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January 30, 2009 2:24 PM   Subscribe

I don't believe in marriage. Everyone around my partner and me is getting married and she's getting depressed. How can I show my girl I love her just as much as the guys in rental tuxedos love theirs?

My partner and I have been together for ~three years, and living together for six months. I'm in my late 20s and have had enough experience to know that I've found something special. I love her tons and things are great.

I don't want to start a debate on marriage so I'll just say, without trying to justify it, that I don't believe in marriage and never want to get married. (No kids either.) I've always been up-front about this and she's been honest that she likes the idea of marriage but is willing to pass it up to be with me. Our understanding seemed strong and we didn't really talk about it much once the expectations were in place.

What neither of us anticipated was 90 per cent of our friends getting married within a 10-month period, or the emotional effect this would have on her. We've attended four weddings in the past six months, have two more scheduled for the next two months, and two upcoming but without specific dates set. Two of her friends are now pregnant as well as being newlywed.

Understandably, this is getting to her. One of my friends recently proposed to his girlfriend of six months (we're going to the wedding sometime next fall), and my partner tearfully told me how how it seemed so passionate, how there was a part of her that wished we had done that, etc. She acknowledges that I've been honest about what I wanted, but witnessing the parade down the aisle is obviously awakening some mourning in her.

How can I cheer this girl up? All advice is welcome, but I specifically would like to find memorable ways of communicating the following:

1. Not wanting to get married does not mean I love her any less than guys who do want to get married.

2. Being unmarried doesn't mean I have one foot out the door.

3. This is not a situation where if she was a better girlfriend I'd want to marry her and I'm only holding off because she sucks. (I think she has some lingering fear of this even though I told her early on that it's completely untrue.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (132 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have a commitment ceremony without the legal marriage - maybe that will satisfy her desire for a wedding and will show a serious, long-term commitment on your part.
posted by tristeza at 2:27 PM on January 30, 2009 [9 favorites]


What does she feel your life lacks? What does marriage do that offends you so? If you can provide a wedding analog that would make her happy but avoid what you hate about getting married, whatever it is, then you can cheer her up. If she changes her mind about marriage or kids then you're screwed.
posted by mkb at 2:28 PM on January 30, 2009


Decide whether it's more important to stick to your abstract principles about marriage or to be with this woman. If it was a straight up dichotomy which one would you choose?
posted by GuyZero at 2:31 PM on January 30, 2009 [50 favorites]


This is a tough one. I understand your position, but I also understand hers. I think the most important thing you can do is to be the best boyfriend that you can be to her. It sounds like you guys have a really strong relationship, and that helps a lot, but going out of your way to show her she's special to you (in whatever way would be special to her...flowers and stuff like that if that's her thing, maybe write her random notes or drawings and let her find them. Whatever you know she would like) might help her right now when she's feeling especially vulnerable. It's a weird thing to be a girl in this situation. I know from experience. I'm guessing she's not happy she's feeling this way, but needs a little more reassurance. She may decide some day that marriage has turned out to be more important to her than she realized, important enough that tough decisions have to be made, but for the mean time, just be there for her.
posted by odayoday at 2:33 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


If she's feeling left out, plan a holiday or work on a project together. Redecorate your place, maybe? I'm guessing commitment ceremonies are out (if the ceremony is meaningless ritual when it has a legal component, I'm guessing it's equally verboten without the piece of paper). You need to find something to do together that reaffirms your bond without being a wedding.

It might also be that your girl is changing her mind about marriage, or is at least bumping up against the absolute barrier to marriage that you've presented. That's a pretty absolute position (no marriage, no kids), and not many people really and truly feel that way from start to finish. Just sayin'.
posted by Grrlscout at 2:39 PM on January 30, 2009


Maybe you two have a fundamentally different sense of what being unmarried implies, for example in terms of your long-term commitment to each other, to doing the hard work to stay together when things get shitty, to you staying with her when she's no longer young, etc. If so, no amount of cheering her up is going to bridge that gap.
posted by found missing at 2:40 PM on January 30, 2009


couples counseling? Seriously, there are clearly some unresolved issues, and sometimes it's easier to get to the truth behind things when you have a professional to guide the way.
I just want to point out that just because she said early on that she is ok giving up marriage doesn't mean she really is ok with it. I'm not suggesting your SO lied to you; sometimes things seem easier when they are not right in your face. If you already know she likes the idea of marriage, but is giving it up for you, maybe you need to consider what you are giving up for her. I have been in the situation where a relationship feels unequal, and it's not fun.
Obviously I don't know the particulars (nor can I) and everyone is different. This is just one (very distant) perspective. I think talking to a counselor (both together and separately) is a great way to figure out what you both need to be happy, and to make sure they don't conflict.
posted by purpletangerine at 2:40 PM on January 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


Do you love this woman enough to give your life for her?
Do you love this woman enough to be faithful to her for the rest of your life?
Do you love this woman enough to always try and make the relationship work?

If the answer to these questions is "yes", then marry her. Show her that she is more important than your intellectual objection to the idea of marriage.

I promise you that twenty years from now, you will not lay in bed next to your wife of two decades and silently mourn that you gave up on your objection to marriage.

You may, however, regret giving up on a woman who loved you enough to want to spend the rest of her life with you.
posted by DWRoelands at 2:44 PM on January 30, 2009 [124 favorites]


I've been there. In my first real long term relationship, my boyfriend and I were very clear that neither of us wanted to get married. That being said, when we hit our mid-twenties and all the friends who'd been dating far less time than we'd been together started getting married, it kinda hit me harder than I expected.

For me it was more of a "Our relationship is so much better than theirs and we've been together way longer, why is everyone making a fuss over them?" kind of issue rather than a desire for the outpouring of love from my boyfriend to "prove" he loved me.

We talked about it a bunch and we realized that despite what brain said, there was always going to be a little part of heart or whatever that bought into society's view of marriage = love. And since that was the case he and I both needed to do things for each other to remind each other how special and important our relationship was...regardless of the label.

Point out, with maybe flowers or cards, that you are with her because you choose to be. Not because you've signed a peice of paper that says you have to be with her. And that when things get hard you are even more committed to making it work out, because you don't have to stay, you want to stay. And try to understand that she may change her mind and decide that she just has to have the marriage thing and the whole shebang. I was with my guy for 8 1/2 years and he changed his mind. As did my most recent ex, who after 5 years decided he couldn't accept being "just a boyfriend" and needed more. Good luck.
posted by teleri025 at 2:46 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think your actual reasoning behind your feelings toward marriage are really significant to this question, as well as why she's feeling so bummed about it. A commitment ceremony is a great idea if your objections aren't something along the lines of "I don't feel the need to publicly announce my commitment to you."

She might want a grand romantic gesture, and/or a statement that you want to be with her forever. You can do either of those things, or both, without proposing. You could throw a big family party on your next anniversary, which gives you an excuse to celebrate your relationship without having a ceremony of any sort.

But I'd try to be understanding--and it sounds like you're on the right track so far--that there's incredible societal pressure put on women in their twenties (especially ones in committed relationships) to get hitched. It's difficult to even describe, but it can be really overwhelming, and it's easy to feel like you're missing out on an important milestone that's been forcefed to you from childhood if you haven't been proposed to. It's not fair, and I think this pressure probably has quite a lot to do with the high divorce rate in our society, but it can be really . . . crushing, even if it's not something that she ever thought would be terribly important to her.

Mr. WanKenobi said he felt like you when we first got together, so I knew he would never propose to me. But over time, and through tons of talking about it, I admitted that part of my vision of my future life included having a husband, and one that was much like him. And, over time, he came around to feeling that if marriage was more important to me than his objections to it were to him, he'd agree if I ever proposed. I did last fall, which caused quite a stir in even our very non-traditional families (his mother was ashamed that he had a ring and I didn't!). We plan to get married eventually, and will probably do so entirely alone save for some witnesses and whoever does the ceremony. He would be miserable having a regular ol' wedding ceremony, and I'm, of course, willing to compromise--what mattered to me was making a big romantic gesture and feeling confident that we can plan together for the future in a way that feels natural to both of us. In other words, while I don't necessarily think that you need to propose to her, you do need to find a compromise that takes her need for commitment, public celebration, romance, or whatever into account.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:50 PM on January 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Also, I'm in my mid-30s and have been avidly no-kids, no-marriage for my entire adult life. I've found that in most cases, the guys that I date and fall in love with seem to be okay with these concepts until about year 3. Then they start changing their minds. And want me to change mine. Of course, I've only been in two long term relationships, so YMMV.
posted by teleri025 at 2:50 PM on January 30, 2009


Where is she on the kids thing? That's something that can change, especially if she is just now in her 20s, and it will become a big deal if she changes her mind.

I say that because the marriage thing might be an easy fix- you can do the trappings of a marriage, like a commitment ceremony and a big party, that would satisfy her need for 1) some tangible indication of permanence, and 2) a big party and a pretty dress. You might have to compromise your ideals for this, but relationships are about compromise. Are you willing to go that far? I guess I don't know your girlfriend, but I am sort of eh about the civil institution of marriage and couldn't care less about the religious aspects, but it is important to me that I can eventually stop calling someone my "boyfriend" and call him "partner" or "husband" instead. Having a public declaration of permanence is also important for emotional and psychological reasons. I am sort of speculating that she might feel the same, and that you can satisfy those urges in her without actually participating in the civil legal or religious institution of marriage.

The kids thing, however, is not an easy fix. You either have them or you don't, and I think that the kids issue may end up being the problem rather than the marriage thing. You can't compromise on kids. You mentioned the pregnancies without saying what effect they were having on the girlfriend- you need to make sure you two are having honest conversations about this. It might require some soul searching on your part about your reasons for not wanting kids, and how that lines up with having this woman in your life.
posted by ohio at 2:50 PM on January 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Prepare yourself for the possibility that if she does decide she does want marriage, and you remain inflexible on it, she may leave you for a man that will marry her. She may well love you enough to remain in an a committed partnership with you. Some women do actually have similar views on this. It's real easy to think you can go on living happily as is when you're both young and attractive.

For what it's worth, I used to feel this way too. Things change. And women change, far more than men would like to think.
posted by ninjew at 2:53 PM on January 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


I've always been up-front about this and she's been honest that she likes the idea of marriage but is willing to pass it up to be with me.

Basic problem: I don't think she was honest about willing to pass it up to be with you, at least not forever. You just want that to be true, and she figured she could probably convince you at some point. After all, she compromised a bit, so why wouldn't you?

It reminds me of those situations where a couple compromises on religion. It seems like everything is settled, but it's not really: it's just that no one cares too much about it. Then some catalyst like taking the kids to church comes up and the shit hits the fan.
posted by smackfu at 2:53 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


You clearly don't understand what love is...your idea of love is doing what pleases you and hoping the other person doesn't mind so much that they leave. Moreover, you don't seem to understand that relationships are supposed to serve each person's expectations equally.

Do her a favor and leave. Let her find someone who wants to love her all the way. Quit wasting her time on a losing proposition. That would be the most "loving" thing you could do for her.
posted by AuntieRuth at 2:53 PM on January 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Your girlfriend is willing to forgo something important to her (marriage) in order to be with you, even though that sacrifice is hurting her right now. Hopefully you interpret that as a sign of how much she loves you and how much she wants to be with you.
You aren't willing to give up your anti-marriage beliefs for her, even though you see how much it is hurting her. You've chosen your principles over her feelings. How do you think she interprets that?
posted by rocket88 at 2:54 PM on January 30, 2009 [42 favorites]


You clearly don't understand what love is
Not wanting to marry someone =/= not loving them.
posted by DWRoelands at 2:57 PM on January 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


How can I cheer this girl up?

At this point, you may not be able to. People get married for all kinds of reasons (valid or not) but people generally want to marry because they believe (rightly or not) that it is the epitome of a loving relationship. Up until now, she's probably just told you what you want to hear, but she's reaching the tipping point.
posted by sageleaf at 3:01 PM on January 30, 2009


Late 20s is hard... it's definitely where there's suddenly an avalanche of weddings going on. It seems to calm down a bit in the 30s, as the couples who were meant to be together settle in, and the couples who shouldn't have gotten married in the first place start getting divorced. (Then you have your late 30s and into your 40s to look forward to, as my boyfriend and I are now, when everyone starts in on the second marriages, and you get treated to another round of the "So When Are You Two Getting Married" chorus.)

I don't think you should get married if it's not something you believe in. (Full disclosure: I'm divorced, late 30s, in a commited relationship for 3.5 years where we've discussed that we might or might not get married.) Couples can be every bit as loving, passionate, and devoted without the official cermony and legal status; at the end of the day, it's not marriage that confers those things, it's the couple themselves who create them through their active commitment.

So maybe find a way to create a private sense of that commitment and togetherness with your girlfriend. Create rituals and traditions of your own that are about the two of you being together now and in the future... the first time my boyfriend and I ever got a Christmas tree and decorated it while listening to Dean Martin, for example, is still one of our fondest memories of the two of us really becoming together as a couple, and it's something we now look forward during the holidays (I'd never even had a Chrstmas tree with any previous boyfriends, or even my former husband).

Or maybe decide to take a great vacation that you've both always wanted -- something really special that you'll both have to work toward together in terms of saving and planning. The important thing is to set the goal together, and make it happen together, specifically to celebrate the two of you being together. Maybe look at it as a honeymoon without having to endure the hideous stress (and expense) of a wedding.
posted by scody at 3:04 PM on January 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't think this question can be adequately answered until we understand why you don't believe in marriage. I know plenty of people who don't, but their reasons don't always overlap, and solutions to your particular problem aren't really possible until we know - and YOU know - exactly where the boundaries are.

- Is it the religious aspect? The government-interference aspect?
- Is it the vows/idea of eternity?
- Is it a gay-rights solidarity thing? (That seems more and more common.)
- Is it the lavish party?
- Is it the community/family approval-seeking aspect?

It might be any, several, or none of the above. But figuring out what exactly is important to you - and then figuring out what exactly is important to her - about the whole concept of marriage is how you'd find common ground here.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:06 PM on January 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


What if she deep down wants marriage, but doesn't have the kind of conviction that you do about that issue? Just because you feel like you're both mature, assenting adults, doesn't mean you have to assume that everything is hunky-dory. You need to go out of your way to find out if it really is okay, and even then, imagine the situation: if you asked her to marry you, would she get all excited and say "yes?" If so, then this is not what you agreed to. What you agreed to is, "She wants marriage, but not badly enough that she can't let it go in my case." If that's true, and you popped the question, she would say, "but wait honey, you don't have to do this for me, no really it's okay, I only want to do this if you really want to do this, I'm happy with our current arrangement."

Most likely it's the former case, but I don't want to judge your particular situation. I think you should use an abundance of caution here.
posted by pauldonato at 3:06 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


If she is willing to not get married to be with you, is she also willing to not have kids to be with you as well? Just saying, even if you get this marriage issue figured out and she is OK with it, giving up kids is a much biggger thing to do than giving up a marriage ceremony.

And sadly, I don't think there is a way to cheer her up permanently unless you do marry her. This will be an issue that will keep coming up every few months or years. Doubts never go away, and she'll be thinking later on "how does he STILL not love me enough to marry me?"
posted by KateHasQuestions at 3:07 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Perhaps signing medical powers of attorney where you could make medical decisions for each other as if you were husband and wife would give some reassurance? Then you could go along and add stuff as you progress like joint accounts, writing each other into wills, buying a house together etc. That's if you would've married this girl if you believed in marriage.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 3:08 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


You clearly don't understand what love is...Let her find someone who wants to love her all the way.

And yeah, sorry, but this statement is bullshit. My boyfriend and I love each other more than either of us have ever loved anyone. He's my family and I am his whether or not we ever happen to go through a ceremony. What you clearly don't understand is that love and commitment are far more complex and multifaceted than having a wedding.
posted by scody at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2009 [15 favorites]


I think there is really nothing you can do. She is the architect of her depression. She has chosen to be with a man who does not believe in getting married.

You have behaved appropriately. You have expressed your beliefs, and you are living by them. Go on loving her, but more importantly, do not lie to her about your feelings. That is the surest way to despair.
posted by wrnealis at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was in in the same situation as you about ten years ago. I was deeply committed to my girlfriend, but also opposed to marriage as a matter of principle. She was willing to forgo it, but felt emotional pressure (mostly from her family, but friends, too) to have one ("why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?", etc.)

I agree with odayoday that probably the best thing you can do is be good to her. Lots of the trappings around marriage (spending a good portion of your income on a ring, proposing, holding a ceremony where you publicly announce your feelings) mainly exist to provide assurance that your feelings are genuine and deep enough to get you through the rough spots in a relationship. If you can convey that same depth of feeling without the traditional accessories, that might alleviate her envy toward her married friends. It might even be better, because you can invent creative, memorable ways to demonstrate your feelings.

