On Valentine’s Day 2018, I made a teaser announcement on Instagram for this post, and it’s taken me almost six months to finish writing and publish this.
Marriage and love are complicated areas for me, and I’ve been continually working through various cognitive dissonances and revised modes of thought and perspectives over the course of this essay’s creation. Originally intended to be a quick feminist polemic aimed at the institution of marriage smattered with backstory, it became clear quite rapidly that that wasn’t all I was going to write. Though I’ve always struggled with brevity, this essay proved to be particularly difficult in ending. I considered turning this into a series of posts and joked that I could use it as a foundation for my future dissertation. The more I wrote, the more I needed to write, and the more I wrote, the more complexly I felt and the more I needed to research; more research led to more writing, and the cycle continued. It’s been a direct confrontation, a battle of wits between my heart and mind, which means that so much continues to be called into question.
It’s possible that I’ll never settle on a clear-cut, easily described stance on the topic of marriage, but that’s not exactly what this post is about. This post describes one fractured facet of the common journey through the female marital enculturation that begins in childhood and extends through adulthood. It explores my engagement to the person with whom I intend to spend the rest of my life and start a family and how we came to the emotionally complicated conclusion that traditional marriage is not something we want to support. It serves as an argument against legal marriage in the United States and abroad from a feminist, anti-racist, and anti-homophobic platform. It attempts to enlighten others about the atrocities condoned and encouraged by the institution of marriage that are not easily seen through the rose-tinted lens of pop-journalistic coverage of extravagant celebrity weddings. If nothing else, it exists as a dog-eared page of my life.
introduction written 13 july 2018
essay written from 14 february to 13 july 2018
The difference in reception between the announcements of our engagement versus our “ungagement” was surreal. I might as well have announced that Tom had died in a fire.
I got all kinds of messages of concern and comments of condolences. The consensus was clear: if my engagement had ended, so too had my relationship. It seemingly never occurred to these well-meaning individuals that we had simply concluded that marriage was not the answer. It’s understandable: it took me a while, too.
In the beginning…
On December 10, 2016, Tom asked me to marry him during a very sweet, very private moment after a wonderful dinner with his beloved grandma, and I said yes. We stayed silent about it for another year. During our Christmas travels at the end of 2017, we announced to our families our ’til death intentions to become legally bound, and, soon after, we announced to our friends via social media. We received many congratulations and that felt good. But all the while, from the night he proposed through the days we announced, I felt this brewing uncertainty within me. I wondered: Can I really claim to be a feminist while submitting to what I somewhat knew to be a patriarchal institution? Was this yet another machine with inner-workings I was afraid to analyze out of fear of discomfort in wisdom, much like carnism and capitalism and religion before it?
This apprehension was one of the primary reasons we remained engaged in secret for so long. But it was also because I was nervous to announce such a huge commitment so early into a relationship, and it was, additionally, a relationship I had been planning against.
Before Tom and I had crossed the threshold into romance and commitment, I had more or less sworn myself into a long-term singleship. I had spent the better half of the last three years in and out of an unhealthy relationship and wanted more time to just be alone. But then a whirlwind of a weekend trip together happened and it was all over. (I would come to find so much happiness from it, so I’m very grateful for my upset plans.)
I was reluctant to start a relationship with him not only because of my aforementioned plans to avoid relationships, but because I didn’t want to lose the close friendship Tom and I enjoyed in case the romantic end went south, but I couldn’t deny the fact that I had fallen in love. He then proposed three weeks later.
To say I had some things to process is an understatement.
While I worked through my ambivalence, which I chalked up to “commitment issues” (because of course it must be an inability to commit and definitely not anything reasonable or rational), I turned to feminist theory and found myself even more confused. Some women from whom I read were encouraging “feminist weddings” and keeping your own last name and ditching the most sexist nuptial traditions, like being given away or vowing obedience. Others were condemning marriage as a whole, emphasizing the fact that the party does not the wedded make.
