"Do you take this man...?" Probably not.
August 13, 2012 5:42 PM   Subscribe

How do I figure out if I want to get married, without, you know, getting married? I feel like I need to figure this out, because I'm at an age that a lot of guys I date definitely *do* want to get married, and I don't want to waste their time.

I searched around for a similar question, but most of the questions of "do I want to get married?" involve someone questioning taking the next step in a committed relationship. This is not that.

Yesterday, for the first time in my 31 years of life, the thought that I might not want to get married at all, ever, crossed my mind. I kind of always assumed I did want to eventually get married, now I'm not so sure. I am currently single(ish). I know I want companionship, but I don't really want someone to have kids with, co-mingle finances with, buy a house with, grow old with. None of that is particularly appealing.

This question is two-fold: What's so special about getting married? (I'm serious.) I have had two long term relationships/cohabitation situations and both turned out rather badly. So, I know what it is to share a household and finances with someone I love/care about/have sex with. How is getting married any different? Is it a different mindset?

And, if I do decide I want to be single for quite a long while/forever, do I have to totally re-imagine the guys I date and the way I date? How do I find guys who are in for a penny, but not necessarily in for a pound? I think I'd like a series of monogamous relationships 5-10 years long, max. That's most appealing to me.

Disclaimer: I've had a series/variety of heartbreaks over the past 3-4 years, so this may be coloring my view, but I'm not currently in the throws of a breakup or anything dramatic.
posted by peacrow to Human Relations (40 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
You'll never know if you want to get married in the abstract. That question isn't even emotionally grammatical. The question of whether you want to marry a particular person is the only one that makes sense. If you're dating a man, and you become pretty sure you don't want to marry him, then you break up. He'll understand. That's how it works.
posted by escabeche at 5:49 PM on August 13, 2012 [41 favorites]

I disagree with the notion you need to figure this out. If/when you are dating somebody and the question of marriage comes up (even theoretically), just answer honestly. If it's a deal breaker for the man in question, so be it. You are not obligated to preemptively take yourself out of the dating pool.
posted by Wordwoman at 5:56 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're dating a man, and you become pretty sure you don't want to marry him, then you break up. He'll understand. That's how it works.

In a perfect world, this is how it works. But for all the questions that are "why is this guy stringing me along, we've been together _x_ years and he hasn't asked me to marry him yet, why won't he ask me!?!?!" Not every person is

a) wanting to get married
b) looking for a specific (type of) person to marry (many will just go to alter with the first guy who buys a ring/hints that he should buy her a ring)
c) emotionally honest enough to break it off with someone who isn't marriage material even though they want to eventually get married.

So this is a very complicated question you are asking, and the answers are so complicated, and so individual, that the metafilter truism fits.

You need a neutral third party to discuss this with in depth.

Also known as therapy.

Because. Every person goes into marriage expecting different things. Some couples don't discuss these expectations beforehand (or even after!), with varying outcomes. These expectations are colored by your previous relationships, the marriages you have witnessed, your education, career goals, child rearing hopes (you say you don't want someone to have kids with, but do you want children?

As for the question of does marriage change your relationship. Yes. Absolutely. I am dating a fabulous man, and we live together and we have talked vaguely of marriage and I know from our talking, that for both of us, engagement will reflect or mark a shift, but that marriage will mean even more (positive) work than we do now on our relationship. I don't know how to explain that, as I can only glimpse it from here.

I say this as someone who has been engaged before and prior to that, I had a paper marriage (which, yes, also changed things!). My first engagement happened because it seemed like the next right step to him. (I had been nagging him about marriage and babies for...forever I think, which wasn't fair of me.) The second engagement was an unmitigated disaster and I left a year ago in pretty bad shape.