One thing to consider: I eventually caved, and got married anyway, five years later! The unromantic reason was insurance: in order for her to be covered on mine, we had to be legally married. I tried to find a loophole (including briefly considering pretending we were gay, as my provider covers same-sex domestic partners), but couldn't, and we just signed papers at the courthouse. I mention this because, for better or for worse, marriage is built in to many social institutions, and you may find it a serious hassle to maintain your principles!

Good luck to you. I wish more people would do what you're trying.
posted by molybdenum at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


There's something incredibly moving about seeing the *public* expression of love and vulnerability between a couple at their wedding. They stand there in front of every person they love and declare their adoration for one another, and it's a different feeling, I think, than the quiet, evolved commitment that happens in a long-term relationship. There's no defining moment in a committed LTR- not the way there is when someone "now pronounces you man and wife". Maybe that's what she craves: the passion and the depth of love that makes a man basically stand before everyone he knows and lay his heart out. And maybe she wants to give you that vulnerability, too.

To me the key moments of a marriage are:

1. Mutually deciding you're gonna get married.
2. The proposal on bended knee: formalizing the request by making a declaration of love and a physical bow (down on one knee, looking up at her as the object of your love).
3. The precious physical symbol of the commitment (the ring)
4. The assembling of the loved ones
5. The promises you make to each other, publicly stated, and with the understanding that the other can still back out- it raises the stakes, strengthens the story.
6. The actual defining moment: "you may kiss the bride"
7. The legal stuff
8. The big party where everyone speaks heartfelt words, breaks bread together, and dances, ushering the commitment forward with a modern version of a primal ritual, taking you forward into a new part of life.
9. A wedding is a defined moment after which the relationship orients itself towards the future, no longer the present.

You can probably satisfy any or all of these elements in nontraditional, non-married ways, if you choose to. For instance, you could:

1. Agree to commit to each other long-term. Say it specifically, in words- not implications. Promise forever. Do it sweetly and seal it with love.
2. Make a grand, self-humbling gesture to her. It should take her by surprise and lay your heart at her feet and you should be nervous and excited before you do it and it should make her weep. Write her a song and sing it to her in some gorgeous spot, for instance. Give her a sweet, perfect moment just shared only by the two of you, that she can look back on forever. Tell her you're hers, if that's how you feel.
3. The physical symbol should be a keepsake thing she can see often; if not a ring or chain, maybe a tattoo? Artwork? I dunno, whatever feels right to you. Doesn't need to be expensive.
4. Throw a big party, with both friends and family present. Do it up so it really feels "right" for the kind of couple you are. You can keep the reason for the party secret- maybe say you have an announcement to make, ppl will just assume it's an engagement or a pregnancy, and they're in for a nice surprise!
5. At that party, find a way to tell everyone that you two are an item, for reals for reals. Again, it can be a surprise for the guests if you don't want it to be too wedding-y. But you two should make a meaningful, planned moment of it, in a way that feels right for you. It certainly doesn't have to be a standard marriage script or commitment ceremony at all, but you need Aunt Bessie and everyone else to realize, "this is it, something has deepened for these two, and I witness it as of today". As for the style of this declaration, just remember that your friends want to feel so intensely happy for you they bawl on the spot, so make it sweet and loving so they can share in it. When else do you get to cry tears of joy for your friends? It's rare and lovely.
6. Include a moment of joyous release in the party: the big kiss, the swing dance, whatever. Give your friends a moment to cheer and sob and laugh and be filled with your love and happiness.
7. (The legal stuff will happen eventually when you're common-law, but you can do something cute at some point, then or later, like signing each other's organ donor cards or a deed to something or whatever. Doesn't have to be that night unless you want it to be, nobody really cares about witnessing that- they want to see the love, not the lawfulness.)
8. The party continues: feed anyone. Create an atmosphere where people feel welcome to toast you- they'll really want to. Then dance your faces off!
9. If you do all that, you won't have had a wedding, but you'll have defined the moment after which the nature of the love has changed somewhat. And doing it publicly sort of seals it in a way that it sounds like she craves. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2009 [18 favorites]


how open are you to the idea of a big ceremony that isn't marriage? maybe some kind of vow exchange, with the invited relatives and friends and all that. perhaps a civil union. I don't know what your objections are to marriage, so I can't say with certainty what kind of ceremony would fulfill her desires without encroaching on yours. but maybe you guys can set up some kind of big to-do that doesn't result in you being married but still lets her know how committed to her you are.
posted by shmegegge at 3:10 PM on January 30, 2009


Not wanting to marry someone =/= not loving them.

This is absolutely true.

Not wanting to marry someone = not wanting to be legally committed to the relationship. Whatever your actual objections to marriage as a concept are, by refusing to marry as a matter of principle, you are refusing to allow your relationship with anyone to rise to the level of being committed as a matter of law. I hope that you never purport to be surprised when this bothers someone who loves you and wants a commitment.

If it's the "wedding" aspect of marriage that you object to, then get married without a wedding.

If it's the religious aspect of marriage that you object to, then get married without any religious tie-in.

If it's being committed to the relationship to the extent that you're willing to be bound by law that you object to, then I recommend that you end the relationship sooner rather than later. Why? Because that sort of objection to marriage as a concept is actually (usually) an objection to actually being 100% in the relationship, which is what she apparently wants. (Sometimes, this sort of objection could be an extreme "get the government out of my life" thing, but I'm assuming you're not the Ruby Ridge type and that you live "on the grid," since you have a computer. If hating government entanglement is your bag, then that's a whole 'nother can of worms, and one that I'm not equipped to help you with.)
posted by The World Famous at 3:11 PM on January 30, 2009 [23 favorites]


I think the wrong question is, "how do I cheer her up?" That question even sounds a bit offensive. Because it kind of minimizes what she's feeling. It assumes that she's just feeling down and needs some superficial upper.

Here's the more honest question, "how do I give her what she wants without compromising what I want?" And it'll take some courage to answer that, because you have to entertain the possibility that you can't.
posted by philosophistry at 3:14 PM on January 30, 2009 [38 favorites]


This may be complete horse shit but I have become anti-marriage because I think it leads to the two people appreciating each other less. When you have a legal marriage you know (at least subconsciously) the other can't just walk away - they're going to have to suffer through the legal process. When you don't have the legal ties that isn't there. My experience is that couples who are not married are more "careful" with each other. I've tried marriage twice and I think the lack of appreciation/carefulness that comes with marriage is exactly what brought, at least, the second one to an end. It's an idea to bring up. Don't know that it will float.
posted by Carbolic at 3:16 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh dear, I just saw your title "The piece of paper that shows you care." I was on your side a lot more until I saw that. It's been my experience that people who get hung up on the "piece of paper" crap have very little real idea of what marriage is. I have no idea where my piece of paper is, what it looks like or what it says. After 31 years, it really doesn't matter if it sells my soul to satan.

If you're telling your woman "it's just a piece of paper," stop. It's a stupid, meaningless argument. If you have valid reasons, fine, but kill that one from your repertoire.
posted by sageleaf at 3:17 PM on January 30, 2009 [26 favorites]


There's something incredibly moving about seeing the *public* expression of love and vulnerability between a couple at their wedding.

*shudders* This is precisely the reason I don't particularly want to have a actual wedding, even if my bf and I do eventually get married. Personally, I couldn't stand that feeling of public vulnerability at my wedding when my ex and I got married -- having everyone watch us take our vows seemed almost intrusive, to be honest. (The reception was a blast, though -- I had no problem with friends being on hand to celebrate for that!)

I often feel similarly when I've been to friends' weddings -- like the vow itself should be a moment of privacy (or at least semi-privacy, with only the very closest few there to witness it). But I realize that I'm quirky this way.

posted by scody at 3:20 PM on January 30, 2009 [20 favorites]


I don't have a ton to add, but in my experience, when a couple is in this scenario (my friends), either the relationship fails or the person that doesn't want to get married caves in and realizes that their ethical/whatever problems with marriage <= the value of the marriage either to the other person specifically or with all the legal/societal/tax benefits considered.
posted by alkupe at 3:25 PM on January 30, 2009


this sticks out to me, "and my partner tearfully told me how how it seemed so passionate, how there was a part of her that wished we had done that, etc."

is it possible to propose? but propose that you want to spend the rest of your life with her.

i think i know what your girlfriend means. i think she is fully capable of understanding and accepting what she signed up for. but it doesn't mean should be shorted on romantic gestures. the proposal is the supposed BIGGEST romantic gesture a women experiences, and i think that's the aspect of "marriage" that she is getting teary about. sure you can both agree to not get married, but she is missing out on the little scheming behind her back that is supposed to show how much you love her and how much thought you put into the planning.

so, i would give her a faux(?)-proposal, where the end result captures that you love her and want to spend the rest of your life with her. (knowing more about her would help with this huge romantic gesture, but i think you know her well enough. think about all the things she's ever said about your future life together. something associated with that might get her to understand).

*i hope it's not a slippery slope, where soon you'll just be buying rings and having a ceremony just to go through the motions*
posted by alice ayres at 3:28 PM on January 30, 2009


2. Being unmarried doesn't mean I have one foot out the door.

Like the answers above, mine is not informed by an understanding of your reasons for not believing in marriage, but the things that came to mind when I saw #2 and really, all three of your points are the things that enmesh you with another person's life to the point where it becomes very hard to just step out the door--joint savings, owning a home together, changing your will to include her, always including each other in family events, celebrating anniversaries, and sticking with someone through illness, poverty, health and wealth, and so on. IANAL but it would seem that without the intent to be married these types of things do not make you common law spouses.

Also, would either of you be interested in legally changing your last name to the other person's last name? It wouldn't be the only way, but it would be a meaningful way to communicate that you want to be with her exclusively and feel no less in that regard than people who go through another sort of legal procedure.
posted by PY at 3:31 PM on January 30, 2009


You said you've talked about not wanting to get married enough, but if she's upset and you're at a loss as to how to help, you haven't talked enough. She's rethinking the magnitude of the compromise she supposedly agreed to before by saying she didn't want to be married, and you're still thinking it's a settled topic. It's not. People change in relationships and you only have a good relationship if you can handle changes together.

As others have said, you need to figure out if she wants the party, the public declaration, the status, whatever. You need to decide as a couple how to meet her needs and your values at the same time. Maybe you can't, but you need to try harder than just "cheering her up" and helping her get over the idea of being married.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:35 PM on January 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


As a little background, I am a woman in my late thirties, do not believe in marriage, and I'm in a loving, committed 14-year relationship with my SO. Initially, I said no kids, whereas he liked the idea but said he was willing to forgo them to stay with me. Luckily for him, I changed my mind a couple of years ago, so we have a 1.5yr old son and another baby on the way. I still haven't changed my mind about marriage, he has always been less hardcore on that issue than me, and would have no objections to getting married if I wanted it, but is perfectly happy being unmarried. We are both secure in the knowledge that we love each other and are totally committed. I just wanted to give you some perspective on my background to this answer.

So that out the way, I can't know where your girlfriends mind is on the marriage issue, but I think you need to find out. Even if she is willing to forgo the marriage ceremony itself, perhaps she is feeling the need for some sort of commitment from you. Perhaps that is in the form of plans to buy a house together? We bought a house as soon as we could realistically afford one, and we always joke that getting a divorce is way easier than splitting up assets like a house.

You need to discuss with her how she feels about the marriage issue now. When she said she was OK with not getting married, that might have been true at the time, but people's minds change (like mine did, over kids). People grow, and if you two are going to stay together for life, regardless of a marriage certificate and ceremony, then you are going to have to deal with issues like this from time to time. Compromises are always going to be made to keep a relationship working. I agree with others that the kids issue could very well rear its head in the future too. Jobs, where to live, family, all these things will inevitably require one or both of you to compromise to keep the relationship working.

To be blunt, I don't think this is as simple as cheering her up. I think you need to have a long talk about where you both stand on the issue, and make sure that you are both still heading down the same road. You need to make sure she is not telling you what you want to hear, for fear that you will leave her. Worst case, you might need to consider the idea of getting married in order to keep your relationship. Best case, she really is OK with the idea of staying unmarried, but is just feeling emotional pressure from all the weddings, and you two can go on holiday somewhere in order to escape it all.
posted by Joh at 3:38 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ignore all the bullshit above. If you don't have the cash, max out a credit card and take her to Paris or high in the Swiss Alps. That will make her feel better. Worked for me, bought me a couple of years until I was man enough to marry her (also scared shitless that she was going to leave me). She is my wife, she is my life.
posted by repoman at 3:39 PM on January 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I've been very fortunate that my girlfriend has been understanding of my views on marriage and taken them in stride for nearly 11 years now. However, 'round about year nine she started to express some need for... something. A ceremony, a token. I got her a ring for our 10th anniversary and that seems to have released some of the pressure she was feeling.

Bear in mind, however, that women may feel the social pressures of unmarried life more keenly than you or I do.
posted by lekvar at 3:39 PM on January 30, 2009


I think your reasons for not wanting marriage are actually really important here. You're going to have to do some soul-searching.

People will tell their partners things and overlook contentious issues all the time, because they don't want to make an issue of it and hope that it'll become a non-issue in the future.
In this case, your partner says she doesn't want kids and is OK with not getting married for you- but now she's feeling bummed out.

She really seems to want marriage. What if she wants kids later? It's all fine and dandy to stand by your beliefs- no kids, no marriage- but it's unfair to her if she stays in the relationship hoping you'll change, while time goes by. If she wants to get married, she should be with someone who wants to marry her: If she decides to have kids, she deserves to be with someone who wants to have kids with her.
As I said, you'll have to go through a lot of soul-searching here.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:43 PM on January 30, 2009


I agree that the reason why you are against marriage is key to really being able to answer this question. You title the post "The piece of paper that shows you care," but it's actually true; that piece of paper does show that you care because it provides a significant amount of protection. Beyond all of the romantic BS, marriage is largely about financial security and protecting the person that you love from being left out in the cold in the event of your death or disability. What exactly does being in a long term relationship that's not a marriage mean to you? What does it mean to your girlfriend? There are many good reasons to be afraid or "meh" or even hostile towards the idea of marriage; however, there are also many reasons to desire marriage.

If you don't marry, would you instead make her the beneficiary on your IRA, checking account, savings account, life insurance policy, pension, 401(k), etc.? Will you execute health care proxies so that you can make medical decisions for each other in the event that you cannot decide for yourselves? Will you create wills so that your property passes to her upon your death? Does the idea of executing these documents seem bizarre or a good solution? If it seems bizarre, why? Is it the financial ties that bother you? The idea of "forever"? Fear of divorce? Loss of autonomy? Fear of commitment?

My advice is simply to really articulate your reasons for not wanting to marry, and for your girlfriend to really articulate exactly what is bothering her. If all she wants is a white dress and cake, then you can probably figure out a compromise. If all she wants is some outward sign of commitment, then you can buy a piece of jewelry or whatever as a symbol. If all she wants is some peace-of-mind financial security, then you can do some of the things I mentioned above and create some elements of marriage contractually. If she wants that hard-to-articulate thing that is uniquely "marriage," however, you may be in trouble.
posted by gatorae at 3:45 PM on January 30, 2009 [10 favorites]


First of all, marriage just isn't right for some people. There are some old family friends, whom I've known all my life, who have never gotten married and never will. There's no lack of commitment and love in their relationship; they simply never felt the need or desire to get hitched.

But having said that, I can very clearly remember being in my early 20s and saying exactly what you wrote here about not believing in marriage, and yup, I made my then-girlfriend cry, too.

In my case, I eventually figured out that what I was really trying to say was that I didn't believe in getting married to her. It wasn't the right relationship for me, but I didn't have the self-awareness or confidence to just say so, but subconsciously I wasn't allowing myself to get married to her, either. It wasn't about marriage in general -- it was about that (potential) marriage in specific.

Your situation is clearly not the same as my old family friends, because your girlfriend has definitely stated that she is not 100% happy with the current situation. You need to find a way to reflect about your opposition to marriage -- why, and based on what? What would ever let you compromise on that? Children? Legal marriage rights for your gay friends? A $100,000 wedding gift from your rich uncle? A happy partner? Nothing?

There are definitely principles that are worth defending at all costs. In this case, I suspect you will need to decide whether or not your girlfriend's happiness (and potentially, staying with her) is a cost you are willing to pay for this principle.
posted by Forktine at 3:46 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


i would give her a faux(?)-proposal, where the end result captures that you love her and want to spend the rest of your life with her.

whoah. Be very careful with this. I can see many scenarios where a grand romantic gesture is misinterpreted, and then you have to backtrack over a place where feelings are already really tender.

