Marriage Ambivalence

I have all these post ideas about married life bumping around in my head… thoughts about what it means to be a partner, thoughts about sacrifice, thoughts about having ‘enough instead’ of ‘having it all.’ But for today those will have to wait. Today I want to talk about something a little bit bigger, something a little more taboo (in the world of weddings): Marriage Ambivalence.

The funny thing about writing this website (and I think one of the reasons I write this website) is that David and I don’t go to a whole lot of weddings. People always tell us, “Oh just wait, soon you’ll be going to 12 weddings a year, just like us.” But they’ve been telling us that for years, and we’re almost 30 and it hasn’t happened. And frankly, I don’t think it ever will. It’s not that we don’t have a lot of friends, but because (as the running joke goes), our friends are just not the marrying type.

Why is that? We move in very urban, slightly bohemian circles, and there are a lot of things at play. We know a lot of, achem, overly educated people. When you don’t get out of grad school till you’re almost 30, well, sometimes you get married a little later. Sensible. A lot of our friends are gay. While yes, of course they could get married, and yes some of them do, something about it not being legal here often puts a kabash on it. It’s a little bit of, “If society doesn’t recognize our union, then f*ck them. We’re not going to shell out money for a party.” And then there is the simple fact of slightly-bohemian marriage ambivalence. We have a lot of friends with kids who haven’t married their partners, or who married their partners well after having kids. While I know this is common in other countries (I’m looking at you Canada), it doesn’t tend to be in this country. But in our circles, there tends to be a sense of ‘We don’t need society’s approval,’ or not thinking that marriage is a necessary institution in the first place.

Because I grew up this way, because I grew up around reeeaaaaallllyyyy non-traditional relationships, I have spent years and years circling around topics like weddings and marriage and parenthood in my head. I’ve spent years knowing that these outwardly traditional institutions were important to me, but equally sure in the knowledge that I could not live them out in the way that we see modeled over and over again in popular culture (TV, movies, commercials, you name it). So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I could take ownership of these institutions, and why I wanted to be part of them. So, in that sense, *of course* I have this blog, because I’m circling around the same questions endlessly here, and trying to come up with collective models for each of us, things that might actually work.

I think, in the end, a large part of the ambivalence towards marriage that I see around me (and inside me, some days) steams from what I’d call “Wedding Cake Topper Syndrome.” There is this feeling that marriage can’t be for you if you don’t look like/ fit in too the models of the wedding cake toppers. And *that* is why I care so passionately about discussing brave marriages, and marriage equality – because I know that no matter how I look, I can’t ever fit into the typical cultural mold of wife. So in a sense, I feel the reverse of the Sapphic Housewife: maybe if we broaden our view of who marriage can include, we’ll expand our opinion of what marriage can be.

So, some questions for you:

  • Have any of you felt ambivalence about the institution of marriage? Maybe like so many near and dear to us, you are feeling it before: ‘Is there a point to getting married?’ Or maybe like me you are feeling it afterward: ‘Can I find a way to feel fully empowered within the cultural confines of the institution of marriage?’
  • For those of you that are already married, how has it changed your relationship or your life (or not)? How has your perception of the institution changed?

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  • I always knew that if I was going to have a serious, live-in, long-term relationship with a man, that it was going to be within the context of marriage. Part of that might be my religious upbringing, and the rest was conditioned by family values and the rest of society.

    But I haven't always been decided on wanting to marry. I've been single more often than not during my adult life, and completely happy with that status. And I've seen too many examples of domineering husbands and subservient wives, which is totally against what I want for myself. As cliched as it sounds, when I found someone who loves and accepts me just as I am, and who doesn't try to impose his will on me, I was smitten. I want to marry this person, raise children together, and grow old. And since I want to do all of those things with him, and I trust him to continue letting me flourish as my own separate person, I want to marry (him!).

  • Jen

    Meg, great post! I definitely hear you on all these points.
    I am newly engaged and can say that before being engaged, I just wanted the tax benefits and really just the plain, nitty gritty legal benefits of being married. My partner and I had a stable relationship that of 5+ years and I thought – what would change if we got married? and my answer was "nothing but the taxes!"

    Now, I still mainly agree with that, but getting engaged has changed both our minds. Just being engaged has meant more than either of us expected. I think it has to do with the outpouring of love and support.

    So, i'm going to say something that is maybe contradictory and i'm just throwing it out there…cuz I circle these thoughts too and don't know where to land exactly yet… But marriage means a lot more than I thought it did but I don't think it should. Or maybe I just think all sorts of relationships should be accepted and that there should be other ways to celebrate love than to get married….
    wow. this is a complicated topic. Thats all i have for now. :)

  • lisa

    Great post! I have had an ambivalent engagement, which has nothing to do with the fella. I love the fella. I'm very excited to spend the rest of my days with him. The whole process has been a lot more angsty for me, I think because that picture you put up made me slightly nauseous.

    My angst mostly comes from the amount of exhausting energy it takes to define yourself as a bride in contrast to those rigid gender roles. Suddenly every decision, from clothing to venue to whatever, needs to be made between the pressures of the tradition and pressures to define myself and our relationship in contrast to that tradition.

    It is hard to dismantle the masters house with the master's tulle. Especially if you kind of like tulle…..

  • Meg


  • Amy

    I read a very interesting take on marriage once that it wasn't about you and your partner, but rather a vow to your community and society that: 1) If you had children, they would be taken care of in a stable home, 2) You and your partner are no longer "on the market", so to speak, and so would not be trying to break up other stable homes with children.

    That's a perspective I sort of agree with, even though in practice it isn't always done that way. If you're going to have children, I think you sort of owe it to them to provide a stable environment for them to grow up in, and for a lot of children, that vow to society, that legal document is just another reassurance that neither of you is going anywhere.

    I think it's also important in the sense that it's an official vow that even when things get tough and maybe you hate each other sometimes, you're still going to try your best to work it out instead of giving up on things (except in extreme circumstances of course). Again, not exactly how people always do it these days, but I think that's the goal, the thing to strive for.

    It's not to say you can't have any of those things without marriage, and not that you can't be married and not have those things, but sometimes making things legal and official helps cement them into place. I think that's what it's supposed to do.

    All of that besides the legal issues (who has the right to make decisions for you in the hospital etc) and tax issues of course.

    So yeah, I think it's pretty important.

  • Yes, round and round indeed. When I think about what it means to participate in the institution of marriage, I begin to think that perhaps it's not an institution at all. If marriage is a vow (and I think that's it's a vow to the spouse and to God), then the institution portion of it is only in the legal system. That legal system is the bit I'm ambivalent about. To me, getting married was about the promise. I'm decidedly not ambivalent about the promise. Cultural norms have played into my decision, mostly on the religious side. Could it be that some of the ambivalence you see isn't so much towards the institution itself (the legalities) but towards the cultural norms and religious influences?

  • I never thought I would get married until my boyfriend started talking about getting married. I never thought that throwing a party and adding jewelry would improve my relationship. And from a political standpoint, I didn't want to participate in an institution that barred some of my friends from access.

    I don't think my views on this have changed, though I am now engaged. Emotionally I'd already made the commitment to my partner years ago. I'm still bothered that not all of my friends are invited to participate in this cultural ritual.

    I am looking forward to my wedding. It will be really fun to get all of our friends and family together, no small feat since they're scattered across the country. I love the proud look on my fiance's face when he talks about being married to me. I'm looking forward to the credit boost and additional health insurance options we'll have when we can check the "Married" box. And I won't miss the anxious look on people's faces when they found out I was in a committed long-distance relationship with no "plan".

    All that really matters to me is that it matters to my fiance that he can introduce me as his wife. That is reason enough for me to hop on the marriage bandwagon. I'm sure there will be things about marriage that I don't like, just like there are things I don't like about being unmarried. But those are all external, they have to do with the way other people react to my life. I assume it will be equally irritating, but new and different irritating.

  • my ambivalence about our marriage is, to me, more that i don't see a marked change between pre-married relationship and post-married relationship, i just see the maturation of the relationship as a whole over the years we've been living together. that i get excited about, and granted we do still get a little giddy about calling each other husband and wife, but i'm still not totally sure the getting married moment was the biggest part of it.

  • What a great post.

    I understand the ambivalence. On many levels, my fiance and I are getting married for the legal implications (taxes, health benefits, joint property ownership benefits).

    I don't expect our relationship to change as husband and wife, or at least I don't expect it to change any more than it would change if we remained simply "living in sin".

    And, yet.

    I do want the community acknowledgement of our commitment to one another. If society could accept and understand that our relationship is forever without an official marriage, maybe (just maybe) that would be enough. I also want the "public" announcement of our love. I want to scream from the mountaintops that I found my soulmate. I get to do that (in a matter of speaking) at my wedding.

  • A friend of mine once said that anything worth doing comes with a healthy dose of ambivalence, and I tend to agree. We're t-minus 3 months and change from our wedding and I think are both very much struggling with what it means to be married and what we want out of it. I'm far more settled than I was six months ago, a period in life I'd rather never revisit, but I'm still wrangling. But I now have an answer to why we're getting married instead of just living together forever: because we want to call each other husband and wife in front of our friends and family, and in turn have them hold us accountable for those explicit promises. I hate that we can so casually take advantage of a legal right that so many of our loved ones can't. But I feel like having an examined marriage is a very small part of the same fight. Over the past few months, there has been a fundamental shift in our household, and it's a lovely thing. It's a shift toward a deep sense of comfort and permanence that has never been there before, even after almost six years of dating. It's a different animal. Maybe it is, as Laurie Colwin once said, an acceptance of our imagined happiness.

  • I'm thrilled to be marrying Jim, but a part of me is not so pleased that I'm participating in an institution that bars my brother from doing the same. And I can't really wrap my brain around the idea of combining every bit of our finances. Why should my student loan payments or his constant need for new tech gadgets, for example, come out of a joint checking account? We're sorting all that out now and will probably do multiple accounts, which I've been informed by more than one friend means "you might as well not bother getting married". Insanity.