Part of my patriarchy-soaked brain was struggling (hard) against the idea that succumbing to the future for which I had been groomed would make me complicit in my own oppression. I wanted the grand proposal that showed how much he loved me, and the unique ring that showed how well he knew me, and the big, beautiful Pinterest wedding that showed my family and friends how much we meant it.
But I didn’t like that I wanted it.
Being an anti-capitalist, I know marriage often comes with enormous benefits to what is ultimately a harmful industry that feeds directly into even worse industries. Ecologically, weddings are traditionally very wasteful. Ethically, some of the most popular materials for wedding attire and accessories are cruel, not to mention the atrocity of blood diamonds. Socioculturally, unnecessary toxic pressure is still put on girls to marry young, grooming them all the while to be dutiful consumers of feminine frippery and sexist standards. Diet culture thrives in wedding culture, encouraging women to look impossibly younger than they do, thinner than is comfortable, and more made up than they’ve ever been for one day that’s supposed to be dedicated to the celebration of a couple’s love. Following that, the bride is chased relentlessly by further toxic, sexist expectations that she’ll “let herself go” after marriage, which sadistically pushes her to continue worrying about her appearance to an outrageous extent and into the waiting arms of diet programs, uncomfortable clothes, more makeup, and possibly surgery.
Being an anarchist, seeking validation from the State seemed, at best, discordant with my beliefs. And having read Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves a few months after the proposal, I knew that marriage was historically a business contract and brides were chattel with which to barter and trade power between men.
I had to research further. After all, in the past, even if the process had proven to be uncomfortable, confronting my cognitive dissonance head-on had only ever led me to more well-informed and ethical choices.
Into the belly of the beast
Early on into our engagement, we had decided against keeping either of our last names. Neither of us have ties to them and we are both averse to the idea of carrying on either family’s “legacy” for various reasons. We decided, instead, to change our last name to something new, a name of our choosing; one that we felt would embody both our couple and our individual selves and from which we might begin our own family with our own values. This felt like a more satisfying, more liberating, more feminist decision than to change my last name to something else I disliked for the sake of tradition.
But it didn’t feel like it was enough.
Because of my deep-seated social conditioning, I had, at first, been dissatisfied with the very sweet and lovely way Tom had proposed to me. It wasn’t one of those elaborate proposals, the kind featured on HowHeAsked, with witnesses and friends and a secret photographer in a setting designed with my interests in mind. He hadn’t had a ring, so if I really wanted one we’d have to go to a store together and pick one out, and that felt totally unromantic. I was internally at war with myself. Because of how our culture celebrates and rewards grand proposals and expensive rings as the tangible culmination of true love, I felt I had been shorted. Does he really love me? Does he actually want to commit? On the other hand, I was chastising myself: You should just be grateful that a great guy wants to spend his life with you at all. Because isn’t that the apex of heteronormative female achievement?
I was ashamed to be feeling so distraught over something that was objectively so arbitrary and materialistic. I felt shallow and maddeningly consumerist to be wanting what had been sold to me all my life through corporate media.
Then, one day a few months later, I sat and read a few articles that led me to relief in two conclusions: Both lavish public proposals and engagement rings are ridiculous, unnecessary, and sexist.
One of the pillars of a healthy, committed relationship is open communication. Throughout the relationship, the partners learn to talk about everything from finances to sex in ways that encourage honesty and mutual growth. It is in this way that the couple’s future plans are also discussed and developed, and these kinds of discussions are not usually held within earshot of family members, friends, or strangers. For a boyfriend to suddenly start talking about his desire to move to Colorado together while at dinner with his parents when no agreement has yet been reached would be a major social faux pas; it would be putting his partner in an uncomfortable position, one in which she might feel more pressured to agree to move to Colorado when she doesn’t actually want to out of fear of upsetting his parents for disappointing him.
So why would it be permissible for him to have an audience when asking her to spend the rest of her life with him?
