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Relationship Status: Other

This conversation is a pain in the ass.  It inevitably hurts someone’s feelings.  It seems like everyone is already married or one day hopes to be married, and so my rejection of it is an offense.  Like I’m asserting some superiority.  As if by saying no thanks, I’ve said I’m too good for a thing other people really, really, really want, really badly.  But it’s just … what I want.  And what I don’t want. It has nothing to do with anyone else, except one specific person, and we’re square on this matter.  It’s not even an original desire.

But okay, here goes.  If nothing else, I’ll at least have something to point to.  So that when the question is asked, which it often is, I’ll direct them here instead of flipping through the file of all the reasons why not, to choose the best and least offensive reason for the circumstance and company.

For starters, I love weddings.  I would love to have one of my very own, but since one can’t really have a wedding without coming out the other end married, I probably never will.  I think standing up in front of all the people you care for, and who care for you, to declare your eternal love for the person most special to you, and then dancing the night away in celebration of that is just fucking beautiful.  I love the dresses and the hors d’oeuvres and the granny on the dance floor shaking her booty to Beyonce.  I think it’s a great way to celebrate a very important thing.  When I think of the idea of not ever marrying, the one thing I long for – the one thing I lament missing – is the wedding.

And that’s precisely what affirms my decision not to do it.  The wedding alone is not the reason to make the commitment, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to know that.

The question people ask is, “Why don’t you want to get married?”  And I think the weightiest aspect of my desire to remain unmarried stems from that same question’s inverse.  Why should I want to get married?  And before I even get into answering the question, I find the original query slightly troubling.

The assumption is if you’re of a certain age, and you find yourself lucky enough to become in love with someone who loves you back… you know what’s supposed to happen.  That’s just how it goes.  It’s as ingrained as all those other pesky arrangements of modern life.  One grows up.  One gets a job.  One incrementally stops throwing ones clothes on the bedroom floor, and slowly one’s tolerance for dirty dishes in the sink dissipates till dishes are always done.  And it seems, in my case at least, that people are willing to toss a great deal of the rest aside.  Except when it comes to marriage.  People just hate that one.

So back to the question.  Why should I get married?  How will things be better if I do?  What will being married change in my life, or in my relationship?

I’ve asked newlyweds whose point of view I respect what changed for them after marriage.  Because most of the newlyweds I know lived together before the nuptials, the answer is generally: not a whole lot.  The obvious rejoinder is, if nothing changed, why’d you do it?  And why am I supposed to want a thing that changes nothing at all?  But, if I push for more (“Certainly, there must be something”) the answer that tends to emerge is something along the lines of: I really feel committed now.  I feel like this is truly forever.  No matter what.

Now.  While I can respect that answer, and while I’m happy for the people involved that this truth exists for them, it makes me raise my internal eyebrows.  Shouldn’t those feelings have been there before the destination wedding with the $10,000 flower budget?

Maybe I’m just lucky.  Too lucky.  Because I have that commitment in my heart for my lover already, and I feel it returned, one hundred percent, from him.  When we fight, and we do, we’re only fighting till we make up.  We’re never fighting till we break up.  Even during our worst fights over issues that feel insurmountable.  It’s always just … a thing that’s happening in our forever relationship.  So marriage wouldn’t add much, for me, in that department.

So after the commitment argument, people go all practical.  Well, a living will and hospital visits and health insurance!  Okay, sure.  Those are all reasons.  But damn, you people are unromantic.  I reject the institution, but even I know it’s about lurrrrv.

This one gets hinky, because I wholeheartedly support the legalization and social recognition of gay marriage.  For gays, it’s true that partners are kept from visiting a lover’s bedside, and that children go to the parents they scorned and monies are distributed to alienated siblings.  If I were gay, and my partner were a totally hot and brilliant lady (which, I mean, she’d have to be), I would probably marry her for these reasons.  As it is, my parents love my partner, and his family can’t get enough of me.  We have living wills that will be respected.  And if it’s up to anyone to pull the plug, everyone in the family knows, I want him to make that choice.  And I could just say I’m his wife if the shit hits the fan, and hospital administration wouldn’t know the difference.  That’d be harder for a same sex couple.  Again.  I’m lucky enough to know that both our families will respect our relationship, and our wishes.  As for the insurance, it sucks.  We spend a fortune on independent plans.  But just as the wedding alone is not a reason to tie the knot, neither is a lower premium.  Not for me.