  • I love this post. What modern woman doesn't feel ambivalent about the marriage at some point? At a pre-marital counseling session we went to I realized one of the reasons I agreed to getting married is so that we could live together without the disapproval of my parents. And, all of a sudden, I realized how wrong that was and made me rethink the entire concept behind the importance of marriages and, well, it's something I'm still struggling with. Legal, medical, and tax perks don't seem like enough of a reason… calling each other 'husband' and 'wife' is really nice, but just words. I love my guy now; a piece of legally-binding paper wont change that. I guess I'm hoping for a Meg-esque ethereal moment at the wedding where everything comes together and, somehow, I feel the full force of 'wifedom' and am proud of it (and stick with that feeling for life). Has anyone ever had ambivalence while engaged, but post-ceremony found that it was worth it after all?

  • Somehow this shout out to Canada felt a little personal… :-)

    Awesome post Meg… This is APW at its finest. Exactly why I keep coming back here even though I've completely moved on from being interested in everything weddings.

  • This post was useful in helping me to accept my partner's ambivalence towards marriage. We have been together for going on 6 years now, living together for almost 4. While I have wanted to be engaged for several years now, he (from Canada) has never really understood the need to marry other than the legal perks. As such, it hasn't been a priority for him because he already feels as though we are committed and living as partners. This has troubled me for a long time as I go back and forth between wondering if this is some sort of commitment phobia manifesting itself through non-engagement… or if it was a legitimate point of view that I needed to understand and come to grips with. I'm to the point where I believe it is a perfectly legitimate point of view, but what makes it hard is that it is in conflict with my desire to have the public recognition, the ceremony, the celebration. When I have read past posts about the wedding itself being a life changing event – I believe it – I have been to weddings like that and would like to be in the middle of my own. But then I second guess my desire for the celebration, wondering if I've been culturally programmed to want the wedding. Bottom line for me: it is what you make it, and I know that for me, at least, it would be meaningful to be married.

  • Magdalena

    Thanks for this post. I don't know quite how to word this comment but I figure I'll give it my best shot.

    I think you are right that you move in a very narrow, relatively tiny circle of society. It's sort of like you were born in the urban bohemian "bubble" and then for whatever reason never chose to move outside the bubble. Or take a little mental vacation outside the bubble. And I LOVE your writing and your attitude, love love LOVE it (that's why I follow APW religiously!) but at the same time as a reader the bubble effect is a little bit frustrating.

    I am from Ohio, a corn-fed, two steps above Hicksville, wonderful little town in Ohio. And I think it is a totally different wedding-and-marriage culture. When I think of my five best friends, I think of a group of women, all college educated, with three masters degrees and one PhD in progress. All educated, modern women. And yet, none of us is the slightest bit ambivalent about getting married, or wife-dom. All of us love the idea of being called "Mrs. John Smith," which I know you feel is so retrogade it's not even funny. And none of us find the marriage "equality" movement worthwhile. But again we are all from Hicksville, OH (and surrounding communities).

    And ever since I left my little Ohio bubble, sometimes I feel like I must be thickheaded or missing a gene or something, simply because it doesn't occur to me to have marriage angst. I have never worried about turning into a subserviant wife, or if my having a traditional relationship means I am propping up patriarchy. Or if by getting married my identity would be destroyed. It just never crosses my mind.

    Maybe it is a combination of the Hicksville vibes and because I just don't see it around me in my immediate relationships? With my parents, it was more my mom would kind of abused and dominated my dad in terms of lifestyle and finance decisions. I'm sure that plays a role in my thought process.

  • Anonymous

    I don't question marriage; I question whether I even want a relationship at all. I still don't know the answer.

    What I DO know is that I wouldn't accept a great relationship NOT leading to marriage.

    As far as "redefining marriage", it sounds a bit pompous to me. It seems to assume that other couples aren't already defining their own marriage. Couples have always been free to craft their own unique relationship.

    Legal reasons are the original reason marriage was invented. People needed some all-purpose way to protect their designated partners and offspring.

    Sure, you can gain many of the benefits of marriage without getting married, but it involves a lot of legal expense and wrangling just to duplicate what a simple marriage ceremony would have accomplished.

    Besides, it's romantic to think that someone loves you so much that they want to ensure those legal protections.

    That's why most of us feel insulted if a partner doesn't want to get married. It puts a question mark on the depth of their love and the seriousness of their committment to us.

  • Anonymous

    I have never taken any "cultural ideas about marriage" seriously.

    I've lived long enough to know that very few couples live inside that box.

    My grandmother died in 2005 in her late nineties. She was a housewife all her life. She loved children and was disappointed that she only had two, but she made up for that with 7 grandchildren.

    She always handled and invested all the money. My grandfather had zero input in financial decisions. He always said that if he ever decided to run his own business, she would handle the finances of that also because it wasn't his talent.

    She also had interesting hobbies – she was practically a master gardener.

    Because of having her as a role model, I've never bought into the idea that society could define marriage roles for me.

    My grandparents just did what they each felt they were good at and what they wanted to do. It was a very happy household.

  • There is nothing about my husband and I that are, I think, typical for brides and grooms. We, neither of us, were (or are) overly sentemental. We don't spend hours gazing into each other's eyes – we'd rather play video games or bake cakes.

    When we got married I made sure that our wedding wasn't about a fairy tale come true – it was just about us starting a life together. Our cake toppers reflected that, I think.

  • Meg

    @magdalena ah, no my dear. You are way oversimplifying me. I grew up (we grew up) in one of the most conservative parts of the US. I have thought and fought very hard for my opinons…. And most of our friends from high school we married (for better or worse) 10 years ago. But that is a different post…

  • Such good questions. For myself, I arrived at this relationship after primarily being single my entire life. I met J at a very self-assured age 26, after I'd wrestled with a lot of my own demons and had a strong sense of my own path. So I don't feel like marriage, or the assumptions of its roles, is having a huge impact on me. I met someone who fits. And it also helps that I've NEVER fit what society wanted of me. In fact, this is probably the first time in my life where I've been perceived as "normal" or fitting into any prescribed roles. It's a little less exhausting to finally "belong"(ish), which is nice, but my experience as an always-outsider helps me say a big old eff it whenever the assumptions rear their ugly head. My marriage will fit for me and him, and I couldn't give a whit about the assumptions. They'll frustrate me, I'm sure, but it's hardly the first time.

    Weddings were never particularly important to me, nor was legal marriage (though I feel lucky to have it) but I've always felt like a public act of commitment would be important if I met the right person. And I've always felt like the process of talking about who we are when facing the world from here on out was imperative. But marriage as defined by the state? Less important to me, but very important to him. And a big wedding? Less important to me, but very important to him. And so, here we are, planning a state-sanctioned marriage (for the kids and finances) and a big wedding (for my public commitment and his sense of weddings.) But I'm definitely ambivalent, even as I'm appreciating the process of preparing for marriage. The wedding is helping with the preparation and the symbolism and the feeling that it's something bigger than ourselves, but really, we've already married ourselves emotionally 80 times over.

    Frankly, I try not to think too much about it. Our wedding is mostly for the community (family and friends) at this point and there's no way we could realistically do something smaller. It is what it is, and I'm dealing with the hand life dealt me, trying to focus on the marriage planning and not on the areas I'm conflicted about.

  • I grew up in the Bay Area the child of a single lesbian mother. As it happened, though we would not forge a relationship until much later, my father is also gay. My mother has two siblings, one of whom is gay as well. As it was the early 80's I came up at the beginning of the wave of children of openly gay parents.

    I like to think that I was raised somewhat by tribe. While I've always known who my family was, and there is some distinction, there has always been such heavy emphasis on community through the network of friends and lovers and children and supporters that were there through my childhood, that the relationships that would shape the way that I view relationships were incredibly varied.

    Not a lot has changed since we have said our vows, ours has always been an easy sort of trust in each other. My husband and I got married in May because we could. Because for us there was very little question of the depth of committment that we were willing to make to each other.
    I am eternally frustrated that not everyone has that choice, that marriage has become a question of legality, not of passion and faith in committment, and most importantly, love.

  • Shebar

    "The Meaning of Wife" was a good book to get me thinking about this topic and roles in marriage. (I thought the book was a little dry and didn't quite do a good job of articulating clearly her point or suggesting an alternative.)

    When I look back at my grandparent's marriage (married in the 30's), my Grandmother was "the control tower" and my Grandfather got stuff done. My Great Aunt (also married in the 30's) had a separate bank account set up only under her name which she openly and jokingly referred to as her "divorce money" which was used as an emergency savings account.

    Something odd happened in our society in the 50's in how marriage and roles in marriage were defined in a way that has never existed before in history. We're still trying to find our way back to what we lost.

    "Live like your grandma" sums up the organic, slow food movement. "LOVE like your grandparents" is now my mantra for a marriage where it is defined by the strengths and weaknesses of the people in it.

  • Anonymous

    If it wasn't for the ready-made, government-sanctioned, elitist advantages to my conveniently heterosexual union, and my desire to have children (for whom I think the social model of marriage makes for vastly increased ease and enforced stability), my future husband and I would've been quite happy to save our September wedding money and buy a house.

  • I've been ambivalent about marriage for a long time. I like my relationship, but the commitment to spend the rest of my life with someone is daunting. I can't even imagine the rest of my life!

    That said, I like what many here have said about community acknowledgment. My boyfriend and I are currently involved in a minor uproar because we live in a dorm at a religious boarding school. After some fussing, the school has finally decided this situation "will not work." They still haven't offered us a time-line or alternatives, so we're not moving just yet. At this moment, I almost want to just go get married so that it's not an issue anymore.

    I really do think marriage, by and large, is about everyone saying "yes, you two are committed." Because even if the couple is committed and knows it, it's hard for everyone outside to know it. There's just a lot of social capitol and understanding around "they're married" that isn't present around "they're living together."

    I'm still not quite ready for the big marriage thing, but I'm mulling it over now. A friend said something the other day that really helped — he told me to redefine my view of marriage as two people on a journey together rather than two people settling down. That helps a lot.

  • I don't know if this a broader reflection of the 30-somethings of Dublin (I won't say Ireland because Dublin, like NYC as an American city, would not be totally representative of the whole of Irish culture), but as a newly married almost-30, I am definitely in the minority in my current workplace. Have the newly minted young of Ireland (having only just crashed out of their spend-like-its-going-out-of-style Celtic Tiger boom years) moved away from marriage, viewing it as old fashioned? some sort of obstacle to career advancement? an unnecessary hassle? I don't think there is much difference tax wise over here anyway. But the majority of people my age in my office are single, or partnered with children and not married. People seemed genuinely SURPRISED that I was getting married last year. Maybe they thought I was taking my love of retro to a new level?