If she doesn’t know that he wants to get married, it’s entrapment. It’s putting her in the same situation as she would have been at dinner with his parents’: after going through so much time and effort to plan this elaborate, public proposal, rejecting him would be a critical hit to his ego and definitely a source of embarrassment. And when females are raised to cater to the ever-fragile male ego, she’s bound to feel compelled to nurture his needs before hers, leading very likely to a false “yes.”
It’s probably safe to say that most guys who plan these proposals do so because they feel pretty confident that their girlfriends are going to say yes, and for most guys that confidence comes from a prior conversation in which mutual desire for matrimony had been expressed. (If the confidence is not coming from a previous conversation, it’s probably coming from a sense of entitlement and she should run.) If it’s been clearly communicated between each other that the couple wants to get married, why have a public proposal at all?
Simple: for the show.
It’s a ritual we’re taught to expect, one we celebrate and anxiously look forward to. Public proposals, when both parties are aware that the other wants to marry, is just pomp and circumstance for familial appeasement and public entertainment.
The urge to conform was, I concluded, only a compulsory reflex spurred by patriarchal conditioning more finely bred in the age of social media.
Similarly, the engagement ring tradition is silly and predicated on sexism. Its initial purpose, stemming from classical antiquity, was to denote property rights; specifically, of a man’s right to “his” woman. Today, we’re sold the idea that a man purchasing an expensive, gaudy ring for you means he loves you so much that it can be counted in dollars, which translates to time spent slaving away at work, all for you; it means he loves you more than he’s ever loved anyone and that he’s ready to commit.
The problems with this are manifold.
The ring’s got a lot of weight to it
The common cultural narrative dictates that men have to prove in a celebrated fashion that they’re ready to commit, otherwise they’re non-committal. A quick Google search renders hundreds of thousands of results offering analysis based on carat weight of all the ways your fiancé is or isn’t really dedicated to you. This is not only insulting to men but also to women: Are we really so easily misled that the idea of commitment can be watered down to a positively correlated price tag and rock size?
Additionally, the infantilization of men and the inappropriate maternalization of women is clearly expressed in this tradition. He is demonstrably incapable of commitment until he meets the right woman, the one who “sets him straight,” “teaches him how to love,” much like a mother would. The future fiancée is thereby set up for failure because the nurturing and encouraging nature the man sees as wife-material in the pre-nuptial phase of their relationship (“she helps me grow to be a better person”, “she keeps me grounded”) he will come to resent and dismiss as nagging and no-fun (“she never lets me be me“); meanwhile, the characteristics she once found endearing about him (“he’s so spontaneous and laid-back”) she comes to detest (“he can’t keep a job and he never does any housework”) as she learns the tough lesson that all her patience and love could never change him without his desire for it.
In a culture which celebrates free love in one sex but scorns it in the other, we cannot have the celebration of bachelorhood and of male commitment. It may be admired of men to be “finally ready to settle down,” but it’s admired in the way someone is admired for donating a kidney: it’s a loss, but at least it’s helping someone else.
Male bachelorhood–and it should be noted that this is redundant as there is no true female equivalent, regardless of the existence of the word “bachelorette”–is a no-strings-attached celebration, the height of a man’s life or so we’re led to believe by popular media. Our society honors the bachelor for his inability to love and incapacity to form emotional bonds. This lends to his image of a carefree jack-of-all-babes who eats betas for breakfast; the alpha male to be adored, envied, and feared by all. Arguably, this is an echo of our probably polygamous past in which it was of prime evolutionary benefit for males to attempt to spread their seed as far and wide as possible. But doesn’t the contemporary foundation of marriage, which historically and still typically involves the encouragement of procreation, argue that co-parenting is better than single parenting? And doesn’t that require love and commitment? So why do we encourage the antithesis in the bachelor when we expect, culturally, for most bachelorhoods to end in marriage?
It’s because of the way males (and females) are too often socialized. This sexist socialization ensures that patriarchy remains the dominant culture: it is a positive feedback loop. And it can be undone using the same process that leads to its perpetuation, just with different variables.
