Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why I don't want to get married

It's hard to have principles. It's hard in general, but it's especially hard to live by them, honestly, without hypocrisy, when you're living in (and therefore benefiting from) a society that pretty much laughs at your silly principles. There have been a couple of times recently when circumstances forced me to throw out my principles. I guess this happens more as you get older, huh? Principles are wasted on the young?

Here's something you may or may not have known about me: I don't want to get married. I almost said "I don't believe in marriage" but that isn't accurate. I guess my feelings about marriage are somewhat analogous to my feelings about eating meat: I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with it, but the way we currently engage in it, at a national and probably a global level, is ... what's the word? Not the dreaded "problematic." But not good. Not good enough, not by my standards.

I don't begrudge or judge other people's marriages as a rule, so please don't feel implicated or defensive if you happen to be married. But these are my feelings about marriage in general, in no particular order:

  • This has nothing to do with gay marriage. Some people deny themselves marriage as an act of protest, and I commend that. I support gay rights across the board. But the issue is irrelevant to my stance on marriage.
  • Most people believe they want to get married, but, as John said earlier today, "People don't know what they want." The societal pressure to get married, the overwhelming messaging from above and all sides that getting married is what you're supposed to do, clouds and warps your actual wants/needs/goals. When people express doubts about marriage, they are stamped out with "cold feet" rhetoric or the "You just haven't met the right person" line. Being permanently unmarried is still considered a flaw or at best eccentric.
  • I'm not religious, so I feel zero pressure or guilt to get married on those grounds. I think this probably influences a lot of people's decision to get married.
  • I believe women, especially, are disinclined to question any doubts they might have about marriage. Society/media/etc. make a couple of things about women very clear, and those are that you're supposed to be attractive and you're supposed to get married. Well, I guess you're also supposed to have kids. Everything else is kind of optional. For many years I too assumed that I wanted to get married.
  • I believe that many women (not all) very much want a wedding (again, it's what you're supposed to want). You have to get married if you want a wedding. I believe many parents want a wedding, too. I don't have any particular fondness for weddings (seeing as they fall under the rubric of ritual/tradition) and don't want one myself. It's amazing, really, how much this clarifies things. I wonder how many marriages would never have materialized if they weren't inextricably tied to a wedding.
  • Historically, I think most people have gotten married not for love but to better their situation in one way or another. In many countries this is still the norm.
  • I believe in long-term monogamous relationships (if both parties are willing). I think the benefits outweigh the costs, and if two people want to be together exclusively, they should try to make it work for as long as it can work. I don't believe that long-term monogamous relationships are only possible under the bond of marriage.
  • I am currently involved in a happy monogamous relationship of 5+ years. We have lived together for 4+ years. We have been through a lot, there have been some rough patches and close calls, but we've never broken up and we're still in love. We can't imagine life without the other. For all intents and purposes, we live like a married couple.
  • Life is unpredictable. When you marry someone, you're not just saying you trust them to want to be with you forever, you're saying you trust yourself to want to be with them forever. When my first long-term relationship ended, after almost six years, I realized how much people can change over five years, to say nothing of ten, twenty, thirty, and so on. I know what I want now, but I don't know what I'll want for the rest of my life. I can't say that about anyone else either. Relationship security is important to me, but not so important that I want someone to sign a contract. (Remember, for me it would just be a contract, because I have no interest in marriage as a religious ceremony.)
  • The fewer legal complications in my life, the fewer contractual obligations, the cleaner I feel.
  • Kids are a complication of their own. If/when I have kids, the benefits of marriage may in fact outweigh the costs.

Here's the thing. I may end up getting married anyway. In the interest of privacy, I won't get into why here, but I will say that John feels much as I do about marriage in principle. But, society being its overbearing self, we may have to get married anyway.

Sucks, doesn't it?

47 comments:

  1. Hi Elisa - you make some interesting points, and I totally respect your view on marriage, or the lack thereof.

    When my now-husband and I first got together, neither of us were interested in marriage for a variety of reasons (and there are many). We were both divorced and, frankly, had no interest in duplicating what we had already done. Like you, I had no religious reasons and was beyond the 'white wedding' thing.

    We lived together happily for three years and then, suddenly, it was ME who wanted to marry, which was surprising. Not because of any obligation or social pressure, but because it was the only way I could adequately express my love for him. I wanted to honor, publicly, what we had built together as a couple.