Once all that’s out of the way, the conversation moves to children.  But what if you want children?  Don’t you want children?!  Eh, I mean, sure.  Maybe.  Probably.  I dunno.  I have about seven or eight solid years of egg reserves, and another possible two or three after that to decide.  My partner and I just met.  We’ve had only five short years together (or will be in January) and I’d like to spend a little more time together, just the two of us, before we employ my vagina for baby-bearing, and introduce an endlessly needy, crying, snotty, shitting thing into the mix.  Even if that crying, shitting thing is a delicious delight that represents pure, total love and will open our hearts in ways I can’t even rightly conceive.  I mean, we haven’t yet done the sort of traveling we’d like to do together.  Nor have either of us really hit the nail on the head with respect to our creative and professional goals, so children aren’t imminent, I wouldn’t say.  But if they are, for christsake, they’ll know they’re mine.  And they’ll know they’re his.  Because he and I listen to each other, and respect one another’s point of view, and are genuinely committed to living a partnership, we’ll be a pair of the most fantastically loving parents any kid could want.  And you will never, ever convince me that a ring on my finger will make more evident to any child that their father adores their mother, and that their mother could turn into a center-of-the-earth type cryptocrystalline from loving their father so fiercely.

So, back to the original question.  Why don’t I want to get married?

Well, all the above and below aside, I have a sincere problem subscribing to an institution that, historically, has never been any good for women; an institution that, in its first incarnations, was a simple way for a man to ensure the propagation of his bloodline.  Later, it was nothing more than a practical way for a father to offload his daughter, or ensure a business or royal legacy.  Historically, it’s so much shuffling about of women from daughterhood to wifery to motherhood, and hardly at all about a woman’s own legacy or personal happiness. This is the history of the thing, and despite what it’s supposed to mean to me today, in the twenty-first century, its ancient and historical implications, matter to me.  Maybe it’s hard to ignore the historical implications, because they’re still so present in the contemporary traditions:  the white dress, a father’s walk with his daughter down the aisle, the turning up of the veil, the “giving” away of the woman to the new fellow.

It’s an institution that through its most basic rules places more importance on the husband’s lineage, both past and future.  I’m talking name change here.  And yes, yes, I realize that I don’t have to change my name, but that’s a part of the deal, right?  The question is asked in the same way.  Will you change your name?  We assume that the tradition will be accepted unless it’s rejected, instead of the other way around.  There’s an important distinction there.  And while we don’t have to change our names, the fact is that smart, independent, goal-driven women – women who might even identify as feminists – are still taking their husbands’ names!  What. The fuck?!  How can this shit still be happening, I think, is a far better question than why aren’t you knocking everyone else over to buy into the bullshit, like, yesterday.

Why don’t I want to get married?

I find it deeply troubling that so many people want exactly the same thing on the same trajectory.  There are few elements of life that are so universally ingrained.  We’re supposed to flock to marriage with Stepfordian obeisance.  Doesn’t that raise red flags for anyone else?

Why don’t I want to get married?

How about, because if my lover should ever decide he doesn’t want to be with me, I would not like an artificial bond or a government decree to keep him in my bed or in my home.  He’s the sort of man who, if he wanted to go, would do so.  Likewise, he’s the sort of man who once he’s committed will dredge every last speck of effort from the most generous places of his spirit to keep us together through whatever misfortune might befall our relationship.  And it means more to me to know that he’ll do it because, whether or not we’ve done our love the way everyone else has, we’ve made promises to one another, which we both intend to keep.  Because of him and me.  And that’s that.

I’ve been accused of making this choice because I like to be different.  “You just like to be different.”  Like an indictment.  Well, you got me.  I do like to be unique.  To make my own choices, for my own self, regardless of what other people have done, or will continue to do.  My intrinsic “differentness”, however, doesn’t dictate this choice.  It enables it.

There is something more to be said about gay marriage.  If none of the other reasons are valid, then there’s this.  I don’t want to be a part of a club that won’t have people I love.  This is not the majority of the reason.  Which is to say, if my desire to remain unmarried is a pie, this is one small slice, but it’s there nevertheless.  It just wouldn’t feel right.  Would you skate in a rink where Jews weren’t allowed?  Would you choose an airline that didn’t allow black people to fly?  It feels the same to me.