The idea that the inability to love is a male quality, that how to love his partner is only to be taught to him not by his mother but by his partner, is an extremely damaging patriarchal tenet that spells disaster for everyone involved. Unfortunately, essential human qualities aren’t taught equally in childhood because gender is taught instead: on the docket are masculine characteristics for boys and feminine characteristics for girls.
And love, nurturance, and commitment are decidedly feminine characteristics.
Thus, men’s singleness is revered, his womanizing cheered, his ability to make as many females his conquest idealized. This long line of celebrated conquests comes to a climax when he finally finds the one and only “girl” (as opposed to “woman”) he wants to keep, the one who was different from all the rest, the girl to whom he will propose marriage. And he’ll do it by doing the one thing he hasn’t done with any of the others: he’ll offer her a ring.
Meanwhile, the feminized girls have a much different story arc: become desirable, attract a man, do whatever you can to convince him to stay, get married, live supposedly happily ever after. And tinkling from her left ring finger for years to come will be the reminder to all that she is taken. Owned. His.
But is the ownership so clear?
Arguably, in a much more populated world in which it’s harder for a man to recognize a woman as the property of a specific man by jewelry alone, especially because the harlots are now allowed out of the house almost whenever they want, the contemporary incarnation of this symbol is impractical as a signifier of property rights. Granted, most people marrying now are generally repulsed by the idea that marriage means the husband has ownership of the wife, and they reject the premise wholeheartedly. But I think that anyone who wants to marry, or who already is, needs to be aware of marriage’s sordid history, regardless of the more liberal evolution of the institution.
Some particularly conservative folks despise these developments, but I say that if a conservative is truly concerned with upholding tradition for the sake of maintaining the religiously sanctioned integrity of marriage, his end would be better met by “his woman” wearing a tight-fitting necklace with a silver or gold piece of metal that is cutely customizable, as there are plenty of options for various shapes, on which would be engraved her husband’s contact information, in case she’s ever lost or someone isn’t sure she’s up for grabs. Maybe the happy couple could even register for a matching leash.
Perhaps protestors of same-sex marriage and those of similar conservative ilk would find collaring ceremonies much more apropos. (Please note that I’m being completely sarcastic. BDSM is violent and I condemn it in its entirety.)
A slave collar isn’t far off as a parallel for an engagement ring. In fact, in some languages, the words for “woman” and “wife” are the same, immediately implying inescapable ownership. Take the French femme, for example. Or the Spanish mujer, although there is an additional word for wife, esposa. (Tellingly, the plural form, esposas, also means “handcuffs.” This is not the case for the similar additional French word for wife, épouse.) In English, there is the distinction between woman and wife, but as the popular matrimonial phrase suggests, we lose our womanhood as soon as the officiant declares “…man and wife!”
So, I had cast out any lingering desires for a proper indication that I was safely engaged and wouldn’t be dying alone or skimping on my heteronormative feminine duties. I had concluded the way Tom had proposed was perfectly fine. We had decided on writing our own vows and that I wouldn’t be given away and otherwise had decided to do all the things the writers advocating for “feminist” weddings had advised. So why was I still feeling like something was wrong with it all?
I had thought I had found loopholes through which I could still maintain my feminism. It was as if by creating an entirely new surname, accepting an unglamorous proposal, and ditching the engagement ring made marrying a suddenly radical act.
But the root, naturally, remained.
Why I’m not getting married
(if it wasn’t clear enough already)
While we were announcing our engagement, I was inevitably asked about the lack of ring on my finger. For a while, I played it safe in the realm of “we’re undecided” and “we’re choosing to spend the money on other things” but eventually came out honestly about my reasoning: that it’s a patriarchal symbol first and last, regardless of intent. And as I typed up my original engagement announcement to our friends, which included these words, I realized that the wedding and the marriage, too, would be symbols paying homage to an institutional praxis of women’s oppression.
Nevertheless, I held fast to the idea that somehow our marriage would be different, that marriages could be different, that marriage’s history could be absolved through the formation of egalitarian marriages that spurn its intrinsic sexism.
It seemed any clarity I achieved in my various reasonings was doomed to be short-lived.