    Speaking only for myself now, I always had it in the back of my mind that I would someday get married, but wasn't living under any pressure to. Maybe I'd feel differently if I were 40 and still single. Or found myself pregnant years earlier? But something in me just always made the assumption that I'd get married THEN have kids. I pass no judgement on others that do it a different way, but those were just my thougths and then hey! I conveniently fell in love with someone who felt the same way.

    Not much has changed since we got married. And we didn't even really think of it all that much beforehand – not that it was just a quick decision, more so that it was just a completely natural progression: meet, fall in love, get hitched. Is that a purely romantic notion? Perhaps. The wedding part we just really enjoyed for the party aspect. And the marriage part? We're both really looking forward to seeing how this adventure unfolds.

    I have to say I just love being married and using the word "husband."

    One last thought on this ever so intriguing subject – my hubby and I, so unconsciously attached to the seemingly natural idea of partnering up for life and making it a legal institution? Both raised in homes with undivorced, happily married parents. Perhaps that is the influence most responsible for our views on marriage.

  • Meg

    @Shebar I love that idea. And it gives such nice nuance for those of us who do consider ourselves fundamentally traditional (hence my lack of ambivalnce about getting married) but are unsatisfyed with the status quo.

  • I had always wanted to get married at some point in my life, probably simply for cultural reasons. I was raised religious and I grew up in a community where marriage and having children was normal. I was lucky to be surrounded by strong content married, divorced, and re-married women, so nothing scared me off getting married. My husband felt the same way, so it was natural for us to plan on getting married one day.

    We got married after 7 years of dating, co-habitating for more than 2 years out of that. In the months leading to our wedding many people asked us why we were doing it. And honestly, I never had a good answer. Yes, there are the legal benefits (no tax benefits in Switzerland though…and up to a year ago, married couples actually paid higher taxes than unmarried couples), but those don't seem to be that important until you have children. We were already committed to each other, so we could rule that out…wanting to show our commitment to others always sounded a bit silly to me…why would we need to do that…we're not religious, so a wow to (or in front of) god(s) was out. I ended up settling for viewing the wedding as a simple celebration of our love with people we consider family and with some legal perks.

    I didn't think that the wedding would change anything between us, but it did. Our relationship feels stronger and more settled and the rest of our lives feels much more real. Like all this time we were climbing a hill, having a really good time, but now that we're on top, we can see all roads we can take and it's exciting (sorry, if that sounded corny). Also, turns out my husband's family takes us much more seriously now (not always a good thing ;-) ).

    To sum it up, I guess the short answers to your questions would be
    1.) I never felt ambivalence about the institution because I saw people making it their own, but I always struggled with what the good reasons for getting married are
    2.) marriage did change our relationship and our lives in a good way

  • Shebar

    @Meg. That being said, my sweetie and I are planning a June wedding three provinces away (yes, we are Canadian) so that we can have all of our friends and family there to say "Boom-shaka-la-ka" and acknowledge our commitment.

    We've been committed and living together now for eight years and consider ourselves married. The government sees us as married as does our workplace insurance company. When we decided to formalize our commitment we discovered the most important thing to us was the community giving their blessing rather than a legal document so that is why we are not eloping or running to city hall.

  • Other Meg

    when i first met my fiance, i had recently gotten out of a bad marriage. not abusive bad, but bad in the sense that i got married for the complete wrong reasons. i was young; 19 in fact. one of my closest friends got married at 19 and i figured, well she did it, so i should too. plus i was tired of being at home and it was my way out. i didn't have the income to move out on my own. he was older and 'established' and also quite manipulative so it all just seemed to work. of course, once i realized what i had gotten myself into, i was over it. he was super controlling and as soon as we got married i felt like i had a second father. it was miserable. i left and not long after i met my fiance. at that point, i was over marriage. i felt that i could have what i wanted in a realtioship without committing to a piece of paper. i grew up in a very conservative home and the idea of being in a long term realtionship without marrying, or god forbid, moving in together with out being married, was a big no no. however, as soon as i realized i didn't have to live with the morals that were stuffed down my throat as a child, i felt this new sense of freedom. my relationshis could be whatever i wanted them to be! it was so liberating. so for once i went into a realtionship just wanting to be with my partner, and not necessarily scoping out marriage. as it turns out, we are in fact getting married. but only because we want to make that commitment to each other, not because we feel any pressure to. we genuinely want the sacredness of committing our lives to one another in front of our closest friends and family, and to be honest, i'm also really excited and honored to get his last name. i don't really feel any ties to the cookie cutter wife role. yeah i cook dinner and pack a lunch for him, but its because i want to, not because some stigma says i need to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. i believe in being strong in a relationship as a woman, and he respects that. if he didn't, i wouldn't be marrying him.

  • I never imagined myself as married. While other girls were (presumably?) imagining their wedding day, I was imagining babies. Two babies, twins, a boy and a girl. A father for them? Who cared? The father I imagined was just someone I maybe took them to visit or told them bedtime stories about.

    I don't know why I assumed I would be single. Maybe selfishness about wanting those babies all to myself? I'm not sure.

    But then I met Zack and now, after just under two years of dating and living together (because we jumped on that bandwagon fast), we're engaged. We've been engaged since October, and I am terrified of the planning process. We don't have a date. We have a guest list that is way too long. We have attendants picked, and I'm scared I don't want my younger sister to be my MOH, but it's kind of a sticky thing to change my mind on.

    I don't know if I want this wedding or not. But I want to spend the rest of my life with this man. And his idea of a family includes a wedding before it includes babies. And honestly, here in GA, so does everyone else's. I can't imagine telling my grandmother that I was pregnant before I was married. I think I would just avoid her forever instead. So we're getting married, and I think I'm pretty excited about the marriage part, though I'm still working my fiancĂŠ into those baby fantasies. The wedding? Well… I could skip it.

  • Anonymous

    I've never thought to deeply about the institute of marriage or what that means in relation to my role in society, as a woman etc.. or how that effects how I define myself as a person. I've honestly never thought about any of these issues at all. I didn't think I would get married but I did and I don't think (after a year of marriage) that our relationship has changed all that much. Or rather that I've changed all that much other then growing older.

    I can't say why we wanted to get married, I just knew that I did. I suppose one thing that's changed is I feel like I've gained a new family, or an additional family. I love my husband, and I love calling him my husband. I love our home and our life together which I feel is entirely ours. We've worked to set up our family, we've gone through moves and job changes, graduations, death… together. I like the together feeling. They're not his problems or my successes they're ours. Do I think this kind of intimacy is impossible without marriage? No. For us marriage has cemented that family feeling but I don't think that's the rule.

    Actually reading the comments, I'm not sure if it's the marriage or just the relationship evolving. Hm …

  • I love that everyone has different ideas about weddings and marriage. How boring life would be if we were all the same.

    I always wanted a traditional wedding. We went semi traditional. But things weren't clear to me until afterward. I'm lucky, I loved my wedding. But the marriage part changed for me once I hopped that broom stick. It's almost like something clicked inside of me once I was on the other side and I will never be able to explain it. That's why I never try to convince people they need/don't need a big lavish wedding. Maybe they do. And if they do, I love to look at the pictures afterward!

    Loved this post. As I love all of yours anyway.

  • I was ambivalent about marriage for most of my life. The show of a wedding didn't seem to make a lot of sense to me and the people I saw who were married seemed to, sadly, be missing something… something like that spark of life and love… It made marriage look like a sad institution.

    After I met my now fiance, however, I started to think about marriage a little differently. I could see how it was a step I wanted to take with him, but didn't know exactly why.

    Now that we are planning our wedding and discussing our marriage I have a little more perspective. I am not getting married for legal reasons. I am getting married to Trey because although we already feel like partners, we want to be family. And, I feel like when we have a wedding ceremony not in front of but, with our families and our close friends, we are creating the links of a united family of our very own. Their participation in the ceremony makes our (now) two person unit real to them and enlists their support when we are in need. And no matter how possible it is to rationalize that we know we are a unit without the support of our community, I think there is something of a positive feedback loop that happens when you bring the community into your union. And I think this is a good thing.

  • Have you ever thought about teaching? Your questions are so well-put and thoughtful and probing… almost reminds me of the way some of my favorite professors used to encourage conversation!

  • Those wedding cake toppers have always scared the **** out of me. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I'm not skinny with light brown hair and I'm not exactly five inches shorter than my groom. Those cake toppers never bothered me on someone else's cake, but thinking of one of mine always brought out my inner commitment-phobe (she's small, but she's in there).

    Odd sentiments, I know, from someone who is so passionate about putting myself in a traditional marriage role. But I doubt I'd feel as fulfilled with my aprons and my blender if they were my only option.

  • I think this is a really worthwhile conversation, because there is this expectation that we'll all choose marriage just "because", and it's helpful to talk about it being an actual thoughtful choice.

    I never wanted to get married. People don't get married here much anymore (PS-Meg, it's more Quebec specifically where marriage is on the decline, as far as I know the rest of Canada still likes to marry), and I always thought that there were only two reasons to marry: 1) if you lived in a place where you didn't have good common law benefits, and 2) if you were religious, and thus attached a religious meaning to marriage. Since for a long time, neither applied to me, I didn't see the point.

    G. felt similarly. Why should we do something that was pretty meaningless to us? Then out of nowhere, we just found ourselves talking about it a lot. There were various reasons it started seeming like a good idea: 1) We started moving closer to Judaism, and thus suddenly the religious reasons were feeling more relevant; 2) We were looking at moving around a lot due to my academic career, and it seemed like being married might facilitate that lifestyle a bit; 3) We knew that both our families would feel a lot more comfortable with us starting a family if we were married, and we felt so indifferent towards it that it didn't seem worth it to make them uncomfortable just to prove a point that we didn't feel so strongly about; 4) watching the marriage equality movement in the U.S. and the passion with which people are fighting for the right to marry made me rethink how glib I was about "opting out".

    I am still pretty ambivalent about marriage. To be honest, if we were American, I don't know that we would have married due to the discrimination issue. I still feel weird about entering into an institution with such a spotty history but at least where I live it is one that is not currently oppressive, and THAT I feel like I can work with. That's a beginning.