A buddy of mine once unthinkingly gave his girlfriend a ring as a gift, just a gift, and she was hoping for a proposal. It caused many avoidable tears. Don't be that guy.

I don't think "how can I cheer her up?" is really the right question. I think you ought to be asking "are we indeed in agreement on never getting married, or is this something we need to talk about more?"
posted by ambrosia at 3:48 PM on January 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


she likes the idea of marriage but is willing to pass it up to be with me

So are you willing to pass up non-marriage to be with her?
posted by kindall at 3:52 PM on January 30, 2009 [11 favorites]


There's something incredibly moving about seeing the *public* expression of love and vulnerability between a couple at their wedding.

This reminds me of Billy Bob Thornton eating the prenup in Intolerable Cruelty. Incredibly moving, indeed.

The thing is - if you're not married, you can swear up and down all day long that you're totally committed, but the fact is that there is a legal commitment that, without marriage (or, in some situations, a civil union) you simply have not committed to. Which is fine if you do not want to commit to it. But with marriage or, in some states, civil union, there come certain commitments that some people think are important, including provisions for what happens to children in the event of the death of one parent, provisions for what happens if one partner dies without a valid will, and numerous other provisions. You know all those "rights" that same-sex couples have been fighting for? Without committing to marriage (or, in some situations, a civil union), a couple does not have those.

Again, if it's the legal commitment she wants and it's the legal commitment that you're opposed to, you have an irreconcilable difference. "Irreconcilable difference" should have a certain familiar ring to it.
posted by The World Famous at 3:53 PM on January 30, 2009


There is a phenomenon commonly known as "the Panic Years" that hits women in this situation in her age range. You might point her to this web site so she sees she's not alone.

Before I got married, I got so resentful that a couple of times I cried (quietly, in envy and self-pity) at others' weddings when, you know, I was supposed to be busy being maid of honor. But I couldn't enjoy it, because I thought my friends were more "valued" by their partners than I was by mine.

I finally told my boyfriend to marry me or I was moving out. We married. It ended badly. Both partners MUST agree to be married or it won't work, period.

That said, how would you feel if she left you because of this? Just wondering. I know that's not what you asked. Would you be able to live without her? Just food for thought.

Explain to her, calmly and rationally, that her life is not in competition with her friends. They are not better than her because they are getting married. Many of them will end in divorce. (This is not snark, it is fact, based on current divorce statistics).

Can't you give her a commitment ring that isn't an engagement ring or a wedding ring, and also wear one yourself? This gives strangers the illusion of marriage, staves off her being hit on by skeevy men in bars, and gives you both something to look at and remember you are a committed couple.

That said, if you live together long-term, receive mail and bills in both your names, etc., in the eyes of the law, you ARE married. This would be a year in most states. You might also remind her of that. And if that bothers you, THEN there is probably a deeper issue you need to address with yourself, which I already mentioned above.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:57 PM on January 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Are you serious about this, or do you just want to make some kind of a show to appease your chick?

Why don't you tell her "Since we're going to be together forever anyways, why don't we consolidate our finances". I'm *guessing* you haven't.

I would say "buy a house", but come on...besides not knowing anything about real estate, and your finances...

Also, why don't you buy her a big ass ring thats worth 3 (THREE) months of your salary. Then tell her "My commitment to you is 150% of other dudes that get married". That should warm her right up.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:59 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cheer her up with a nice piece of jewelry. (Not a ring.) Then say this:

"I know it sounds like a cliché, but the reason I don't want to get married is because I'm afraid of commitment -- for now. This doesn't mean that I don't love you or that I'm holding out for something better; rather it's because I'm scared of growing up and the responsibilities I fear that entails. But I suspect my views will change as I mature. And if you can just give me some time, I think I can be worthy of marriage someday."

Time changes everyone. Almost every 20-something man (and woman) I've ever met who didn't "believe" in marriage, and was dead-set against having kids, is now in their 30s (and 40s) married and with children. From the snarkiest dead-baby-joke-telling dude, to the most damaged child of divorce, to the butchest lesbian.

(However, I do know one fun-lovin' couple who waited too long. Entirely the guy's fault, and totally pathetic. So if you don't mature by 33 or so, please do the universe a favor and cut your partner loose so that she can have babies with someone who wants them.)
posted by turducken at 4:00 PM on January 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


When my man didn't want to marry me, and I didn't want to leave him, but my heart ached to have a husband rather than just a boyfriend, I tried to "unpack" what marriage meant to me. Then I came up with a list of the things that distilled what was important to me about marriage with out the specific word. I had a list of things including, health power of attorney, planning a trip together, and coming up with a word better than "boyfriend" to use to refer to him. In the end, he ended up choosing the "off the shelf turn-key solution" of marriage, but it was a very helpful exercise to be specific in what I wanted besides just "to be married"

You both need to decide what *specifically* she needs and you object to. Only then will you be able to either craft your own personalized solution that will give her what you both need. Otherwise you'll be locked in the battle of "if you loved me enough you'd marry me" vs. "if you loved me enough you wouldn't need to marry me"
posted by dipolemoment at 4:03 PM on January 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


Firstly, fuck that pointless judgemental noise. My SO and I went through the rash of weddings among our peers, some of which have led to happy marriages, some to separations, and some to total shams. We've never felt the urge to get married or have kids. I gather your question title is facetious, but let me confirm that that piece of paper has bugger all to do with how much you care.

That said, we have a lasting, even legal commitment to each other in that we own a house together. I think the big-sign-of-commitment box was ticked when we did that.... not to mention the fact that we're a legal couple de facto, if not de jure.

Anyway, my answer is basically to work out what, in the big traditional-marriage-expectations basket, is being missed here, apart from that piece of paper. So firstly, ask her, not us. Is it a big party with your peers and relatives acknowledging your relationship that she's missing? If so, that could be arranged. Is it a big commitment thing? The cost of a wedding could be a big chunk of a house downpayment. Is it romance? Take her to a tropical island somewhere for a few weeks and treat her like a princess.

That last one's always going to be a good idea anyway....
posted by pompomtom at 4:04 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe not for you, but for her being married means something different than living together.

Essentially, you are satisfied with what you have. She is not. She thought she could be, but she can't. Since she really, truly wants marriage and you do not, then you should consider ending the relationship.

Not every relationship is meant to last a lifetime. What you are willing to offer isn't enough for her.
posted by 26.2 at 4:14 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm a little dumbstruck as I read some of the responses here. I guess I wonder why we have to reinvent the wheel. Societies in diverse cultures and times have settled on a method to say you that you really, truly are committed to another person, for life, come what may. This method is called marriage. In order to encourage the formation of said bonds, governments offer all kinds of incentives for people to enter into this legally committed state of being. I really can't get my head around why a person would follow some of the advice above and

- exchange vows
- have a celebration for friends and family
- buy an expensive token of commitment (whether it's a ring, a vacation, etc)
- go on a trip together to celebrate commitment

and then not go all the way and actually enjoy the legal benefits of marriage. And I also can't get my head around why two people who are really, honestly, totally committed to one another, for life, wouldn't enter into marriage together. I guess this is one of those areas where I'm "old-fashioned", but I can't imagine being with someone that I KNOW I want to spend the rest of my life with and not want to cement it with a formal declaration in front of friends and family that entitles me to all sorts of extra societal perks.

I really am curious (honestly, not in a snarky way) for the reasons why people do not want to get married when they KNOW FOR SURE that they want to spend the rest of their lives with a person. I can totally understand not wanting to marry if you aren't sure about the long term prospects of the relationship, but if you are "sure" (as the OP is) then what are the reasons for not marrying, if only for the legal benefits?
posted by sherlockt at 4:14 PM on January 30, 2009


Not wanting to marry someone = not wanting to be legally committed to the relationship. Whatever your actual objections to marriage as a concept are, by refusing to marry as a matter of principle, you are refusing to allow your relationship with anyone to rise to the level of being committed as a matter of law. [...] If it's being committed to the relationship to the extent that you're willing to be bound by law that you object to, then I recommend that you end the relationship sooner rather than later.

While it's true that marriage is indeed a legal commitment to a relationship, it is also other things. It's a change in name; a new set of titles; a distinct step in life; and a social and religious institution which has existed for thousands of years.

I'll be honest and say I'm not an expert in arguments against marriage, but when I look at the criticism of marriage wikipedia entry I see Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Germaine Greer, Andrea Dworkin.

I'm a pretty awesome dude, but until I have a wikipedia entry with a section entitled "Mike1024 as a public intellectual", you'll forgive me if I at least consider that there might be something to their arguments.
posted by Mike1024 at 4:14 PM on January 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think you need to ask yourself something.

Are you being a dick?

Me, I hate the thought of getting married. Scares me. So vulnerable, so public, so grown-up.

I hate the thought off publicly stating my commitment to my deeply wonderful and amazing girlfriend. The idea of standing in a room of my friends and declaring my love for the woman who rocks my world and is the mother of my precious daughter fills me with dread. The legal and societal pressures that come with marriage weigh down on me so that I can't breathe and I am lucky to have such a thoughtful and understanding soul-mate who sees this and does not force the issue.

The day she tells me it's marriage or the end of us is the day I get fitted out in the penguin suit and book the church.

Because there's being the type of dick who does not want to get married and there's being the type of dick who fucks up their entire life over a "piece of paper".
posted by fullerine at 4:21 PM on January 30, 2009 [32 favorites]


so, i would give her a faux(?)-proposal, where the end result captures that you love her and want to spend the rest of your life with her.

If this issue is about keeping up with the things her friends are doing, just wait until she has to tell them that she got faux-engaged. Nobody jumps up and down and screams for you until it's the real thing. Other people NEED a "Proposal" and a "Wedding" and a "Marriage" to feel extra happy about your relationship; society seems to demand it. I can't imagine any of the faux-celebrations are going to solve the wedding problem in your social circle, because a faux-celebration is not a wedding and everybody knows it, and you better believe they'll let you know it (some in less than polite ways, for which I apologize in advance; in their defense, people have a hard time dealing with things they don't understand, and it will be hard for some to understand why you'd do fake versions of the real thing).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:23 PM on January 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


As others have said, a lot depends on your reasons - and also on understanding that if you're in this for the long haul, marriage or not, you're both going to go through some changes in your long-term goals. You'll need to be prepared to talk about that sometimes and not assume that what your partner agreed to years ago is still working for her now.

A data point... I don't believe in marriage. Neither does my partner. We've been together for 9 years, lived together for 5-ish, owned a house for 3-ish. My family is totally supportive and I've got no one pushing me toward marriage except my hairdresser. And it was still weirdly difficult for me in those couple of years where suddenly all my friends started getting married and having babies at once. I didn't want that, I had never wanted that... but for a while there, I wanted someone to want to marry me. I don't have a clue what I would have said had he actually proposed; I didn't really want the wedding or the marriage or the babies, but there was a weird longing there. I didn't understand the feeling then and I don't now, but it was there for a while. I rode it out and don't feel even a twinge of that now.

Which is not to say your girlfriend will get over it - she may very legitimately have changed her mind for good, or be in the process of making that change. But I don't think either of you need to immediately throw everything away, either.

Can you stick it out together for a while, take extra care to be good to each other, maybe do some counseling, talk about your shared long-term goals, get through the next few months, and see how it goes?
posted by Stacey at 4:23 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm going to echo everyone who said that you want to unpack just what you mean by "I don't believe in marriage."

- Would you be willing to lose her to stick to your principles? How would you feel about this?

- Are you willing to entwine your life with hers in other ways (putting her on the title to the house if you own one, giving her power of attorney, making her the main beneficiary of your will, and so on)? Will you stay with her when she's not young anymore? If she gets cancer and has to have a mastectomy? Etc.

- Finally, do you just not want to get married to her? If this is the case, best admit it and brace yourself to be TMF who is DA. I have to say that in my experience, many people who "don't believe in marriage," who have "principles," blah blah blah, change their minds when they meet someone they really DO want to marry. Often to the dismay of the person (not always the woman, either!) who is dumped - their ex-partner DID believe in marriage after all, just not with THEM.

I recall reading a story about a partner of a man killed in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. She was not married to him, so she didn't get death benefits...and squalled to high heaven about not getting said benefits, because "we didn't need that piece of paper." It depends on what country you live in but "that piece of paper" can offer very tangible benefits if something goes wrong.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:26 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The hard reality of it is that if she truly wants to marry, have kids, etc, nothing you do or say will convince her to stay with you if you don't want any of those things for yourself. To some people, those are very important life moments that they wish to experience, and there is nothing wrong with that. She may want marriage just as much as you don't want it, and that's a very big sticking point in your relationship that won't just go away.
posted by scarello at 4:34 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who was like you. Late-20s, adored his girlfriend, girlfriend wanted to get married, he "did not believe in marriage." Finally, he started to come around. But by then she had already checked out of the relationship and soon left him, and married her new boyfriend almost immediately. Friend is now convinced he lost the love of his life because he "did not believe in marriage." I'm not so sure. But it's a data point.
posted by footnote at 4:37 PM on January 30, 2009


Not wanting to marry someone = not wanting to be legally committed to the relationship. Whatever your actual objections to marriage as a concept are, by refusing to marry as a matter of principle, you are refusing to allow your relationship with anyone to rise to the level of being committed as a matter of law. [...] If it's being committed to the relationship to the extent that you're willing to be bound by law that you object to, then I recommend that you end the relationship sooner rather than later.

This is the correct answer. This thread made me so angry. I can't believe how many people don't get it. Sanctity of marriage my ass. Have you people even THOUGHT about one day having to take your partner to the hospital and making decisions about their life and health?

Fuck straight-privilege.
posted by Craig at 4:42 PM on January 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


just to clarify, i call it a faux-proposal, because it's not a marriage proposal.

to me, faux-proposal is just the idea of confessing your love at one specific time. believe me, i wasn't suggesting getting down on one knee with a ring, or anything like that. i don't think she has to say she got faux-engaged.

based on OP it seems that the gesture is what is missing, if we are to take his GF literally. so, the gesture is what i am suggesting. so, if that means that she loves orange balloons, that he gathers all the orange balloons he sees and presents it to her in some way, then i would suggest it.
posted by alice ayres at 4:46 PM on January 30, 2009


You say that she said she wanted marriage, but would forgo this for you. You also say you don't want kids. You never mention how she feels about this one. Is she: A) just as enthusiastic about a child-free life as you are; or B) is this also something she has agreed to sacrifice for you?

Cause, I think that the issue over having kids is WAY bigger than the marriage issue. For both your sakes, I hope that the answer is 'A', cause you're both grown ups and can figure out the marriage issue. Lots of good advice in here on that one.

You mention that two of the couples in your circle are already pregnant. How is your SO reacting to the pregnancies?

If you're both on the same page with not wanting kids, GREAT!! But, if not, then this is really the issue you two need to work on.
posted by marsha56 at 4:46 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


i'm only sort of joking when i suggest that you get her name tattooed on yourself. it'll last longer then many marriages.
posted by genmonster at 4:49 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


You say all this stuff about loving this girl, and for whatever reason you don't "believe"* in marriage, but what exactly do you believe?

Do you believe you can love this woman for the rest of your life? Do you believe you want to be committed to her for the rest of your life?

Look, a lot of get that marriage is a social construct. In someways it's a very barbaric tradition what the with father "giving away" his daughter like so much chattel... but a lot of people, non-traditional types even, still see the value of making a legally binding contractual commitment the person they love. Maybe that means they do it at a justice of the peace... or whatever.

The point is, it sounds like there is very little difference between you, as someone who doesn't "believe" in marriage, and anyone else out there who isn't ready or isn't looking for marriage this week, year, or decade...

The significance of this is that your girlfriend is much more open to the idea than you are. And where there is an opening, even a crack, there is the chance that that opening may grow in size over time to the point where she wants to be married and realizes she is with someone who, no matter how much she loves you, won't ever commit to that with her.

It sounds like that is what is already happening. She is seeing her friends married off, starting that new chapter in adult life, joint bank accounts, mortgages, babies... and she's looking at you and probably thinking, "Whoa... that's not going ever happen with this guy."

If your gf were writing this AskMe, explaining to us her sadness that her SO doesn't "believe" in marriage, this would be nothing but about 100 DTMFA answers.

So in a way it's a strange reversal we're seeing. You can try and hang on to her as long as possible, but this type of difference (one person desiring of marriage, the other not) is probably one of the top five things that ends long term grown-up relationships.

In other words, re-evaluate your thinking about her and about marriage, or don't be surprised if you come home one day and she's there with a box of Kleenex in her lap giving you that, "We need to talk," look.