    For almost 25 years we have been through highs and lows and, as you say, had some close calls. It's all part of loving someone. Whether we had married or not, I'm convinced we would still be together simply because we work as a couple.

    If you are happy in your life with John, don't change it for anyone. And if the time comes to marry - or to move on - trust that you will know.

    I always enjoy your take on life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marriage is an outward expression of one's faith in man's goodness. Inviting the community to witness your vows; speaks to your belief that man is good. Certainly if you didn't believe man was good you wouldn't ask them to attend and witness your vows. Marriage, when all is said and done, is not so much about the couple but about society. Possibly the reason more and more people live togther outside marriage is because they don't believe in people's goodness. That's sad and I believe doesn't say much about our future.

      Delete
    2. What if you don't need to give a public expression of your feelings or believes?! What if you don't care about what society thinks that much?! I do believe in people's goodness in general and in my man's goodness in particular. Just don't feel any need to shout it from the rooftops. NB! He thinks exactly the same.

      Delete
  2. I was hoping you'd comment, Josephine. There are days when I think being married would be nice -- even if nothing else changed (no wedding, no rings, even if we didn't tell anyone) -- maybe just the novelty, or the ability to defy myself? Thanks for your perspective and support!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think it's good you're skeptical - too many people think marriage is a cure-all, you know? And I think weddings are overrated. The thing is supposed to be about the relationship, not some one-day blowout. Right?
    I got married super-young (21) and with really low expectations (our parents both had...well, not great marriages) but the guy I married happens to be fantastic, supportive of poetry, a great cook, etc...my life is much, much better because he is in it. I think the benefit of marriage is that it might give you more incentive to take care of each other in the long-term sense if you think of the relationship as less temporary - and also, of course, all the legal stuff - the health insurance, visitation rights, etc. But no one should be able to say, you need to do blank to have a full life, be "normal," etc. I say, walk your own road. And good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I can't help but agree whole-heartedly with everything you said (except I was raised a Catholic and I'm a believer but not really a Catholic one).
    I've been in a relationship with my boyfriend for 9 years now and if he insisted, I'd get married but I like it like this.
    PLus, the organization seems to me like a nightmare.
    The one point that stands out for me though, is how can you possibly promise to love someone for the rest of your life? Because I can't know that and then saying it seems a bit hypocritical to me. But that's me.
    On the other hand, I love going to weddings. :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Jeannine, thanks! My own parents have been married happily for 40+ years, so it's definitely not that I don't think marriages can work, more that I'm inclined to try to do that without actually getting married, but yes, the legal benefits are appealing - that's how they get you!

    Ines, thanks, good to hear that you and your boyfriend have been unmarried for 9 years! Makes me feel like less of an outsider! Congrats. (I like weddings sometimes - if the dancing is good!)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I know you've addressed this elsewhere, but what really fascinates me is the "People don't know what they want" issue. I'm just now starting to, I guess, accept that as a truth. But, then I wonder, what should we do with that fact? It majorly affects how one travels through life. (Note: This has nothing to do with marriage, just life wants in general.) And, of course, all the reasons we are separated from knowing what we want are fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Christen, I think one of the big reasons is the constant barrage of media, presenting a very rigid idea of what you're supposed to be like and want to be like, so people feel like that's normal. (I just saw this reiterated in the trailer for Miss Representation: advertising doesn't give us what we want, it gives us what will make us insecure so we spend more money.) I think most people want what everyone else wants (or what they think everyone else wants) and don't question it too much.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I couldn't manage the horrific pressure to get married even without meeting someone that i really have feelings for, so i escaped and i paid it hard and i still do. I live in a country where we are christian orthodox, marriage as an institution is in our bones and even to people which aren't particularly religious, getting married is a necessary milestone that gives the certificate of being normal, not a problematic person who deserves isolation from the society. I don't see this stereotype as a healthy one. I couldn't get married for the sake of the society, so i chose to not proceed with that. I never esclude for my life the love and the feeling of mutual commitment. But i will stand against being with someone or having kids without being fully, emotionally present.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Nulla: "marriage as an institution is in our bones and even to people which aren't particularly religious, getting married is a necessary milestone that gives the certificate of being normal." I agree. Some conventions are so ingrained everyone assumes it's the best way to operate, or else why would everyone keep doing it?