    But despite my ambivalence, marriage has meant more to us than I thought it was. It was useful in defining us to the outside world (i.e. making our parents realise that we are our own family now, officially), and it has given us a generosity of spirit in our relationship that is really inspiring. We've committed for life, so we don't sweat the small stuff as much anymore. It feels so secure. I don't think we NEED marriage to get to that place in our relationship, but it was a useful mechanism by which to do it.

  • K

    I was ambivalent (almost against) marriage up until I met TH. I grew up with parents who never married (but didn't stay together), and I just thought there wasn't much of a point to it.

    Fast forward to TH, and something switched. It sounds cheesy and corny, but it's true. I suddenly couldn't wait to be married to him and HAD to have it. I'd dated men before that would have eagerly progressed to marriage, but TH was the first person with whom I wanted to plunge.

    Of course, the original ambivalence sent me to therapy in the first few months after our marriage to deal with the sudden changes in my life. That being said, I also felt like I was the only person trying to find the "me" in "wife" and how to make my ideals/beliefs/dislikes of marriage/wife become a part of my life and who I am within a marriage. I think that if I had been privy to the discussions on this blog, I would have felt better at my mixed emotions.

  • It's funny, The Boy proposed to me last night and I think I would've commented differently on this post even 24 hours ago.

    I'm sure as we near the wedding, I'll have tons of ambivalence (and even now I am trying to figure out how to support marriage equality concretely at my wedding [something I feel very strongly about] without discomfiting my more conservative friends and family) but at the moment I am in love with the world.

    I didn't expect to feel this way – I'm a fairly private, no-nonsense person and I thought I'd have no patience for the squeeing phone calls and having everyone in the world know about the engagement. But last night… I couldn't wait to tell our nearest and dearest and our friends. It felt so natural and important to throw ourselves open to our community at this point in our lives (partly because we are a bit bemused at how big of a deal they are making – we've felt promised to each other for so long already). The outpouring of love that we've been receiving has been like balm to my soul.

  • yep, having lived in three provinces across teh country, including Qc, I have to agree with Accordians and Lace. seems that marriage happens a LOT from my group of friend I grew up with…

    I would say, that I notice more of a difference between education level- like you said Meg. :)

    I didn't think about marriage much at all until the moment Andrew proposed- I had no idea he had been thinking about it.

    I asked for a two year engagement so I could adjust, and am very thankful for that.

    Like a previous commenter, I'm more ambivalent about the traditional cultural expectations of what being married will entail… like the "Mrs Andrew So and So" letters and cards…

    or the weird connotations that "wife" still has…

    you know. that stuff.

  • fleda

    Hmmm. Yes. My fiance and I both have divorced parents, and in my family (both sides) I don't know if there's been one happy marriage in the last century. Add to that the fact that we are both PhDs, and yes, you'll get some ambivalence. We have analysed the institution (historically, statistically, theoretically, etc) to pieces using all the critical weapons in our overstuffed intellectual arsenal. We have also thought critically about our personal experiences as children of divorced couples; and I myself felt a lot of pain about that.

    So why are we doing it anyway? I think because we really value the structure, solidity, and guidance that this tradition provides. We like the idea of an organized, established system for having the kind of relationship we want to have: one in which each of us WILL make sacrifices and compromise for the other; one in which we will be bound to each other and helpful to each other even when it's hard.

    Being giving that way is not always easy, and I'm glad to have a structure that will ask me to give, force me to give, and help me to give, even when I find it difficult to do so.

    I think our desire to enter into a system that limits our freedom (if that's not putting it too harshly) is a reaction against what we saw in the preceding generation: the lack of structure, and a rather destructive readiness to break out of structures for the totally understandable purpose of seeking self-realization and fulfillment.

    All this makes us sound gloomy, I fear. Actually though we're really happy and excited! Thinking through (and feeling, emotionally) the ambivalence is part of what makes the marriage powerful when we do it.

  • Yes to the QuĂŠbec comments. (Hooray for QuĂŠbec representation today!) My husband is from QuĂŠbec and had no plans of getting married. Ever. I am from the south of the US, and had always planned on marrying. The two regions have quite the difference of cultures, especially related to the institution of marriage. In fact, it probably could not be more different!

  • Kimmy

    I wonder what it means that when we told some people we were engaged they were like… "Really? we assumed you guys would just always live in sin" or his sister's response "that's suprising you're getting married, you guys seemed happy as you were…did…something change…!?!??" (NO, I'm not preggers…)

    – I have to say I suprisingly really like having an outward, publicly recognized symbol that says "we're REALLY together".

    oh, and as for waiting what some people apparently considered "forever" to make it official and not caring when/if we did…I don't think it was entirely ambivilence…a lot was being cautious… but both did play a part.

    I fall into the live in major city, have educated friends category and based on my experiences I do feel "wife" has certainly doesn't have connotations or anything other than "female he/she is married to", or at least the reclamation has a pretty positive outlook. Thanks Meg for helping so many people look beyond what's in front of them and see that it doesn't have to be a weighty word.

    • Alexandra

      Heh. My man & I have been together for so long, that when I told my sister that I had exciting news, her first guess was, “You’re pregnant?!”…it was rather annoying to say “No, we’re ‘just’ engaged”…like engagement is “JUST”, solely on account of her pregnancy-guess. Sigh. :P

  • I love that you are asking these questions, Meg, and I really appreciate Team Practical's answers.

    I was ambivalent about marriage before I got married. I felt queasy about marriage inequality in the US. The word "wife" seemed about as applicable to me as "astronaut." My husband never thought he'd get married. And then we ended up in a set of circumstances that changed our minds (1 and 2 being most important, but 3 and 4 also being serious factors):
    1. we acknowledged to one another that we want to spend the rest of our lives together, that it's important for us to make a commitment to tend and grow our love;
    2. we decided that we could do things our way, like deciding together to get married, no ring required (and eff everyone who thought I should be upset about not having a romantic proposal story);
    3. I'm a Canadian and the mister is American, and immigration rights only come with marriage;
    4. The mister was offered a job in CA (across the country at the time), and I couldn't work or carry my insurance under the terms of my student visa.

    To be honest, I still have ambivalence about the word "wife" and about marriage. Not mine – I'm happy with where we are, and I like the fact that we have publicly stated that we're in this life together, committed to supporting one another. I think the rub comes from the continuing (and stifling) presence of the cultural myths about marriage that Meg has written about before. These are the cake toppers that REALLY kill me:
    Oh, and then there's the zombie groom trying to escape the clutches of his bride:

    It's possible that I'm just totally humorless – I admit that. But I shudder at the thought of having a marriage like that. I shudder when people talk about marriage as women trapping or catching men. I married my husband because I believed that we could grow together. I like who I am with him, I like that he sees and supports my potential. That kind of marriage feels hopeful to me. I want to talk about marriage in terms of growth and support and encouragement – not trapping and owning and "now we have one mind and one heart." I don't feel ambivalent about that.

  • Oh hell yes there is ambivalence.

    When my boss (married 40 years) offers unsolicited marriage advice such as "just go along with whatever your husband wants, and then do whatever you want anyway" I am all like WHAT HAVE I DONE? WHY DID I EVER WANT TO JOIN UP FOR THIS CRAZY INSTITUTION?

    It's very hard to challenge an institution from the inside, especially one that feels like it has very thick walls.

  • Great post Meg, as if you post anything but.

    I had much to say, so I posted over at my place.

  • Interesting stuff as always, Meg. I think there is a good deal of bonafide ambivalence about marriage out there (for all of the reasons you cited and more), but I also think maybe there's a lot of feigned marriage ambivalence.

    How many times have you heard/read "I was never the kind to dream about my wedding day while growing up?" or "I never thought I'd get married?" It seems to be ESPECIALLY prevalent in the blogosphere, but certainly exists in the real world as well. I'm pretty sure if I had a nickel for every time I've come across these sentiments, I wouldn't have had to be so miserly about our wedding budget!

    To be perfectly honest, YOU are the only blogger I can think of who has come right out and said something along the lines of 'YES, I've been thinking about my wedding since I was a little girl" (in the story you told once about saving money in a piggy-bank or something like that.)

    Anyway, while I might characterize myself as ambivalent about weddings at times, I've never, EVER been ambivalent about marriage. Terrifying as it was in my younger, far more commitment-phobic years, it was always something I knew I WANTED, even if I didn't know if I'd GET IT.

    I wonder if some women pretend to be ambivalent about weddings/marriage so as to not betray the image of a strong, independent woman who doesn't need a man (or a partner, period) to be happy?

    • Alexandra

      While some people may be pretending, to protect their Independent-Woman image, I think a lot of people just saw a lot of nasty divorces [or nasty should-have-divorced] around as children & never wanted to go through that!

      It is possible [probable?] that the blogosphere has a much higher percentage of women with these ambivalent feelings, and hence, writing about them. After all, for people who always knew they wanted marriage, there isn’t that conflict to work out and write about!

      Also, there are differences between “I never thought I’d get married”,
      “I went through times where I thought I’d Never get married”, and “I was never one to dream of getting married”.

      I never *dreamed* of marriage, or wrote my name with boys’ names. There were times I considered marriage, certainly, and times when I thought, NO WAY.

      Now, I haven’t started a wedding blog, but I did join the OffBeatBride Tribe. I’m still not interested in flower arrangements [too expensive for us, and he doesn’t like cut flowers!], but it does seem that when the event in question is for you and your Special Person, the level of interest changes!