* You say you don't "believe" in marriage, but I assure you that as a phenomena it is real. What you mean to say is that you're opposed to marriage.
posted by wfrgms at 5:04 PM on January 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


There is a lot more to marriage than having a wedding. There are legal obligations and responsibilities, there are familial obligations, there is a societal standing that comes with being a married couple that can't realistically be approximated by a "committment ceremony". Thus the importance of legalizing marriage for EVERYONE.

I heard a lot about what you want and what your beliefs are and I heard that she doesn't share those beliefs. Trying to find a way to cheer her up in a situation where she is not ever going to be able to satisfy her desire for marriage and all it entails is a bit short sighted. Maybe you can get another couple years of commitment out of her, but she is the only one compromising here and she will eventually (hopefully, and I don't mean this as a slight to you) be in a place where she understands that her desires are of equal value to her partner's and she will need to find a partner that shares a common vision for a life together. It doesn't sound like it will be you at this point.

You are now in your late twenties. People can compromise a LOT for their partners and it is not always a great situation. What seemed feasible in her mid to late twenties will weigh more and more heavily upon her as time goes by and she is watching her life go by without working towards fulfilling her own life vision. It can't just be about what you want. It won't be a happy ending that way. That means that either you work together to find a compromise or you go find partners that are a better fit. That's perfectly okay. You are not meant to spend the rest of your life with everyone you have a relationship with. That's what dating is for.

I don't know about you, but at the end of my life with my husband, I want to look back on what I gave to him, not what I kept from him.
posted by Edubya at 5:09 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was the woman who didn't want to get married. Our friends were shocked when he proposed and I accepted. But we were buying a house together, and it was clear to me that if I was willing to get into a 30-year legal contract with the man, I might as well make the other contract too, particularly given all the other legal ramifications. We celebrate our 9th anniversary on April Fool's and I've never looked back.

So, nthing that "examine why you don't want to get married" and "find out what she wants from marriage" and consider what would happen if something happened to either one of you (financially, healthwise, whatever). If you still don't want to get married, it's probably time to split.

Also, separately, marriage doesn't inevitably lead to children. I know a number of very happily married and very childfree couples. While obviously there's a concern about giving in on one issue leading to giving in on the other, they don't necessarily follow. If your secret fear is that she'll get baby lust and leave you because you won't have kids, you need to sort that out before you consider marriage, and again, if you decide you can't marry, that's a sign you should leave.
posted by immlass at 5:11 PM on January 30, 2009


I vehemently disagree with the folks suggesting a pseudo-marriage ceremony. That would have pissed me off to no end, because I'd feel that I'm not good enough for the real thing, and I'd have to constantly explain to people why we're not "really" married. I think you stand a good chance of her leaving you if you do a faux proposal or pseudo-ceremony. It makes zero sense to go through the whole dog-and-pony show without signing the piece of paper. If it's just a piece of paper, what difference does it make to add that to the ceremony you're doing anyway?

Disclaimer: I got married four months ago, after being together for four years (3 of those living together). Of course I didn't care about him any less before we were married, and for damn sure that wasn't the case with him. HOWEVER, having that permanency did change my perspective. when we argue, we have much more incentive to figure it out, because we're "stuck." It's not about the legal/financial difficulties of walking away, it's that we made a formal commitment that genuinely means something. You may be certain that your commitment means something, but if she's doubting it, it really doesn't mean anything. Marriage made it absolutely clear to us and to everyone that we are committed for life. (Plus we got a huge discount on insurance and all that fun stuff.)

I don't understand the "I don't believe in marriage" stuff. It's like saying "I don't believe in chairs." Marriage EXISTS, even if you don't want it for yourself. It's not Bigfoot. Just say "I don't want to get married," not "I don't believe in it."
posted by desjardins at 5:30 PM on January 30, 2009 [10 favorites]


You can't cheer her up. The awful truth, that you're a guy who values his principles more than you love her, is not something you can "cheer her up" from.

If marriage is just a "piece of paper," what does it cost you to get married to her? Marry her, put it in a drawer, and forget about it. You're so in love with the idea of "sticking to your principles" that you don't seem to realize that it makes no sense to deny her something she values deeply so that you won't have to do something that means nothing to you. Does that make sense?

It is as if you believe your integrity is so fragile that it will be destroyed by giving her this thing she wants which costs you nothing real. You will no longer be the edgy nonconformist. You'll be like all those squares with their boring normal married lives. I hope this isn't really how you feel, because it is a horribly petty, immature, childish way to conduct your life.

You would actually be showing depth and maturity to let her have this thing she wants, especially since it means nothing to you.
posted by jayder at 5:32 PM on January 30, 2009 [18 favorites]


Women & children were once viewed as property. Marriage is merely the one bastion of slavery that has survived today, largely thanks to jealousy. But marriage simply serves no discernible function in modern society. If she's clever, she'll figure this out. I'd hope before friends start getting divorced. If not, then she's only after her mom's life checklist.

Are you sure she's cool about no kids? Are you sure about your reasons? Unlike marriage, parenthood is a real issue of substance and biological imperatives. I'd say talk about about marriage more, but really focus on the kids issue.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:35 PM on January 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


If it's just a piece of paper, what difference does it make to add that to the ceremony you're doing anyway?

Some people object to marriage because it's the way that government bestows privileges to coupled heterosexuals that single people, or people in, say, polygamous or homosexual relationships don't get. Theoretically, I agree with this--as adults, we should be able to form relationships with the legal and financial advantages of marriage with people we're not schtupping. Practically, though, I think it makes more sense to take advantage of the benefits that exist within the system instead of asking for a complete overhaul of the way our society and government functions. But anyway, if OP's objections are something along that line of thinking, he might feel fine celebrating his relationship and commitment with his girlie, without letting the government get involved.

Those who are kvetching about the phrase "I don't believe in marriage", come on. It's pretty obvious shorthand for "I don't believe in getting married myself" or, possibly, "I disagree with marriage as an institution."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:46 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree with desjardins. To borrow from a previous AskMe, don't have a pseudo-ceremony that just underlines how much you don't want to marry her.

NB: I'm aware I'm bringing some baggage to this question, having dated an ex who 'didn't believe in marriage' until he traded me in for a younger model.

My heart goes out to you both.
posted by Space Kitty at 5:59 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


This probably sounds crazy, but:

I've always thought it would be romantic to just mutually and privately declare yourselves married. Just while you're laying together in bed or whatever. At its core, it's none of the business of a priest or a judge, it's an intimately private dedication to each other that is between the two of you alone.

Then, later, perhaps even the next day, if she wants the legal protections that are often associated with marriage, just go down to the judge and get the piece of paper that you think is meaningless. It will make your wife happy.

And if you want some kind of public spectacle demonstrating your commitment to each other, invite your friends and family and have a big party. Get all dressed up. Exchange vows. Dance. Have a cake. Get a priest to officiate if that's your bag.

But all of that - the piece of paper and the party alike - is just window dressing. To the two of you, in your hearts, you were married ever since that moment, lying in bed together, when the two of you decided that you were married.

Perhaps something along those lines might be acceptable to both of you.
posted by Flunkie at 5:59 PM on January 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


Whoa, link fail. "How much you don't want to marry her" should go here.
posted by Space Kitty at 6:01 PM on January 30, 2009


I'm kind of shocked by the chorus of responses along the lines of "you should marry her because that's what she wants, and if you care about her feelings and you're not a big jerk, you'll put aside your abstract principles and do this thing for her."

Don't do this. If you don't want to get married, don't get married. As long as you're honest with her, and recognize that this issue will probably be the end of your relationship, and don't try to be manipulate or weird about it (faux ceremonies? Really?) then you're holding up your end of the relationship. Nobody owes anyone else a marriage.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 6:06 PM on January 30, 2009 [9 favorites]


Marriage is not just a piece of paper.

The big commitment party idea addresses the social aspect of marriage. That's important to some people. It's probably important to her. If it is, then go rent a tux even though it makes you burn inside, have a ceremony, throw a party, and forgo the piece of paper. But maybe you should get her a ring. And then she can get you one. And then remember the date of that ceremony, and treat it as a special date to be remembered and cherished. That's nice, right? Right.

For some people, there is a religious aspect to marriage. It's not always the case, and certainly not a requirement. You probably would have mentioned it if religion were a factor. So let's not dwell on that.

Then there is the legal aspect. Being married gives you all sorts of special privileges and obligations when it comes to things like insurance, power of attorney, taxes, and so forth. If you really love her, and your only objection to marriage is that it's a stupid institution you don't want to support, and you truly want to live the rest of your life with this person, go with her and pay an attorney lots of money to draw up whatever documents are necessary to give you as many of the rights, privileges, and obligations of marriage that you can have without actually being married. And also include a roadmap for the dissolution of those rights and privileges and obligations, should either of you wish to do that.

Problem solved, except that no lawyer can get two unmarried people all the same rights, privileges, and obligations of marriage. If those particular rights, privileges, and obligations are important to you or her, then you should probably stop being a baby about it and get married.

If it turns out that both the social and legal aspects are important to her, you should probably go ahead and get married rather than fake a ceremony with no legal power before proceeding to make a legal agreement with no ceremony. That, or realize that you want incompatible things and go your separate ways.
posted by Nonce at 6:08 PM on January 30, 2009


You say you don't want to turn this into a debate on marriage, but it's hard to respond without knowing your specific objection. But even so, I find your instransigent position childish. It sounds an awful lot like an ultimatum and I warn you that people have a bad habit of calling ultimatums.

When mr nax and I were first together, it never occurred to us to get married. We felt married, we acted married, we both knew we were in a life commitment. But there is something very compelling about taking that legal step. It's the closest thing to jumping off a cliff that our society offers; to pledge yourself "in front of God and witnesses" not to mention the full force and power of the United States, that you will love this person til you die. It is a profound act of faith.

In our 9th year together we got married. No one compromised any principals; no one set down any rules at the beginning middle or end. No one pressured us, although the joy of our friends public commitments certainly contributed to our decision. Marriage did not change our philosophy and make us any more or less broadminded. I would happily have had children outside wedlock. We had been together so long, my F-in law thought we were already married. (That was a hilarious conversation.) This was 26 years ago.

To make such a life-limiting pronouncement at such a young age, moreover one that also limits a loved one's life, is selfish and short sighted.

Plus, what craig said.
posted by nax at 6:08 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Echoing the people that would like more information about why you're opposed to marriage, because a lot of reasons are better put aside if that what it takes. If my husband wanted to have a 100-person tea party with elephants and red centerpieces, and it was seriously making him sad that I wouldn't do it because I didn't see the point, I would be a dick to prolong his misery on some abstract intellectual principle. I would find out where to rent elephants.

My husband didn't quite see the point in getting married because he didn't feel it "changed" anything... which is precisely why he just went ahead and did it, because he knew it was important to me.

Now, as it turns out, my husband and I both objected to having any sort of religious wedding. So we didn't; we got married at the courthouse. Also, as it turns out, we both thought getting married was more of a private thing, and not something to be done in front of a bunch of people, so no one except my brother-in-law was present (as our witness).

But if he was the religious type and wanted a religious wedding, it would have been nothing to me -- an atheist -- to go say the words because they don't mean anything to me, and he does mean something to me. If he had wanted a huge public show of affection and would have been miserable without it, I could have endured it. It's only one day, after all.

If he didn't want the legal entanglement, we could have worked out a lot of alternative solutions.

In other words, a whole lot of objections can either be worked around or ultimately probably shouldn't matter so much that you're willing to make your girlfriend sad. Maybe there are exceptions, but we can't know that if you don't explain your objection. If you explain your objection, we could possibly be more helpful.
posted by Nattie at 6:15 PM on January 30, 2009


Have you considered that weddings can be fun? And you'll get a bunch of presents? You like parties, right?
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 6:32 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Have you people even THOUGHT about one day having to take your partner to the hospital and making decisions about their life and health?

Not only have I THOUGHT about it, I DID it -- three weeks after we moved in together. What's your point?
posted by scody at 6:48 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't believe in marriage either. Until I met the girl I'm now marrying.
posted by ryecatcher at 6:51 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Regarding what DWRoelands said:

Um, no. That conclusion assumes marriage symbolizes the perfection of all three ideals, and well, it isn't.

This is such an appeal to emotion, it's appalling.

If a woman leaves a man she supposedly loves because he won't marry her, then she really didn't love him in the first place. That's a woman who's in love with being married, not the man.

A social construct is still a social construct. This thread, all of it, exposes what's wrong with us, not him.

Absolute—utter—sophistry. Unbelievable.
posted by trotter at 7:04 PM on January 30, 2009 [16 favorites]


As to whether marriage means anything, this was a great comment laying out the significant benefits that married people get under U.S. law, including perhaps most critically (as some have said upthread) the right to make decisions about your spouse if he/she is incapacitated.
posted by chinston at 7:26 PM on January 30, 2009


A very good friend of mine is friends with this couple. They are in their early 30s I believe and have been together for a long time, something like 5 or 6 years. The guy had no interest in ever getting married or having kids. He came from a really messed up family, had watched his parents marriage self destruct and had ended up practically raising his younger siblings. But he was very committed to his girlfriend, they lived together and all that. While she was interested in getting married, she understood it was never going to happen for reasons that had nothing to do with her and had accepted it. For all intents and purposes they were quite happy together.

Then one day he surprised her with a small wedding on the beach where they lived. All their friends were in on it. It wasn't particularly traditional or fancy, but apparently it was wonderful.

When people asked him why he did it, what had changed his mind, he said he did it for her. He said he finally realized that getting married wasn't just about whether he wanted the piece of paper and the rings and the labels, it was also about what she wanted. And that this was something he wanted to do for her. His opinion of marriage as a whole hadn't really changed, but he realized it really didn't matter what he thought about the institution of marriage. The point was what marriage meant to her, not him.
posted by whoaali at 7:28 PM on January 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think the only thing that will satisfy her (not cheer her up) is to step up your level of commitment. Is there a way that you can increase your commitment without impinging on what's important to you?
posted by pauldonato at 7:43 PM on January 30, 2009


I never wanted to get married, still don't want kids. Always been upfront about both. I'm a woman.

Seeing how happy my wearing a ring when we're out and about makes my boy is enough to keep me doing it, and at the end of the day I don't give a flying flip that I've violated a principal I set out for myself when I was 12. So there you have it.

You are picking a commitment to a abstract social defiance over a commitment to her. You aren't going to be able to get around that, but you sure can make the both of you miserable trying.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 8:05 PM on January 30, 2009


Flunkie makes a very important point. My boy and I have been together for almost 11 years. He's neutral on the subject of marriage and I've traditionally been skiddish to say the least. I'm a pretty hardcore feminist and I've got massive issues with the social and cultural marriage baggage. I just couldn't imagine myself in that situation going through with that semi-farcical (to me) procedure.

About four years ago (after college, around the time of a cross country move), something sort of changed. We went from serious and totally committed to something different and rather more. We talked about it, about the life we were planning together. We made financial commitments and long term plans. And at about that time, something kind of clicked inside us. He didn't just feel like my boyfriend anymore, he felt like my partner. For lack of a better word, we started to feel married. Our lives changed and our commitment to each other changed and deepened; we felt more secure in each other. We didn't need a ceremony to make that happen and I can't say whether a wedding would have made that same feeling click in or not.

A little more than a year ago, after tons of talking and pro and con listing, we decided we did want to have an actual wedding. It's a good excuse to have a hell of a party and to celebrate our partnership and how much we love each other with all of our favorite people around us. Everything we're planning is just about as nontraditional as you can imagine. Has the decision to have a wedding gotten rid of my misgivings about the baggage the institution carries? No, absolutely not. It's just much less important now. I love this man, and what we want marriage to mean to us has become more important than all that creepy cultural marriage baggage.

My point is that only you know whether you feel that rest of your life thing with your girlfriend. If you don't, maybe you need to let her go. If you do, you need to find ways to let her know that. Clearly, I don't believe a wedding is the only way to share that feeling. But what I do know is that the security, the home feeling, of knowing that you're entering into a forever partnership with someone is beautiful and incomparable and it isn't wrong to want it.
posted by mostlymartha at 8:08 PM on January 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm a girl. I never had an interest in marriage either. My SO and I have been together for over six years and own a house together and we're keeping each other, no question. He does not share my issues with the legality of marriage. I'm with mostlymartha, here, basically. Stuff that has helped me and Mr. Desuetude:

He can call me his wife without even an tiny eyebrow from me, let alone an objection. I call him my boyfriend, my SO, my partner, or my husband, depending on the situation and my mood. It took me a few tries to not giggle when he called me his wife; he still grits his teeth aa little when I call him my boyfriend, but we're cool.

Our families were surprisingly okay with essentially buying into "mortgage is the new marriage." We get a lot less "when are you getting married?!??!?!?!?!??" crap since we bought a house together. Note: I am not advocating rushing into real estate to appease your families or your gf. Just saying that the family stuff can get intense, and it was a nice surprise that the house alleviated some of that.

