Musing on marriage

April 19, 2014

So people have been asking me; why get married?

Why indeed… I am not convinced that I have captured all I want to say here, however I strongly wanted to publish this before I am actually married in case my thoughts and feelings change later. So this is a moment in time. I hope it will make sense.

First let me start off by saying that I respect and honour the deliberate and purposeful decisions people make for themselves and their relationships. My opinions are my own and say nothing about what I think about you and your relationship options and choices.

First, I’ll share my thoughts on why I have chosen not to get married until now.

I’ve always known I wasn’t going to buy into patriarchal notions of marriage. I was never going to walk down an aisle in a white veil and my dad was never going to ‘give me away’. Simply because I’m not his to give. My parents raised me to believe that I am my own person and the decisions I make are my own.

There is much about the traditional wedding that grates against my deeply held feminist beliefs. I dislike the patriarchal origins of many parts of the wedding ceremony, the ‘giving away’ of the bride (transferral of property) the presumptions about what the bride’s family has to pay for, the tradition of the wife assuming the husband’s name, the notion of one-person-for-life, the emphasis on virginity/purity and the expense of it all.

I should point out, this experience is deeply hetero-normative. I’m very aware that as a heterosexual woman I’m lucky that I get to ‘opt out’ in ways that my queer friends haven’t been able to (until recently in Aotearoa that is.)

I’ve resisted the idea of marriage in general for a long time. Truthfully, I just didn’t see the point or how it would add to my life in anyway. Living in Aotearoa New Zealand, partnerships based on two years or more of cohabitation means you are afforded all the same privileges as a married couple. These ‘De facto’ rights were extend to couples of the same gender and now, so is marriage. So what advantage would it offer me, or us? I’m keeping my name. When our kids were born my partner easily agreed to giving them my last name and his last name became their middle name.

It’s important to remember that in many countries around the world, this is not the case. Legal rights and protection is not automatically afforded to unmarried couples in many parts of the world. In a very real way, living in New Zealand as a straight woman, means I am privileged enough to cohabit and co-parent without experiencing any disadvantage. People don’t even look at you funny, the word ‘partner’ is a common way to describe your significant other which not only defies judgment based on marital status but on gender and sexual identity.

So again, why get married? I’m deeply feminist and hold strong critiques of weddings and marriage, plus there is no apparent advantage for us as a couple, me as an individual or us as a family.

Some people have suggested that it would be better for our children. Because you know, someone has to think of the children. But I don’t buy that. Our kids have never batted an eye-lid and perhaps later in life they might have faced some sort of attention, but to be honest I really doubt that. And surely, if they did, that kind of thing would need to be resisted. (I’m not suggesting we send our kids into battle for our convictions, but nor do I believe we should artificially smooth their path for them.)

I’ve come to admit that many of my beliefs about marriage were forged in a different time. A time when only heterosexual people could get married, a time when people (women in particular) were looked down upon for having children while unmarried (although I’m acutely aware that this will not be true in all places of the world) and a time, when I was still hurting from seeing my parent’s own marriage dissolve. What was the point of swearing undying love? It only takes a legal procedure to dissolve it in truth.

I was proud of the fact that my partner and I have had to chose to be together everyday, not because we had signed a contract, but because we wanted to be. I used to think that getting married and swearing ‘until death do us part’ was an unrealistic promise and therefore must be a lie.

And I still think that.

I don’t think that people have to enter in a marriage with the expectation that it will last a lifetime. Many marriages between people who fully intended to be married forever have since dissolved and those people may even have re-partnered and sworn undying love for a second time. So I’ve decided not to do that. I believe that we should all always feel like we have the real option to make a different decision, if that’s what we want to do. This doesn’t diminish the decision for me, it just rings more truthful to me.

But now I have chosen to get married. Yes, I am making a promise to my partner. I am promising him that he can trust me completely and that, when the going get’s tough, he can count on me. We are promising to choose each other over others and look after one another and to look after our kids as a team. And these are things we already do, so no big, right?

What makes this different and special for me, is that we making these promises in front of our families and closest friends. We are engaging our community and thereby building our community. We are building our resilience as a family by pulling people into our lives in a deliberate way. Of course we didn’t have to get married to do that, a commitment ceremony of sorts would probably have achieved the same thing.

