BackTalk: Why Do We Marry?

Last week’s New York Times Modern Love column, by Jessica Bennett, executive editor of Tumblr, hit me right in the gut. The story was this: she and her boyfriend got engaged before she was quite ready, she called off the engagement almost immediately, though they stayed together. As the years went by she became an advocate for not getting hitched in the first place (she authored Newsweek’s 2010 cover story “The Case Against Marriage.”) And then her relationship broke up, and she reconsidered.

While I fully suggest reading the whole, and lovely, piece, here are some outtakes, which I think many of us will nod our heads over:

The story:

And yet the moment I saw that ring, I was terrified. I saw dirty dishes and suburbia, not lace-covered wedding gowns. Rather than thinking about the family we’d someday have, I saw the career I had hardly started as suddenly out of reach. The independence I had barely gained felt stifled. I couldn’t breathe.

I begged him to forgive me. I cried and pleaded. I promised I’d never leave him, and I meant it.

He was devastated, but he loved me too much to let go. So we came back to New York, to our tiny apartment, and tried to move on. We held each other — that night, and every night after. I cried and stroked his hair. I said I was sorry. I told him I loved him. We slowly moved forward.

There were plenty of times over the next six years that I wished I had said yes. We could have had a long engagement, I told myself. In a few years, I would have been ready.

But as time went on, as our couple friends broke up, as those who were the first to marry became the first to get divorced, I was glad we hadn’t done it.

We were happy living as partners, without the pressure of “till death do us part.” We were free of all the expectations of matrimonial bliss that make so many couples fall apart.

Her original conclusion:

A few data searches, some interviews and a pitch to an editor later, we were issuing a manifesto of our own. “I Don’t,” we would proclaim a few months later in a 2010 cover line in Newsweek: “The Case Against Marriage.”

Our argument took romance out of the equation. As we explained it, Americans were already waiting longer to marry, and fewer than ever believed in the “sanctity” of marriage. As urban working women in our 20s, we no longer needed marriage to survive — at least not financially. We weren’t religious, so we didn’t believe that unmarried cohabitation or even child-rearing was an issue.

But we were also cynical. As children of the divorce generation, we had watched cheating scandals proliferate in the news. We had given up on fairy tales, and we didn’t know how anybody could see the institution of marriage as anything but a farce. It was “broken,” one sociologist told me. So, what was the point?

The Finale:

When we got back to New York, he packed up his stuff, quit his job, paid a final month’s rent and moved back to his hometown, 2,000 miles away.

In the end, we had no shared bank account or property. We didn’t have to go through a trial separation or mandatory counseling. We had spent seven years living in a 600-square-foot New York City apartment, inseparable and intertwined. Yet in the end, the relationship ended in one night. No discussion required.

As I tried to make sense of it all, I had a glimpse into why that sheet of paper had been so important to him. Sure, it may well be a jaded tradition, an antiquated ritual. But it’s also a contract.

When he was packing his stuff, I remembered a conversation my Newsweek co-author had had with her mother about our article. “I’ll tell you why you need marriage,” she told her. “Because it makes it harder for the other person to leave.”

At the time, we snickered at her words. Legally requiring someone to stick around? It was desperate, pathetic.

But would it have worked? I’ll never know. What I have learned is this: While “happily ever after” may indeed be a farce, there’s something to be said for uttering “I do.”

Reading this article brought up complicated feelings for me. First, as Jessica Bennett nails in her eloquent change of heart, we don’t all need to be married. Marriage is far from a perfect institution, and it’s not right for every couple. The pressure for every couple to get married, and for marriage to validate all our relationships is, of course, absurd. Relationships are made valid by love and commitment, not by a ceremony, or a piece of paper that not everyone is legally allowed to get.

But it also brought me around to the question of our age group’s relationship with marriage. We’re the offspring of a generation that did a lot of good for the institution of marriage, who fought for more egalitarian partnerships, and who fought to get women out from being trapped behind a vacuum cleaner. But we’re also the offspring of a generation where marriages failed at a staggeringly high rate. Even for those of us whose parents were in happy marriages, it’s likely we grew up amid the wreckage of adult relationships. And the chances of both parts of a couple being the product of happy marriages, is frankly not huge. So while we may want to get married (commitment, cultural pressure, and the pretty weddings are a very compelling mix) we might not really have any idea of what it means, or what it should mean. And where does that leave us? What information are we missing? Where can we find it?

But the most salient issue that this article brought up for me was this: at its core, marriage isn’t just about love. Or as Amanda so eloquently put it years ago in her Words To Read When You Wed series for APW, “There isn’t a lot about love, I’m afraid, because I figure by the time folks are getting married, well, there’s just more to it than that squishy kind of love.” Because no matter what we pretend about weddings, marriage is about gritty things. It’s about contracts, it’s about rights, it’s about locking yourself into something that’s hard to leave (and if you’re not legally allowed to get married under DOMA, it’s often about drafting these contracts with the help of a good lawyer). It’s not about a theoretical commitment, it’s about a contractual commitment: here, you can have ownership of my stuff, and I’ll have ownership of yours. Now we are a legal family, I will make medical decisions for you when you can’t, I will be the one holding your hand in a hospital bed. Now we’re really stuck with each other, unless we want to spend a lot of money on lawyers to get unstuck. And discussions of joy, transcendence, and ritual aside, that gritty contractual business is important. Even if our parents’ generation divorced at a staggeringly high rate, it may be foolish to pretend that the contractual bits don’t matter.

What I really wanted is to throw this out to you Team Practical. What do you think? If marriage matters, how does it matter? And how do we figure out what it’s all about?

Photo: Leah and Mark


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  • Lucy

    I don’t know how relevant my comment is but one of the things my partner has said about his reasons for proposing and getting married is ‘so that Lucy can’t run away’. I know he is joking in part but also it’s clear that there is another part of him that is serious.

    • Sarah

      This is actually what my fiance said when I asked him what marriage meant to him. It meant that things wouldn’t be destroyed because of a simple fight. At the time, I didn’t like this view, as if marriage meant I was tuck if things got really bad — I wanted him to say something about loving me forever, til death do us part. But as I’ve thought about it more, I realize these things are kind of the same. He just might be a little more rational because yes, we will probably have fights and no, I can’t use (as I did at the beginning of our relationship, I was kid of immature) the “maybe we should just break up if you don’t love me enough” line. Basically, marriage is not being able to run away, which means we’re stuck loving each other forever.

    • Alexandra

      While I was in my pre-engaged stage, I told my now-fiance the same thing. It didn’t matter how many times he said he wanted to be with me forever, I was still scared that one day there would be a huge fight or something, and he would just be gone. Maybe it’s needlessly paranoid, but to me, to just say “Boyfriend and Girlfriend” means that you still have the option to just up and leave one day. And it scared me.

  • Amanda’s comment hits the nail on the head. There are a lot of rights and responsibilities associated with marriage, and suburbs and babies do not have to be a part of it. When my husband and I got married, our relationship didn’t change – we still don’t want kids. We still live in our 800 sq ft apartment. Being married did not change that. It changed something on a more profound level. He was already my first priority, but now it was socially acceptable. I could weather the storm of unemployment with him and not only not judged for this but expected to. I could put him on my health insurance and make him my beneficiary without being told I was foolish. Maybe the piece of paper shouldn’t mean anything, BUT IT DOES. We as a society have given it meaning, and we can’t just undo that meaning because we don’t like it.

    • Erin

      I feel this. My family and my husband’s are very supportive, but there is still a whole different ring to supporting an unemployed husband than supporting an unemployed boyfriend. Or to moving across the country to be with a fiancé or wife rather than a long distance girlfriend. Or to making future employment decisions and job moves with the other person in mind.

      • Jo

        What’s funny for us, is that this thinking is what developed into us becoming Common Law married (in our state, Common Law is basically accomplished by cohabitating, sharing resources, and – *key – presenting yourself as married). Because we did these things you mention (supporting each other through unemployment, moving across the country together, making life choices together), so we starting referring to each other as “husband” and “wife” because people understood and respected our decisions more that way.

      • Supporting a partner going back to school is also way more easy and socially acceptable if you’re married (or at least engaged). On the flip side, if something happens with your career or job, people are more understanding about relying on a spouse or fiance to help get you back on your feet than relying on a boyfriend.

    • Kestrel

      This, so this! My BF and I are in the ‘pre-engaged’ state where we know we’ll get married, just not quite yet (we’re a bit too young in our eyes…). I’ll be graduating this December and it’s a bit of a bumpy road because he’s ‘just’ my boyfriend (of 4 years). Everyone says it would be foolish to favor jobs near him.

      If he was my fiance or husband, I’m sure no one would think twice about me looking for jobs near him.

      • littleb

        Yes! I live with my boyfriend (also pre-engaged :)) while he is attending medical school. Everyone told me I was crazy because he’s “just” my boyfriend, I’ll never see him anyways, he’ll have to work very hard and won’t have time for me. Like you, I feel that if he were my husband nobody would be acting like he’s not “worth it.” He puts a lot of effort into our relationship. People seem to think if we were married he’d suddenly, miraculously change to what they see as more “favorable” — whatever that may mean. I don’t think a piece of paper would *fundamentally* change who he is — his personality or desire to put forth an effort. That being said, it *would* make our behavior easier to define/more socially acceptable to explain to outsiders. I find myself wanting to call him my husband just so people are better able to understand…our level of commitment…I guess you’d call it.

        For the record, he does work very hard, but he also works very hard to make sure I feel appreciated as well!

    • meg

      Oh, I totally agree. And I think that’s the conclusion she comes to in the piece. But I also know that’s my personal conclusion, and not everyone is on that page.

      • Meg, it underscores the point about your friend who said to you, “I don’t believe in marriage,” and your response about “it’s not fairies” and just because you don’t want to participate, it does exist.

        I’ve heard the argument that domestic partner rights and “civil unions” should be expanded, but I still don’t understand … why not just get (legally) married?* You want the legal and social protections of marriage but don’t want to call it a marriage … why? The religious argument doesn’t hold water – marriages were legal/social contracts long before religion appropriated the institution.

        Part of what I love about this site is that the myths that Jessica Bennett felt about marriage (resignation to picket fences and suburbs, for example – NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT, but not what she wanted, obviously) are just that. Marriage is about making your partner your next of kin, legally declaring him (or her) to be your number one priority (until when/if you have children, that is), to be your baby family. The rest are the details you decide for yourself, with your husband/wife. It’s not about religion (unless you want it to be), it is not about children (unless you want it to be), it’s not about any societal pressures or expectations.