The most important thing is for her to know that you're serious about your relationships and that your objections are legal/procedural/ideological/wevs. Consider doing something secret for the two of you in the way of a commitment ceremony. A personalized replacement that lacks the baggage of marriage, as it were.

Me? I'm caving a bit. I won't do a ceremony in front of people, but I will do a party. Haven't planned it yet, but it's agreed that I'm cool with this. I am warming to the idea of "eloping." I had to remind myself to not be so pigheaded as to forget the original objection to "marriage." I won't go into a whole big thing about mine, but I will nudge you and tell you that perhaps it's too soon, but eventually you may want to consider how open-minded you want to be.
posted by desuetude at 8:52 PM on January 30, 2009


follow-up from the OP
Firstly, let me profusely thank everyone for the amount of thought they've put into their answers. I'm blown away by the depth of most of them (even the ones claiming I'm a cad). Thank you.

Special thanks to philosophistry for phrasing the question far better than I did: "How do I give her what she wants without compromising what I want?"

Secondly, let me apologize for the stupid question title. I dashed it off in a fit of pissiness with all our friends' synchronized "bliss" rather than a genuine attempt at summarizing the question.

Thirdly, I'd like to ask everyone who assumed that my objections to marriage are "abstract," "intellectual," or solely based on principle to reflect on the source of that assumption. It certainly wasn't the text of the question. (However, I AM tickled at the suggestion of opposing marriage out of gay solidarity. We're in Canada, though, so thankfully we've no need for that.)

I understand everyone's curiosity as to my reasons, but I could write a book on it and anything I can summarize here is only going to get picked apart to no useful end. A lot of the reasons are on display in this thread. I also still don't agree that it's very relevant: marriage could represent anything that she wants that I'm not willing to give. If it helps, imagine that I'm legally unmarriageable or something.

As to the suggestions themselves: Frankly I'm shocked by the amount of sentiment here that I'm somehow romantically derelict for not stepping over my values to make her happy. Is this just because the position itself is so unpopular? If she refused to be with someone unless they held an offensive set of values, should I compromise and accept them because I love her? I think she sees me as a principled person and she's known all along how I feel and the reasons for it -- I hate to think how she'd feel if she thought she guilted me into making a proposal despite all that.

And though she's unhappy about this, I don't think I'm in danger of losing her at this point. The whole marry-her-or-cut-her-loose thing is at the best premature, and at worse a false dichotomy. I also have to say, the faux-ceremony/proposal suggestions are awful. How on earth would that make her feel better?

To everyone doubting my commitment or love for her, I don't think anything I can tell you will convince you. I've convinced her -- although, as several of you pointed out, perhaps not as strongly as I'd thought. The fact that remaining unmarried has this effect on observers is one of my many problems with it.

The bottom line: pseudostrabismus had it right above (sorry I can't link or "best answer" you via anon posting): I need to discover exactly what aspects of marriage would make her happy and then deliver as many of those as I can as best I can. If that's not enough for her -- well, one crisis at a time.
posted by jessamyn at 9:06 PM on January 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Ask what exactly it is she feels she is missing out on, and address that. It may not be the signed papers and ceremony, but it could be
-hosting an event where the two of you and/or your relationship are the focus
-a public statement that the two of you are partners, and not a long-term hookup (it's odd that there isn't a word between partner and spouse)
-feeling left out of a rite of passage all other women seem to be sharing, bonding with female relatives.
-etc.

A close friend felt the same way, her issues were with the legalities and so on. The compromise was a ceremony with Justice of the Peace, reception, and all the preceding doodads. No papers or certificates signed, just what was termed a commitment ceremony with all the associated emotions and family/friends/etc present.
posted by variella at 9:14 PM on January 30, 2009


This was an infuriating and scary thread to read - you can see why it's getting to your girlfriend, the overwhelming social pressure and judgement.

Despite all the people who went through a phase of not wanting marriage, changed their minds and have since lived happily ever after, they are not you. They would be right if they merely raised the possibility that you might regret not marrying her later - and you might - but not everyone is the same. It is insane that they are advising you to just marry her to make her happy, when you clearly don't want to - are they going to be there to pick up the pieces if you have to go through a bitter, agonising divorce? Would they advise you to just grow up and have a child to make your partner happy, if she wanted it and you didn't? No (I hope) - they would advise you to talk with your partner, see if you can talk it through, and if you ultimately couldn't resolve it one way or another and come to a decision that's acceptable for both of you, you would have to face the fact that you're not compatible with each other, at least at that point in time. That is maturity and being grown-up.

It's clear to me that you love her - it's also clear to me that you don't want to be married. That is enough - I've read countless AskMe threads of people having doubts before the wedding and being advised to be sort out their issues before they enter into marriage. It's a big fucking deal - as it should be.

The only thing I might say from your question is that from the way you said "How can I cheer this girl up?", you may be very much underestimating how upsetting and how hard it may be for your girlfriend. It may be just from the social pressure and expectation - or it may be something more about your relationship, that she is needing more reassurance or feeling of security. I agree with everyone who says you really need to talk to her. Both to find out why she wants marriage, and to explain to her why you've been against it.

All the stories about how people have been against marriage before but eventually it started feeling right to them is lovely - really it is, and I'm happy for them - but they are not you. It might also start feeling right to you at some point down the line - but it doesn't to you now, and that's what matters. The legal and social benefits of marriage are clear - yet I believe there is at least one person in this thread who felt the urge to get married but didn't, and is now happy and doesn't regret a thing. There are also many people out there, cursing the day they ever decided to get married.

As for "memorable ways" of reassuring your partner, a commitment ceremony is certainly one way of doing it - but they might not be what you want, depending on your reasons for being against marrying in the first place. It seems to me that you're asking for ideas for grand romantic gestures to reassure your partner - but it seems to me that this is not the time for romantic gestures so much as open and honest communication. You need to find out if you have a compatible future. Marriage is not the only way to show commitment and love - it's not even necessarily the best way. You need to find something that works for you both, that both of you can be happy with. I wish you all the best.
posted by Ira_ at 9:16 PM on January 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


I also have to say, in response to your follow-up, that I absolutely respect you for sticking by your principles, which I don't think are "abstract" (what?) or intellectual and hence somehow irrelevant. I'm all for doing your very best to give your partner happiness - but marrying someone when your heart is not in it is just... sad. (Unless you both agree to do it for say, the legal benefits - but that's a practical arrangement.) There are many problems with marriage as a social institution and a default destination for relationships - there's a reason why the divorce rate is so high, and it's not the collapse of society - and without people like you willing to think independently and stand by what you think is right, we'd never be able to evolve as a society in finding the best options that don't stand in the way of people's freedom and happiness. (I am, by the way, not against marriage - just society's expectations of it.) None of this takes away from wanting to give your partner every happiness when you're in a loving relationship, or the compromises that are required in one.
posted by Ira_ at 9:47 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you love her, and marriage is that important to her, you should at least consider it. Part of loving someone is giving thought and consideration to the things that are important to them.
posted by bananafish at 9:59 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I also still don't agree that it's very relevant: marriage could represent anything that she wants that I'm not willing to give. If it helps, imagine that I'm legally unmarriageable or something.

Anon., I hate to say it, but I think insisting that it's absolutely impossible for you to even consider marriage is a bit ridiculous. I don't doubt that they're deeply held convictions, but it's still a choice you're making, and one that directly impacts your significant other--one that doesn't take her desires into account, at that.

If she refused to be with someone unless they held an offensive set of values, should I compromise and accept them because I love her?

Wanting to get married does not constitute an offensive set of values. But if she did feel this way, yes, you would need to either accept this, or break up with her, because, clearly, your values would be incompatible. No matter how unsavory you find someone's positions, if you're in a relationship with them, it's equally unfair of you to expect them to totally disgard their feelings as it is for them to expect you to disgard yours.

The solution is conversation and compromise--a compromise that makes you both feel honored and respected. But your insistence that it's absolutely impossible for you to consider--that this is "anything that she wants that you're not willing to give" (and how many things like that exist in an equitable, healthy, respectful relationship?)--rings false to me. Considering that this is making her so miserable, I would do some long hard thinking about whether this is something she wants or whether it might represent a fundamental need for her. Maybe, likewise, your desire to remain unmarried is a need. But if that's the case for both of you, then you have a problem. A problem that might eventually completely erode the relationship!

I think your reaction to marriage seems abstract to many people here because it seems to be a decision you made completely independent of your relationship, despite the fact that it deeply impacts the person that you're currently with, now.

I don't even think you necessarily need to get married. But I do think that it's a decision that needs to be settled on as a couple, rather than decided by one party alone.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:01 PM on January 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I understand everyone's curiosity as to my reasons, but I could write a book on it and anything I can summarize here is only going to get picked apart to no useful end. A lot of the reasons are on display in this thread. I also still don't agree that it's very relevant: marriage could represent anything that she wants that I'm not willing to give. If it helps, imagine that I'm legally unmarriageable or something.

Sounds like you don't think your reasons are defensible.

The last two sentences of your statement really make no sense.

(1) marriage could represent anything that she wants that I'm not willing to give: this raises all kind of questions about what you are holding back from her. It leaves open the possibility that, on an emotional level, you are not sharing yourself with her in the way people typically expect in a long term relationship.

(2) If it helps, imagine that I'm legally unmarriageable or something: No, it doesn't help, at all, because you are choosing as a matter of principle not to get married, and someone who is legally unmarriagable is not choosing not to get married. If you were legally unmarriagable, a huge aspect of this problem --- what it means that you freely choose not to legally bind yourself to her --- would be eliminated.

And these call into question what kind of weird emotional baggage you bring to this situation. Your clarification has sent me back to your original question and it made me realize: nowhere in your question have you said you are willing to commit to your girlfriend. Interesting.

From your original question:

This is not a situation where if she was a better girlfriend I'd want to marry her and I'm only holding off because she sucks.

It's pretty clear to me that you don't value your girlfriend very much. If this was someone you were passionate about, felt you had to be with, were scared to lose, you would not let these principles that are so feeble that you refuse to explain them (and you flatly refused to explain them in your clarification) stand in the way of making her happy. The way your wrote your question just stinks of condescension toward "this girl," as you call her.

Being "opposed to marriage" means nothing, without some explanation of what your opposition is. It would be one thing if the principle in question were, "I'm opposed to meat eating," or "I am opposed to the military," but you are asking us to help you reconcile "I am opposed to the absolute symbol of personal love and commitment" with "I want her to feel secure in my love for her." Not going to work, dude.
posted by jayder at 10:21 PM on January 30, 2009 [10 favorites]


This one's drawn some attention. Hard to keep track of what I'm Nthing, responding to from the OP. This may be a little scattershot.

A good point a bit above that various people are not you.

Nthing that this goes way beyond cheering up to resolve. Someone's kitten breaking a leg is a thing that can be more addressed by cheering up.

You related, "The fact that remaining unmarried has this effect on observers is one of my many problems with it." Who gives a rat's incontinent backside what observers think, though not uncommon for people to react to perceived pressure by digging in their heels.

Observers' reactions are less than spit in the ocean in general, darn sure so relative to something with serious operational and financial commitments that the Maginificent Woman cares about.

Not sure I get the "imagine I am legally unmarriable." Assuming that's not so, hard to see how that's relevant; reads more like tap-dancing.

Also can't grasp, "If she refused to be with someone unless they held an offensive set of values, should I compromise and accept them because I love her?"

Hypoothetical and beside the point. If my phone was made of waffles, I'd eat it.

There's much we do not know. Not good if one person is relentlessly compromising or one person defines compromise as "You back down and I'll be nice about it." We don't know how things are--is this one thing and there generally is compromise or are firm stands more common? A lot of us have been with (and loved people), had problems with a relentless insistance that they get their way; note use of past tense.

Seems there's generally a balance 'tween principle and pragmatism, points when principle--that doesn't involve crimes, dishonesty, harm to another person, interaction with people who do those things--can feel selfish, petty and dumb. Clearly this isn't compromising on someone wanting you to commit white-collar crime... or blue-collar crime.

Can you tell I've had 3 hours of sleep?

You write "To everyone doubting my commitment or love for her, I don't think anything I can tell you will convince you."

True.

"True," because you refuse to take a step--be it three people at the courthouse or a big ceremony/party that involves substantial legal and financial commitments and other operational realities.

How could one not doubt your commtiment?

It's really hard to see what would be so bad about marrying her.
posted by ambient2 at 11:01 PM on January 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Marriage is an abstract concept, a social construction. What objections could you have to it that weren't "abstract" and "intellectual"? Did a marriage maul you as a child? Knock you over and steal your lunch?

Being opposed to marriage on a variety of levels is certainly a comprehensible position, but as others have pointed out, your girlfriend has made a compromise by foregoing marriage to be with you and you have not reciprocated that. Certainly finding out what she wants from marriage is a good step, but it's quite possible that what she wants is "a stronger sign of commitment," and it's unlikely that any of the suggested stopgap measures will do much in that regard. We are products of our culture, and our culture says "Marriage equals commitment."

I feel that if I were in your girlfriend's position, there would always be that niggling concern, "His devotion to his principles was stronger than his devotion to me." That may be an admirable trait in many situations, but it's not a good one for building strong relationships.
posted by Scattercat at 12:34 AM on January 31, 2009


"If a woman leaves a man she supposedly loves because he won't marry her, then she really didn't love him in the first place. That's a woman who's in love with being married, not the man."

trotter wins the prize. A few years back I fell in love with a girl to whom I explained from the beginning that I had no interest in marriage or kids. I patiently explained my positions and welcomed any counter-arguments, but she had nothing to offer. She claimed to love me, but eventually her friends and family wore her down. She dumped me based on this very issue. In the end, she was more in love with the idea of me than with the flesh-and-blood me.

Some people in this thread are saying, why not do it anyway? But then why are you with someone who can't be rational and think these things through? I'd be wary of any woman who's so brainwashed by societal fairy tales that her position is "marriage or else." To me, the types of people who are only in it to satisfy their parents' expectations, to have kids because everyone else is doing it, etc. are to be avoided.
posted by wastelands at 1:56 AM on January 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


If you want to cheer her up, you're going to need to do something that completely blows her away. She's attracted to the sentimental idea of marriage, and you're going to have to do something that gives her that excitement and romance.

A cruise around the world, a house, a car, etc. are some conventional ideas. Other ideas: write a book for her, a song, some artistic work about what she means to you. Go all out. You may have to conquer a small country, and I'm only being half facetious.

Seriously, it's going to have to be pretty amazing to top "I want to spend the rest of my life with you, bound by oath and law." How much are you willing to devote in time and resources?

If you aren't willing to do something pretty amazing, I fear this issue is going to continue to continue to plague your relationship.
posted by uxo at 2:20 AM on January 31, 2009


There is a reason that gay people being denied marriage rights in the US is such a vital issue and it has little to do with having an expensive party. More to the point for your situation, here's an excellent short blog post on the rights conferred by Canadian marriage.

These benefits might seem trivial to a young, healthy person with no major life changes in immediate view but they are not, and there's no predicting when you'll need them. Whether it's the practical or emotional issues or some combination of both concerning your girlfriend, they are serious and deserve serious respect. (Actually, there is nothing wrong with rejecting or embracing marriage as a personal choice so I don't understand why dismissal is required from either camp.) The important thing is for you to both be in agreement. In this situation, she's capitulating to your point of view, not agreeing with you. That's not something either of you can ignore in the hopes it can resolve itself.

If I were in her shoes the thing that would convince me you were as serious as Mr. Penguin Suit would be if you were to agree to all the legal business required to make our partnership on as close to an equal footing with marriage as possible. That would expensive, time-consuming, and ultimately incomplete, but better than vague good intentions without backing until common law statutes kicked in. Is that what she wants? You're not going to know until you stop trying to make her feel better and talk to her about this in a way that respects practicality and her feelings. If she wants marriage she deserves the chance to have it. If you don't want marriage you deserve the chance to have a partner who feels the same way. If instead you are asking her to be your permanent partner but without the same legal and social standing she'd have were she married when she wants to be, this problem has no fair solution.
posted by melissa may at 5:35 AM on January 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


She wants you to demonstrate that she's special enough, and so unexpectedly amazing, that you changed your mind on a long-held conviction because of her. From childhood we're told tales of male transformation as a reward for female worthiness: Beauty & the Beast, The Frog Prince, and I am sure you can think of many more. It's a pattern with an expected result. It's cultural, whether it makes sense or not, whether you want to buy into it or not.

That being said, a marriage is what you make it, just like the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. A marriage is not a wedding. While the trappings have bloated so out of control with expense and expectation, the core meaning (hopefully) remains. It's the core meaning that I think folks have a hard time understanding your rejection to.