My persistent, niggling uncertainty finally brought me to Emma Goldman’s Marriage and Love, a short essay I highly recommend. It was the final nail in the coffin of my marital uncertainty. I knew there was no way around it: to marry would be to comply.
I kept reading. I came across a fantastic takedown by Dr. Neel Burton in which he spotlights many quickly forgotten and hastily ignored realities of marriage as an institution and practice, both historic and contemporary. These include anti-miscegenation laws, marriage equality as a red herring, the State’s long-lived ties with the Church, and what it all means economically. He touches on performative femininity as a source and indication of the female sex’s subjugation to the ruling male class, commenting that ridiculous behaviors like “wearing makeup and high heels” are done in order “[t]o find a taker,” and this doesn’t end once she’s engaged:
The marriage ceremony itself is sexist beyond parody. The bride appears in a fussy white dress that symbolizes her virtue and virginity, and everyone keeps on remarking on how thin and beautiful she looks. Her father walks her down the aisle to ‘give her away’, and she passes, like property, from one man to another. The minister, who is traditionally a man, gives the man permission to kiss the woman, as if that is in the minister’s authority and the woman has none. The man kisses, the woman is kissed. At the reception, only men are given to speak, while the bride remains seated and silent. Henceforth, the woman will adopt the man’s name, as will their eventual offspring. Despite all this, the wedding day is said to belong to the woman. This, would you believe, is ‘her day’.”
Enter the many “feminist” bloggers eschewing the traditional marriage ceremony while clinging to the cornerstones of traditional marriage and calling it all a feminist action.
What these bloggers, much like all who subscribe to neoliberal feminist ideology, fail to either mention or understand is that choosing to engage with an institution, regardless of the reformative angles one takes in the process, is to purposely ignore and thereby support any injustices wrought by it.
While it appears that the majority of these women seem to believe that marriage simply needs to be reformed until it has reached some progressive apex, I don’t think it can nor that it should be. There is no way an institution born of oppression could ever be rid of its oppressive framework, and if it were to be reformed to the point that it is so far removed from the original institution so as to be unrecognizable, we would no longer call it “marriage.” Or, if we did, it would mean the erasure of history.
Where marriage means the zenith of both romantic love and shining example of socioeconomic achievement for one class in one part of the world, it means certain horrors and death in others.
Child marriage still exists, and though it seems to be generally accepted to believe that it only occurs in “third-world” countries and thereby can be filed away under “such a shame” and conveniently forgotten about by more privileged folk in developed countries, this is dangerously false. In the U.S., it is still legal to marry a child in all 50 states, and one Florida child-bride’s lawsuit against her rapist took six years to finally result in a limit increase to the state’s marriage laws. Previously, a child could marry at 16- or 17-years-of-age with parental permission or if emancipated, but if the child was pregnant, she could be married at any age with no exceptions. Now, the minimum age requirement is 17, and the movement to end child marriage in the U.S. is picking up speed.
If there is merit to the myth that child marriage only exists in under-developed countries, it’s because the high rates briefly exposed on the evening news at arbitrary intervals are usually from regions other than the U.S. or the U.K.
And they are harrowing snapshots, indeed.
According to a statistical brochure from UNICEF regarding West and Central African countries on the incidence of child marriage (updated in 2017),
The practice occurs throughout the world and is about five times more common among girls than boys. Girls in West and Central Africa face the highest risk of marrying in childhood; about 4 in 10 young women in the region were married before age 18. Among all child brides in the region, 1 in 3 was married before age 15. West and Central Africa encompasses 6 of the 10 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world.”
Yemen is another commonly discussed perpetrator of violence against women and girls in relation to marriage. While there have been pushbacks by the victims of child marriage and rape and spousal abuse, it remains difficult for wives to divorce their abusive husbands as they still require their husband’s permission and/or an extensive litigation process to do so.
