Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Big "M"

So I got this friend who's generally not keen on the idea of marriage. The other day she asked me what's so special about signing that piece of paper? The question threw me for a minute; not because I don't have wonderful reasons to support marriage, but because signing the piece of paper was about the last reason I had for doing it. I don't think it even made the list.

Yes, that piece of paper is important in the legal context of marriage, but that's not what it's about. To be clear, I'm not using this to contradict my support for gay marriage...denying one group of people a right afforded to another group is discrimination, plain and simple. Even if that right is the intricately complex gift called marriage.

I can only speak for myself (and in part Jen but I've learned NOT to do that without prior agreement...did I mention the intricate complexities?), but something happens when you make a pledge of commitment in front of others and before God, however you understand God to be. It's like you're saying I'm going to make the effort and sacrifices to make this relationship work because I love this person standing across from me and who I am when I am with them. And marriage is work...any relationship is work if you want it to last. And, yes, you make can those promises to any significant other without 'signing a piece of paper' but again...something different happens when you do.

The best analogy (and y'all know you love my analogies!) I can come up with is this: Dating is like getting a bachelor's degree, and marriage is like getting a Doctorate! It takes a higher (and deeper) level of commitment, maturity, flexibility, sacrifice, connection, surrender, willingness. To play devil's advocate (and I do so love to play the part) perhaps I can make the case that this is an argument for lifetime commitment, and the best we have right now as a legal and religious 'catch-all' is the institution of marriage.

Could Jen & I have chosen to spend our lives together without getting married? Sure.

But trust me on this one...something deeper happened when we did.


Jess said...

I think your friend, whoever she may be, may have been reacting to the standard "things change when you get married" mantra. Obviously, there is a higher level of commitment when you legally and spiritually commit instead of just verbally. However, a sidebar here: that piece of paper doesn't mean forever the same way it used to. I just makes it a bit more complicated to separate.

I think it's not that the piece of paper factors into the marriage, but rather that getting married changes the entire nature of the relationship. I, of course, would have no idea because far from ever having been married, I've barely been in a long term relationship. But I can't turn my ear anywhere without hearing how marriage changes things. It doesn't have to. It doesn't have to mean the end of romance or putting the other person first or trying to "impress" the other. But on a grand scale, that's exactly what the word on the street says happens.

So why marry? If you're in a happy, healthy, exclusive, trusting relationship built on love that you will have in your life forever, why take that step that has tended to render relationships stressful and volatile? If you plan on forever, what's the rush or even the endgame to marriage? A few more legal rights for the woman?

Yes, it's romantic. Yes, it's symbolic. Yes, it deepens your relationship, or at least it can. But it also introduces the stereotypes of a lazy relationship. A woman no longer has to stay slim to impress her man. A man no longer has to surprise his woman with her favorite things to woo her. It's in paper, legally, religiously binding.

Not to mention the annoying tendency of the human species (males mostly, but of course females, too) to no longer desire that which s/he has obtained. If it's truly the end of "the chase," eyes may start to wander...

If "marriage changes everything," why would anyone in her right mind get married?

OGUN said...

You make some valid points and no-one should get married because they "should." If you have the foundation for a solid long-term relationship and you are content, so be it.

But I would venture this: it is not marriage but time that changes. No...scratch that...time doesn't change; we change over time. And that's where long-term (and I mean years) relationships can have their struggles. People evolve and are not the same as they were when the relationship started; you have to adapt. The stereotypes of a lazy relationship can affect any relationship married or not. If a marriage (or any relationship) lacks romance over time blame the people involved, not the institution.

Truth is, many marriages fail, and many long-term non-marriage relationships last, so there're no guarantees. Do what works for both of you.

Wonder-Rachel said...

Yeah, I agree that people change over time if they're married or not. And if I were to live with my husband and NOT be married to him, I think we would likely eventually settle into the same comfort levels that married couples get to.
And it's also true that if I'm married or not, when I'm with someone long term, eventually I'll have to work harder and be more creative to keep the romance & passion alive. I think when people say Marriage changes you, they are talking about those things going away, and I think they go away if people are married or not, if they live together long enough, and they choose not to work to keep that alive.
As for what the paper means to me, I agree it's not about signing the paper. It was about the ceremony & beauty of sharing that with my husband and in front of all our family - promising to stay together. It was really profound. But the signature on the paper didn't really factor into it for me either.

wakati said...

Now this is interesting, considering I've been married and I'm now divorced and in a pretty serious relationship. Nothing special happened when I said I do. AND I feel that the relationship that I have now is much deeper than my marriage ever was. People keep asking me when's the wedding. For the life of me, I can't think of one good reason to get married. (Sorry, that's not true. I'd do it for the legal benefits if I have kids.) I don't get the institution.

Maybe it's just divorce hang over:-)

wakati said...

PS. Wakati is Nneka