It's good to stay flexible in one's attitudes, always willing to reexamine them, to confirm that what one decided at 17 still makes sense at 27. Sometimes upon reflection ideas change, sometimes they don't. It's a good practice to prevent oneself from being rigidly hidebound and fossilized in one's views - definitely a pitfall of aging. Make sure you're sure, not just stubborn. It seems that her ideas of what she wants have been changing. If you two aren't together, you're apart.
posted by Lou Stuells at 6:33 AM on January 31, 2009


"If that's not enough for her -- well, one crisis at a time." Start preparing for your crisis, tis coming, I can almost guarantee. After reading your follow-up and how stubborn you are in your "principles," I think my prediction is accurate. You have a SERIOUS blind spot not just about marriage but about what it means in your surrounding society. Like it or not, you and your gf are not immune to the surrounding environment, you're just not. The most telling line in your post was "how do I cheer this girl up?" Proof that you have no idea the magnitude of what your gf is going through. Well, I do. I'm around your age, been dating a guy for 2 1/2 years and I'm about to pull the plug because it looks like we weren't moving towards what I thought we were, what EVERY successful relationship is supposed to move toward (in this society)--MARRIAGE. You and your gf have come to a similar crossroads. You're right, she may be okay for NOW, but just start preparing now for the inevitable. You WILL lose her, and if by chance you change your mind, but still decide to wait 3 mor years to do something about it, she might say "yes" to your proposal, but your relationship will have taken a serious hit and her anger towards your waiting so long (yes ANGER) might rival her love for you, and will be a permanent stain in the back of her mind. Bottom line, the window is closing. As others have stated, you're going to have to decide very soon what's most important for you. I don't think you have as much time to "cheer her up" as you think. Sorry Charlie.
posted by GeniPalm at 7:03 AM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


But then why are you with someone who can't be rational and think these things through? I'd be wary of any woman who's so brainwashed by societal fairy tales that her position is "marriage or else."

Hey, now. The decision to get married can be just as rational as the decision not to (and seems more rational to me, considering the rigmarole you'd have to go through to get equal partner benefits without marriage). And it's not fair to assume that women who want to get married just want to be princesses--in fact, it's just plain sexist.

Hopefully, OP can look at his girlfriend's desires, whatever they are, with more respect than many are treating women with here.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:25 AM on January 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Basic problem: I don't think she was honest about willing to pass it up to be with you, at least not forever. You just want that to be true, and she figured she could probably convince you at some point. After all, she compromised a bit, so why wouldn't you?

Yes.

I don't care much about marriage, it's not really all that important to me. However, I desperately, desperately want children. Always have. My ex wasn't really sure, and told me from the beginning that he thought he was ok with having kids if I wanted them, but it wasn't really his thing. A year *after* he and I were married he realized that he'd been saying that to keep the relationship going and that truly, he did NOT want kids.

He figured that I could just as easily change *my* mind as he could change his, but that was just never, ever going to happen. We saw a therapist who pinpointed that he had trouble being truly honest with me because he wanted to avoid conflict. It's way easier to say "Sure, I don't mind doing x" and keep a relationship going for a while than it is to say "Y'know, I'm really not down with that" and lay everything on the line.

And eventually, one of our friends got pregnant and another started trying to conceive while we were all on vacation together (the timing of THAT was BRILLIANT) and the shit hit the proverbial fan. We had tried to work through it for two years, but it just couldn't be done.

You might have to marry this girl, or have a commitment ceremony, or *something* if she's starting to have strong feelings about it. Or you might have to accept that she can't overcome this hurdle and the relationship runs its course. Of course, finding anyone in the Western world who honestly doesn't want marriage and/or kids in their thirties is rough. Society and biology are telling us "PAIR UP AND REPRODUCE! NOW!" and finding someone with the fortitude to say "No thanks" in the face of umpteen hundred weddings and baby showers is no easy task.

Anyhow, I don't think she's been intentionally dishonest with you, but people's feelings do change.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:31 AM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


My girlfriend doesn't really believe in marriage, since she sees it as a church institution. We're talking about getting married anyways for insurance and tax purposes. The bind you're in is that, if you (a) think marriage is meaningless, then why not go through with it for her sake, and if you (b) think marriage is meaningful, then your refusal to get married also means something.

Now, if what you really object to is the ceremony and the ring, that's a whole different AskMe question. There's no way I'd spend 3 months income on a ring, and if I did my girlfriend would kill me; if we have that much money to burn, we'll take a nice vacation together and will treasure the memories of it much more than a piece of jewelry.

Really, your question is what you should say to her, but unless we know your reasons for objection to marriage, we have no idea what you should say to her. If you want reasons against buying a ring or holding a ceremony, I could give you pages and pages of things to say.
posted by creasy boy at 9:04 AM on January 31, 2009


"How do I give her what she wants without compromising what I want?"

You can't. Some things in relationships are dealbreakers. Even if everything else is great, that one thing will consume all the good things in the relationship until it is a broken shell. For your girlfriend this may be a dealbreaker and you have to accept that it is a reasonable desire and isn't something she can be cheered out of.

Since you are in Canada, you should know that after twelve months co-habitation you are considered married by CRA. After two, three or five years in other provinces provincial marriage laws apply except Quebec which includes conjoints de fait in many laws and Alberta with the Interdependent Relationship Act. Breakups can be more difficult legally, in Ontario the Family Law act excludes common-law relationships from marital property so dividing assets can be more complicated with than a traditional divorce. You still have the legal obligations and rights of marriage with few exceptions (in the case of breakup you can be on the hook for spousal support or dividing your CPP/RRSPs in a common-law relationship).

It is kinda interesting really, that the laws have adapted to legalise relationships based on time and co-habitation and recognise that in Canada at least, marriage is obtained either through a one-time signing of a legal document or simply through your ongoning commitment to someone for a set time. Will knowing that you are considered legally married on the anniversary date of moving in together help your girlfriend? Can she have a ring, party and honeymoon then (if that is what she wants)? Are you okay with her and the rest of society calling you husband and wife?

Personally, I would love to know what your objections to marriage are since you will be legally married by Canadian law.
posted by saucysault at 9:26 AM on January 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Please disregard the horrible (and frankly surprising) brow-beating you're getting here about marriage. How you're mother somehow hacked into so many MeFi accounts is to her credit though.

There are plenty of valid reasons not to want to get married, and I presume you already considered compromising on the issue prior to asking this question. And as with any disagreement in a relationship, your options are going to be compromise or "deal-breaker." If this is the latter for you, as I think you've clearly spelled out, I and everyone else here ought not question your love, manhood, etc. but provide a useful/helpful answer given the context taken at face value.

I'd suggest you try to ride out this brief barrage of marriages among your friends if possible, and then reassess the situation to see if this was a phase for her or if she really is set on marriage. In the meantime doing something nice and romantic like a vacation certainly won't hurt. Do whatever it is that you guys love doing together. If things don't change in a few months, you have to consider the possibility that your not wanting to get married has become a deal-breaker for her. If that really does become the case then it's probably best to end things amicably.

People change. Indeed this fairly indisputable fact is perhaps the real challenge to contractually obligated relationships. But if you choose to live your relationships in the present, that means when the relationship can't evolve to fit these changes, somethings gotta give.
posted by drpynchon at 9:36 AM on January 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


I didn't read all the comments, but I've been through these conversations and thought I would share our experience.

My partner and I struggled our way through this and are now married.

I thought about not getting married. I thought I was okay with it for quite a while. I bought a great book, Unmarried To Each Other, written by people from the Alternatives to Marriage Project. The book has some really great guides to how to sort this issue out, how to figure out WHY you don't want to marry and why she does, and how to deal with telling other people about your decision. Along with lots of other stuff about living together and maintaining the relationship, etc. The legal advice there is American. (I'm Canadian too, so I had to do research to find out how it differs in Canada/Ontario law.)

Look, I grew up religious and I'm not anymore and weddings, for me, are religious. But every time he went on a trip, every time I thought about one of us getting sick, every time I thought about the fact that our condo is in his name (not our names), I worried. I wanted the legal protections. I wanted our stuff to be secure, I wanted access to his hospital room, I wanted him to be able to make medical decisions for me, I wanted the safety net.

We intended to get contracts drawn up to fill that gap. It was never clear whether or not such contracts would actually hold up in a court of law or be respected by hospital staff if we happened to be in a tragic accident. That felt risky.

I also had a nagging feeling that there was a next step, because I grew up with a script that said dating-->living together-->marriage. I felt like we hadn't quite settled down, despite the mortgage and the conversations about kids and "when we're 70". It stressed me out. I felt vaguely uneasy.

He felt that weddings were foreign to him and unnecessary -- we had already committed, so why did we need to prove anything to our friends or family? Why spend the money? Why get up on stage? He was uncomfortable with that.

Eventually we just realised that I felt uneasy and that was easy to fix (legally). We could draw up lots of contracts we weren't sure would hold up, or we could go for the combo deal and get the marriage contract which automatically specified everything we would have drawn up ourselves. We just didn't like the spectacle of marriage, the script, the cost, the stress, the idea of being on stage. So we eloped, because it addressed both our concerns.

We got married, secretly, in our condo with 2 witnesses and an officiant from the Humanist Association. Then we went out for cake. :) We told everyone else the next day. Nothing has changed in our relationship except that the government has been notified of it. It's just as much fun as it was before.

That's the conversation and solution that WE had. You can cheer your girlfriend up by actually having that conversation and coming to a solution where you both win, not where you win and she decides to grin and bear it. Do some reading. Talk it out. Take a break from the conversation. Talk some more. Discuss your views of relationships, what you like about this one, what you fear would change if you married. Is it the marriage or the wedding that she wants or you dislike? Can you separate that out? Is it the legal stuff or the social stuff? Talk, read, try to see it from each other's point of view, and talk some more. It's good hard relationship work. Those conversations were so difficult for us, but we learned so much and became closer through them.
posted by heatherann at 9:37 AM on January 31, 2009 [10 favorites]


Personally, I would love to know what your objections to marriage are since you will be legally married by Canadian law.

This is close to being true, but you would be legally a common-law couple under Canadian law, not married. Do check out the particulars for your province.

There's also some trickiness about it... I think it's more that you're legally eligible to file as/make claims as a common-law couple. People who have been roommates for more than a year* are not automagically married.

*1 year under federal law, 3 years under Ontario law, your province may vary
posted by heatherann at 9:43 AM on January 31, 2009


I think you need to sit down and talk to your girlfriend about this. I'm not convinced, unlike a lot of the commenters above, that what she's expressing does represent reaching the hard limit of what she previously thought she could do. I mean, it might--but then again, it might not. You know who knows that? Your girlfriend. You know who doesn't? Anyone else on this site. To a large extent, we're all just answering from our own biases and experiences, which may or may not line up in any way with your girlfriend's.

As a data point: I'm in a long-term relationship right now (going on 6 years), and I don't want to get married. I realize that it may be in the cards at some point in the future, either because the circumstances force it (e.g., if my partner found himself without any means to get health insurance) or my feelings change, 'cause who knows. However, a year or so back I went through a span of time where a bunch of friends got married, and I was surprised to find myself a bit (okay, maybe more than a bit) jealous. It was the weirdest goddamn thing, as I still didn't really want to get married but was definitely jealous of something. Looking back, I think it would be hard not to get jealous of something that made my friends so happy and excited, even if I wouldn't have been excited or happy in their position. It passed, a couple of months after the weddings died down. It's possible that after you get through this period of weddings-all-the-time, it will pass for your girlfriend. Then again, it may not.

I think you need to have a conversation--or maybe multiple conversations--where you ask whether she thinks her sadness is something that's going to last, or whether it's more of a temporary situational thing just because it's everywhere in the air around her. She might not know. I'm guessing, though, that she has something of a sense of whether it feels like times in the past when her longing for what others had was temporary, or whether it's the dawning of a realization that she does actually need this thing she thought she could go without. I think it's reasonable for you to tell her (if it's the case) that you're not willing to get married, you don't see that changing, but you're willing to talk about different things you two could do instead if it's just one part of it that she really needs. There's not much you can do to "cheer her up" (which I'm going to generously assume means "make her feel better without minimizing what she's going through") until you can get a better sense from her about what exactly she is feeling.

And if it's just a temporary longing brought on by how excited everyone else is about getting married, and the (perhaps irrational) feeling that she's being left behind as everyone else moves on to a more "adult" stage in their life--and she's clear that her feeling okay with not marrying hasn't changed, that these feelings are situational--then I highly recommend starting to plan an international trip of at least a couple of weeks as an EXCELLENT remedy. For me, this scratched the exact itch I had when I started to get jealous of other people's weddings. (We even occasionally called it our honeymoon without the bother of marriage.) Spending a bunch of money? Check. Planning details as far as 12 months out? Check. Everyone excited to hear about your plans? Check. Needing to buy a whole bunch of stuff to outfit ourselves for a new adventure? Check.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:12 PM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm honestly surprised at myself for making this point (and if it's already been made, I apologize), but... If this is such a strongly-held principle that the OP has, why continue to question it?

How is it so different from me having strongly-held principles that say I will not have sex before I am married? It's just not happening. Consider me unsexable, if you will. There was a certain degree of societal pressure that said, "OMG, what if you're not sexually compatible?!? You HAVE to try it before you buy it!!!1" There were reasons given, many of which were well thought-out and logical, many others of which were simply anti-religious rhetoric. None of them had the slightest effect on what I knew to be right for me.

And it is exactly as logical or illogical for me to hold the belief that sex will occur only after I have been married as it is for the OP to hold the belief that marriage is a bad thing, and not what he wants to do. Granted, there's not quite as much pressure to have premarital sex as there is to get married, but you get my drift. The very phrasing "I don't believe in marriage," though it was picked on for its inaccuracy previously, reveals a bit of his commitment to his personal standards and beliefs. It may be an illogical or irrational principle, and it may in fact be to his detriment in this case; I don't know. He may lose the girl. But I see no real reason to continue to belittle his principles.

There are too few people in the world willing to make such hard choices for what they believe. I may not agree with what the OP believes, but as it's not actively harming me or anyone else, I will damn well support him in standing up for it. It's as illogical and harmless as my own beliefs, after all.

And if by chance the OP or anyone else is irked by the fact that a religious nut is supporting his case, I will apologize, but also be secretly pleased. Just sayin'.
posted by po at 2:02 PM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


(to add: Yes, yes, I understand the legal aspect. I'm sure the OP does too.)
posted by po at 2:03 PM on January 31, 2009


Two thoughts:

(1) Maybe this question could be approached from the perspective of what it means to invest your time in a relationship and the different relationship opportunities that men and women have at various points in their lives.

It seems that the likelihood of finding a satisfactory and highly compatible partner decreases at different times for men and women.

Maybe "the girl" is slowly realizing that when her friends are getting married they are getting real, legal commitments from the men they are marrying, in return for being willing to spend their prime mating years with these men. People have limited time windows in which they have their best chance of finding their ideal partner; if a woman's window for finding that ideal partner is only open for a certain length of time, it is reasonable for your girlfriend to want a commitment from you in return for spending her precious years with you, for making that investment of time that she will never get back.

Perhaps women who want to get married are basically wanting some assurance that the relationship is not subject to the romantic whims of the man they are with. That there will be difficulty extricating oneself from the marriage, and this difficulty will be an incentive to work things out and not to leave on the spur of the moment. Women like your girlfriend may not feel there's enough protection for their precious investment of their prime years, outside of a marriage contract. Getting out of a marriage can be difficult and expensive, and there can be serious financial penalties of various kinds. Although this may not appeal to you, some people like the protection that this provides.

You seem to value not being bound by this commitment. It seems obvious why this would be disturbing to a woman who wants some assurance that her prime years will not be wasted.

(2) An unavoidable side-effect of your unwillingness to marry your girlfriend may be that, among her peers, she may feel inadequate because others may view her as the girl whose man doesn't want to marry her. Her friends undoubtedly know that she wants to get married. And yet, she may feel that she is viewed, on some level, as unlovable or inadequate because, alone among all her friends, no man was willing to marry her. I know you loathe the way society's expectations are bound up with marriage, but I suspect deep down, your "girl" must be wrestling with feelings that her friends view her as the odd one out, the one nobody wanted to marry, the one that just had a live-in boyfriend with stubborn principles that he valued more than her. None of her friends will envy her, that's for sure. It's not exactly romantic to have the man in your life be so stubborn about his principles that he refuses to marry you because he doesn't like the way society views people who aren't married (which is one thing you said in your clarification). I think this really may be what's slowly eating at her -- the realization that, however much she might like you personally, you are putting her in a rather unenviable situation, a situation that makes her pitiable among her friends, all over some principles that have to do with "the way society views unmarried people," and nothing to do with making her happy. People want to feel good about their lives, they want to have a life that they, as well as their friends and family, feel is a good life. If her friends and family know she wants to get married, it is probably embarrassing and troubling that out of abstract views of society, you are putting her in the position of having an incomplete life with one main hope being unfulfilled. It sucks to feel unlovable, which may be how she is feeling.
posted by jayder at 2:53 PM on January 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


Your reply only makes matters worse, as far as your position goes. Especially this part: "though she's unhappy about this, I don't think I'm in danger of losing her at this point." So, you'll worry about her needs only as an absolutely last resort? Yeah yeah, you explained your anti-marriage issue to her up front, but here's the thing: human beings change over time. It's easy for someone to say they're ok with never getting married to you when you're just a new boyfriend.