    ReplyDelete
  10. I like this post; although you state queer politics aren't a factor for your view, I think what you write nonetheless does a good job of interogating heterosexual paradigms/plays well into a queer politics.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks, Adam, I guess in a sense it's not irrelevant after all?

    ReplyDelete
  12. If you substitute "having kids" for "getting married" in the appropriate places, that's how I feel, stupid societal pressures and all. Fortunately, my parents are cool about it because my brother has that department covered.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Well, as you state, the queer politics/deconstruction dynamic may not be the central motivations for your view, but yah, nonetheless the position has overlap. So it's relelvant at a macro-level (at the level of implications), but apparently not at the more micro level of personal meditation. Wow so I've longwindedly stated that it's an and/and scenario not either or.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I really appreciate this post. When I was 18 I met a guy and when I was 20 he proposed to me. We got married and subsequently divorced by 23. I DEFINITELY think marriage is something that society and family imposes on us whether we like it or not. I had a wedding that was obviously planned for me with people I didn't know. I do not think we even know what we want -- well, do we ever really know what we want.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Steve, it's nice that you have that out. In my case, at least, people usually don't start asking when you're going to have kids until you're married.

    Abby, thanks for your comment! I've heard stories about people who knew they were going to get divorced *before* they went through with the wedding -- but they didn't want to let everyone down so they did it anyway! It's such a crazy waste of money.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Seriously one of the best things I have ever read is an article called "Uneasy Lies: Language and History in Shakespeare's Lancastrian Tetrology" by a guy named -- wait for it -- Ronald R MacDonald, which contains the following:

    "It seems clear that in a feudal system the language of sacred kingship does not begin by naming those powers and perquisites that are naturally present in the person of the king and in the monarchic institution, but by naming precisely those that are not naturally present. The king is not called 'God's anointed,' one does not speak of the divinity that hedges a king because the king really IS supreme and untouchable, but because he is patently vulnerable, because in many ways his position is the shakiest one in the pluralistic feudal world."

    In other words, in Richard II, people spent most of the play talking about how "not all the water in the rough rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed king" not because it's true, but because it's NOT true, or at the very least because it's a hell of a problematic statement.

    See also, um, PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING, at least everything really huge: marriage, parenting, home ownership, education, etc. If the value of an institution is completely without question -- a utility that supplies clean drinking water, for example -- you will never hear its value asserted by anybody, b/c its value is self-evident. If an institution is a pervasive and coercive policer of the status quo, however, you will hear its value asserted ALL THE TIME. (Or, more likely, you will hear the limitation of its reach characterized as a crisis.) Once one starts looking for this phenomenon I pretty much goddamn guarantee that one will start seeing it everywhere.

    (The example that contains all other examples is, of course, the structure of the economy. "Can somebody tell me what the hell those Occupy Wall Street people are protesting?" Well, THEY can tell you -- but good luck hearing them.)

    In my book, changing your and your partner's legal status because certain benefits -- to which every individual should have an unambiguous right -- are being withheld from you may constitute a defeat, but it's no dishonor.

    People of the internet, I am, for the record, a white hetero dude, and I am married, and I am happy to be so. I have, however, taken pains to maintain an understanding of my marriage as consisting of my relationship with my spouse and the array of commitments we have voluntarily made, rather than as an institution into which that relationship has been subsumed.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Ah yes -- that reminds me of something I read once about taboos: that society establishes taboos around things we think of as unnatural and unthinkable (like incest) precisely because they aren't really unnatural and unthinkable. If they were, we wouldn't have to tell people so over and over.

    Also: when people who are married spend a lot of time trying to convince people who aren't that they should be, I think it's because they secretly resent being married themselves, and resent the reality that it's not actually required.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Elisa

    You always make me think. I don't proselytize marriage (sometimes children, never marriage) but I do think that getting married is a ritual I am glad I didn't forego. Monogamy is a daily commitment and getting married is like saying--I am committed to choosing you every day for (ever so hopefully) ever. It is an underlining of the difficulty of such a choice. Marriage says: this is hard and we (the brokers of the normal) are going to get society/religion/etc behind it to help you because it is so hard. I don't much respect the brokers of the normal, but the tape they put in place sometimes makes me think twice about sprinting. And that result I do not mind. I don't think (for thoughtful people) such societal support is inherently a bad thing. For others, it is of course either a crutch or a bandaid. Life and love and language. Plus, don't you love the performative: I do- Kirsten

    ReplyDelete
  19. Kirsten, thank you. I do understand that - but still feel saddened that society won't "get behind" a relationship that isn't officially sanctioned by marriage.