We saw this less as an opportunity to ‘start a marriage’ and more as a way to celebrate our relationship. Our relationship of eight years, two children, three dogs, two cats, umpteen fish, a house, a small business, unplanned hospitalisations, international adventures and innumerable other challenges and triumphs, some too private and personal to recount here.

The reality is that, in this country at least, everyone has their own personal reasons for getting married or not getting married. The beauty of the times we live in is that we now all get to define what marriage means to us and design the wedding/ceremony that suits that definition. Our marriage will be what we make it, our wedding will be what we make it.

I think we should all stop making assumptions about why other people choose not to get married or why indeed they chose to get married. We should stop making assumptions that each marriage simply replicates and therefore reinforces an old-school model of matrimony. We are all redefining, one relationship at a time, what matrimony and marriage means and looks like.

We’ve thought long and hard about it and feel that ours will be part celebration, part community building, part good old fashioned party. And I suspect, these are, at least partially, most people’s reasons.

That’s the thing about marriage, it provides a context that gives us permission to celebrate ourselves and relationships in ways that are hard to access in other ways. Which is a shame really. I know plenty of people who have been in equally ‘successful’ relationships which have lasted longer and have just as much reason to celebrate, but because they choose not to follow the traditional pathway they’ve missed out on the sanctioned attention that weddings can garner.  What a pity we don’t celebrate 10 year anniversaries with the same vibrancy as we do weddings in fledgling relationships. I vote we start doing that. Like, right now.

In our case, what tipped us in favour of getting married is that we have decided to pursue certain adventures that will challenge us and put pressure and strain on our family. We know that certain barriers will be less of a hurdle if we are legally married. Now my first choice would be if those barriers weren’t there, but in this case I can’t change them and resisting to access a way of lessing their impact based on my personal/political beliefs would actually be ungenerous towards my family. I can’t change the challenges we may face in the future, but I can change how prepared we are to meet those challenges, especially as they would disproportionately affect my partner.

Ironically, I realised that getting married was the best way to equalise the relationship and create a foundation for equal functioning. The idea that marriage is not about what we gain from it, but what we give through it, has become very real to me. My partner proposed to me seven years ago, when we had a toddler and a second baby on the way on a beach. He has accepted and respected my refusal to marry him without a qualm, despite the fact that being married was meaningful to him in ways I couldn’t relate to. And while maybe this shouldn’t be a big deal, to me it was and still is. I appreciated him so much for this. Living my ideals was never a source of tension in this household.

For years I have thought that getting married would somehow reduce me in the eyes of my partner and society, that it would disempower me somehow. But eight years in, I have firm confidence in my partner’s respect and admiration for me and, equally important, in my own standing in society.

I have realised that by getting married, I am losing nothing, not my individuality, my independence, my ideals, but surprisingly to me, it turns out I am giving and gaining much. More on that another day….

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PS – I feel compelled to point out that I did not use the word ‘love’ in this blog at all because being married has no bearing on how legitimate our relationship or our love is. Don’t view this deliberate omission as ominous.

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Conversation with Kadie (3.75 years old)this morning…

 

Kadie: chatter chatter chatter… the cat makes flowers. And mum, you love flowers!

Me: Yes I do

Kadie: So you can get married!

Me: Can I?

Kadie: Yes, you can, Dad’s going to marry you

Me: Is he?

Kadie: Dad’s going to marry you because you’re my friend (You’re my friend also means I like/love you)

Me: I don’t want to get married Kadie

Kadie: (I could see the cogs turning) But Poppop married his mom (mom/wife/girl are all interchangeable)

Me: Yes. But I’m happy not being married. Will it make me a better mum?

Kadie: Yes! It will make you a princess!

Me: I’m already a princess

Kadie: No you’re not! (laughs) you don’t have a dress

Me: This is so disturbing…

 

To make this easier let me illustrate the chain of thought there:

Flowers -> Wedding -> parents married -> because their parents are married -> being married is important -> because it makes you a princess -> who have dresses.

 

I love the way the mind of a 3.75 year old works! I’m just vaguely disturbed by the correlation of some of items in this conversation….