        I just don’t understand why there’s such a movement/backlash against this, unless it is about the loaded term itself. Which it is loaded, I realize. However, it’s really exactly the legal institution that most everyone is looking for when they say they want an “expanded” domestic partner benefit.

        And this, in my opinion, is why marriage equality is SO important.

        *If you CAN get legally married, that is. In 2012 it is still a privileged institution.

        • *ahem*
          /steps off soapbox

        • Karen

          I think marriage has a lot of baggage. It’s not just about religion, it’s about culture. As much as we want to hail our parents’ generation and second wave feminists for fighting against male hegemony in relationships, there’s still something of an expectation of a certain lifestyle that comes with marriage.

          Because of this baggage, it took me a long time to square with the idea of being a wife. Aside from hearing things like “married ladies don’t travel much” and “what will you do if he decides he doesn’t like your tattoos” from people of older generations, it’s my parents’ assumptions that getting married after 6 years together means babies are on the way (they’re not). Or the older people at work who act shocked that I still like my fiance and want to spend time with him “that’ll change once you’re married.” Like any role in life, taking on the role of husband or wife comes with expectations that may or may not square with one’s lived experience.

          I also think that our generation is very interested in finding unique ways to live authentically, not necessarily through hard rebellions as generations past have, but through more subtle ways of navigating, and in some cases opting out of, challenges. I think sometimes people misinterpret this as impugning the institutions we choose not to participate in. I don’t wear an engagement ring because that wouldn’t feel authentic for me. That doesn’t mean that I think all engagement rings are wrong.

          The contractual benefits of civil marriage are huge, and clearly (since I’m getting married in less than 3 months) I believe that the benefits outweigh the expectations. I can see where others might seek another option, though.

          • Or the older people at work who act shocked that I still like my fiance and want to spend time with him “that’ll change once you’re married.” UGH. I got that, too, from one coworker in particular. I wanted to smack her.

            I also got comments about “care and feeding of husbands” (not in so many words). I always responded back that my husband did (and still does, actually) most of the cooking. (I happily do the dishes – I hate cooking, so I do not mind this trade off! Division of Labor FTW!)

            I see what you mean about the baggage, though. My mother was a single parent, unmarried NOW by choice, however at one time she very much wanted to get married and have a large family. It didn’t work out for her that way and she’s at peace with this and happy with her life. (She just bought her first! house! So excited for her!) We also lived with my grandparents, my mother being the product of Marriage #2 for Grandma. (“The Happy One.”) So, I grew up with marriage as a Nice To Have. I should put my bias on the table right there. There was nothing traditional about my family unit growing up.

            I guess what I meant about my soap-boxy comment (Sorry! I can get preachy sometimes!) is that I would like to see more men and women stop and think WHY they are so opposed to legal/civil marriage and what the alternative they offer to it. I actually have a similar argument in stating why I believe gay marriage should be legal and that DOMA is completely unconstitutional, for exactly the reasons this post (and the linked article) underline. I don’t think anyone should do it for any other reason than that they want to build a life with the person they are with … but if the only thing holding you back is cultural baggage, I think it’s a good idea to step back and question why.

        • Claire

          Irisira, thank you for your comments. I must confess that this was me, not wanting to get married because of how other people would perceive it. But after doing a little more reading and reflection on my own and with my partner, it seemed sort of silly to base my decision on other people and their interpretation of marriage. All that matters, really, is how we choose to interpret it. (And it helped to learn that marriage isn’t intrinsically linked with religion of subjugation of women!)

    • Louise

      “He was already my first priority, but now it was socially acceptable. I could weather the storm of unemployment with him and not only not judged for this but expected to.”

      YES. Exactly this. It makes your relationship SO much easier for people to understand/define. That sentence sounds petty and all about other peoples’ perceptions, but our engagement meant that this year we got to spend Christmas together (for the first time in 8 years) without hurting our parents.

    • amigacara

      Yeah the socially acceptable thing is so weird–I feel like it “shouldn’t” matter but it does and I feel it. Before we were married, even when we were engaged, I would feel really ashamed/guilty/embarrassed if I turned down invitations or requests from friends or family because I had plans with my boyfriend…but now that we’re married I feel totally entitled to sit on the sofa with him and watch netflix for hours without apologizing to anyone. Maybe part of that is my own issues. But I do love that people affirm and support us making our relationship a priority now, instead of making fun of us for it (even in a friendly way).

  • PA

    I’ve seen a lot of people my age coming to marriage on their own terms – be it the air of holding hands, grinning at each other, and leaping off a cliff, or be it the air of settling in for a night of CSI and snuggling on your second-hand couch together. It does matter, for a different cluster of reasons to each couple.

    I think that in large part, it may be a more successful batch of marriages because the dialogue about equality and the value of marriage is already established. Do we have all of the answers yet? No. But what we do have is an understanding that it’s an evolving discussio. Lacking that understanding, I think, is part of what could do a partnership in – and may have, for many couples a generation back.

    To tie it all together, though, I think that (armed with understanding) our generation is uniquely equipped to come to marriage with their partner saying, “this is a very private vow, and perhaps only you and I will know all of what it means to us. In fact, perhaps even we will never know all of it.”

    • Interesting, I like this way of thinking about it.
      Although my partner and I have our own reasons for marriage as mentioned in my comment below, I sometimes disagree with the notion that you have to have some special reason beyond “We love each other deeply, and we want to commit to each other for life.”

      But as you say, there is more there. “perhaps only you and I will know all of what it means to us. In fact, perhaps even we will never know all of it.”

      I definitely believe that marriage, along with legal and financial practicalities, just may very well impart something ineffable on a relationship that you just can’t always justify to other people. Or maybe to yourselves at first. But marriage, I think, is a process of figuring out, so that’s okay.

  • The minute Brian dropped to one knee, and I said: What are you doing?! … then realized what he was doing… then dragged him up and threw myself into his arms … then asked 100 times if he was really really REALLY sure? (and not just pressured into asking me by the literally thousands of bridal magazines lying around the house) … then said Yes, Yes, Yes!… it was settled.

    He wanted me to be His Official Person, and I wanted him to be mine. Of course, we had already decided this emotionally, but once we were engaged and had decided to embark on a legal journey together as well as an emotional one(and it took us a little while, and some seriously embarrassing moments to both get there), getting legally joined started to feel urgent. As I spilled here on APW last week, we live in an undisciplined place far from the protective jurisdictional nest of our home citizenship. We travel to some risky places and do some risky shit in our work. If something happened to me, I wanted him to be the person unquestionably calling the shots–wherever we are in the world. If we had to be evacuated, or moved, or WHATEVER, I wanted The Powers That Be to understand: We are a UNIT. Marriage somehow makes the fact of UNIT-ness very clear to all. It removes any speculation about whether we will (or should) make decisions through the filter of Together.

    Call us traditional (and we are, in our way) to us, marriage mattered a whole lot when we decided to do it, and it has felt very right to us since we did it.

    • Manya, the unitness is definitely part of why we’re getting married. I want it known to the whole world, that Forrest is the person who should be informed first about what is/has happened to me.

  • Samantha

    I think marriage does matter. For all the reasons the writer wrote in her article. Currently my boyfriend and I are in a situation where I won’t marry him because of his finances. We’ve been together six years and sometimes I wonder if its better to move on or continue to stay with someone I enjoy being with. We’ve been through more than many married couples. To marry or to not marry is complicated for many reasons. Ours is financial which is not very romantic at all.

    • Perhaps not very romantic, but extremely practical… divorce is ALL about dividing up shared assets and debts, which means marriage has EVERYTHING to do with sharing them!

    • littleb

      I feel you on the financial thing. We tell people we’re waiting until we aren’t completely broke/living off of student loans/not moving around every two years. It’s not very romantic, (and surprises people) but it definitely is practical. People seem to think (at least where I am from…there is a terribly high pressure to find THE ONE and get married AS SOON AS POSSIBLE NO MATTER WHAT…preferably very young.) that if you’re really, truly in love that you won’t care about the practical aspects…but they MATTER!

    • Marina

      I didn’t get married to my now-husband until I was comfortable taking on his financial issues. For me, dating and living together was a romantic issue. Marriage was not. (Or at least not entirely. Or even primarily.)

      For me, what kept me from “moving on” was a sense of growth within the relationship. I didn’t have to move on from him to “move on” from where we’d been as a couple. The financial issues are probably as good an indicator of that as any. I was glad to get engaged, and then married, after he had taken some very concrete steps to change his financial situation.

  • Kira

    I wrestled with this question for a long time before deciding to get engaged. Here’s some of my recent thinking: In marrying, I’m saying that I want to build a relationship that is founded on vows and on and duties gladly shouldered, not on mere enjoyment or shallow pleasures. I’m committing myself to the intimacy that can be built through a lifetime of shared experience and the confidence that one can share one’s deepest self without being lightly cast aside.

    Is marriage necessary for such a partnership? No, but it helps. It helps on logistical grounds, by calling on communities and social institutions to support the partnership and discourage the partners from separating, but it also helps on a more theoretical level, one that has to do directly with my doubts about the institution. In getting married despite all my deep and significant objections to the institution of marriage, I am affirming my participation in the world, in society, rather than rejecting a place in it. I am saying that although marriage has been used for centuries to oppress women, although in US-American politics it is used too often to delineate privilege rather than to support families, and although it can facilitate insular and unreflective relations among lovers rather than radically free ones, it is nonetheless worth doing, because a loving, mutually supportive, deeply intimate romantic relationship can be so powerful and tranformative that it merits protection and support from all corners.

    In getting married, I am saying yes. Yes to spending my life with my partner, but also yes to the institution of marriage itself, flawed, hazardous beast though it is. I am saying that although I find deep, meaningful problems with marriage, I am committed–indeed, personally invested–in trying to solve those problems rather than dismissing them. This approach applies to political engagement for me, too, and I believe many of my loved ones think about their religious institutions similarly, though I am not myself religious. And I think of it as paralleling my relationship to my partner. We are committing to each other even though that carries risks, because we’re stronger and more at home together than apart. And by doing so through the culturally laden path of marriage, we are committing ourselves to engagement with that social institution rather than abstention from it.

    So, as a person who is getting married, I am committed to publicly declaring the power of feminism to improve family relations, to supporting the right of all couples to marry, and to supporting the relationships of my loved ones, whatever form they take. And, like marriage, that work isn’t easy, but I have decided it is more worthwhile to me than remaining disengaged would be.

