self-righteous, because divorce is every bit as real as the earth being round and unless you’ve entered into a marriage on very atypical legal terms, in the US at least divorce is an option. Factually.

          • Ashley Meredith

            This article and conversation, as a whole, have definitely made me reflect on the limitations of the English language, in that one phrase, “believe in,” can mean either “I think x doesn’t exist” or “I don’t agree with or act in accordance with x.” And unfortunately it makes people’s opinions, when expressed using that phrase, easy to mock. Well of course the earth is round. Of course divorce exists. If you are dealing with someone so insane or willfully deceived as to disbelieve in the factual existence of either of those things, it’s probably best to ignore everything they say, regardless of phrasing.

            Leaving that aside, because most people won’t be using the phrase that way, I tend to think dinging someone for saying, “I don’t believe in marriage” is about equal to dinging them for saying, “I don’t believe in the tenets of x religion or y political party.” It’s a sincere personal belief and the holding of it does not, by definition, make them either smug or self-righteous or “super judgy”, though of course, some people holding those opinions will be one or two or all of those. As will some people holding the opposite opinions.

            That said, I am grateful to you for explaining your perspective. There are many things people say which can be or can come across as lazy and/or hurtful, and I’m making an effort to get away from using as many of them as possible. I will continue to give some thought to the question of how else I might express this (since “don’t view divorce as an option” sounds wishy-washy to me, and is not accurate anyway, as I have considered it even though I don’t, to use the common phrase, believe in it).

    • Ashley Peterson

      You just nailed it for me. While I think this post is lovely, I think the wording of “believing” in marriage/divorce (or not) is just too strong for me. I was married, I was also divorced, and I would do each again as my life warranted. It’s not really a belief structure for me, and as you said, “I just want to leave room in my head for other people’s decisions and feelings about it as well.”

    • OhNoThereGoesTokyo

      I didn’t believe in divorce either, but here I am, nearly 4 months into this sh*tty marriage and I want out yesterday! Seriously, we’re separated now and the second the marriage cert shows up, I’m filing. It’s just not what I had expected. *sigh*

  • Natalie

    This post really resonated with me. Thank you for so eloquently describing how I feel about marriage.

  • THIS. “Getting married was a milestone I had penciled into my life from a young age. It wasn’t a goal, but one of those things I assumed I’d do: go to college, get married, have kids, run a successful veterinary clinic…I didn’t equate marriage with happiness, but I still hoped I would do it one day.”

    I also think of marriage / kids / career the same way one assumes kids go to school, people work. I’m all for questioning the system (see long post above) and what it means to you, but I also find that it can be insidious to treat marriage (or any other milestone in life) like a goal. Because then it also opens the door to this, “well, you wanted this, now that things are going south it’s your own fault.” Whereas sometimes a basic assumption that this is what we do (get higher education, or not / be in relationships, or not / be parents, or not / start a business, or not) would ideally* lead to support and acceptance. *ideally, because I can see how it can also lead to ostracization for people who make choices that are different from the norm; but arguably that’s because those norms are treated as a goal. it would be nice for milestones in life to be just milestones, instead of a judgment-minefield of “are you sure you’re ready to get married? i wouldn’t if it were me.”

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