    As for the performative, I'd rather go to the ballet than a wedding. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  20. Elisa,

    Thanks so much for this post! I am also an enthusiastically unmarried person in a committed relationship. I don't see it as temporary, any more than I would if I married him, recognizing that divorce happens all the time between people who intend (as my partner and I do) to be together for the rest of their lives. I do consider my position, at the same time, to be a political one in relation to the denial of the right to marry to couples of the same sex. So many of the factors influencing (pressuring) people to get married that you name are true, in my experience -- and for women are second only to the societal pressure to have children (which is supposed to be one of the prime reasons one "must" get married!). But having bucked the system, so to speak, I find people in my various circles more and more willing to accept my relationship for what it is -- which sometimes means that more traditional friends call my partner my husband! It's ironic, but it means that they get his place in my life, despite our "non-contractual" status. : ) I could go on, but I'll stop here. Thanks again for making this position visible.

    Peace.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Thank you Evie! I'm so happy to have found some like minds.

    I think it's kind of nice when people mistake John for my husband -- it feels like they recognize that our relationship is as serious/legitimate as any marriage while NOT looking for a ring on my finger!

    ReplyDelete
  22. I had a coworker who told me he was buying a house with his girlfriend, who just gave birth to his kid. "But we're not married," he said. "Oh, you're married," I told him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Doesn't it matter to you whether or not he and his girlfriend WANT to be perceived as married?

      Delete
  23. Not without the docs! But yeah, once you buy a house and have a kid you kinda have to bring lawyers into it if/when you can break up anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  24. If nothing else, marriage is worth it for the tax breaks. And no lawyers are necessary when a married couple without much wealth or any offspring decide to call it quits. My first marriage ended in divorce after 2 years. We had nothing more after that time than what we brought into the agreement so splitting up possessions was just a matter of "this is mine" and "that is yours." We got a do-it-yourself divorce kit at a bookstore for about $15 and represented ourselves in court. After the decree was handed down, we made love like crazed ferrets and never saw each other again. Go figure.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hi Elisa. So funny, your post is very similar to a (four-part!!) Marriage Manifesto I wrote in November. Just stumbled upon your post. Oh, and I'm also vegan. We have too much in common, haha.

    http://crunchyintraining.tumblr.com/post/12255572056/my-marriage-manifesto-part-one

    ReplyDelete
  26. I'm gluten-free, not vegan. :) But point taken and thank you for the link!

    ReplyDelete
  27. all of this.

    it's refreshing to see someone in a similar situation to mine (long term monogamous cohabitation)point all these reasons out. because they are exactly the reasons i too, don't want to get married. throw in needless waste of money in the wedding point.

    my boyfriend and i face stupid questions and pressure from friends and family all the time and it's just annoying that they don't respect us enough to just allow us to BE.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Darth Rachel! Yes, the completely absurd, totally out of control cost of getting married (since it almost always entails a wedding) is a huge turnoff. I don't have that kind of money lying around and neither do my parents, but even if we did, I can think of many things I'd rather spend it on.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I'm new here and just stumbled upon this particular post as my sister is engaged for the 2nd time in her life (also divorced) and I've never been married. I'm older than her by 3 years. I have no desire to get married. I used to "think" I wanted marriage, but now I just really do not. I get pressure all of the time from family and friends. I've lived with my "husband" for 12 years now, so what's the point? But the pressure and questions, and sometimes "pity" that others give me is just too much oftentimes! I'm 42 now, no children, live with someone...why isn't that ok with society? I just know that at my sister's 2nd wedding, the questions about me will come along...dreading it. Well, I appreciate this posting b/c it made me feel more "normal".