    • Yes yes yes! I am so feeling this sentiment lately. As APW talks about all the time, it takes work to reclaim words and ideas. And the flawed, hazardous beasts of social institutions are no different.

      When politics frustrate you, please don’t immdiately threaten to move to another country. Stay, fight, find your place in that flawed, hazardous beast.

      When your church does something you don’t agree with, I respect the people who become shining examples of change and progressive thinking within that flawed, hazardous beast vs abandoning ship.

      I think marriage is no different and I appreciate those who pledge themselves to it despite cynicism. That scary divorce rate will never change percentages if people stop getting married. And kids won’t get any more examples of the sanctity of marriage if people give up on it all together.

      Do whatever is right for you, but just know that there is merit in working within a flawed system to elevate its reputation and reclaim its power.

      • growing up the product of a destructive marriage and a ghastly, no-holds-barred divorce (followed by two more equally unpleasant divorces by one parent), I never once envisioned myself getting married. I was never subject to dreams of a diaphanous, lacy wedding day. faced with the kind of institution that nurtured such negative interactions, opting-out was tempting.

        as an adult, I feel ownership and redefinition of the social mechanisms that failed our parents is one of the *responsibilities* of our generation (clean up the environment, feed hungry people, fix that old-and-busted marriage thing).

    • Diane

      My computer won’t let me “exactly” this for some reason, but somehow exactly isn’t quite enough. This is not just a wonderful set of thoughts, it’s a lovely bit of writing. Thank you!

    • Mira

      “…I am committed–indeed, personally invested–in trying to solve those problems rather than dismissing them.”
      Yes. I believe that our generation is uniquely placed to help redefine marriage and tackle the still-existent idea that it has to mean a particular way of life that many people no longer (have to) subscribe to.

  • katie

    After seeing many of my friends fall into this category of “committed, but not legally” and then suddenly single after many years (without legal recourse and with divided property) I decided it was incredibly important to have that legal piece of paper, to say “I do” and to mean it. This is a great post to remind my feminist self why marriage isn’t just a transfer of female property to male ownership, but a legally binding agreement between two people that says we are going to fight and make up and make this work. Because we have a contract that says so.
    This is also an important reminder of why all couples should have the right to marry and enter into an incredibly complex and meaningful social and legal contract. Then fight to make it work.

  • Hypothetical Sarah

    Relationships are made valid by love and commitment, not by a ceremony

    Marriage doesn’t establish relationships. It puts them in context, socially, legally, and perhaps religiously.

    We talked a lot about marriage as legal contract when we chose the text for our ketubah (the Jewish marriage contract). Many of the English translations were expansive and aspirational. We rejected those in favor of something we were comfortable contractually promising: to treasure, nourish, support, and respect each other. Our marriage is based in the nitty gritty of reality. Our relationship is full of aspiration.

    • Chiara

      “Marriage doesn’t establish relationships. It puts them in context, socially, legally, and perhaps religiously.”

      This, so so much. This sentence sums it all up. Marriage contextualizes relationships and makes them meaningful to the environment, whether that be social, cultural or institutional.

      It sums it up, because I often think that the reason I want to get married is the awesome party and the pretty dress, but the reason I need to get married is so that everyone around us understands what we’ve already decided. So that they can be a witness to our relationship and support us in the way they know how.

  • Abby J.

    For me, the “so it’s harder to leave” aspect of marriage has made our relationship better, actually. I know others have talked about this before on APW, but essentially it comes down to how we fight. Before we got married, our fights had this desperate edge to them, as if we were simultaneously straining towards (can I live with this aspect forever?) and away from (oh god what if he leaves?) a breakup. Now that we’re married, our focus has shifted: we know that we’re planning on staying together forever, so we have the motivation to work out our disagreements in a healthy way. It makes us more patient, but also more serious about growth, because we want to stay married, and happily married, for the rest of our lives.

    The contractual aspects of marriage have concrete benefits as well. I would not have been able to leave my job with benefits to work for our family company (which currently doesn’t offer insurance) had I not been married and had the ability to get insurance through my husband. I am sure I’m one of many women whose choice of jobs has been affected by her ability or inability to get insurance – it’s expensive to be a woman! (On a side note, yay Obamacare)

    • Grover Clevelanne

      This. We wanted to make the default understanding of our relationship one in which we would be together for our entire lives. Before, our default was we are together now, but I, personally, needed more than that; I needed to be able to think long term and assume we would be together in order to grow in to some aspects of our relationships.

      Does being married mean we will be together forever? No, and I’m fully aware of some of the risks in assuming that we will be. Do we need to be married to be together long term? Also no, but I think marriage helps place it in that commitment context, both socially and personally.

    • RIGHT. Among many, many things, marriage for me means that no longer is every fight, misunderstanding, incompatibility or discussion a referendum on our relationship. We’re not asking at every turn “Is this a deal breaker for me? Does this mean we’re not compatible?”

      Instead, we’re simply asking: “how do we deal with this today? How is this conversation evolving?”

      Love it. LOVE being married. I think marriage gives you FREEDOM from the burden of having to constantly ask if this person is someone you want to be with because of the little differences. That freedom is powerful.

  • Taylor

    This is a question I’ve had to ask myself, because I constantly get it from others.
    When I got engaged at 20 years old, I heard “why can’t you just date? Why marry?”

    After having dated for 5 years already, L and I face a big step. We’ll both be graduating from college soon, him in December, me in May, and we face a hell of a lot of uncertainty. Where will we live? what do we want to do with our lives? will we get jobs? will we able to support ourselves? will we succeed out there? will we fail?

    And every time I think deeply about those questions, and collapse in a pile of sobbing and anxiety, L steps in, and hugs me, and says “its going to be ok, and no matter what I’ll be here” (oh man I’m getting a little teary now. #sap)

    His proposal to me was his way of saying “remember all those times I said whatever happens, it’ll be ok, and I’ll be here? I really, really mean it”
    Do you need to be engaged to mean it? No. We went from high school to college (doing long distance for a year in between) and stayed together without that public commitment, but it carries a really profound and special weight to us now.

    It means a lot to us to say to each other, to our families, and I suppose to the growing majority that now sees marriage more as the domain of the established rather than the starting out, that no matter what, heading in to the big giant question mark we face, we’re in it together. and we really effing mean it, you guys.

    (and ok, a tiny bit of it comes from having it hammered it in to me as the daughter of two lawyers, that you don’t trust any promises, marriage related or not, without a contract)

  • Anne

    “the chances of both parts of a couple being the product of happy marriages, is frankly not huge”

    I sort of take issue with this statement, especially the not huge part. Of the four marriages among my siblings and my husbands siblings, both sets of parents are still happily married, most for more than 40 years, as are our aunts and uncles. And while I have a few friends from various levels of school whose parents are divorced they are in the minority rather than the majority.

    • Amen to this. I always had healthy examples of marriage in my life. My partner ‘s parents are also still married. He said he thought for awhile in his childhood that his parents might divorce, but they never did and are quite happy now, so that makes marriage even more important to him–its what kept his parents together when otherwise they might have split up.

      But really I think a lot of people are scared off by the oft quoted statistic that “50% of marriages end in divorce” but that isn’t even true. I wish I could find the source for you guys, but I read in a sociology class that the rate is closer to 30%, or even 25%. We have better odds than we think.

      • steph

        This in particular is an interesting concept for me (of course the whole post is wonderfully interesting too and YAY to Meg for as promised revisiting generational theory here at APW, it is one of my favorite topics!)

        But specifically, regarding being part of a marriage in which both mine and my husbands parents are married…

        I do feel a little rare in that regard. Even though the majority of my friends also grew up with two married parents (although some of my friends parents have separated or divorced once my friends grew up).

        I feel grateful for the similarities between my husbands family background and my own, and for how well they get along. But I also notice important differences between my parents marriage and his parents marriage. (I know my parents love each other and are committed to each other, but I would not immediately think of them when I think of a Happy Marriage, whereas I would when thinking of my husbands parents marriage).

        Just some food for thought… :)

      • Sarah

        I wonder about this. I heard a story the other week about marriage between social classes being relatively rare. (Took it with a grain of salt, but there ya go.) I’m curious if there’s also an association between having examples of healthy marriage in my life and having friends/significant others with similarly healthy models.

        Of my couple dozen closest friends in the past ten years (and four different environments), only one has parents who are divorced. I don’t really know how healthy everyone’s relationships are, but they seem okay from my vantage many steps away. I’m a n of 1, but it still feels significant. Which, I suspect, is how most of us feel about our own experiences here.

      • meg

        My understanding is that the odds for US are actually relatively good. The odds for our parents generation (people married in the 70s and 80s) were actually pretty bad, and those drag down the statistics. Which goes to the heart of my question: if you don’t have a ton of healthy marriage role models (I didn’t grow up around many besides my parents, for example) how does that shape the kind of relationship you build?

        • Stephanie

          I’m trying to figure that one out. My mother’s parents had an awful stereotypical 50’s marriage where Grandpa controlled everything. Each one of their seven children has had terrible marriages, although three have turned out well, but only after ten years or more. But with all these bad marriages, only my mother divorced and remarried (although her marriage to my step-father was rather dysfunctional for the first 10-12 years).

          So my 18 cousins, my two sisters, and I have to figure out how to have good marriages when the good examples are lacking. I can’t speak for some of my cousins, but the ones I am close with have admitted to horrible childhood issues and extremely controlling behavior. How do we cope with this in a marriage? How do we forget everything we learned from our parents? I really hope figure this out, because I don’t want the next generation to be as scarred as we are.

      • it is always interesting to me that our generation is seen as having negative (or at least weird) feelings about marriage because of our parents’ divorces. i never wanted to get married (until i did) mostly as a reaction to the amazing success of my parents’ 30+ year marriage. i felt like marriage was too sacred and too serious and too awesome for me to partake in. and it didn’t seem likely to me that i could live up to it or have a relationship that would. until i did, of course.

        but also, i have extreme respect for some divorces. both of my sets of grandparents were divorced – and, in that generation especially, i have immense respect for that. in some ways it increases my faith in marriage that folks who are simply unhappy with one another can move on and try again far more successfully (in the case of one side – and as a bonus my extra grandad is the best man i’ve ever known) – and especially that a woman can tell her husband that she is not going to put up with him anymore and leave (in the case of the other side – my grandmother never ceases to amaze me).

