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Ask Team Practical: The Meaning of Marriage

What does it mean to get married?

I should maybe say, what does it mean for non-religious people to get married? What does it mean for people who believe in marriage equality, but still apply for a marriage license to get married? When the religious and legal definitions of marriage don’t represent or capture what you are doing, what is the event, the promise, the meaning of marriage? What does marriage mean when you strip away some or most of its historical context?

Oh guys. I know it’s head-y stuff, but I could use your help. Pretty please.

This post and question is born out of a conversation I’m sure most wedding graduates have had: the writing of the vows. This is, obviously, the most important of the to-dos turned “what does it mean” items—what is the thing we are agreeing to. My partner and I have slightly different ideas, and I imagine that won’t change. I’m not so much worried about our vows being different, but I’ve found myself wondering about others’ promises and definitions as my partner and I explore what we want to promise and define as marriage.

I know I’m not the first one in this spot and am curious about y’alls experience, thoughts, and ideas. There’s wisdom here at APW, and I could really some: so, what did you find? What is your meaning of marriage?

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

I think we both know this question is well beyond my pay grade. Beside that, it’s guaranteed to be different from person to person based on (like you said) religion, but also culture, tradition, and whatever else.

So, I’m going to tell you what marriage means to me (apart from the pieces tied up in my personal spirituality), and then I want to hear what everyone else has to say in the comments. Deal?

I know you said that the legal definition of marriage doesn’t exactly capture what you think marriage means, but I think it’s a pretty good starting point.* When a state chooses to grant legal marriage rights, it means you are then recognized as “next of kin” as far as the government and hospitals and whoever else is concerned. And legality aside, that’s what marriage means to me. Not just that I get to choose how my husband is treated when he’s at the hospital, but that he’s now my “next of kin”—my family. And not only a part of my big, loud extended family. He’s the family for me now. He’s tied to me the way my mom and my brother are, but only closer and with higher importance. That’s major.

Not only are you becoming family, but you’re declaring to everyone that you’re now a “unit.” That idea sometimes creeps people out because, honestly, who wants to sacrifice their individuality? But that’s not the case at all. You’re still you, your separate and individual self. But, sort of like in a business partnership, you can speak for one another (which comes in handy when the guy calling from the credit card company is giving you attitude). You might recognize this from the icky historical assumption that when a man married a woman, he owned her and spoke for her. Sort of like that, only the assumption is no longer that women are idiots who need men to do the tough tasking of thinking for them, but instead that two grown-up human people can intelligently reach agreements and make decisions. Whereas once upon a time, the marriage unit meant ownership, now it signifies partnership.

All of that adds up to my partner becoming The Most Important Person to me. And I’m his. Which means our relationship is top priority among my family, my friends, and whoever else. Even above the cat. And that comes with a bit of responsibility. When he’s sick, when it’s his birthday, when he has a crappy day at work. I try to be that one person he can always depend on to join him in laughing and celebrating, or crying and mourning, or occasionally, to tell him to stop being a tool. Don’t read me wrong, here. I’m not saying that I’m responsible for making him happy. Oh lord, do I groan when marriage is pared down to, “S/he makes me happy.” So not the point. My whole purpose in getting married wasn’t to find someone who makes me happy (though he does sometimes. And other times he makes me laugh, and other times he makes me want to stab him in the belly), but to find someone to share all of the stuff that makes me happy. And also, all the stuff that makes me sad, and all the stuff that makes me angry. That’s who I try to be for him. The person to be there as he experiences all the good and bad of life, and to maybe make the happy times happier and the sad times less burdensome with my presence. He does the same for me.

The great thing that I’ve seen within my marriage is that the broader strokes take shapes that I maybe hadn’t originally foreseen or intended. So, sure, my husband promised to “love” and “honor” me. But only since having the flu last week I’ve seen that love and honor take the form of long, uninterrupted naps while he takes care of my end of the chores. And meanwhile, I’ve figured out that sometimes loving and honoring him means sucking it up and watching something gross about zombies. The details change, but that core of being a family, being partners, and being there for one another as we experience life stuff, that all stays the same.

*Editor’s Note: Of course, we understand that not everyone in this country is currently granted legal rights when they marry, and this response is in no way meant to negate the commitment that anyone makes to another person while being denied the rights that go with that commitment. If anything, it just further supports the fact that marriage rights should be granted on a federal level, thus eliminating all this grey area.

*****

Team Practical, this one’s all you. What does marriage mean to you?

Photo by Leah and Mark Photography.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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