Many countries in the “Middle East”*, usually those under sharia, and in varying regions of Africa are controversially infamous for a distinct lack of women’s rights. The presence of Islam in these countries or of general poverty and genocide, as is the case in Africa, seem to be the underpinnings for the stigma against these regions of the world. While the widespread presence of patriarchal religion and of economic destitution are valid as indicators of sex-based violence, it does not mean only Islamic countries and under-developed regions of Africa are where feminism is needed the most.
*what is often incorrectly believed to be the Middle East is also South Asia and North Africa (e.g. India, Afghanistan, Sudan)
The ways in which women are punished related to marriage are disturbingly multifarious.
Still occurring today are honor killings, bride burnings, other forms of dowry deaths, and female genital mutilation (FGM)**. All are forms of femicide and all are practiced typically in the name of marriage.
**The fourth source is apologetic to FGM, explaining that some women choose to have it done. I find this apologetic perspective to be harmful to women and girls, and it is parallel to the retrogressive practices of neoliberal/”choice” feminism: women only choose to be mutilated when they’ve been enculturated for it.
There are plenty of supporters of Islam who claim the religion is one of peace, and there are similar claims from proponents of Christianity. Under both religions, women are oppressed, abused, raped, and murdered in the name of their husband’s interpretation of his religion’s holy scripture.
And even if there are women bound by holy matrimonies who are very happy with their partners, married life still comes with economic disadvantages to the wife. Not only is she overwhelmingly still expected to do all the housework and childcare, but she’s also likely to be the breadwinner–if she’s in the U.S., anyway. Elsewhere, she’s still at a financial disadvantage, far from economic independence from her husband’s wages, and in the eyes of the law, she’s usually less of a person than her husband is.
Nevertheless, marriage has been sold to us for thousands of years, and we’ve yearned after it obediently. It’s been so dutifully coveted by so many that it came to be seen as a human right. And until very recently, like so many human rights, lawful marriage was denied to people of color and homosexuals.
It wasn’t until 1967 that anti-miscegenation laws were ruled unconstitutional. That means there are still people alive today who remember when interracial relationships or marriages were illegal. Lawful marriage was denied to enslaved black people, and though there were probably some free black men who were able to legally wed a black woman, marriage did not come easily to all black people for a long time.
Gay marriage was legalized in the United States just three years ago, in 2015. Whether due to religion or poor education, homophobia has a long and treacherous history in this country. Gaining the ability to marry as a homosexual seemed to mark an evolution in the average person’s perspective on deviation from the heteronormative status quo: suddenly, gay people were more normal. Of course, the legalization of same-sex marriage didn’t flush out all homophobes overnight just as the repeal of anti-miscegenation laws didn’t eradicate racism, and I wouldn’t even argue that it has done much to improve rates of homophobia throughout the country. But it seems to have had some effect, much in the way gaining acceptance from the popular clique at school would help a lowly nerd earn a higher social status. It’s important to remember that just because the mean kids are allowing you to sit with them at lunch doesn’t mean you should.
It’s difficult to learn how to spot bullies, especially when they seem to be your friend, and especially when being bullied isn’t anything new to you.
In this way, the institution of marriage continues to thrive and escape the careful eye of analysis.
‘Til death, without death
I love my partner and I love our life together. I’m so excited for our plans, to see how our future unfolds. We have individual and shared dreams, and we support each other excitedly. I am so happy, so content, and so grateful for our relationship; I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I struggle with the desire to be able to refer to my partner as my husband, and I want that mostly because I want my family and friends to see our relationship as having as much validity as a marriage would have in their eyes. To refer to my partner simply as “partner” garners immediate suspicion, as if people’s first inclination is to think I’m either a lesbian or in perpetual pre-nuptial limbo. Because of how I, and all of us, have been raised to view marital status, having a “husband” has more weight than having a mysterious “partner” or the more sophomoric “boyfriend,” which really just translates to “potential future husband.”
Couples who have been together a while or who are recognizably wonderful together are inevitably asked “So when are you getting married?” as if that’s the bottom line for every relationship. As soon as Tom and I announced our engagement to our families, it was like our relationship was so much more real, like our love and commitment to each other were instantly taken more seriously. But nothing had changed, really: all we had said was that we intended to get married.