    • MDBethann

      I always find the divorce statistic intriguing too. My husband and I both come from homes with always-married parents, as are his sister’s in-laws, and in my extended family there are only 2 couples in 14 in my parents’ generation (their siblings and cousins) who are divorced. So I’m not always sure where that statistic comes from, unless they factor the quickie marriages that poor Nevada is notorious for, into that equation. I really would be intrigued to see how they develop that number.

      I am interested in genealogy and in the process of researching my family, I learned that one of my great-great grandmothers divorced my great-great grandfather back in the early 1900s, and they were mill workers. To my knowledge, this was pretty rare back then, and even more so, she changed her name back to her maiden name (though her kids kept their father’s name). I wish I could go back and talk to her about how and why she did it – according to most social histories you read, it was nearly impossible for women back then to divorce and they risked losing their children and any property if they did. Given this, I don’t think it should be *too* surprising when divorce rates seem a lot higher now than it did for previous generations – it wasn’t that long ago that it was hard, so even if the marriage was lousy, you lived/suffered with it and made do, maybe even made the marriage better because you HAD to. Now, if the marriage is lousy or not working for some reason, people can get divorced and the pressure to work it out isn’t necessarily there. It is really amazing how much has changed in 100 years!

      • Anne

        I’ve been doing my family’s genealogy as well, and found one divorce. My great grandmother divorced my great grandfather back in the 1920’s and later remarried. It turned out that my great grandfather then remarried, and divorced his second wife as well. Apparently he had problems with alcohol. But my grandfather, who grew up in his grandparents house, and my grandmother were happily married for over 50 years when she died.

    • Kestrel

      That’s really just statistics. Even if the divorce rate is, say 25%, then the probability of not having divorced parents is 75%. For both people to not have divorced parents, the probability then becomes 75%*75%, or 56.25%.

      This is obviously a little oversimplified as not all marriages have kids, people may have divorced and then gotten remarried and had kids, etc. but the basic principle is sound.

      But, I am in a relationship where both parents are still in strong, happy marriages for 35+ years.

    • Anonymous for this

      I think the “product of HAPPY marriages” part of this is important to remember. A marriage doesn’t have to end in divorce to be happy. My fiance’s parents are together, and have been for 38 years or so, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy, and it certainly doesn’t mean they were happy when he was growing up.

      Not all intact marriages are happy ones, and I think it is just as important to look at happiness or contentment in the relationship as a measure of its success.

      • Anonymous for this

        I meant “a marriage doesn’t have to end in divorce to be unhappy”. I’m failing at the writing today.

      • Anne

        Yes, but there is no way to know the percentage of people who are happy or unhappy in their marriages.

        • Anonymous for this

          That’s true, but I think Meg’s point isn’t about statistics – it is that a lot of us grew up with parents who weren’t in happy marriages. A lot of us don’t have that kind of role model or experience, and that isn’t just about divorce.

          • meg

            Exactly. Or, we grew up around a lot of unhappy marriages, regardless of the state of our parents relationships. One or both.

    • Diane

      I think it also somewhat begs the question of what it means to be “the product” of a happy marriage. My parents gave my brother and me a great gift when they divorced when I was 3 and he was 9 months. They were, at the time, unhappy people in an even more unhappy marriage. They are both remarried; my dad and stepmom celebrate their 25th anniversary in December and my mom and stepdad’s 20th was two weeks ago. My mom and stepdad in particular have a wonderful marriage and I spent much of my childhood and all of my adolescence in the presence of that strength. Sometimes it takes divorced parents for a child to experience what a happy marriage looks like and I’ll trade that for an acrimonious marriage any day!

      • Lauren

        My parents separated when I was 8 or so, and I often think that I had a more stable childhood than a lot of my friends with married parents! The way their relationship ended up worked out for them AND for me, in some off-the-wall way :)

      • This is exactly it – The relationships that shape our ideals (good and bad) create the context for how we build a happy relationship. I come from a family with happily married parents, while C comes from a family with parents who were very unhappily married for 20 years before putting themselves (and their children) through a VERY ugly divorce. Both of those experiences have re-enforced the same values in C and I: trust, honesty, active listening and mutual support. I think the moral of the story is not exactly what you’ve experienced in particular, but what you’ve learned from it universally.
        Yes, it sometimes impacts our fears and doubts, but it also fuels our faith that we can build something stronger together.

    • meg

      I think this is probably going to vary a whole lot, given where you grew up, etc. David and I are both the product of happy marriages, but I don’t know we know any other couples from our hometown that are (I think? But the fact that I think that’s probably true gives you the odds right there.) Also, I’m not sure we know a ton of other couples where both people are products of happy marriages. We do totally know couples where both of them have married parents, but married parents and happily married parents are two totally different things. This also just be a “your life experience” question, but we grew up around a lot of adults who were still married, but more or less in name only, and were staggeringly miserable (and in a pretty obvious public way).

      So I’m definitely writing from my own cultural context there, but I don’t think that cultural context is terribly rare. We’ve talked in the past about how marriage is becoming something far more common in solidly middle class circles, so I suspect this is going to vary a lot given the economic circumstances of a given community, for starters.

      Anyway, keep debating, it’s fascinating, just clearing up where I’m coming from for you.

      • Laura

        Possibly confounded with, or maybe even more important than, the divorce rate is the rate of marriages that our generation can find relatable. In other words, both my and my partner’s parents’ marriages are intact and more or less happy, but he and I don’t feel like we can relate to their choices to marry when they did. Their situations simply don’t apply to us.

        For instance, when they married, my parents were younger than we are but also (magically) more accomplished and finanicially secure. Also, my mother is religious and has always thought of marriage as a sacrament, but I simply don’t. Brian’s parents, in contrast, were *very* young and unestablished and pregnant with him when they married. And they magically made it work and make successful lives for themselves and their children, very much against the odds. But we don’t have any of those kind of pressures at the moment.

        So, it’s not as though we grew up in broken households without any role models of happy marriages, it’s that we haven’t had role models of people like us, in our station in life, *getting* married. What gave marriage meaning and purpose to our parents just …doesn’t… to us.

        • meg

          Super interesting point.

  • Aside from the important legal/logistical benefits of marriage, I also think that it’s a significant social label. At first, it seems silly to worry about labels but I think that this one carries a lot of weight in our culture. To me, engagement and marriage is a very public thing, a reflection of what’s probably been happening privately for a long time. I don’t think that you have to be married to prove that you’re in love or to have kids or to want to spend the rest of your lives together, but I do think that, like a lot of labels, it tells people something immediately. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing, but it is most definitely a thing. I’ve seen women talk about breaking up or losing a partner, and ones who weren’t married have said that their grief was taken less seriously, even if they had been together for a long time/lived together/etc. While it TOTALLY sucks that people would react this way, I do think it underscores how we rely on labels to help us understand other people and their relationships.

    While I definitely don’t think you should have to get married to have your relationship taken seriously, I do think it’s an extremely efficient way to say to the world, “This is what this person and this relationship means to me.” I think of it like putting in a ton of extra time/effort at work and then wanting to be recognized for it. A lot of times, even if you can’t have a raise, you at least want to get a new title. When I was younger, I didn’t understand this (like, why would you want a new title if nothing else is changing?!) but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that it’s not really about the money…it’s about wanting respect for the effort and work you’ve put in and wanting other people to take your contributions and your role within the company seriously. I see taking on a new title in a relationship as a similar thing.

    • Taylor

      True! In the same vein, why do people have graduation ceremonies and framed diplomas if they already know they completed the credits to earn a college degree? Cause if you’re doing something really awesome and challenging, sometimes you want just other people to recognize it, dammit. (and have a big fun party afterwards)

    • I can’t exactly this enough!!! YES, EXACTLY. The “label” means a lot more to both me and my husband than either of us thought it would before we said “I Do.” Because it DOES mean something.

    • Alexandra

      Labels are important things, sadly. The label “Girlfriend” or “Boyfriend” is pretty easy to acquire. Some kids call people their gf/bf on the playground equipment at age 6. Some people go through High School with a new gf/bf every week. And some people have the same gf/bf whom they break up with/get back together with at least once a week for 5 years. When it comes down to it, that label really means nothing more than “I’d like to be a little more intimate with you.” and it’s a label you can use with someone you’ve only met a handful of times and drop like a hat.

      On the other hand, wife, husband, or even fiance has a much stronger commitment baked into that label. It’s not something you break as lightly. And even though it’s still just words, it the words you use to identify yourself to the world. And those words are important, because they tell people that this is what we consider to be important about ourselves.

  • Meaghan

    I think the parents’ marriage factor is real. My boyfriend (yes, hate that word) and I are in the “what does marriage mean / what does marriage mean to us / why get married” phase (for which APW has been super helpful, so thank you!) and we’re both from real fcked up shit marriage-wise and it’s really given us pause. Like, is thinking your marriage will work out just straight up hubris at this point?

    I don’t think so, ultimately (so many other factors — age, education, communication, political leanings!), but as we talk to friends and family, the people from happily marriage-d families seem to just be coming from a whole different universe. They assume they’ll get married, because of course it seems like how you live your life, and just what you do. It’s how you grew up! We’re thinking of getting a domestic partnership in the meantime, and all those people are like, “Why not just get married?” And we are definitely interrogating that ourselves, but ultimately it’s like, because domestic partnerships are this whole new thing to us, WITHOUT all the baggage, or the “context” and the “societal approval” and without the “DIVORCE”. And of course it’s more complicated than that but a lot of the reasons to get married that people are citing here are the reasons we sort of hesitate on marriage.

    At this point in the Journey™ I don’t like how rewarded or contextualized marriage is to people — I don’t want to get married because it helps people understand my relationship or it makes them more comfortable because they can put me in a box. I wish I could choose marriage against all odds! Ha. Which you know, in light our families marriages, maybe we are. (breakthrough!)

    In my heart of hearts I want to get married, I think our love deserves to be honored this way, and we should celebrate it, and go out on the marriage limb and dare to be happy, etc., etc., but there is just so much shit to wade through! And I think at the heart of that shit are my parents, younger than I am now and filled with resentment, miserable and yelling at each other in the car. It’s real!

  • MDBethann

    My DH and I got married in part for the contractual reasons to protect ourselves because as thirty-somethings, we both have assets that we want to protect, but also because we believe in that unified front, the idea that we are a unit to the rest of the world. For the nearly 2 years we lived together before our marriage, things seemed so much more complicated and I felt like we had to explain things all the time, especially since we owned a house together. And though he wasn’t too interested in writing the wedding ceremony, DH was very adamant about the “sickness & health, richer or poorer, better or worse, until death do we part” aspect of the vows. Even though he doesn’t say so, I think the fact that his first marriage didn’t work still stings with him, and emphasizing those vows at our wedding was our way of showing our lifelong commitment to each other – neither of us are going anywhere.