      Just some thoughts I had in response to the above. ;p

  • I was pretty ambivalent about marriage growing up. I was ten months old when my parents got married. My dad’s parents never married and my maternal grandmother married another man while pregnant with my mom. (LORD, if they knew I was letting my family’s slip show on the internets….) Anyway, I was raised in a military town and there were plenty of unwed mothers, broken marriages and people who married just to get out of their parents’ house. An Officer and a Gentleman? It happens. So with marriage being treated as something definitely less than sacred, even in the midst of a southern conservative military town, I never thought I’d get married. I could see why people did it, but I didn’t see it with the soft focus that many do. I saw the real and the real bad and figured it wasn’t for me. My mom has even found a list of life goals that I wrote when I was 11 or 12. They included artificial insemination. (Hand to God. I think I even spelled it right.)
    Even after I started dating, I thought about eventually getting married, but I didn’t think it would happen for me so I had this “I’ll never get married!” attitude. It sounded like a neat idea, if it worked, but when it doesn’t it can be BAD. And being as that my friends once threatened to get me a shirt that said, ‘I Make Bad Decisions,’ I figured I should avoid it.
    Until I met Matt. Then I GOT it. Marriage? Meh. Marriage to HIM? Yes, please. I mean, I’m not going around singing “I’ll Be His Mrs.” (Anya? From Buffy? Anyone? Anyone?) but I AM a Mrs. It doesn’t define me, but it’s one of my many excellent qualities and I’m okay with that. Being engaged and subsequently married hasn’t changed my definition of marriage, but it’s given me a new perspective on it. And I know that perspective is going to change and grow as I get older and our relationship matures. Whereas before I understood and supported those who were ambivalent on marriage, now it makes me want to fight even harder for those aren’t afforded the luxury of turning down the offer. I can’t wait until one day I can sit around with my man of honor and bitch about our husbands.
    And as one who grew up in Hickvilles, went to college in The Sticks and currently lives in the Land of Big Hair and Small Minds, I can attest that your bubble extends about 6 states over. When you ask “Why?” and “What’s the point?” you usually can come up with an answer. And knowing that I have a deeper answer on “Why am I married?” than just, “Because we’re in love,” makes our marriage more meaningful to me. A life unexamined is not a life worth living. (That was Socrates. I’m not that deep, yo.)

  • Hey just a couple of books I've recently read (my wedding is just over 6 months away) that you may enjoy…

    1. A Walk Down the Aisle by Kate Cohen (which really is just about what you were saying)

    2. The new one by the Eat Pray Love author (Elizabeth Gilbert) called Committed – I've only read a part of, but seems too to explore this stuff…

  • It's so strange that this post was written today. I, for some inexplicable reason having never done it before, desperately wanted to share a link to this story/book review from the Daily Beast with the world-du-Practical.

    The gist of the book seems to be that “marital ambivalence” is just another symptom of being a part of Generation Y. Our parents got divorced or were brave enough to break marital molds, we have categorically over-inflated sense of our own importance (see: the birth of the blog/Twitter) and have learned to question what it is we need from ourselves and those around us. When you couple all that with the tremendous medical advancements that have given the family-seekers of the world the ability to stop and start fertility on a whim, we’ve got ourselves a generation of people who don’t need to be married people once did.

    While I see your point, " maybe if we broaden our view of who marriage can include, we'll expand our opinion of what marriage can be " I think you may be looking in the wrong direction. In fact, I think we may all be looking at marriage from the wrong perspective. Rather than making marriage broader and more complex adding to our already overwhelmed personal analyses—and Twitter feeds—let’s make it simpler. A marriage, by any other name, is something that’s pretty sweet.
    When we strip out all the dogma, the arcane stereotypes, all the BS restrictions, exclusions and conditions, all the paperwork and rules put in place by societies, religions and governments, even the very name marriage we’re left with an idea that’s simple: people who care about each other caring about each other for the long haul.

    And that , I think, is worth being passionate about.

    The jist of the book seems to be that marital ambivalence is just another symptom of being a part of Generation Y(put it right up there with a need for constant visual and aural stimulation and an insatiable desire to be lauded with praise in the workplace).

  • @Michele
    Or like me, the ones that didn't think about getting married because you thought it'd never happen for you so why set yourself up for the fall when you know you're gonna be the drunken cougar at the bar?

    Ahem. Yeah, there may have been some self-esteem issues there. But I definitely see your point from the wedding bloggers perspective. You NEVER thought you'd get married, but suddenly you find it so fascinating that you start a blog on it?
    I don't want to point any fingers, but somebody's pants might be on fire.
    I'm just sayin'.

  • FK

    @Elisabeth, that cake topper is THE CUTEST thing ever!!!!

    @Magdalena, I think it's fantastic that you don't feel ambivalent at all about marriage. It sounds like you've been surrounded by a lot of great models in that regard. And I can imagine that it might be a little offensive to hear anger and angst about the Mrs. John Smith thing. Coming from a super-feminist household (and 30+ years married parents), I had a decided point of view on that, but after several of my friends joyously changed their names, I quickly recalibrated my thoughts. It's a loaded issue, but I can totally understand that it can symolize union in a beautiful way. BUT, I am offended about the casual inclusion of not finding the "marriage 'equality' movement worthwhile" to the name change thing, and equating THAT to being in a narrow bubble. I can only imagine that you don't have any gay friends (I'm straight, btw) because, if you did, you would see that they have every right to participate in the marriage ceremony. Maybe the marriage would not blessed by a minister of your particular religion, but that is a deeply personal matter. I am also offended by your assumption that a person with a liberal point of view, i.e. Meg, (the definition of liberal, by the way, is "broad-mindedness"), has come to that broad-minded point of view through narrow-mindedness. COME ON! Take a look around. Her blog is all about bringing up sticky issues and respectfully asking for all points of view…. I guess, except for the point of view that some people's love just doesn't count. I dare you to get to know a committed and loving gay/lesbian couple and maintain your point of view that their right to get married to each other just isn't worthwhile.
    p.s. Sorry if this is too angry! I'm trusting you, Meg, to delete if necessary!

  • This is funny because it's so much like us. The 5.5 years Mike and I have been together we've been to two weddings as a couple, and only one of them was of close-ish friends. And then we go and have a gay wedding well before most of our straight friends have managed to even find a suitable mate.

    I never thought I was the marrying type myself until Mike brought it up. Then it was romantic, and new, and definitely political.

  • Until about half way into my relationship with my husband-to-be I was not just ambivalent but against marriage for myself. I refused to be part of 1) an institution and 2) an institution that didn't allow all human beings to participate. Not only that but I didn't understand what all the hoopla was about since I've never had a traditional view on relationships to begin with. If I love someone then I can love forever with or without a piece of paper and a ring. I am not religious and did not have a religious upbringing. I have always had pretty open-minded ideas about love and life. Then two and a half years ago something clicked and I knew that I wanted to become a family with this man. This is not to say that I believe you need to legally marry to be a family with someone but for me it just felt right at that time.

    I still have guilt over going into something that not all people can legally do especially since I live in CA but I hope to be part of the change I want to see in my lifetime by supporting equal rights and acknowledging that support in our ceremony (which is in MA – a state where marriage IS legal for all, thank goodness).

  • Amber

    When you wrote about not fitting the cake topper mold I immediately shouted "Yes!" in my head.

    I have asked/needed reassurance from my bf that it's OK to look like I do and get married. Even if I don't lose 70lbs I can get married just like I am?

    Right now I'm in the throws of a psychological battle with myself about how my bf can possibly want to be with me because of how I look. Even when he says he loves me, he thinks I'm pretty, he thinks I'm sexy, I still think "well maybe he does right now, but he'll wake up and realize what everyone else knows, that someone like me shouldn't be loved and especially shouldn't be married. I mean why else would sample dresses only come in size 10? (My logic only applies to me, of course. I can see the beauty in other brides regardless of size and even if I was shown photos of a bride that looked like me I would be able to justify that yes of course *she* can get married she looks so pretty and I'm sure she's a wonderful person. I can't apply that logic to myself though.)

    It's such a surprise when I see wedding photos where the bride is a size 14 or larger. Are these photos being hidden or do larger women really not get married? Do photographers keep these photos from their portfolios?

    Those kinds of issues seriously and honestly make me question if I'm someone who can get married. It's heartbreaking…

  • I don't fit into either of the categories you addressed at the end of your post…but I'm going to answer anyway because you can't stop me…neener neener. :)

    I'll be getting married in about 6 months and I have to say that I'm surrounded by a mix of traditional types, non traditional types and traditional types masquerading as non traditional types. I'm quite socially liberal and walk the line of bucking traditional and embracing it.

    I always knew I wanted to get married. My parents have modeling such an amazing marriage for me that it seems so natural and wonderful and something I definitely want.

    I have never felt ambivalent about marriage…but I never wanted to get married just for the sake of being married. Seeing as how my fiance and I own a house and a dog together and were together for 6 years before we got engaged I actually thought that it wouldn't be any different…but getting engaged changed our relationship in so many wonderful ways I couldn't anticipate that I am so excited to see how saying "I do" will change us (hopefully for the good!).

    I do see a point to getting married- FOR ME-. For me it means commitment and family and a partnership. After getting engaged we talk in "we" so much more…and it MEANS so much more….FOR US. That said, I know plenty of people who do not feel the need to get married…and I can see how that would work for them…live and let live I say. Marry or don't….but if you marry….be serious about it. And fingers crossed at some point in the very near future EVERYONE will have the option to decide not to get married. :)

  • i get it.

    when my husband and i got engaged i remember fiddling with my engagement ring, feeling like (even though it isn't a diamond and doesn't look like an engagement ring at all) it was a symbol of my joining some society of married women.

    now i wear only my wedding band, which is about as simple as they come and while worn on my left ring finger, is subtle. and that's how i feel about marriage. its subtle. i like it that way and i think once the whole "getting married" thing is behind you "being married" is much less flashy and dramatic. its subtle.

  • To me, it seems almost impossible not to feel that Marriage Ambivalence sometimes, especially the media pushing "whatever goes" for couple/partner relationships.

    But watching what works and what doesn't through my friends and family's examples, along with reading more realistic material (like this blog and others) has opened my eyes a little more. The "Wedding Cake Topper Syndrome" is quite real; I've felt it. And it's a perfect description of that feeling: "because I'm not a cut-out wife, I can't be one at all".

    Thanks for bringing this topic up. :) It really helps to think about things before you make final decisions about your future!

  • Melissa

    We lived together for over 10 years before getting married. This was devastating to my religious parents at first, but over time they got over it. So in some respect the marriage was to satisfy them. It was also in some to degree to stop the questions: "When are you getting maaarried?" But mostly, I really just felt like it was the next step for us. Like I needed to do it so I could better file the relationship in my head. Compartmentalize that stage of my life away so I could move on to the next one. And I didn't expect our relationship to change. Of course it did.