Also, you said: "I need to discover exactly what aspects of marriage would make her happy and then deliver as many of those as I can as best I can. If that's not enough for her -- well, one crisis at a time." There's a reason you won't explain why you don't want to marry her, and it isn't because you'll be long winded.

If you reply again, I'd love to know your answer to this question:

Which matters more?
---- Being not-married
------------ or
---- Being with her

Several people asked you that question above. The fact that you didn't answer it in your reply speaks volumes about why you should leave her, for her sake.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:25 PM on January 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Obviously this has become a pretty contentious thread, and others have pretty much said what I believe more eloquently than I. Two things, however, remain a niggling annoyance in the back of my head.

1. To the people who are angry that we are somehow brow-beating this person into considering marriage - we are answering the question under the assumption that he wants to stay with his girlfriend, to whom marriage may not be as foregoable as she previously thought. Perhaps the connection wasn't made clearly enough, but I don't think it's considered bullying to say "marry her, or dump her". In the context of this relationship, I would see that as reality, if she's not willing to give up marriage entirely.

2. To the people who are angry at the girlfriend for somehow not being in love with the guy enough, or not seeing the guy and only seeing the social construct - no. You can want a marriage without being obsessed with the idea of a lavish wedding and a ring and a white dress and a long flowery train and all that bullshit. Whether you like it or not, marriage is indicative of love and commitment in this society. Sure, you may say she's brain-washed and incapable of independent thought, but the issue here isn't "he's against marriage, wtf", it's "he doesn't love me as much as I want him to, wtf".

The best analogy I can think of is a guy saying he's totally morally against kissing, and refuses to kiss his girlfriend, who was initially okay with it but now after seeing their friends kiss is saddened by his refusal to kiss her. He's entitled to that moral choice, but she is also entitled to certain expectations from that relationship, and they are both free to end it because the relationship isn't working out for them. Calling the girlfriend out for not loving him enough to see past his "principles" is pretty low.
posted by Phire at 4:20 PM on January 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


The OP characterized their relationship as stable and long-term, and not in danger of dissolution.I really don't understand the insistence of the "you should leave her" answers. Is it projection? I dunno. I guess it is a demonstration of the magical power that we culturally ascribe to marriage, though.

Look, couples often find that they don't agree on what "marriage" means (or evolves into meaning) either. Disagreeing views within an otherwise happy relationship do not mean that couples should split for their "own good" so that they can find other people with whom they never, ever, ever disagree about any relationship expectations. Committing to a long-term relationship means that you identify issues and work through them, and communicate, NOT ditch out as soon as things get a little tough.
posted by desuetude at 4:21 PM on January 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ok, I gave up on reading the thread halfway through. Sorry, but I'll just add my two cents anyway, assuming you, the OP might be interested. First, disclosure: I have no idea why someone would not want to get married if they have really found the right person. I've been married since I was 22. (Seven years.) I wasn't sure I was ready to get married that young, but my husband was really ready to get married, and I knew I did want to be married and to him, so I did it. It was fantastic and the best thing I ever did. Anyway, marriage is great, no downside in my experience.

You are going to have to look at the issue of kids. My husband and I were very clear we did not want kids and still are. The pressure there, especially on a woman, is tremendous. I get asked if I have kids or when I'm going to have kids, or teased about not wanting kids about 2-3 times per week at work. Honestly. Constant pressure. I'm sure the pressure about marriage is similar. (My husband gets very little pressure about kids in comparison to me, FYI.)
So, she's likely putting up with a lot, especially with all these weddings going on.

Finally, this is what I really want to say. The single best piece of marriage (or relationship) advice I ever heard was from Joseph Campbell. He said (paraphrasing from memory) that marriage (read relationship) is not about one person sacrificing for the sake of the other. That is why marriages fail, because one person ends up sacrificing for their spouse and they grow resentful. Marriage is about BOTH partners sacrificing TO THE MARRIAGE. You don't give up things for another person. You give them up for the good of the RELATIONSHIP. The relationship (marriage) is its own thing, an entity you both believe in and work to better. That is why the concept of marriage can be so powerful. It takes the normal not-quite-defined default word relationship, which has many meanings, and turns it into something concrete, called a marriage. You don't have to call it a marriage, but I suggest you come up with something that has meaning for both of you.

Otherwise she's just making sacrifices for you and will come to resent you. If she's making sacrifices and you're making sacrifices for the good of this thing you have, then you're more likely to succeed.
posted by threeturtles at 5:04 PM on January 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


it depends on what she's looking for, really. as others have said, this deserves a long talk between the both of you about what you feel.

that said, my partner of six years and i don't believe in marriage either. in this, we have equal feelings, for different reasons.

we do, however, believe in commitment. very early in our relationship, we spontaneously had our own intimate ceremony where we declared lifelong commitment to one another, no matter what. afterwards, i called my mother and told her that while there was never going to be a wedding, she should henceforth consider Mr. RedEmma my life partner and that i was going to sell my house and move into/buy into his. (i doubt she was happy about this, but i left her no room for criticism.)

since that time, i have never once doubted that my partner was committed to me, even when i was being a pms-ing harridan, and he has never doubted my commitment to him, even when he was being a piggish jerk.

that feeling counts for a lot, IMO. (we don't really feel attached to the idea of monogamy either, FWIW.)

when people call him my husband, i sometimes correct them, and sometimes i don't. i realize that at this point, he might as well be. also, i wear a silver band on my left ring finger, which is often misinterpreted as a wedding band. (i wear several silver bands, but this one is rather plain.) people ask about it, and i tell them it's to commemorate a commitment i've made to myself. (inside, it says "Freedom".) but it does sort of represent my commitment to our relationship as well, since it signifies marriage to strangers.

i am the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, and the house would be mine should he die before me. this is also an important piece of the puzzle. declaring legally that this person is my kin (by placing him in place of husband on medical forms and such) matters.
posted by RedEmma at 5:44 PM on January 31, 2009


Some states allow Hetero domestic partners. That may be a good way to go.
posted by Megafly at 6:12 PM on January 31, 2009


Thank you desuetude for saying much of what I wanted to say, much more eloquently than I could ever have.

Phire: 1. To the people who are angry that we are somehow brow-beating this person into considering marriage - we are answering the question under the assumption that he wants to stay with his girlfriend, to whom marriage may not be as foregoable as she previously thought. Perhaps the connection wasn't made clearly enough, but I don't think it's considered bullying to say "marry her, or dump her". In the context of this relationship, I would see that as reality, if she's not willing to give up marriage entirely.

Please read the question again: "and my partner tearfully told me how how it seemed so passionate, how there was a part of her that wished we had done that, etc." She did not at any point say she "needed" marriage - only that she finds a part of her wanting to be married. That is normal, understandable, and something the OP and his partner can talk to each other about and work through like adults.

2. To the people who are angry at the girlfriend for somehow not being in love with the guy enough

Who said this??

You can want a marriage without being obsessed with the idea of a lavish wedding and a ring and a white dress and a long flowery train and all that bullshit.

Agreed!

Whether you like it or not, marriage is indicative of love and commitment in this society. Sure, you may say she's brain-washed and incapable of independent thought, but the issue here isn't "he's against marriage, wtf", it's "he doesn't love me as much as I want him to, wtf".

No. Marriage is one way of showing love and commitment in this society. It is absolutely within her right to say that is the way she needs it to be shown. But that is not what she has said. So why all the projection and call to break-up what sounds like an otherwise loving and wonderful relationship?

The best analogy I can think of is a guy saying he's totally morally against kissing, and refuses to kiss his girlfriend, who was initially okay with it but now after seeing their friends kiss is saddened by his refusal to kiss her. He's entitled to that moral choice, but she is also entitled to certain expectations from that relationship, and they are both free to end it because the relationship isn't working out for them. Calling the girlfriend out for not loving him enough to see past his "principles" is pretty low.

Who is calling the girlfriend out for not loving him enough??? Are we reading the same thread? All the people on this side are saying that they are both entirely entitled to their dealbreakers - so they need to get together and talk about this and work out what they want and can and cannot accept and compromise.

And your analogy - is marriage really as essential to your concept of a loving romantic relationship as kissing? How many loving couples in the world aren't married, and yet love each other with all their hearts? How many loving couples in the world refuse to kiss?

It is infuriating and maddening to see the OP's rights in the relationship so disrespected and belittled. Like many others, I don't understand it - is it really projection? Is the assumption that marriage is suitable and right for everyone, and if you don't think it's right for you, you have some growing up to do - is that really so strong? Would it have made a difference if the genders were reversed?

The people here trying to help the OP understand how she feels, what she might consider the benefits of marriage, what emotional needs it might satisfy for her, what social pressure she might feel she's under, what practical benefits it has - that's all helpful to him, to help him understand things from her point of view. What is not helpful to him is telling him that he has no right to how he feels about marriage - his "abstract" feelings are worth nothing, and he should "grow up" and do what she wants and what society expects. It is infuriating to watch you people insult and belittle the OP, his right to his feelings and views, his right to have his feelings and views and needs also respected in the relationship equally as much as hers - and worst of all, to suggest that he does not love his partner enough. And the biggest irony of all? That the overwhelming social pressure so evident in this thread is mostly likely at least a large part of what is making the OP's partner unhappy in the first place! And yet you're blaming him for it!

This thread would be fascinating for some kind of study of social pressure, if it weren't so bloody infuriating and sad to see. And all from a question the OP posted to ask for ways to communicate to his partner how much he loves her.
posted by Ira_ at 6:46 PM on January 31, 2009


Who is calling the girlfriend out for not loving him enough???

There was:
If a woman leaves a man she supposedly loves because he won't marry her, then she really didn't love him in the first place. That's a woman who's in love with being married, not the man.

And:
I'd be wary of any woman who's so brainwashed by societal fairy tales that her position is "marriage or else." To me, the types of people who are only in it to satisfy their parents' expectations, to have kids because everyone else is doing it, etc. are to be avoided.
posted by lampoil at 7:07 PM on January 31, 2009


But the OP's partner never said that she'd leave him if he didn't marry her, or said "marriage or else". Yes?
posted by Ira_ at 7:48 PM on January 31, 2009


No, there has been no ultimatum set forth. What "infuriated" me about the OP's initial attitude is that this is something the girlfriend can just be "cheered up" from. I don't think they should break up, and I think it's perfectly possible that the girlfriend might, with help, stand up to all the peer pressure around her. What I don't think is valid is belittling the girlfriend's desire for a marriage. Even if that desire is largely borne out of social pressure, I don't think saying "Oh honey, we don't need that, we're better than that!" is really going to be helping the current situation here.

You may consider kissing essential to a healthy relationship, and some people may consider marriage the end goal of a relationship. I'd say many of us responded to implications of "marriage is silly, help me convince my girlfriend" in the OP's wording and got a little shirty, yeah, but I don't think we were completely off base. DTMFA evidently isn't the only answer here, but it's one of the choices - exactly because different people have different ideas about a healthy relationship - and just because some people would allow that the girlfriend be granted perhaps her idea of a marriage doesn't mean they are all in the wrong.

Some people have laid it out in the format of an ultimatum - "marry her or dump her" but the way I saw the thread was more "if you're not willing to marry her and she ends up deciding she really wants marriage, you may have to dump her, so decide now so you're not wasting either of your time". Note my original wording of - "if she's not willing to give up marriage entirely" - she may be open to a compromise, but it's also possible that she won't be, and I fail to see anything wrong with alerting the OP to that possibility, personally.

I don't agree that the OP is in the wrong for not wanting marriage. I don't even know if I want marriage. But nor do I think the girl is in the wrong for potentially wanting marriage. Some posters may have read into the situation and projected their past experience - but isn't that what the OP was asking for? Should we be discounting our own readings altogether in favour of sticking to the letters of the question? All those questions where the hive mind pointed out insights that were hidden within the OP's question and which the OP completely neglected to notice, those were all out of line, too? I don't see how this is any different.

Maybe we are reading the same thread, Ira_, and projecting our own histories and whatnot into this. I didn't see people trying to belittle the OP's rights in his own relationship. The people who suggested that she may feel he doesn't love him enough, I saw that as an attempt to read into the girlfriend's point of view. But again, different threads, right? S'life.
posted by Phire at 11:16 PM on January 31, 2009 [2 favorites]



Decide whether it's more important to stick to your abstract principles about marriage or to be with this woman. If it was a straight up dichotomy which one would you choose?
posted by GuyZero at 2:31 PM on January 30 [41 favorites +] [!]

Your girlfriend is willing to forgo something important to her (marriage) in order to be with you, even though that sacrifice is hurting her right now. Hopefully you interpret that as a sign of how much she loves you and how much she wants to be with you.
You aren't willing to give up your anti-marriage beliefs for her, even though you see how much it is hurting her. You've chosen your principles over her feelings. How do you think she interprets that?
posted by rocket88 at 2:54 PM on January 30 [36 favorites +] [!]

You clearly don't understand what love is...your idea of love is doing what pleases you and hoping the other person doesn't mind so much that they leave. Moreover, you don't seem to understand that relationships are supposed to serve each person's expectations equally.

Do her a favor and leave. Let her find someone who wants to love her all the way. Quit wasting her time on a losing proposition. That would be the most "loving" thing you could do for her.

posted by AuntieRuth at 2:53 PM on January 30 [3 favorites +] [!]

Cheer her up with a nice piece of jewelry. (Not a ring.) Then say this:

"I know it sounds like a cliché, but the reason I don't want to get married is because I'm afraid of commitment -- for now. This doesn't mean that I don't love you or that I'm holding out for something better; rather it's because I'm scared of growing up and the responsibilities I fear that entails. But I suspect my views will change as I mature. And if you can just give me some time, I think I can be worthy of marriage someday."

(However, I do know one fun-lovin' couple who waited too long. Entirely the guy's fault, and totally pathetic. So if you don't mature by 33 or so, please do the universe a favor and cut your partner loose so that she can have babies with someone who wants them.)
posted by turducken at 4:00 PM on January 30 [3 favorites +] [!]

I think you need to ask yourself something.

Are you being a dick?

Me, I hate the thought of getting married. Scares me. So vulnerable, so public, so grown-up.

Because there's being the type of dick who does not want to get married and there's being the type of dick who fucks up their entire life over a "piece of paper".
posted by fullerine at 4:21 PM on January 30 [23 favorites +] [!]

You can't cheer her up. The awful truth, that you're a guy who values his principles more than you love her, is not something you can "cheer her up" from.

If marriage is just a "piece of paper," what does it cost you to get married to her? Marry her, put it in a drawer, and forget about it. You're so in love with the idea of "sticking to your principles" that you don't seem to realize that it makes no sense to deny her something she values deeply so that you won't have to do something that means nothing to you. Does that make sense?

It is as if you believe your integrity is so fragile that it will be destroyed by giving her this thing she wants which costs you nothing real. You will no longer be the edgy nonconformist. You'll be like all those squares with their boring normal married lives. I hope this isn't really how you feel, because it is a horribly petty, immature, childish way to conduct your life.

You would actually be showing depth and maturity to let her have this thing she wants, especially since it means nothing to you.

posted by jayder at 5:32 PM on January 30 [14 favorites +] [!]

To make such a life-limiting pronouncement at such a young age, moreover one that also limits a loved one's life, is selfish and short sighted.

Plus, what craig said.
posted by nax at 6:08 PM on January 30 [+] [!]

It's pretty clear to me that you don't value your girlfriend very much. If this was someone you were passionate about, felt you had to be with, were scared to lose, you would not let these principles that are so feeble that you refuse to explain them (and you flatly refused to explain them in your clarification) stand in the way of making her happy. The way your wrote your question just stinks of condescension toward "this girl," as you call her.

Being "opposed to marriage" means nothing, without some explanation of what your opposition is. It would be one thing if the principle in question were, "I'm opposed to meat eating," or "I am opposed to the military," but you are asking us to help you reconcile "I am opposed to the absolute symbol of personal love and commitment" with "I want her to feel secure in my love for her." Not going to work, dude.
posted by jayder at 10:21 PM on January 30 [6 favorites +] [!]