    Are there all sorts of ways to show commitment? Sure. But this one – committing for life before God, our family, our friends, and the law – worked for us, because it makes it really hard for either of us to just pack up and leave. We’re there for keeps.

  • Lethe

    It sounds unromantic, but I think a key reason to marry is access to the process of divorce. I have had enough clients call me from states with no same-sex marriage, wanting to know what to do because their long-term same-sex relationship has ended, their partner has taken all the assets, and they have been left with nothing. What could I offer them? Nothing – without the right to a court’s supervision in a formal divorce, there’s nothing to stop that from happening. This is one reason access to marriage is so critical. Society could create a right to legal intervention governing division of property in such situations, but right now that doesn’t exist outside of marriage.

    • meg

      Exactly. And this is something that seems pretty rarely discussed, since we view divorce as a bad thing, not something that can protect you.

    • I think our accumulation of wealth as a heterosexual unmarried couple has really informed MY views on same-sex marriage. I supported it before hand from the love, hearts, and flowers perspective of everyone being able to marry the one that they love but the more I’ve struggled with ideas of how to take title to multiple pieces of property, how to take on loans, how to pay bills when one partner isn’t making the same amount, etc. etc. I’ve started to really look forward to the legal protections that marriage grants in addition to the lovely and powerful opportunity to declare my love witnessed by family and friends.

    • Amanda

      I actually convinced my host family in Alabama several years ago that same-sex marriage was important because of same-sex divorce. She never realized how much she took comfort in knowing that her husband is legally required to be there, and if he decided to leave, he’d still have an obligation to their son. It was a profound conversation for her.

    • To me this is a key part of it, though there’s a lot of other emotional stuff. I know a few unmarried couples where one partner earns more than the other and they have joint mortgages – without the legal protection of marriage and asset division for the worst-case possibility, that would scare me to pieces! Whatever arrangement they have now when all is well is not guaranteed to weather the test of time and though the hope is that they’ll be able to be civil and reasonable throughout, even the most minimal experience of relationships ending shows us how rare that is.

      In our case at least part of the motivation to marry was depressingly practical – I’m American and he’s Scottish and both US and UK immigration rules are easier to navigate if an international couple is married. It’s not impossible if unmarried, but it is more difficult. That paper may have dubious meaning for many, but the Institutions of Border Control have a specific understanding of the Institution of Marriage that makes it preferable from their perspective – it’s not just easier to explain to outsiders how committed you are with the terms husband and wife, it’s vastly easier to demonstrate your commitment to any bureaucracy if you have that bit of paper. Yet another reason why any committed couple should have the right to marry!

  • Elemjay

    For me, it was about children. I didn’t want to have children with a man who didn’t want to marry me. If a relationship which involves children breaks down, then often it’s the mother who ends up shouldering a lot of the responsibility for the next 20 years. If I was going to take that risk of ending up literally holding th baby, then I would only want to do so with a man who was prepared to go through some pretty serious legal/ emotional/ public commitment (ie getting married). We got married 4 years ago, my daughter is 2 tomorrow. It was the right thing for us to do.

    Besides, if no one gets married, then the only big family set piece events/ ceremonies would be funerals (our families are not religious). And that is too depressing to even think about!

    • Jashshea

      I always said that I could live together forever without calling it a marriage, as long as it was just us. I wasn’t going to shoulder (pelvis?) the burden of child birth and rearing w/o a full public, legal commitment to the two of US first.

      • Steph



  • steph

    I think for a lot of people in our generation (myself very much included), marriage is about making a brave commitment with our eyes wide open. I got married believing very much in our relationship, but also with the knowledge that Happily Ever After is promised to no one. For me it was equal parts wanting to say officially ‘I love you and am making this solemn comittment to you in front of all of our community’ AND ‘I know there is a LOT I don’t know or control about what the future will bring, I know others have gone before us and did not succeed, but even though I know that I’m willing to take this journey with you.’

    I also know for me I definitely felt more comfortable making that commitment because we had lived together first. It was very important for me to “test the waters” by committing first to sharing a one year lease together. It was also VERY important to me to have my own income and to know that I can take care of myself before comitting to another person. (Even though divorce is not common in my family or circle of friends, being widowed young is sadly very common in my family and is a fear I consciously walk through in my marriage)

    I’m curious if others have had similar feelings experiences…

    • MDBethann

      I’d agree that it has always been VERY important to me to have my own income and to know that I can take care of myself before comitting to another person. I think everyone person should have that ability – you never know when you are going to need it. My maternal grandparents got married when my grandmother was in her late 20s and my grandfather died 12 years later, leaving her with a 7 year old and a 9 year old to raise. Fortunately, she had worked in offices before marriage (she met my grandfather through work) so she had marketable skills that she could use to feed and clothe my mom and aunt. My grandfather was 50 and his heart attack was a complete surprise. You just never know when you’re going to need to support yourself and your family again, even if you decide to be an unpaid mom with the kids all day.

  • Tegan

    I really hate the argument that our generation has seen too much divorce, so clearly marriage is broken. Every friend that I’ve seen, because of all of these shenanigans has instead had a CLEARER idea of what marriage is, could be, and should be. And is taking their own relationships in hand.

    I think the 600 square feet might have something to do with the break up of that relationship. And any that end “over night” as the author puts it, weren’t actually functioning for a while. That final argument can only be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

    The question then is, how to define functioning? The best way a friend described it is this: Are you getting everything you need? Are you getting most of what you’d like? If so, you’re good. If not, discuss and make it good.

    I think that my fiance and I are also looking at it differently, as we’re getting married in August and we have an open relationship. This by necessity, means that we discuss things more (much to his delight and my dismay), and we have less traditional ideas of what a marriage means. We opened up our relationship the same day that we got engaged — because I knew that we were going to be together forever. When just dating, I would be one girlfriend versus any other girlfriend. As the wife or fiancee, I have sway. (I like hierarchy. :-D)

    I don’t know. I feel that this kind of article is more wanking than not. We all make our decisions about relationships on our own, even if not in a vacuum. The article seemed to merely be closure for the author than any mind-blowing thought processes. Ah well.

    • meg

      Oh, 600 square feet in New York City isn’t that small, don’t kid yourself!

      • Jane

        It’s not that small in Austin, either. :)

        We live in 60 square feet with two cats and no dishwasher, and it’s amazing.

        • Tegan

          Well, I had 575 in Cambridge, and it was too small. We now have the very comfy 1000.

        • You can’t mean six-zero, right? You must mean six-zero-zero, right???

          Himself said, “I’m pretty sure that’s illegal under the U.N. Human Rights declaration.” I’d have to agree. In any case, good on you for making it work. :)

      • Lethe

        Amen – we are sub-600 right now in NYC and loving it!

    • marbella

      Really? Our first flat in England was around 500sq ft and it was large by 1 bedroom flat in a city standards. We actually had a hallway. If 2 adults can’t live in 600sq ft I think that might be a problem?!

      • meg

        HA! In case you haven’t noticed, we Americans have an expectation of a lot of space ;) New Yorkers totally excepted.

  • Jashshea

    Is it weird that this is the part that made me weepy (in that “OMG, I can’t wait to be married! It’s going to be so amazing” kind of way):

    “Now we are a legal family, I will make medical decisions for you when you can’t, I will be the one holding your hand in a hospital bed. Now we’re really stuck with each other, unless we want to spend a lot of money on lawyers to get unstuck. And discussions of joy, transcendence, and ritual aside, that gritty contractual business is important.”

    • Not AT ALL. I’m totally having a moment for the lovely less pretty fluffy parts of getting married right now.

    • Exactly! A year ago, I was pushing hard for a proposal in the face of grad school, a cross country move, and parents with failing health. When we got engaged, we caught a lot of “why?” flack from C’s friends. This was the argument that shut them up once and for all.

      While the contractual business may not be the stuff that wedding media is built on, it’s the stuff that makes a marriage a marriage – the ability to have complete, unshakable faith that this person will be there for you no matter what, and that you’ll have plenty of warning and re-course if something changes someday. And Love is the most important part! Because how could you knowingly obligate yourself to a marriage if you don’t really and truly love the person and want to give that assurance to them? This is the grounds upon which commitment issues are both founded and overcome.

    • KateM

      We have been married a month and it strikes me all the time. Being in love is easy, choosing to love in the nitty gritty, end of life planning, 401k, health insurance, and the rest of the pragmatic part of life is harder but way more awesome. My emotional love towards my husband didn’t change when we got married, but my intellectual love did if that makes any sense at all. It means more that we took the contractual step. It said to me that he is will to give me his WHOLE life and intertwine with mine, nothing is reserved. You can say it, but getting married actually did it.
      On a side note, I internally giggle every time I use the word husband to some stranger, it is still so strange and awesome and right.

  • KB

    I totally think that the co-author’s mother is exactly right – part of why it’s important to get married is to make it harder for the other person to leave, which DOES sound horrible. Tons of people would say, “Well, I’m not married but I’m committed to this person” and that’s true. But marriage provides another layer of security whose strength is determined by both people’s views towards marriage itself. Because, really, you promise to be together for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health – but you don’t promise to like it. For example, you may think the theoretical idea of graduate school poverty and eating ramen noodles by candlelight is romantic, but that can get really old, really fast. Especially when you and your partner have different ideas of how to spend that last $200 in your respective checking accounts. It’s when you get to that point where you just want to lie on the floor and take a time-out from life that you remember that you made a legal promise to be attached to this person. And while that promise can be undone by divorce, it makes you personally obligated to get up and give whatever it is a second try.

  • Kimberly

    My husband and I had kids before we got married, so for us, that whole “harder to leave” thing was a moot point. It was more of a “harder to stay when one child is whining and the other needs the fifth poopy diaper changed in the last two hours” sort of thing. We weathered the storm, found our own balance, and just when I was beginning to decide that being married isn’t the end-all and be-all of my life, he proposed.

    I got married last Saturday, so I’m sort of dewey-eyed and mushy, but something changed powerfully for us when we got married. By standing in front of our 40 closest relatives and vowing “to love and to cherish, to sustain amidst the hardships of the world, those things which are vulnerable and fragile…to nourish and support, and remain wholeheartedly in your commitment as long as life and love endure” and having a state representative announce that we were legally married, something shifted inside both of us. It was, pardon the mushiness, magic. I want to bottle it up and share it with everyone.