Finally, I think we both derive some joy from the small part we’re playing in disarranging the notion of “family” that conservative and religious nuts folks rabidly invoke in order to defend and justify various discriminations, large and small.  The traditional marriage schema, the traditional household, you know, those bastions of decency?  We’d fit that mold, if we’d marry.  So by doing the opposite, we’re helping to raise the percentage of unmarried “non-traditional” lifestyle-livers in America.  We’re doing our small part to quietly help change the definition of family, and we feel pretty good about that.

There are other things, besides the wedding, that I miss by not being married.  I sometimes refer to him as my husband, even though he’s not, because “boyfriend” feels altogether inaccurate, and “partner” opens up a whole tangle of confusion and subsequent clarifications.  Similarly, my parents are his in-laws, and he’s their son-in-law.  His siblings are my siblings-in-law, and no one flinches when his nieces and nephews call me auntie.  Though it does still feel like we’re making it up a little.

I like the idea of a wedding band.  An identical marking or ornament we could both bear that says I am his and he is mine.

And there is something to be said – party or not – for a ritualized, formal declaration of commitments and promises.

But still, I don’t want to marry, because I want to be a lover, not a wife.  I want to be a woman, committed to a man, on my terms and his. I don’t need to marry because I know I’m loved without it.  I don’t need a rock on my finger, because I don’t need to prove to the general public that someone, somewhere, cares enough about me to have bought me a piece of jewelry.  I don’t want to marry because, plainly, I can’t figure out what it will bring me, or how it will enhance what’s already wonderful and gratifying.  I don’t want to marry, because I don’t want to draw a line in the sand, where there’s a before and an after, and a whole bunch of behaviors and feelings are supposed to fall on the fore or aft of that line.  I don’t want to marry because I like things as they are.

2 responses to “Relationship Status: Other”

  1. Avatar The Tailor says:

    Great post, Lauren.
    I'm newly engaged, but believe that marriage should be a personal choice without societal pressure.

  2. Avatar L. Nichols says:

    This is a lovely post! And I wish more people would think about things like this. Especially questioning the expectations… the traditions… the history.
    Since you know me and know that I am married (in that lovely gray area that is same-sex marriage in the USA) I will tell you my version of things. From the instant I fell in love with the person that I am now married to, I knew it was going to be as forever as I can possibly make it. Getting married didn't change any sense of commitment in my own thought or the way I treat her. Honestly… nothing between us changed that day other than sharing our happiness with others. (That, and we were really exhausted and hungry after the wedding! No chance to eat or drink much since we were so busy talking to people!)
    But if my feeling of commitment didn't change, then why get married at all? My answer, and again, this is just my own experience/feelings… it was for those other people who were there. Getting married was a way to not only say publicly that I love this person and to celebrate that love, but it was a way of being like "I am committed and you, as people who are attending this wedding, should always encourage us to stick to our commitments." More like… a celebratory bunch of witnesses to a public declaration of commitment. Or, if you have any experience with churches (another fraught topic that I will hopefully not get into! So just take this in the most idealized sense of things), the idea of baptism or of joining a church… the congregation vows to help the new member grow and to support them in that growth. And I really felt that similar feeling of community at our wedding. The people there were all people we loved, and are people who support us both as individuals and as a couple. For me, it wasn't about increasing MY commitment, but about community and the support of others. Because, really, what individual *or* couple can survive without the support and love of your friends and family?
    Being a same-sex wedding, we were allowed to break traditions that might have otherwise been a little more forced onto us. No one walked us down any aisle. We came there together and we left together. It was about two individuals, and our readings reflected that. Technically we have hyphenated names, but we both just use the names we already had. Mostly, it was just a big party and we invited everyone we could.
    I do have to say, though, that were this *not* a same-sex marriage, I would've considered things much differently. I mean, I definitely don't believe that a ceremony alone makes things more or less real. I think the inequalities of tax/visitation things with same-sex marriages is pretty crappy (really, let me rant at you one day about this. It is a ridiculous amount of tax return differences). There are a lot of hang-ups and pressures around fitting a traditional mold. I think sometimes we just need to break whatever molds we can find.

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