I'm around your age, been dating a guy for 2 1/2 years and I'm about to pull the plug because it looks like we weren't moving towards what I thought we were, what EVERY successful relationship is supposed to move toward (in this society)--MARRIAGE. You and your gf have come to a similar crossroads. You're right, she may be okay for NOW, but just start preparing now for the inevitable. You WILL lose her
posted by GeniPalm at 7:03 AM on January 31 [2 favorites +] [!]

Which matters more?
---- Being not-married
------------ or
---- Being with her


Several people asked you that question above. The fact that you didn't answer it in your reply speaks volumes about why you should leave her, for her sake.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:25 PM on January 31 [+] [!]



I can go on. (And this is clearly at least partly why the OP didn't want to voice his reasons behind his objections to being married - because he knew this was what he was going to get. )

Phire, I read the OP's initial poor choice of wording as benign cluelessness - maybe he didn't realise how strongly his partner might be feeling, or all the reasons she could have for it - but I just don't see him belittling her or her feelings at any point. And he has of course already apologised and clarified in his followup via Jessamyn.

The sentiments expressed in the comments I quoted above and others just seem so totally upside down to me: he had always been honest and open with her about where he stood with regards to marriage. She told him that she was okay with it.

People change - that is understandable. She may feel differently now. But he has done nothing wrong. He has a right to his feelings about marriage, just as she does. They are equal in the relationship! Many of us agree that they need to talk, and discuss how important being married and not being married is to them, and why, and see if they can work it out.

Here's what I said in the comment you were responding to:

The people here trying to help the OP understand how she feels, what she might consider the benefits of marriage, what emotional needs it might satisfy for her, what social pressure she might feel she's under, what practical benefits it has - that's all helpful to him, to help him understand things from her point of view. What is not helpful to him is telling him that he has no right to how he feels about marriage - his "abstract" feelings are worth nothing, and he should "grow up" and do what she wants and what society expects. It is infuriating to watch you people insult and belittle the OP, his right to his feelings and views, his right to have his feelings and views and needs also respected in the relationship equally as much as hers - and worst of all, to suggest that he does not love his partner enough. And the biggest irony of all? That the overwhelming social pressure so evident in this thread is mostly likely at least a large part of what is making the OP's partner unhappy in the first place! And yet you're blaming him for it!

And here's why the people telling him to marry her even though he doesn't want to are giving terrible advice, from Unicorn on the cob's comment:

Before I got married, I got so resentful that a couple of times I cried (quietly, in envy and self-pity) at others' weddings when, you know, I was supposed to be busy being maid of honor. But I couldn't enjoy it, because I thought my friends were more "valued" by their partners than I was by mine.

I finally told my boyfriend to marry me or I was moving out. We married. It ended badly. Both partners MUST agree to be married or it won't work, period.

posted by Ira_ at 8:17 AM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ira --

Anonymous asked a question based on certain premises or assumptions that seemed flawed to many of us. Clearly, it is fair in Ask Metafilter for us to call into question the flawed premises upon which a question is based. That is what we did.

You simply seem to disagree with many of us about whether the premises are flawed. We are not necessarily wrong, and you are right; you understand, don't you, that you and we just disagree about whether the premises are flawed and therefore disagree about what an appropriate answer to his question is.

Here are some major flawed premises of his question, in my opinion:

-- That her dissatisfaction over his unwillingness to marry her is something that she can be "cheered up" from. [I think that it is not.]

-- That a relationship in which marriage is not an option, due to one partner's deeply held (he claims) principled objections to marriage, is just as good as a marriage. [I think that it is not.]

-- That the fact that "part of her" wishes they could still get married is something that can be overcome by various blandishments. [I think that it is clear that she wants to be married, this is not a temporary thing, and that (as someone else put it) Anonymous is selfishly trying to get her to "grin and bear it."]

-- That the genuineness of his love for her should not be questioned, even though he is placing "principles" above her happiness, principles which he is not willing to explain, except for one slip-up which, if it is representative of the logic of his other objections, suggests how feeble and irrational the principles are (the effect that "remaining unmarried has ... on observers" is a reason he doesn't want to get married!). [I think that, if the only reason you have stated for being opposed to marriage as a matter of principle is absurd, your love for your partner is fairly called into question.]

Now, you and I may disagree over whether these premises are flawed, but I think my analysis of this situation is a fair one given that I think the premises are flawed.

In closing, let me compare this to another situation that may not be as emotionally charged as the marriage question.

Let's say Anonymous's question was: "I've been with this chick for three years, married to her for six months, and she has custody of an eight-year old son from another marriage. I hate kids, can't stand them. I love her, but I told her from the very beginning that I really want nothing to do with her son. I don't treat him poorly, I just don't want to play with him, hang out with him, or talk to him very much. She really loves me, so early on she said she guessed she was fine with that. But the problem is, a lot of other kids in his school play ball with their stepdads, their stepdads come to their games, and they have a lot of fun with their stepdads. She told me that, recently, part of her wishes I would have a good relationship with her son. How can I cheer this girl up?"

This imaginary question seems to present some of the same problems that Anonymous's real question raised. We cannot honestly approach the question without calling some of the assumptions into question, and perhaps politely suggesting that he may want to consider examining his real commitment to the relationship, whether he really loves her in the way he claims to, and ask himself whether he is being a bit selfish.
posted by jayder at 10:12 AM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ira_, I think people are really confused by the OP's statement he doesn't believe in marriage but then chooses to be common-law married which in Canada is essentially the same minus the passion of a big moment his girlfriend has expressed a desire for. He wants to express commitment without marriage which in our society does not have the vocabulary for (since we have the perfectly good word "marriage"). He has equated marriage with "offensive values" which, if that is how he is explaining his objections to his girlfriend, many can see is NOT a productive tactic and many are trying to help him see the problem from her side.

OP, I wonder about the power dynamics in your relationship. Your girlfriend wants something that only you can give and you can't give to her by your own choice. She compromised and gave up two things that are traditionally important to adults (one of which she had said she liked, you haven't mentioned her feelings on the other), have you compromised on something as significant for her? She may feel that she has "proven" her love for you but does not feel similarly reassured by your actions (as distinct from your words). If she is feeling dis-empowered, what will make her feel your equal, and are you willing to do that?

As to the SO agreeing to your decision of not marrying early in the relationship, tonnes of 20-something guys say that early in the relationship. It is really a cliche how early to mid-twenties guys say they will never marry and then they meet "the one" and realise that THIS person is the one person worth making compromises over their principle. Maybe you don't realise how incredibly common this change in attitude is, I easily know a dozen guys with this behaviour and I don't have an incredibly wide social network. Look at how many men in this thread also changed. Your SO probably knows a few personally too. I wonder if any of the weddings this year had this dynamic which to her only reinforces how unlovable she is compared to her friends. So maybe her agreeing despite liking marriage is because she hoped your relationship would evolve towards marriage after a period of time and she is having to face the fact that you are evolving in different directions. And I am echoing that in the late twenties the three year mark is the fish or cut bait timeline for most women that are hoping for a committed relationship

If she is playing "Single Ladies [put a ring on it]" all the time that would be a bad, bad sign that this is more important to her than you realise. I hope the two of you can find a compromise between what she specifically wants from a marriage and what you specifically find objectionable
posted by saucysault at 10:17 AM on February 1, 2009


I'm not sure going through the entire thread again in detail and pulling out all the quotes that bugged you was the best way to prove your point, Ira_. Not to be snarky, but when I saw the massive wall of quotes in tiny italics with certain parts bolded, I rolled my eyes. It's kind of hard to not think you're projecting, yourself, when you're investing so much into the thread.

A lot of what you highlighted were about people saying "you're choosing your principles over her", and "what would you do if it was a straight up dichotomy?". The first one may be a it harsh, but not knowing why he doesn't want to marry, the only thing we have to go on are "abstract principles". The second one, again, I saw as people trying to explain to him what the final outcome may be, and what he may have to prepare for.

As to the "societal pressures of this AskMe" - if they're as dire as you seem to think you are, which evidently many other posters don't disagree with, perhaps it's a good look for the OP at what his girlfriend goes through. Empathy and all that. I think you're overestimating the power of AskMe answers, and I sincerely doubt they will make a very big impact either way, if the OP is dead set against them. And if not, maybe they'll be the help he needs. Who knows. I hope the OP and the girlfriend find happiness, together or apart, but I'm not going to get further invested in this thread.
posted by Phire at 11:23 AM on February 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry to come in late to this, I've been travelling. I share your perspective about marriage and yet decided to work that feeling into my life in a different way. I'll give you a brief summary

1. I got married. To someone I barely knew. Our first kiss was at our wedding. We happened to have an overlapping relationship from that point forward but we were sure we were going to "stay married forever" mostly to keep each other from marrying other people. It was a good deal. It made our parents annoyed. We used it as a teaching opportunity to talk abotu how marriage in the US [and this was pre any gay marriage and pre civil unions] was a weird outmoded and/or religious formality that had nothing to do with how people really felt about each other. Me and my then-husband were both on board with this and I feel like it was a fun experiment. THEN.... he met The One and we divorced so that he could marry her. They have a son together now. He seems happy. The big deal for me is that I had my own feelings about marriage and, ultimatly, he had his. I could claim he was some sort of a "sell out" but realistically he was happy and so was I. It was fun and amusing to be married in a sort of "cheat" way and I don't think terribly much of having been married or of not being married, or whether I'll ever marry again, though I'm leaning towards no.

2. I was in a long term relationship a while back. We'd both had the same sort of "yeah I'm not into getting married" discussions but then our friends started getting married. I decided I'd rather consider getting married than lose the relationship because, generally speaking, I just didn't care about marriage and to me this was the point. I didn't care, so my married status didnt matter to me terribly much. At some point I was in danger of losing my health insurance. I suggested marriage to my long term partner as a way to solve my problem. He balked. I should have paid closer attention. We split up maybe a year later and he married his next girlfriend in what seemed to be a bit of haste. It stung a little but I had to sort of admit that my anti-marriage position had probably hastened the demise of that relationship. I'm not totally sure whether that was a good or bad thing.

Its been a litmus test over tme. People who don't get my former marriage and the whole crazy wedding story probably won't get me in the same way. But, it's a risk. My ex-husband felt that he had made the wrong ideological choice and he'd changed his mind and seems happy and honestly I'm happy for him.

At some point, if you have two strongly held beliefs that conflict, in this case

- I do not like the idea of getting married
- I am in love with my girlfriend who wants to get married

You have to probably re-evaluate one of those beliefs. Alternately, to do what other people are saying here and finding a way to commit without a marriage. But seriously, cheering this girl up is not really what you should be talking about. This is a bigger deal than her being unhappy, this is, quite potentially, an ideological impasse and you're going to have to figure out which side you're on. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 5:18 PM on February 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


This question already has a ton of comments - I'll just add: To me, it sounds like she loves you, she thought she knew what she was getting into, and she thought she would be okay with it, but she is figuring out that maybe she really DOES care about marriage after all.

You boiled it down yourself, and said that marriage, in this case, could be "anything she wants that I'm not willing to give". What you should understand at this point is that, for many, this is a dealbreaker issue. You may be heading toward an impasse. Many relationships before yours have broken over the issue of "the piece of paper". So GuyZero above isn't giving you a false dichotomy, but rather timely advice - you should be figuring out for yourself, right now, which choice you would make if it came down to:

A) Get married.
B) Lose her.

That is the set of choices you may have on your hands soon. Figuring out which choice you would make in the extreme case will help you know where your lines are really drawn. She, for herself, is going to have to figure out where her lines are. Ideally, she would have figured it out at the beginning of your relationship, but unfortunately, figuring out which issues are dealbreakers for people can take time. (Otherwise, we'd all look at each other, size each other up, and there would never be broken hearts, or disappointments, or failed relationships.)
posted by eleyna at 8:12 PM on February 1, 2009


My partner and I were together for five years before we got married. For us, the most important part of our wedding was the time we spent in preparation: discussing what marriage meant for us; detailing (in words and in actions) the promises we would make to each other and honor for the rest of our lives. We decided it was important to us to say those things in the presence of our family and friends, but the real essence of our marriage came in those private discussions and writing our vows together.

I would urge you to discuss with your partner exactly what your commitment to her is, and what it means to you. Not "Our commitment means so much to me," but concrete descriptions and details about what it means, whether that's always being honest with each other, supporting each other financially, staying together in sickness and in health, whatever is important to you personally. These could be casual conversations, or you could approach it as an organized project of "writing our private vows," depending on what works for you philosophically. But working together, being clear and deliberate about what your mutual commitment will be, is going to ease your partner's discomfort and uncertainty much more than any card or gift of flowers ever could. Whatever your objections to marriage, there is much to be said for making a real, specific, well-communicated commitment to the person you love.
posted by TrixieRamble at 8:07 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, to those who think I'm getting all black-and-white here, there was a very carefully considered word at the beginning of my advice: "IF". The situation isn't a dichotomy, but it's a useful mental exercise to consider if it was.

Also, as many other posters have pointed out, if you're in Ontario or Quebec, dude, you're married whether you like it or not. You can be forced to pay alimony if you split up, etc. So consider that the government has, in its infinite wisdom, already made this decision for you - exactly what do you gain by pretending that you're not married?
posted by GuyZero at 10:45 AM on February 2, 2009


jayder: What I actually disagree with is your reading/assumptions of the OP's premises, because to me they are not in his question or followup. For example, his use of "cheer up" has been brought up over and over again - I'm on record in another Askme question as someone who hates the use of that phrase - and yet here, it seems pretty clear to me that it was in no way intended to disrespect or belittle her feelings. And that's my reading of both his question and his followup - that he could've put things better, he's a little clueless, but that he loves his partner, is well-intentioned, and wants to help her feel better and reassure her. So you can understand my reaction to the attacks on him and his character and his love for her, which to me seem incomprehensible and entirely unjustified. It's like the criticism of him saying he doesn't "believe in marriage", when it seems obvious to me what he means. It feels as if many people have taken the most uncharitable interpretation of both his question and his follow-up, all the while projecting things that are not even there. For example, just in your last comment: 'Anonymous is selfishly trying to get her to "grin and bear it."' That's a huge leap, isn't it jayder? I take it you're basing it on the "cheering up" part - but with the previous paragraph, where he said, "Understandably, this is getting to her...She acknowledges that I've been honest about what I wanted, but witnessing the parade down the aisle is obviously awakening some mourning in her." Doesn't that sound like someone concerned about his partner to you? Someone seeking to understand and comfort?

But yes, I also disagree with what you consider to be his false premises. Your second point: "-- That a relationship in which marriage is not an option, due to one partner's deeply held (he claims) principled objections to marriage, is just as good as a marriage. [I think that it is not.]" Firstly, I see no good reason why you added "(he claims)" - are you casting doubt on his honesty? Why on earth would he lie here? But back to that false premise: if you believe that a relationship in which marriage is not an option cannot be just as good as a marriage - do you believe that about all couples who for whatever reason can't or won't marry? From gay couples who haven't been able to marry, to couples who grew up watching their parents' traumatic divorces and don't believe it is the best way to enforce commitment - are you really telling me that you think their love and commitment in their relationships are not good enough?

I could go on, but this is Askme, and not the best place for long discussions - I've already taken up too much space in this thread. If this were Metafilter or Metatalk, and I didn't have such a busy February, I'd love to address what you said point-by-point. Certainly there's something that is fascinating - or at least incomprehensible - to me, in this thread. Maybe we'll have to wait for a good FPP on marriage for that.

I'll just make one more point in explanation of my reaction. I'm currently supporting my best friend through a divorce. I hear from her about several of her friends who are either going through bitter and difficult divorces, or deeply unhappy in their current marriages. So it appears to me deeply irresponsible - as it did to my best friend when I showed her this thread - to advise the OP to just marry her. And people wonder why the divorce rate is so high.

saucysault: I don't know the OP's reasons, but just for one, I don't believe you have to go through the pain of divorce if you're common-law married. I can think of many other possible reasons. I also found this link, which seems to say that there's no such thing as common-law married, and common-law relationships and marriages are not nearly as equivalent legally as people here seem to think.

Phire: I did all the quoting and bolding because your description of what was going on in the thread was so different from what my eyes were seeing. So I read it again, and tried to gather some of it together to make the point that... never mind. It was a mistake on my part - I thought when gathered together, what I saw would be self-evident. Clearly we read wildly different things from the same words.

I take it most people have moved on from the thread - I'll do the same. I do think that overall the thread now has enough of a range of views to be helpful to the OP. And I do agree with Phire on one thing: this will give the OP a good look at the social pressure his partner might feel.
posted by Ira_ at 9:47 PM on February 3, 2009


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