    I think that realization was most clear on New Years Eve. We had two other weddings this year other than ours, and one wedding a few years back. This year for NYE the married couples went out to dinner. As I looked around the table, and saw my beautiful friends as "wives" for the first time en masse, I realized that yes, it is different.

    It sounds outdated, but I feel safe being married. Not like "I won" but more like tranquil in knowing I have someone who will look out for my well-being. Forever. Being with these other fabulous women, and projecting my own feeling of wifely safety upon them, I felt peace for them. And it made me feel truly happy for them.

    So I think yes. Marriage is important. I'm not ambivalent towards it because it's not just about me. It's about the people I love feeling at peace with my happiness. It's about my parents knowing I'm safe– that they can trust the person who will take care of me. It's about his parents knowing I will take care of him.

    And looking back on our relationship from the eyes of those who love us, it makes me realize that we are "more" now that we're married. It is different.

  • Sara A.

    I've been very ambivalent about marriage. So has Alden. To me marriage means children and will act as security for them and for me should it fail. Since we are living very far away from our immediate families being married would give us certain rights and legalities that domestic partnership just isn't afforded. And also since we are living together anyway and we agree that we are in it for the long haul there isn't a reason not to get married. Despite what my future mother-in-law says.

  • kalli

    I definitely wasn't someone who always knew that I would get married. Maybe it was because I always had really great examples of happy, stable long-term unmarried couples around me. Or maybe it just seemed a bit unfeminist to be too into the idea.

    But then at a certain point…I think maybe when I imagined one day having kids with my partner I just realized that I'd like to be married before i started a family…

    For me it was partly about the practicality from a taxes/finances/making long term plans point of view (although, where I live, common law protections and rights are pretty similar to marriage)…And I admit that it likely at least somewhat has to do with my absorbing some barely perceptible, even-stronger-than-feminism cultural/social expectations.

    But I like to think that most of all it was about wanting to declare our love and commitment and intentions before our community. I think there is a reason some form of marriage and some form of ceremony marking a marriage is a fairly universal cultural phenomenon. For me it makes sense that there is something pretty important about standing before your loved ones as they witness your declaration of commitment and acknowledge the creation of a new family unit.

    I know it seems kind of counter to the thinking-woman's take on these things, but I was more ambivalent about the legal institution of marriage than I was about the importance of a collective recognition and celebration of our love and commitment. In other words, A WEDDING.

    I know we're supposed to be all "it's about the marriage, not the wedding." But what does that mean if you're in a 5, 10, 15 year relationship before you get married? Because let's be honest, how much really changes about you or about what's between the two people getting married after a wedding? In my experience, not much. My husband and I were ALREADY committed to each other. We knew what the deal was with us…we didn't discover something new on our wedding day. A wedding was our way of sharing that already existing commitment to each other with everyone else.

    And since we've been married, the biggest changes I've noticed in my life, is how other people perceive my relationship with my partner. When I call him "my husband" I'm using a kind of cultural code that says "this is the person I've chosen to share my life with." And I LOVE that (as much as I HATE that some people in other countries are denied the pleasure of using that word because of their gender).

    So weirdly, I'm still a little ambivalent about Marriage with a capital M (as in, state-sanctioned unions). But I'm a HUGE advocate of parties for your love. And ceremonies for your love. And being able to use whatever word you choose (husband, wife, partner, boyfriend, chum, lover) to declare to the world that this is who you've chosen.

    I, like many of my friends, have and will experience many other big-deal transitional moments in my life (moving out of our parents' homes, moving in with a lover, having a child) without much fanfare, ceremony or serious marking of the rite of passage. As my Dad said at our wedding "It never seemed quite right when the kids move out of the house and we help them move and then just leave them there." I think he meant that we don't really take the time to acknowledge and celebrate what a big step that is. For us and for OUR FAMILIES.

    In the months before our wedding, several people in our lives asked us why we were getting married…what it meant to us. It took me a while to acknowledge that in some weird way, we were getting married to get a chance to celebrate the fact that, in most of the ways that really mattered, we already were.

  • My family is Catholic, I'm not… So the idea of getting married has always been the subject of many fights with my mom. Jump forward to getting engaged, every conversation I have with my mom is about the fact that she is a failure because I'm not having a Catholic ceremony.

    So ya, at this point I am ambivalent about getting married, because it is so darn stressful. I just want to spend the rest of my life with this amazing guy, who wants to spend the rest of his life with me… we wanted to share that with our families but I don't know anymore. Just seems like a whole lot of stress and money. All I want is to dance with my dad, and celebrate our future, I don't see why that has to be so complicated!!!

  • Nina

    Great discussion! Many of your stories really already tell mine. I was always very ambivalent about marriage… now engaged I suppose I would say I am realistic about marriage (I hope), but no longer ambivalent about its importance and what it means to me.
    It took several years of living together for our relationship to naturally mature to a level of committment that feels right for a marriage. Until then marriage had felt very unimportant to me – I didn't understand it. Once I realized I felt this deep committment to my partner but wasn't able to really convey it to those around me, I actually wanted to get married. I wanted to say the vows and make that promise in front my community and I want to introduce him with a word that instantly conveys what he is to me – my life partner.

    And being from Canada, all the perks of marriage were already ours – tax benefits, shared health insurance and so on – so it really came down to the vows. Also, since gay marriage is legal here, I don't have the same guilt that many Americans feel about joining an institution that is not an option for some (sorry, couldn't resist another shout-out to Canada).

    Love the thought provoking posts, they are my favourite :-)

  • Sarah

    my ambivalence isn't towards marrying my person at all. nor to any added expectations we'll have each other (we already expect everything that i would think you would expect in a marriage, so i don't see how that will change, even though everyone says "oh you'll see, things will be different once you're married." why??)

    it's more like towards society's expectations of what it means to be married, that i'm ambivalent. that one "you'll see" is just one in a bucket of manys. i've already gotten tastes of the expectations that his family will have of me once i'm "his wife" or that my family will have of me once he's "your [my] husband". (i.e. FMIL says, "people will blame you for things he forgets b/c you're his wife" – WTF, he is responsible for remembering his own family's b-days… i have enough to worry about, thank-you-very-much!, or "when is your husband going to start making more money already?" thanks, dad.) and of course, the proverbial expectation that b/c we are getting married, we must want kids soon… b/c why else would you get married? umm, because we love each other and want to spend the rest of our lives together?? isn't that why people SHOULD get married, anyway?

  • B

    Thanks for the great post and discussion. Reading the comments here reminds me of a great conversation I had with my best friend and then boyfriend, now fiance. We were on a car trip discussing marriage, what it really means, how/if it truly strengthens a relationship, if making a legal/public commitment is more meaningful than a private one…

    I like two things about the institution of marriage:
    1. It is participation in something bigger than you.
    2. It makes it hard to leave. I have a firm belief that almost all relationships have rough spots, some so rough that you want to quit. Sometimes marriage helps you get through these spots so your relationship has an opportunity to return to its ideal.

    I have wanted to share my life with someone since I watched my grandma at my grandpa's deathbed. 58 years, 4 children, 7 grandchildren later–they were family to each other. As heartbreaking as it was in that moment for her to lose her husband, I knew that I wanted to experience life in that way, with someone for the long haul. For reason #2 above, I think that marriage gives me the best shot at that.

    I often wonder how much my parents' divorce plays into my personal desire to be successful in marriage. I feel more aware of the challenges of a marriage from the way I grew up, but for some reason I also feel compelled to not blame the institution. I'm not really sure why. I just read _Committed_ by Elizabeth Gilbert, and that made me think about why it was important to me to choose marriage and different cultures' functions of marriage.

    I, too, really like what Shebar said: "Love like your grandparents." I think sometimes the mistake we make is asking the institution to hold us together when we don't do the work ourselves.

    I think it's worth noting that I don't have many personal examples of women who were stifled by their marriages. They are either strong and independent or they got out.

    Thanks again for the interesting questions and discussion!

  • agirl

    Fab post Meg. They come thick and fast.

    I'm gonna need to think on those questions of yours. (Which is code for, I started responding, and I think it may have turned into a blog post. Sorry.) But they are ones worth asking.

  • I'm married, but we lived together first, and finally legalized it to shut up our family. And the legal benefits, I guess. We didn't ever really consider it important to sign some paperwork to officially settle what we already had.

    That said, it's a concise way to express to other people what we are to each other. If he were to end up in the hospital, I would be the hysterical worried wife, not his partner or long term roomate, and they'd call me first. Of course I don't regret it.

    That said, I don't believe there is a deader institution than marriage. I don't like politics refusing the right of gays to marry because it's attacking the "sanctity" of marriage. It's an institution that's spent the better part of it's history being arranged, and the long term symbolism (the veil, ect) is usually downright offensive at the roots.

  • Ambivalence – the word expresses it perfectly. When I told my mom just over a year ago I was getting married, she was shocked because, well, I had appeared so uninterested in it for all of my adult life (now as a little girl – that is a different story… ;) ).

    I used to think marriage wasn't necessary or even desirable because in a good and functioning relationship you commit yourself each day. I was worried that if a marriage vow was made then the day to day commitment would fall by the wayside.

    And then something changed. Part of this was a new relationship (with my now husband) and feeling a depth of commitment and rightness I hadn't before. Part of it was facing chronic illness together, and feeling new gravity about making vow about good times and bad. Honestly, this change also had a lot to do with thinking about the place of sacrifice in our long term relationship, and feeling more comfortable making those decisions knowing my partner was happy about a life-long commitment. And I now feel that vow we made to each other strengthens the day to day commitment.

    But, that is my experience. I feel very strongly that society should move in a direction that lets people do what is best for them. That includes extending the right to marry to those in same sex partnerships and honoring that some don't choose marriage.

  • yes! i actually don't agree with institutionalized/state-sanctioned marriage in any form, though of course i'm a huge hypocrite and did it anyway (i needed my health insurance, what can i say). i'm especially ambivalent about the idea that there is only one person out there for you, or that monogamy should be/needs to be forever. I don't like the current moves towards making everyone fall into a heteronormative partnership as the only sign of progress, morality, domesticity, etc. But I guess this isn't news to anyone since I've written about this myself before on my blog here (and elsewhere too):

    – the former "Miss Sweet T" from Cats, Cheese, and a Wedding Please!