    My parents divorced when I was a baby. My mother went on to remarry and divorce twice after that. My grandfather has been divorced three times as well. Many people would say that growing up in that environment would cause me to view marriage as a waste of time. However, I suppose I am more practical than most people. When my schoolmates were discussing crushes and marriages, I was expounding on the importance of communication over love. “Love can only take you so far!” I would say. “You need to be able to communicate! If you can’t communicate, then you can’t love!” (Yes, I was an odd romantic of a child.) I saw marriages crumble because my family didn’t realize that marriage is work; it’s a commitment to another person to work at being together. Knowing this, and having a husband who works hard at everything, I know that we will stay married forever. Will there be trials? Yes. So, maybe, we should start to teach the next generation of aspiring newlyweds the immortal words of Ike Graham in “Runaway Bride”:

    “Look, I guarantee there’ll be tough times. I guarantee that at some point, one or both of us is gonna want to get out of this thing. But I also guarantee that if I don’t ask you to be mine, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life, because I know, in my heart, you’re the only one for me.”

    Because that sums up marriage for me.

    • KateM

      I want to exactly this 500 times. It takes more than love to have a marriage.

    • HH

      Oh, congratulations! I’m sure it was a magical day for you and your 40 guests!

  • Lauren

    I think the more I hear the “why marriage?” debate, the more I wonder why the answer can’t just be: “Because we want to.” Maybe it’s not important (probably not, at this point). Maybe it’s not necessary (certainly not in 2012). But some people want to. And some people don’t. And those are both okay. I don’t really think that everything that we do needs to be important. I just think it needs to be important (or not important) to each individual person. I come from separated parents and can count on one hand (one finger, maybe) the number of happily married couples that I know (not counting friends that got married a few years ago, like me) – I should be the poster child for not thinking marriage keeps everything together. But I wanted to do it. In this tricky time when we’re all wondering “can women have it all?”, I think it’s important to say that maybe “all” is just doing what you want and what feels right to you, without the added burden of wondering what it means in the bigger picture.

  • For me, a very important part of marriage has been the social acceptance of my relationship. It’s already been said eloquently above in the comments, but society places value on the labels of husband/wife. By taking on those socially-revered labels, my relationship is simply (whether I like it or not) more respected by outside forces. If I have a doctor’s appointment that I want my husband to go to with me, all he has to do is tell work “My wife has a doctor’s appointment I need to go to too” and it’s a respected need. By vowing to be together, we’re seen as a legitimate unit in our culture, and there’s value in that. Do I wish I’d been given that same benefit without being married? Yes, that would be nice (and it’s obviously horrible that we deny the right to that benefit to certain people). But, that’s not the way our culture is set up. So, marriage buys cultural benefits and respect.

  • Darla

    I absoltuely think marriage is important and that’s not because I am religious either. Before I was religious, I dreamed about marrying the perfect guy for me and sharing everything I had with him (and when I say everything, I mean everything, yes I am one of those girls who waited till marriage, and I am all the better for it.). Marriage for me is more than just a piece of paper, it is a committ to be with one person the rest of your life, to share in love, support, heartache, happiness, laughter and everything else that comes your way.marriage for me made to grow into the person I am today, without my husband I would be a teacher, have a baby, and enjoy half the things I do. For instance, I hated video games when I met my husband, I didn’t understand why, but now almost three years later, my husband is teaching me to play his favorites. Because I have this marriage, I am more committed to understanding why my husband loves things, and why in the long run we push each other to be better people. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know some people that just aren’t ready, or ones who thought they were ready and are divorced before 25, but make one with the right person, they will be, I think, but its just not today.

  • Rebecca

    The always wise Ira Glass said, “one of the things that’s a comfort in marriage is that there isn’t a door at seven years, and so if something is messed up, in the short term, there’s a comfort of knowing, ‘well we made this commitment, so we’re just going to work this out. And even if tonight we’re not getting along, or there’s something between us that doesn’t feel right, you have the comfort of knowing, we’ve got time, we’re going to figure this out’. And that makes it so much easier. Because you do go through times where you hate each other’s guts, and the no escape clause, weirdly, is a bigger comfort to being married than I ever would have thought before I got married.”

    And I couldn’t agree more. I love the idea that in marriage there is time- a removal of a sense of expediency. And that is important. It doesn’t discount having to work hard, serve one another, be intentional and forgiving every day- but its a comfort to know you dont have to figure it all out at once.

    • meg

      Marriage is time. That’s really lovely. Thanks, Ira.

    • I highly recommend the episode of the Savage Love podcast where Ira Glass is a guest. He says some lovely serious things (including that one) and also talks about blowjobs.

      • Yes. This. From attachment perspective, we call it the “secure base.”
        Securely attached means we can be angry have our fits (within reason, of course) and still come back to each other. We can fail, succeed, make mistakes, and pick each other up. I think of it as the ultimate freedom.

    • Rachel M

      I was thinking about exactly this Ira Glass comment (and the episode it’s from) as I was reading this APW article! Thanks for sharing!

  • kireina

    This idea that our generation’s perception of marriage as a positive institution has been damaged by a higher divorce rate always reminds me strongly of Elizabeth Gilbert’s discussion of choice in Committed. We discussed that pretty thoroughly here: In short, though, her point is that as soon as the ability to choose your partner based on whatever romantic notions you have about relationships becomes prevalent over arranged marriages or financially-saavy ones, divorce rates skyrocket. So, do many of us have divorced parents? Sure. But maybe that’s because women were really able to choose during our parents’ generation with fewer restrictions than the generations before – and so can we. Does that mean marriage is meaningless? No, but it does mean we have to look past the traditional reasons for marriage and build our own set of data supporting or opposing marriage specifically in our own cases.

    So basically, it’s just a lot more work.

    • meg

      Which can be a really good thing.

  • In 1986 I married to validate my worth, and to be able to have children. If I do it again, it will be to partner with someone I respect, admire and desire. To me, marriage is, and I didn’t know this, about partnering in the hard work of life. Luckily, being in love makes life easier too.

    • “Partnering in the hard work of life”. Yes. That’s it :)

    • Oh yes. This is simple and wise (as most True things usually are).

      This year, our second year of marriage, and 6th year of partnership, Brian and I are starting to really co-shoulder some bigger things. I think this is partially because we feel secure enough to take them on, and partially because we’ve been together long enough to run into some life crap. For example, Brian is going to have a pretty dramatic hip surgery in a few months. I was the one who pushed him to confront his pain and move towards a solution. Until I did that, he felt it was his alone, but now it is OUR challenge, and one that seems far less overwhelming with the two of us on it. On Saturday, we will be embarking on a series of family reunions that make both of us feel stressed out. But somehow, knowing that we will co-shoulder the burdon of my parents’ political leanings and his family stuff and be there to hold hands and face it together makes it seem far more manageable. Not only am I only shouldering half the burdon, but the two of us together are more than the sum of our parts–so we bring EXTRA mojo to the issue–whatever it may be. It’s really win-win.

      I think this is why it is so so important to marry someone who you respect to the core, and whose advice you trust.

  • “When he was packing his stuff, I remembered a conversation my Newsweek co-author had had with her mother about our article. “I’ll tell you why you need marriage,” she told her. “Because it makes it harder for the other person to leave.”

    At the time, we snickered at her words. Legally requiring someone to stick around? It was desperate, pathetic.”

    The way this is stated rankles me a little, but there’s a lot of truth here. There are some rules I’ve always had in my mind regarding relationships (some of which I’ve definitely broken) such as feeling it’s important to be married before I have children, and this idea is somewhat behind them. No so much in the sense of making it harder to leave, but in the sense that if my partner were not willing to make those very legal, very personal commitments with me to stay than I don’t think I would ever feel like he was “all in” in the way that I’d need.

    • MDBethann

      Right. If he isn’t willing to commit to me that seriously when it is just me, how can I be sure that he’ll stay committed and stick around if/when kids enter the picture? Trust is an important part of that, obviously, but since there is no absolute certainty in this world other than “death and taxes,” you can’t be sure how your partner will react in a new situation until you see them (and you) in said situation. “Packing up and leaving” is a lot easier if there aren’t legal ties to break first.

    • Elisabeth

      Oh this, this so much. I just proposed to my boyfriend of nearly 7 years, and he is of the ‘but it’s just a piece of paper’ school of thought. ‘We’re only 23-24,’ he moans. I’ve been trying to explain to him why I feel it’s important for us to have that bit of paper, and it really is about wanting him to be behind my life plans 100%. Even if we haven’t had the chance to fully discuss them yet.

  • Newtie

    I just got married a week ago (yay!), and in our ceremony our pastor talked about how love may inspire a marriage to take place, but long-term it is the marriage that supports the love, not the other way around. In other words, by getting married, we are choosing to stay in love, instead of letting the fact that we love each other motivate us to stay together. There IS something romantic about staying with someone for years because you wake up every single morning and love them unquestionably. I hope that is how my husband and I feel in the years to come. But I think there’s *also* something romantic about deciding now, while that love is clear and uncomplicated, that we are going to stay together come hell or high water even if we DON’T feel unquestionable love every minute — that we have faith in the bigger picture of our love, and that we are committing to nourishing it. I don’t know if I’m articulating this well — the way my pastor said it was much more eloquent and understandable — but I can see where marriage and contracts aren’t always the most romantic thing. But for us, it made sense — and the care involved, the preparedness for our future and the commitment to it, has a certain kind of romance, too.

  • The song “Witness to Your Life” by Lori Mckenna resonated with me while we were planning our wedding. “All you really need is someone to be here/ someone to never let you disappear/ this may be just a softer place to fall/ someone will answer when you call/ I’ll be the witness to your life.”

    Also, the idea that by marrying someone you make them legally your family. I have different expectations and responsibilities in regards to my family than I do for friends, roommates or romantic interests.

  • This one’s hard and interesting and wrenching for me today.