    ReplyDelete
  30. I'm perplexed by your deconstruction of marriage as contract plus ritual/ceremony, full stop. It's as if you are saying that marriage could not possibly have any components or qualities other than these two which distinct from or on top of any other relationship. That seems like quite an assertion for someone who has never been married. FTR, I've never been married either and have no plans or desire to get married. But everything I have seem does suggest to me that marriage is different somehow, both from a long-term relationship and from the mere facts of wedding and contract. I mean, as you said, people change; it seems entirely possible to me that marriage may *change people* in some unique way itself. Put another way, I think it nears logical inconsistency to suggest on the one hand that people are changeable but on the other hand suggest that marriage is not an agent of change because it is merely contract and ceremony. That strikes me as dynamically similar to the way closeted gay people exhibit homophobia: you are attempting to "declaw" marriage by deconstructing it, and really just betraying fear and a closeted desire to marry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "That seems like quite an assertion for someone who has never been married."

      Does one really have to try *everything* before they can form an opinion on it? Does that apply for car theft, gang rape, joining a cult? The burden is on society to convince me marriage is a worthwhile proposition, it's not on me to convince you all I should be allowed to opt out.

      Delete
  31. Replies
    1. Sorry this got stuck in moderation. How much do you actually save, anyway?

      Delete
  32. I found your post because I typed in "why don't I want to get married" into Google. I asked the internet this question because people always make me feel "odd" for having not ever being married at 38. I have a daughter from a previous relationship and I've been with my boyfriend, who has also never married,for 14 years. We own a house together but people tell us we apparently "have commit issues!!" because we don't feel the need to have a marriage certificate.
    I've never felt that desire to be married, maybe I've just felt secure enough in my relationship to not need to be married, I know my partner is commited to me and I to him. I'm not religious and to me marriage was born out of religion, infact it only became common place in more recent times as a way to make men responsible for their children. If you go way back in history it was quite normal for a man and woman to just live together even though she might take on his last name. So infact I am following tradition much more than anyone who is married.
    I've had funny looks when people see my boyfriend and I have different last names and comments but if I'm honest the more they make a big deal out of us not being married the more I won't get married! I quite like the fact I've always been a Miss.
    The only thing that ever concerns me is if anything happened to either one of us. We have Wills but the law would still penalize us for not being married with things such as taxes and also not recognizing each of us as the next of kin. To be frank, I want it to be my boyfriend who decides if my life support is turned off or not, I trust him more than anyone with my life. In this day and age there should be legal forms we can sign to make us legal life partners rather than having to use the word marriage. Some would say having a legal life partner is marriage ....but to me that's only if you are religious.
    I'm tired of having to come with excuses and arguing with people over my life choice. I like the comment that was made about those putting presure on are those that secretly resent being married.....that is my new come back!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with so much of what you wrote. Commitment issues indeed!!

      Delete
  33. At first I thought you were a man, and I was bit mand, and going to say "That girl is going to eventually get tired of waiting for you to change and leave!"

    Now, I'm speechless. Very well written and grammatically flawless.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Marriage in my opinion is retarded... So I agree with you all the way.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Thanks for posting this.. My boyfriend and I have been together monogamously for 7 years this year, and we face the questions of "when are y'all getting married?!" every day. We're in grad school right now, so we have the excuse of not having enough money/time, but I know the second we graduate in 3 years, we'll be the target of intrusive questioning and a lot of raised eyebrows. It's sad that people can't accept relationships that aren't "official" in the eyes of the law…if two people love each other, why can't they remain long-term boyfriend/girlfriends?
    So nice to read that someone out there has a similar view on it :) Thanks again.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Great Comments, thank you all.
    I came here because I don't want to get married and google brought me here! Been feeling the pressure lately with my gf of almost 2 yrs.
    I don't want kids because I want the freedom, and Why bring a kid in this world now a days... so much problems, wars, diseases, bad people, horrible food!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha ha, "horrible food." Yeah I worry about this too. Last thing the world needs is more people, seems like.

      Delete
  37. I heard somewhere that Raymond Carver and Tess Gallagher lived in separate houses while they were happily married. That sounds like a good arrangement.

    By the way, you never answered my proposal. Might I ask why, with so little endeavor at civility, I am thus repulsed?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I believe Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss have a similar arrangement?

      You proposed? Sorry. I refer you to the above post.

      Delete
  38. I've typed and deleted my comment so many times so I'll just say this: thank you for posting. It's comforting to know I'm not the only one. If only I could find someone who thought this way, in addition to wanting to raise a child! :)

    ReplyDelete