  • Meg

    Which is what I'm saying, I think. I'm not sure I'm on board with heteronormative partnerships as the only model… hetero or not. As for monogamy… well… I have had a lot of up close and personal looks at open marriages, and I realized that was not ever for me. What can I say, I'm traditional like that ;)

  • Anonymous

    Kalli's frames my feelings about marriage spot on. My boy and I have been together for 10 years now, and in my heart, he has been all those things marriage traditionally signifies for a long time. I didn't see what a point there was to getting a piece of paper to spell that all out, maybe in part because we are both very private people. We know each other's hearts, and that both of us are in this for life, what more do we need?

    But then as marriage equality movement caught steam, I realized how screwed I'd be if something happened to me, as I didn't want my ultra-conservative family making decisions on my behalf. I hadn't realized there were all these legal things that were important. I've lost a lot of that ambivalence as a result. What a thoughtless jerk I am for regarding so casually something I am blessed to have the right to engage in. So take that haters, gay marriage makes a long time liver-in-sin reconsider her ways! If that's not strengthening the institution of marriage, I don't know what is.

    Also, as kalli mentioned, other people seem to have a lot easier comprehending your level of commitment to your partner if you can say you're married. I always feel I have to qualify or explain our relationship in a way married people never do.

    As for when I was a kid…I was raised in a super conservative Christian family, and I always assumed I'd get married because that is just what girls DO, but kind of regarded it with dread. The model of "wife" presented to me growing up was not something I wanted for myself. I've never really been able to separate these feelings from marriage, thus the ambivalence.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    You. Read. My. Mind. (Are we kindred spirits? I think soooo) I have ALWAYS felt slightly ambivalent toward the institution of marriage for a variety of reasons. For one, I tend to be, well, initially distrustful of institutions that have a history of disempowering and subjugating women. As you know, I went to a women's college where I spent four years thinking and talking about this to death and I just happen to think a great deal about labels, institutions and their relationship to women, gender and power ANYWAY. So yes, I struggled with marriage and even after I've married, I continue to struggle with it. But I also believe deeply in many of the concepts behind the institution; thusly, I believe that I can reclaim the institution and like many others, I don't think that by being married, I have to buy into the roles/molds/history I see that goes along with it, culturally.

    Secondly, I find some of the ideas within marriage problematic in some ways for me personally. I am a committment-phobe yet here I am, bound for life. I think making vows for someone who does not yet exist (me at age 50) is a TAD irresponsible, but I did it! I could go on.

  • Cat

    Not only was I ambivalent to marriage, I was dead set against doing it.

    It was partly the 'cake topper' thing. Gay marriage and civil unions aren't recognised at all in Australia and, especially when I was younger, I just didn't want any part of an institution that didn't want me as part of it. The other part was that I just didn't think it was necessary to be married to have a loving, committed relationship.

    I grew out of the anti-marriage sentiment as I got a bit older, but still hated the idea that if I ever did get married it would be somehow 'less'. And I still had a healthy dose of ambivalence- to the point that I actually said no the first couple of times Dani asked. I don't know why she put up with me but I'm glad she did!

    I wouldn't say that being married has changed our relationship in any tangible way but it does feel different. We feel like a family now, and our extended families have completely embraced our marriage; somewhat ironically, Dan's parents introduce me as the daughter in law now.

    I still don't like 'Marriage: The Institution!', especially in Australia where the Marriage Act was changed in the mid-90s to include that, to meet the requirements of the law and therefore be a 'legal' marriage, the celebrant MUST say that 'Marriage is the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others'. It was included solely to close a loophole that might allow gay marriages and you can bet it needles every time I hear it at a wedding.

    What I love is 'our marriage'. It is a commitment to each other, the formation of a new family, and it is a whole lot of fun.

    I'm so glad that Dani convinced me that getting married didn't have to mean buying into an institution that deliberately and purposefully discriminates against us. I don't know that we are 'redefining' marriage exactly, its more like focusing on the parts of marriage that really matter; commitment, love and family.

    Great post as usual Meg, glad I finally feel qualified to comment!

  • I love this blog so, so much.

    I'm not married. I'm not engaged, and while my boyfriend of 6 years and I talk about spending our lives together all the time, we are in NO RUSH to get married. But I also read wedding blogs.

    Part of that is this marriage ambivalence that you talk about. I know I'm with my partner for life; there is no doubt of that (so what's the rush?) but I don't have everything else figured out yet. What do I want to *be* when I grow up? How do I want to live? What defines me?

    Of course, I know some of those answers, but not all of them. And I feel like the institution of marriage and the cult of weddings is so consuming, I really, really need to have other things more strongly defined before I can take that step.

    I'm afraid of getting swallowed up by white princess dresses and white picket fences and tired gender stereotypes. I think that's why I read this blog; it is so encouraging to know that there are other models. I can have (eventually) marriage and family, without having to sacrifice my identity and feminism.

    Thank you so much, Meg.

  • FK

    Oh, and my two cents on the actual question. I've been with my boyfriend for 7+ years. We moved in together after one year. Around that time I got freaked out that he'd propose and I wouldn't know what to say because that kind of life-long commitment scared me. What if I made a mistake? What if there was actually another guy out there who was my magical "true love", who I was "supposed" to be with, as opposed to this real guy right here who I love spending time with, who is adorable, who makes me laugh and who laughs at my jokes too, who I know always has my back, whose talents inspire me, and who challenges me to grow into a better person (um, duh). And then, last summer (after some therapy), I started to realize that I could trust my own choices. And suddenly, I wanted to get married. And I do. I think it's very meaningful to make a pledge saying, "you and me; we're doing this thing together." So, for me, marriage is all about growing up a little bit and putting faith in your own feelings, and also putting your faith in another person. It's really pretty amazing. Also, I have to say, blogs like this and ESB really helped too! Because the whole diamond ring, puffy white dress, super-posh thing also freaks me out. And realizing that I could invite my close ones to an event that will be whatever we decide to make of it, the purpose of which is to make a life-long commitment to each other, not to pretend to be anything we're not or put on a show, makes it all make sense. So thanks for that! To sum up, I guess I never had ambivalence about the concept of marriage, but I had attached it to something not real, something not part of my own real life, and that made it too scary. And now tht I've realized it's something that is within my own experience as opposed to something bigger than or outside of little me, I'm seeing all the magic that's not off in some fantasy land but that's right here on a daily basis.

  • The historical context of marriage is pretty unpalatable e.g. women not being able to own their own property, being the property of their husband. This is the part that makes me uneasy, rather than the straight-only nature of the institution.

    And then, I found strong feelings of wedding ambivalence. This undoubtedly made my wedding planning process quite painful at times!

  • Anonymous

    I'm kind of frustrated with the comments that a lot of you feel you didn't need to get married because you already knew how you felt about each other and didn't need a piece of paper.

    But the "institution" of marriage isn't even about your feelings in the first place. It's a legal document confering certain rights that have to do with finances, inheritance, and decision-making in the event of illness.

    Otherwise, I don't think marriage would exist. We'd just have couples living together.

  • Anonymous

    @ Amber – You're not the only one (regardless of size)whose struggled with insecurities.

    I honestly think if you can say you're having such self esteem issues that you fear you're not good enough for your bf that you should consider talking to someone. I have no doubt that you are a beautiful woman by what your bf says about you, and that you're a smart cookie (hello, you're reading Meg's blog!)

    There is nothing better than realizing your true worth and you should realize your bf is the lucky one to have you! I would seriously recommend talking to a professional to help you work through your feelings and I'm sure someone would really be able to help you answer your question if you're ready for marriage and help you see what's potentially holding you back from taking that step.

    but that's just my opinion for you to take or leave as you wish.

    I do wish you good luck though, and would encourage you to think about all your wonderful qualities and realize you deserve happiness and a fluffy white dress (if you so choose) just as much as the next girl – regardless of size.

  • You know, I've always wanted to get married. It wasn't until I got engaged that I started to wonder why I wanted to get married. And sometimes I still question my decision. I wonder if anything will really change. Don't get me wrong, I have no doubt in my soul or mind that I want to spend the rest of my life with my fiance… but why do I need "society's approval" to do so? But then… I come here and read about the wedding graduates and read your experiences and I realize that it will be different, and it will be better. I think there is something extremely powerful about standing in front of friends and family making a promise to love, respect and cherish someone for the rest of your life. I think it will make the strong commitment that we already have even stronger. And its also about becoming a part of something that is so much bigger than both of us are. While we are both strong people on our own, we are so much stronger together. We compliment each other and I can now say that I am getting married because its what I want to do… not because its what society expects me to do.

  • @FK – rock iiiiiit.

    I never felt much ambivalence about marriage. I basically always thought I'd get married some day, and I was damn-sure gonna do a better job of it than my parents (both were married and divorced twice). I never thought about things like how it would define me as a person, how I felt about being a wife, or any of that, until this blog. I'm grateful to you all for making me think about these things!

    The only reason I've felt conflicted about marriage is the issue of equality. Sometimes I feel so Guilty, that I am willing to not only participate in an institution that excludes my best friend, but to actually ask her to stand up there next to me while I make a vow she is not currently entitled to make (at least not officially sanctioned). I admire couples who are strong enough to Not marry, in solidarity with those who don't have a choice.. I am just too selfish to do that! I want to marry this guy so hard and I'm just grateful to be so conveniently hetero.

  • Magdalena


    Actually, our best man, my FH's little brother, is homosexual. That doesn't change the fact that we don't think Uncle Sam should be in the marriage business. My opinion is also based off an interesting series of philosophical exercises I was introduced to in college which really help clarify whether your opinion is emotional or rational.

    People who believe that two people of the same gender should have government-recognized marriage usually do not extend the same benefit to multiple-partner relationships. The key question to ask is, why? And why don't they apply the same reasoning to same-sex couples. If you really investigate your feelings with an open mind you'll see what I'm talking about.

  • Meg

    @magdalina actually, I do think plural marriages deserve the same rights as all other marriages, but one fight at a time. Please be carefull of what you assume. Also I don't allow hatespeech on this blog, so please watch your comments in the future. I'm letting the comment stand for now but will take it down if there is any escalation.