    It’s our one-year anniversary. Today. And we’re separating. Our contract wasn’t fulfilled, hasn’t been fulfilled, even through pleading and crying and goading and bribing. And it all was done without the squishy love in the first place. Yes, we had comfort and a kind of love, but the kind that should be reserved for batting cage or golfing friends, not get married friends. I came to the very harsh realization that I’ve never gained my independence. I’ve always taken care of others, always let others be dependent on me and in turn, I’ve been co-dependent. But I’m capable of a lot more than that, of being a little ball of sunshine, as one friend recently referred to me. And he, well, he doesn’t consider me in the way our contract requires. He’s never been violent nor unfaithful. He just … hasn’t been a husband. And I realized that I’m tired. Too tired. And I need to take a break and see if I can fully know and be me for the first time. Ever. I wish I had come to this realization before we had a legally binding contract, but this may not be the end end for us. Just an end to this current stagnation. I wish I’d had the courage, the strength to not get married when I knew that it wasn’t just right. But the wedding ball was rolling with such momentum that stopping it was nigh on impossible. At that time. A year latter, the marriage ball is moving backward and it’s time for me to stop it.

    • MDBethann

      HalfPint, I hope that you find peace and a renewed sense of energy and self. Best wishes to you as you figure out your way ahead.

      • Thank you. Just making the decision itself has come with a massive sense of relief, so I can only giddily anticipate what my impending move and career change will do for my emotions.

    • Jashshea

      Good luck, 1/2pint. I’m so sorry you’re going through a difficult transition.

    • meg

      Oh lady, so much love. Treat yourself kindly and gently during this time, and take care of yourself PLEASE. If you need a reason to, just pretend all of APW is at your back nicely asking yourself to be kind to you.

      • That’s part of the reason why I so love APW. I’ve been trying to find the courage to write about this, because it’s big. I searched the APW archives and found some that helped me know that I’m not alone, that these Big Decisions are made and sometimes have to be made. It’s about me, really me, for the first time in my life, and that’s scary as hell. And amazing. I’m standing in awe of this whole new path in front of me and the anticipation of walking down it has me happy-shaking.

  • katieprue

    Marriage was incredibly important to me as a personal business decision. However unfortunate it is, the world at large functions in a single-or-married way. Black and white. Your car insurance policy will not give you a discount, no matter how much you love your boyfriend. Trust me, I asked. So I wanted those perks. I wanted to not worry about being denied access to my husband in a hospital. You can also rent a car and both drive it. Wee! So marriage on paper, for me, is about the little things. Divorce is a great protection, and hopefully we’ll never have to use it.

    The other big reason that marriage matters is that I’m incredibly shy and private about my Big Feelings. A wedding was my way to show people how much I really do love and care for my sweetheart, because I sure as hell don’t shout it from the rooftops (as much I’d like to). It was my way to say without saying, “I am so serious about this guy and I love him more than anything and now we’re a family.” I can say it to him, but being married is my way of saying it to the world. We functioned as a family before, but there is just something different now. And I like it.

    • Jashshea

      Goodness gracious. All you people and all your heartfelt REAL words are making me weepy today.

    • L

      “The other big reason that marriage matters is that I’m incredibly shy and private about my Big Feelings. A wedding was my way to show people how much I really do love and care for my sweetheart, because I sure as hell don’t shout it from the rooftops (as much I’d like to). It was my way to say without saying, “I am so serious about this guy and I love him more than anything and now we’re a family.” I can say it to him, but being married is my way of saying it to the world. We functioned as a family before, but there is just something different now. And I like it.”

      I relate to this so much and I have never heard anyone else say it. I thought my partner and I were the only ones. This is the main reason that we decided to do a ceremony instead of eloping because we wanted a platform to share what we mean to each other with our community.

      • katieprue

        Hmm. I detect a post topic then! :)

        • L

          Yes this would be a wonderful post topic! So…. I am assuming you will get right on that?

  • Catherine

    These two articles Jessica wrote were a really insightful and inspiring read. So, thank you for that!!

    My fiancee and I both grew up with parents that are still married. For me, marriage was always the fairytale I dreamed of. My grandparents never yelled at eachother and, after 50 years, everyone could still see the love and tenderness they showed for eachother every day. And my parents, even though there was fighting and a handful of threats to leaving, are still together and are in love and making it work. On the other side, my fiancee’s parents have weathered the storms of multiple Afghanistan deployments and a husband coming back a different man. There are times that they still act like teenagers in puppy love after 25-ish years and 5 kids all grown up.

    The way I see it, marriage is a HUGE, and I mean GIGANTIC, commitment. It’s life changing and definitely should not be taken lightly. And of course, as stated in this post and some posts last week, if you don’t believe you are ready – don’t get married.

    The moral of the story is that when you chose to make that commitment, the legallity of that piece of paper is there to remind everyone why you decided to become “one” in the first place. As someone commented earlier, her fiancee wanted to propose “so she can’t run away.” But, it’s so much deeper than that. The point of marriage is to remind yourself that, sure it would be so easy to pack up and walk away, but that there is a real, life changing, loving relationship at stake if you do.

    Everytime I want to rip my fiancee’s head off, I look down at my ring and am almost moved to tears. It’s like “Sure, I could find another person who wants to talk about his feelings as much as I do or freakin’ refills the toilet paper when the rolls end out!!! But, this guy loves me so much that he wants to actually spend the est of his life with me. Wow. We can work through this.”

    • MDBethann

      Exactly. And the fact that he still wanted to marry me after 3 years of dating (including 2 years of co-habitation) with my weird quirks makes me appreciate my DH all the more. Sure, he has quirks that drive me crazy, but he wanted to marry me because/inspite of mine, so I can certainly live with his quirks too!

  • Kara

    The first month or so of our marriage, every time one of us did something…off…or got sick, or whatever, we said something along the lines of, “yeah, I’m sick, and you’re STUCK with me.” For some, this might have been a bit too flippant, but MAN it felt good to hear that from my husband. For as much as I’m stuck with him, he’s stuck with me, through good and bad (and all the rest of our vows). It’s nice to know he’s not going anywhere, even if he might want to on day 3 of my 4th migraine in a month.

  • first milk


  • I recently had the strange experience of reading back through my journals from the years BEFORE my husband and I were married and despite the fact that we both knew early on that we would likely get married, and despite the fact that we lived together for a long time and moved together to a new city and were as happy then as we are now, I was so surprised how often my journals had things like, “I’m starting to wonder if we’ll break up” or “maybe this just isn’t meant to be” — usually not because of a fight, per se, but because of something that just seemed like a fundamental difference.

    In one entry I was musing on the fact that he likes to travel and I don’t. And so I wondered if maybe we shouldn’t be together.

    Since our marriage, those things are gone from the journal. It’s not that anything actually changed (he still likes to travel, I still don’t really) but I think that getting married fundamentally shifted the cognitive pathways in my brain. Conflict or dissonance cropped up before and my brain was sort of “trained” to think, “maybe this isn’t going to work” but conflict or dissonance crops up now and my brain’s automatic reaction is much more likely to be “how on earth are we going to figure this out” or “I guess we need to talk about this.”

    Before we were married, I think “how are we going to figure this out” came second, after “crap. we’re through” (otherwise something tells me we would really have been through). But I had to work for it more then. I had to choose it. Getting married I think sort of took away that needing-to-choose part of the equation.

  • Teresa

    This same article was posted on Jezebel last week and the comments really surprised me. The majority seemed to think that the author’s mother’s observation was the worst reason EVER to get married…quite the opposite of APW and myself. Like so many commenters here, this is part of the reason why, as a child of divorced parents, I came around to the idea of marriage. We have fought hard to have the relationship we have today because we both agreed that our love is the foundation, but love is not enough. When we say our vows in front of our family and friends in 55 days (yay!), it is our way of publicly declaring that we are a family, that we choose each other and that we are going to fight as hard as we can to keep our family intact. Seems like a perfect reason to get married, though certainly not the only reason.

    • meg

      That’s fascinating that Jezebel’s commenters so totally disagreed. I think we culturally focus on the squishy parts of marriage, and in fact its the non squishy parts that are the most important to me.

  • R.M.

    This is something I’ve thought about a great deal in the past year. For the first time in my life I am dating someone that I want to marry, and who wants to marry me. What I’ve come to realize is that to me, marriage means simply making a life together, which is both less and more romantic than how I thought about marriage when I was younger. I think there is something meaningful in making that declaration to each other publicly, and choosing to make it legally binding.

    That said, my parents have been together for more than 30 years and are not married. Or rather, my dad is married to someone else (and still financially supports her, although they have not lived together in decades). Their reasons for choosing that life are personal, and not the point here. The point is that, they are one of the happiest couples I know, and are deeply bound by a personal and spiritual commitment, without any legal commitment. There is no question that neither of them would ever leave the other, because since they fell in love, they’ve wanted nothing more than to be together.

    I guess, what I mean is – you don’t have to be married to build a joyful life and family together. But if the legal and public (and maybe spiritual) commitment would be meaningful to you and yours, go for it. But I think – if the true bond – that desire and constant choice to commit to making a life together – isn’t there, a piece of paper won’t bring it into existence, just as where there is that bond, it will be whether or not it’s legal.

  • Class of 1980

    The author didn’t want to get married because she made the mistake of conflating “legal marriage” with “married lifestyle”? The legal benefits of marriage have nothing to do with personal decisions on homemaking or careers.

    I also can’t help but wonder why a young woman of this century would automatically envision the loss of her career due to getting married. There is no shortage of women who have marriage and careers. This isn’t 1950.

    And divorce rates are VERY tied to socioeconomic status nowadays. College-educated couples have a divorce rate in the twenty-something percent range. A little research would have unearthed this.

    Love forms relationships. Some relationships are so important, the two people want a host of legal benefits to protect each other for a lifetime. That is called marriage. Marriage has ALWAYS been about conferring legal benefits.

    This article makes me feel irritable because of all the fuzzy thinking. I am now officially a curmudgeon.

    • dysgrace

      Thank you!
      OK. Here is something I’ve always wondered about. 50% of marriages may end in divorce. But what is the proportion of the ever-married population that is/ has been divorced? (i.e, does that 50% statistic account for divorces in 2nd – ahem Newt Gingrich ahem – 3rd, etc marriages?) (Please excuse me for being a curmudgeon AND a statistics nerd.)

      • Class of 1980

        The 50% statistic does not account for second marriages.

        Even with the 50% statistic, it doesn’t mean people are getting divorced five years after marriage. In order to arrive at 50%, you have to go decades after the weddings happen to get to that figure. Many of these divorces are happening after 20 years or more!

        If you break down divorces by socioeconomic category, you end up with a bunch of different divorce rates. Hence, college-educated couples only have a twenty-something percent divorce rate even after decades.

        (There used to be virtually no difference in the divorce rates of different socioeconomic groups.)