It’s insane that we attribute commitment to marriage when marriage ends in divorce for so many people. It’s very difficult and typically costly to divorce, which might encourage some people to stay together regardless of their happiness, but I would argue that the end of a relationship is more often signified by a loss of love rather than a loss of legal status. So if a legal marriage doesn’t ensure a love’s longevity, why would a couple’s family and friends want to see them get married when they’ve already stated they want to stay together forever? It seems our loved ones want a guarantee, of sorts, before they commit to a commitment, and I suppose it makes sense: people don’t want to invest energy into what won’t pay out. If a couple is doomed to failure, cheerleading from the sidelines will have been for, essentially, nothing. But when a marriage doesn’t offer that guarantee, what does it offer?
For one thing, legal marriage means there’s less legal confusion in the event of the death of a spouse. By default, in most if not all states, the death of a spouse results in the deceased’s estate being passed to the surviving spouse or their children. In the case of relationships lacking legal validity, however, unmarried-but-committed couples have very few legal protections without a very specific will or power of attorney. That means the deceased’s estate would pass to their children first and then their other surviving family members in a specific order. It also means, in the event of a tragic accident, Tom wouldn’t be able to deliver my wishes for a DNR, or that one of us wouldn’t be able to get the medical care we need because we can’t get on the other’s insurance plan. Potentially less traumatically but still inconveniently, we could be denied housing. We could be forced to pay more for renting cars. If we decide to adopt, we might not be able to.
On the flip side, if we were to break up, it means we don’t have to worry about the headache of divorce. It does mean that lawyers won’t be able to help us much if we buy assets in both of our names and then split up later on. Some unmarried couples are being advised to write up legal financial agreements to avoid potential, long-lasting lawsuits. But all that that means, conversely, is that one “benefit” of getting married is that we have the option of having expensive lawyers battle it out in the courtroom over whether I own a car or Tom spent too much at the falafel place three years ago.
Aside from social clout, the only advantage of lawful marriage seems to be enhanced legal protection, which can be really convenient in many areas. On the other hand, to get legally married is to clearly condone thousands of years of sexism, racism, homophobia, and child abuse and to ignore the current sexism and pedophilia within or related to the institution. To add insult to injury, it’s more difficult to split up if you want to.
It seems to me that the answer is not to involve the government in my private relationship and be complicit in a range of injustices but to, instead, plan more carefully for our shared finances and health.
Still, I am uncomfortable. It might be because, at 25, I’m still younger than I realize and yearn for the acceptance and validation of my loved ones and peers more than I might at 45. Maybe it’s because nonconformity is difficult even when you’ve done it and preferred it for the majority of your life. Maybe I’ll look back on this in 10 years and shake my head and laugh at how naïve I was. Maybe I’ll be proud. Maybe we’ll be acquainted or good friends with many other happily unmarried-but-committed couples. For now, two things seem sure.
One is that we’re distracted by all the glitz and glamour from the harsh reality that marriage is arbitrary and unnecessary, a Ponzi scheme of the wedding industry and the state. If we’re not marrying to establish property rights over another human or for power or for dominance, why get married at all? If it’s just “for love,” where is the need to get the state involved? When stripped of its tulle and floral arrangements, marriage doesn’t seem quite so romantic.
The other is that Tom and I are very happy, committed, and in love. There is surely uncertainty ahead of us and plenty more trials and tribulations, but I feel confident in our union regardless of its legal status. I’m happy for the fact that my plans for singleness were ruined, that the other serious relationships before ours ended in misery, that everything in our lives led us, eventually, to each other. My hope is that our story will help empower other couples to boycott marriage or at least to feel more validated and supported in their unmarried status. I hope to see more equal protections for unmarried couples, the abolition of child marriage, and, eventually, the dissolution of the entire institution of marriage (and government, and patriarchy).
We’re planning a commitment ceremony in 2020 because we still want the party.