  • Anonymous

    I grew up on the opposite spectrum. You know, in a house where you were told sex was evil unless you were married (and yes, that does create emotional problems, so PLEASE don't tell your children that!). Stemming from that, I always knew that I would get married. However, I believed, deep down, that I would have an unhealthy and unfulfilling marriage. It was something I would do because that's what good Christian women do… they get married, and fade away into their husbands' and children's identities. Obviously, this was a very grim view.

    I happened to meet a lovely man after being with several horrible guys, and he has changed my views. I still worry about managing my life as a wife and my job (working 60+ hours a week as a college coach) and school (currently getting my masters, believe I won't be satisfied without a doctorate). When I talk to said lovely man about my concerns, though, he smiles at me so genuinely and says, "I fell in love with you because of your passion for coaching. If you gave that up for me, I would never be able to live with myself." That answer? That's fighting the institution as it stands. And, hopefully, we can remain the anti-married couple for the rest of our lives!

  • Magdalena

    Okay. I apologize. I really don't think anything I said was hateful. I don't hate my future brother-in-law, my editor or anybody else in my life who is gay. In fact I love them. There is a lot of political and religious diversity in my family (and my wedding) and we all enjoy each other in spite of our differences. One of the rules is we do not judge other people's beliefs or lifestyles, whether they be religious, philosophy-based, or secular. Words like "hate" shut down dialogue so we avoid using them with each other. That is just a personal family rule but it has worked for us.

    This includes the gay best man, the EXTREMELY pious and conservative Muslim bridesmaid, the feminist best woman, and the MOH who is a classic right-wing Christian redneck. To me there's nothing worse than an ideologically matchy-matchy wedding :) I think it's worthwhile getting married just to watch all these people treat each other with respect and dignity when the rest of the world says that's impossible! :)

    Again I'm sorry if I was nasty but I didn't mean to be. Let me say again I luuuuurve APW. And now I think there is a nice warm bath in Lurker Land waiting for me… cheers to you.

  • Meg

    Thank you. Nicely put. I really appreciate it.

    For me, I found that there was something much more constructive about fighting for marriage as a GOOD thing (not just a neutral thing, or a 'because that's what you do' thing) and fighting for the fact that since this human institution was capable of so much good in the world, that obviously everyone in a loving relationship should get to have it. To me, that fight, and that statement "I believe in this so much I'm going to stand up and do it, and tell you everyone should get to do it" FAR FAR outweighed the opting out. So. I didn't feel guilty. Something for you to ponder at least.

    Our officiant (rabbi) and co-officiant (friend, rabbinical student) are both lesbian, and I didn't feel any guilt standing up there with them. They are both married, both RELIGIOUSLY married, so we were just joining them on the other side. As I've talked about, when I signed the legal documents I felt… well… not guilty, but deeply sad and very pissed.

    Guilt… is passive. Anger or joy or belief or struggle… it's active. It gets us farther.

  • Whoo-boy, have I had a complicated relationship with my feelings about marriage! I grew up in a very traditional and religious family AND my mother owns a jewelry/bridal store. I was helping brides pick out china when I was 5 years old. I was selling engagement rings by 14, and I as all about traditional marriage.

    A few years later, when I came out as a lesbian, I was sad that I wasn't going to be able to get married. Then, I came out a radical queer and decided I hated marriage.

    Now, my partner and I are planning a wedding. We still don't buy into the institution of marriage all that much, but we feel like this is an important rite of passage in marking our family. So, now we're at the point where we are ambivalent about "marriage" but are really excited about our lives together and our wedding. Sort of crazy, right?

  • agirl

    I've thought about it now, and I've got my answers. They turned into a bloody essay, so they're over at mine.

    Posts like this is why you're still on my blogroll by the way. I'm a big fan of the discussion you're moderating.

  • Meg

    Mmmmm…. I'm going to be really interested in what you have to say after it's all over. Fascinated, in fact.

    I think the party aspect is important (and this thread has gotten me thinking about how it's undersold. Ritual marking of life transitions are HUGE, it's just that there is so much focus on the parts that don't really matter. Maybe are fun, but don't really matter).

    Anyway, party is great, but I found that what came after was deeper and way more exciting. But not exciting in a hetero-normative kind of way. I guess that's the thing. I think marriage is great, but it's also TOTALLY not what it's sold as.

    ANYWAY. Please come be a wedding graduate after, ok?

  • Wow. Thank God for wedding blogs or I'd think I was the only one.

    I've written a little answer here

    But thank you again for posting this.

  • Anonymous

    I can't say that I am one of those who are ambivalent about marriage, for a variety of reasons. I never feared losing my identity or getting stuck in stereotypes because I always knew that whoever I chose to marry would be someone who understands me, and who wouldn't let that happen either. When you marry the right guy, you can completely be yourself in your marriage. I am an educated, modern woman,and I am NOT the kind of person who would ever want to be a full-time housewife; the man I choose as my future husband will know and respect that. I also am a romantic, and the idea that someone would love me enough to publicly explain our devotion to each other makes me want to cry. My boyfriend and I are already discussing marriage, and I can say with all honesty that I am very excited for our future and I know that he is my ideal husband :).

  • My fiance and I would have been happy to stay together, have a family, and just live life together without a legal marriage. But he has two children from a previous marriage, and in Arkansas, you can't "live" with your children and an unmarried significant other if the two of you aren't married – not even for one night. This is to prevent gay or single people from adopting children, since gay couples also can't marry here. This infuriates me, but this is where we live, and he is who I love. I love his kids, too, so, marriage it is.

    We aren't ambivalent about being married to each other, but we were ambivalent about marriage in general – we didn't "need" it to be together or to be happy. We had many conversations about this late at night.

    There are some great legal and "romantic" perks either way, I think. The idea of calling each other "husband" and "wife" excites us, and I feel good about "moving forward" with our lives – not that we needed to be married to do so, but it does feel good. :)

  • Anonymous

    My fiance and I have been together for 12 years now. In the beginning, I was quite hurt when he said he had no desire to get married,was committed however didn't need a paper to prove it. Very unromantic. Over the years I accepted that what we had was enough and apart from disliking the awkwardness when introducing him as my boyfriend, I didn't need the paper either.

    Then one summer evening he came home with a ring and proposed. I was in shock. Now I'm all caught up in the wedding planning and wonder if it's worth the money and asking myself what happened to the "we don't need a piece of paper" idea.

    Is it a bit silly to do this after 12 years? I don't think anyone cares anymore (except for my mom). I just feel well…ambivalent or like I'm trying to fill a role that's only belongs to twenty somethings in new relationships.

    • Alexandra

      My man & I will have been together nearly ten years when we get married, we’re well into our thirties, and our friends are still excited for us. People care.
      It may be a bit silly, but it certainly isn’t ridiculous. ;p
      I think it’s great when people have super-long relationships. (& get married well into them!)

  • for example. i'm ostensibly a wedding blogger, yet i got engaged on 9.9.09 and didn't mention it until this week. i still haven't told some old friends, and i certainly haven't posted it on facebook.

    at first my ambivalence (and active procrastination) about calling up everyone i know and telling them about being engaged seemed like maybe a red flag. what does it mean!

    yet i find i feel strangely *protective* of this fledgling marriage, and this event to celebrate it. there's a question of how much to share and how much to keep private, how much is between me and my fiance and how much goes to committee, and i'm still not quite ready to let everyone have a crack at it. not quite yet. it doesn't mean i'm any less committed or delighted. :)

    meg, thank you for posting and for giving so many a forum to grapple with big questions.

  • I sometimes wonder *why* anyone wants to get married. Is it selfish? Is it narcissistic? I have to remind myself that it is none of the above. It is a kick ass party celebrating your love for someone with your friends and family. Go ahead and call the legal paper-signing part the wedding.

  • SamB

    I think it’s very normal to be ambivalent. Especially because of “the wife gap.” I never had the desire to be a mommy or a housewife, so getting married (at least as it’s portrayed) seemed like little else than a step in those directions. Not desireable to the little girl who used to use a bic to give baby dolls black eyes so that she could play social worker.

    And that’s the other half. I didn’t believe in marriage because everyone I knew who got married, later got divorced. My parents were divorced when I was two, and I didn’t really care growing up (Families come in all shapes and sizes, right Mister Rogers?). But I remember my best friends’ reactions when their parents got divorced. Sad. It still makes me cry when I think about young me, having to explain to my young friends that it wasn’t their fault. If getting married was a step towards having kids, and kaving kids meant breaking their hearts when (not if) you got divorced, I wanted no part of it.

    And most of the things people are talking about feeling with their partners? I felt most of those before I got engaged. Getting engaged was more about extending our ability to care for each other. My nightmare is that I will have a heart attack or a bike wreck and he will be outside in the waiting room while my (DNR obsessed) mom makes the decision. His is that he will pass away (or be abducted by aliens) and I will be left alone and on the streets because the house is in his name only. Those mundane reasons become important in the light of taking care of each other and loving each other with everything we have.

    But being engaged means that people take us seriously, when we say we have holiday plans, or even date night. They quit implying that every tiny disagreement between us could be “the end.” My mom quit asking if I needed a place to stay for a while. It even extends to our decision to not have cars, which is now a thing that we are doing together, as a couple, as a facet of our “very serious” relationship. If I’m being honest, I never expected that getting married would make me easier to take seriously.

    And as a sidenote, when people pull the whole pessimistic “marriage is hard,” “parenting will destroy your sense of self,” and “you’ll grow out of touch with your spouse/never have sex again”… It makes me question every time either on of my parents told me it wasn’t my fault. Those kids who finally believed that, who now have to hear about how having children will ruin your marriage… What message do we send them?

  • Marriage is so NOT about the wedding. The wedding is a public exchange of vows. It is a way to announce to society that you and your spouse have formed a legal union. If you are religious, it is an announcement to your maker and your community that you are forming a sacred, exclusive union. Once you marry, you begin to play out archetypal roles, ancient ways of being with one another that you didn’t even know were there. It doesn’t matter if you lived together first, the public declaration of a wedding means that you are officially stepping into the roles of husband and wife if you are a heterosexual couple. What emerges after the ceremony is different that what took place before. The stress of changing roles and other adjustments can be overwhelming. I don’t care what anyone else says, some people do change after the wedding because of expectations and an inability to cope with disappointment and stress.

    Interesting blog, Meg. Good luck with your book!