        There is so much BS written about marriage that I’ve become a curmudgeon before my time. The worst part is journalists who can’t be bothered to do research and mindlessly repeat stuff that isn’t true. Sometimes I think they’re handing out journalism degrees like candy. ;)

  • In Argentina’s civil code, marriage is contemplated in two books: Book I, on Family and Family relations regulates everything related to who, how and when can two persons get married and the rights and duties of the couple (it regulates personal rights in family relations), and on under BOOK II: On Contracts (on personal rights in civil relations), that covers everything regarding what is called the “sociedad conyugal”(conjugal society, or in other words, money and what happens to what you have or what you get, when you get married. So marriage, legally speaking, at least in Argentina, is indeed a contract as much as it is a family matter.

    That being said, marriage for me has always been about trust: I trust that, even though I know things can go wrong, they won’t. I trust that we will both give it our best every day. I trust that, when things get hard, we’ll find help if we need to. I know the legal implications, being the child of divorced parents I do know that things can go wrong but I trust that we will make it work.

    • I just wanted to add that, when I was getting married (5 months after meeting my husband) lots of people asked me “why are you getting married so soon? you don’t have to! Enjoy life!” And I always answered: “I am not getting married because I have to, but because I want to. I know I can live without him, but I also know that life is so much better by his side”. 7 years later, I still think the same.

      • Beth

        “I am not getting married because I have to, but because I want to. I know I can live without him, but I also know that life is so much better by his side”.
        This is the sentiment I have always gotten from my father. My parents married pretty young- which I thought was romantic until I got near to that age myself. (At 21 I was NOT ready to be married, even though I was with my fiancee at the time.) He always said that he knew he wanted to be with my mother for the rest of their lives- and the sooner, the better. I have put a lot of thought into other, more practical, reasons to get married that are discussed above. But that is always in my mind, how sweet it is that they just didn’t want to spend any more time not being married. From my very not-squishy dad.

  • I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t been said more eloquently above, but I just had to say how psyched I am that a picture of me and my husband on our wedding day accompanies this post! Yay!

  • kyley

    The saddest part about this article is this line: “He simply told me he didn’t want to marry. He had never forgiven me for turning him down.”

    To me this is not actually an essay about choosing marriage or non-marriage, but about what can happen when you fail to communicate in a relationship.

    As someone who has been in an unmarried partnership for 9 years, here’s our resentment-prevention strategy. If you find yourself upset ask yourself: Can I genuinely get over this and let go of this on my own? If the answer is no, then you owe it to yourself and your partner to address your feelings. *You have to talk about it.* (And preferably not spit it out in the heat of an argument.) But you calmly and lovingly talk about your feelings in order to heal the pain and let go of your resentment.

    It’s not always easy, but if the author’s partner had done this, maybe they would still be together. If this isn’t done, contract or no contract, I don’t see how a relationship can be genuinely happy and healthy. It actually makes me mad & sad, because I think lots of people hold onto and bury their feelings (usually because they don’t think they are fully justified) until they become so terrifying and unwieldy that everything explodes.

    You can’t change the way you feel, but you can change the way you address those feelings, and I think so many people spend all their energy on the former when, really, it’s always only about the latter.

    • Amber

      “It actually makes me mad & sad, because I think lots of people hold onto and bury their feelings (usually because they don’t think they are fully justified) until they become so terrifying and unwieldy that everything explodes.”

      This! That’s me. I never realized before how I hold onto my feelings when I don’t feel they’re fully justified – and how they tend to come out anyways, in the worst way.

      My boyfriend is always the one pushing the communication when I’m obviously upset and each time I finally concede to opening up, I am amazed at how much better I feel about the state of our relationship. The respect, patience, and desire to cooperate that he brings to tough conversations (even if we both stumble through them) is totally clarifying.

      In response to Meg’s question – I’ll echo some of the other commenters and say that when we first started talking marriage, what I felt was an amazing whoosh of freedom; this part of my life I can count on. I’m an ambitious person, and from that standpoint, marriage seems like a big adventure/project — like, I’ve found the right person for the job, now I have my whole life to make marriage as wonderful as possible, to really figure him out, study and subvert, practice patience, balance priorities, build something I’m proud of (I haven’t had good relationship role models and a perfect marriage to me is like the New World or something – go forth and conquer!). Not that you can’t do that without a legal contract, but sometimes, we are most creative when limits are imposed upon us, and I look forward to the challenges. And there is something essential about the guarantee of time. It removes unnecessary pressure and allows you to think over the long term – sometimes things have to get a little worse before they get better, or you have to have the flexibility to try different approaches without fear of it all blowing up in your face.

  • patricia

    for me, it really is about being legally bound to someone. and yes, for me, love comes into the picture. it may be taxing and difficult, and probably even exhausting and scary, when you think about legally sharing stuff with another person, and being responsible for them and their actions. but i think the very act of proposing and saying yes, or even if it is just a simple question-and-answer scenario, means that you want to be legally bound to someone. someone you love.

    i know love eventually (or instantly) fades and disappears. but it was at that moment, when you say yes or no, that’s what’s binding. you agree to be legally bound after a year or two or maybe more. the guy proposes because he wants it in the paper, and the girl says yes because she too wants it written in black and white. at that point, their love (or whatever it is that they’re feeling) is going to be a concrete, tangible item. and the fact that he proposed and she said yes, it means that they want that and it’s okay for them.

    just my two cents :)

  • La

    In my country we have a concept of “common law” marriage, or “de facto” marriage and once your relationship fits the bill you get all the legal rights of a marriage.  I’d also go so far as to say that, on the whole, there are no longer societal pressures to get married for religious or other reasons (pressures on the religious front (and other fronts) come at an individual/family/group level for some, of course). My long term relationship is equally as respected by society as a marriage.

    Over the last six years, my partner and I have grown (up) together, and we’ve worked out that we have mutual life goals. We’ve mapped out a bit of our future, dealt with uncertainty and with curveballs (and worked out that we can work these things out together too). We talk about what we plan for ourselves (with excitement!) all the time. So, a wedding for us is about making that excitement about our life together a bit more public and celebrating it. Our marriage will track along the same lines as our relationship to date, so there is no magic in getting married.  Marriage is essentially an equally socially acceptable vehicle to play out our dreams for life.

    I guess my answer to why marriage matters to me is circular – it’s because we chose it as part of our shared life dream. What is more important to me is the strength of, and the mutual confidence we have in, our relationship.

    • La

      I should say that my comments on society are by reference to my country’s society, nothing further.

  • Morgan

    Just wanted to say that I loved the article & all of the comments. I never wanted to marry, wanted to be single & independent forever, until I met my current boyfriend. Now, I feel I have found someone who is truly worth the time, effort, and joy of what could be marriage. But I am at this point where I ask myself, “Why do you want to marry,” or “is it really that important?” This article & the comments within have shed some light and perspective, and appreciate all of it. I’m still wondering why, in my own personal way, but I think I have a clearer picture.

  • I’ll never forget something my best friend’s husband said after the two of them had been engaged for a few months but before they got married: He said before getting engaged they would argue at times over inconsequential stuff, but after getting engaged they just didn’t. There was more of a feeling to them of permanence and the need to work things out and be gentle with one another since they were in it for the rest of their lives. I’ve always thought of that as the perfect example of what marriage is — it gives you that sense of permanence that might force you to work a little harder at taking care of your relationship (though that might not be the case for everyone — and I’m not saying it is or should be!)

  • For me, after a divorce-filled childhood and then my own, I did not remarry (two months ago! Woot!) because I believe in soul mates and fairy tales and rainbows and unicorns. For me, this time, marriage is about making a decision and sticking to it.

    Because you don’t stay with your spouse because you wake up each day madly in love. Some days you wake up and you’d rather be some place else. But you stay. You stay because you decided to stay even when that happens. You stay because you promised to stay, even when you don’t want to. Maybe you stay because getting a divorce is a heart-wrenching, money-draining, soul-crushing process and you don’t ever want to face that (again). You stay because if you leave, you have to divide up the books and DVDs, and refinance the house in your name alone, and figure out where the dog will live, and that’s a pain. You stay because you’d have to divide up parenting time with your kids, and that’s unfathomable. You stay, mostly, because you said you would. You stay because tomorrow, when you wake up, you will madly love your spouse again. And if you don’t, you still stay, because there’s always the day after that. And he’s the person with whom and for whom I am willing to do that.

  • Skip

    I think the flipside to the “why do we marry?” discussion is the question: why do we stop being married? Whenever I hear the divorce statistics held up as some sort of indicator of the deterioration of marriage, I cringe. I’m pretty sure its the opposite: that now more people feel confident in leaving destructive partnerships. My mom is unhappily married but she’s still married, because she didn’t feel like she could leave, it would have been unacceptable socially. When I left my husband I got a lot of flak: middle-aged ladies would huffily tell me that marriage was *work* and you couldn’t just bail out when it got hard. And they were right, you can’t “just bail out”: as hard and stressful as a wedding is, a divorce is much worse (which is why I hate the “because its harder to leave” reason. It *is* harder to leave. If you’re in a marriage that has become destructive, physically, mentally, emotionally, in order to escape that draining misery, you have to be willing to walk through fire, for months, to the point where you start to wonder if maybe just living with the crushing emotional wasteland of your dead “marriage” might be preferable to the misery of the divorce process. And the degree to which that process safeguards your rights and property and ability to raise your children depends a lot on where you live). But leaving my marriage was still the best decision ever because it really forced me to assess my own value, to not just give lip-service to the idea that I’m a good person, but to really live that: I am too valuable to be trapped in that misery. I deserve better. I think the higher divorce rate is maybe a good thing, because it means that we can choose to get out of destructive marriages in a way that was not socially acceptable 50 or 60 years ago. And I think that is the real reason to marry: not because marriage makes it harder to escape, but because you are certain that escape will be unecessary, because you have found someone who values your personhood and worth, and whose personhood and worth you value, because getting married is like forming a min A-Team, where each of your strengths makes for a better team and allows you to complete missions that would be way less possible alone. If you think on any level you might seek the divorce escape-valve, do yourself a favor and don’t get married yet. Wait until you stop thinking “well, it’ll be harder to get out” and start thinking “with our strengths combined, and the support of each other, the world is our oyster!”

  • Avalee

    For years I knew marriage was important to me, but I was unable to articulate *why*. After a few years of thinking about this question really hard, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that a common-law relationship is a passive commitment to one-another whereas a married relationship is an active commitment. What I mean is, is that you’re not just together because you haven’t moved out yet or you haven’t drifted together vs. apart. You’re together because you’ve actively made the choice — typically in front of many friends / family — to be together through thick & thin.