Before therapy, maybe wrestle for a bit with this concept of sliding vs deciding, which I feel like I link to here a dozen times a week. There's also a video on youtube by the same name. In a nutshell, choosing one thing means not choosing (any number of) other things.
posted by bilabial at 6:06 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just... relax. You said you thought if this yesterday? For a long time, my husband and I thought that we wouldn't get married. Hell, I didn't think I'd ever want to be monogamous! But then we met, and within the first three months we were planning our robot building workshop on our future house ( which was design by us, of course). That's not to say that you will want to get married. The point is that only when you meet the right person will you truly find out what is right for you. Right now? Live your life however you want, but don't worry about it. You aren't wasting anyone's time but your own when you do.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:08 PM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Married people don't have to have kids, comingle finances or even live together. I know people who are married who do only one, two, or none of those things. In those cases being married is an even bigger deal, I think, because it is maybe the ONE thing that signals to the outside world that they are a team and where they want to be, and in it for the long haul.
posted by lollusc at 6:10 PM on August 13, 2012 [11 favorites]

I think I'd like a series of monogamous relationships 5-10 years long, max.

This part you may have trouble with. There are plenty of guys interested in casual relationships, plenty interested in committed ones, and plenty interested in seeing how it goes and maybe getting committed later. But not many I would guess that would be starting out thinking "5-10 years together, that sounds ideal".

I mean... if it's great, why not stay together? And if it's not great, why stay together that long?

If you can explain your thinking on that, you may have your answer.

I have had two long term relationships... both turned out rather badly

Is it that some part of you is now thinking it all inevitably goes pear shaped after a few years?

Because actually that's not the case. Though for a lot of people a couple of relationships in their twenties that started out wonderful, didn't work out, and left them feeling awful for a while is pretty much par for the course.
posted by philipy at 6:10 PM on August 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

I think it's something you need to broadcast to someone you're dating fairly early on. Not so much if it was the other way around and you really WANTED to, because that's the predominant assumption anyway. Any time you intend to opt out of something that conventional, it's best to put that foot forward. Otherwise you're putting someone in the awkward position of discovering it after they've already fallen for you, or vice versa.
posted by hermitosis at 6:10 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Marriage is one of the easiest ways for two adults to form a new family in the eyes of the law, with all good and bad that entails. Many heterosexual couples find they don't need or want to legally form a new family (because they're already socially recognized as a couple, because they don't want to commingle finances, etc.) Do you know all the legal state and federal benefits associated with marriage? They're often collected online due to the gay marriage fight.

I do think it's smart to think about the desirability of marriage as a legal and social institution in the abstract, rather than waiting to meet The One.

(For me, marriage did not change my relationship substantially. I got married (to someone I truly loved) mostly for practical reasons to obtain the legal benefits of being a family. But I know that this is different for others.)
posted by muddgirl at 6:11 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

(My apologies, many non-hetero couples probably also don't need or want to get married, as well - that specificity was part of a tangent that I ended up deleting.)
posted by muddgirl at 6:14 PM on August 13, 2012

What's special about getting married? The fact that you both know that you can't just end things by saying "well, I'm done with this, goodbye" and packing up your things. It actually is a huge difference. Even though it doesn't always turn out this way, the point is that at some stage, you both thought that you wanted to absolutely spend the rest of your life with this person. It doesn't get much more special than that... it certainly is a way different mindset than "I'll give you 5 or 10 years, then ideally I'm planning to move on." How special does that feel?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:16 PM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I know I want companionship, but I don't really want someone to have kids with, co-mingle finances with, buy a house with, grow old with.

Here is a big secret: marriage does not have to be any of that. Just because that's what most people around you do, doesn't mean you have to. I know a couple who lives in two different houses, shares no bank account, and the only homes they own together are the ones they rent to other people. They do have a child, but they have raised him in this two-household family for 15 years (and he's tremendous.) I'm not sure anyone knows they got married three years ago to resolve a legal issue.

I know another couple where he lives in Philly and she lives in NYC. They didn't get married until she was 55, and I think the compelling reason was social security or something. I know yet another couple where she farms in Vermont and he lives in Shelter Island and they meet in a tiny studio in NYC for a few days whenever it works.

My stepfather asked my mother to marry him about 5 times and she said no. They had my youngest sister together and she still said no. He was finally up for partner at his firm and it was hinted he'd have a better chance if he was married so she said yes. That to her was a good reason so they did it. Your reasons don't have to look like anyone else's.

Here is another secret: marriage doesn't have to be monogamous. More people that you realise have marriages that don't at all operate on the inside the way they appear on the outside. A marriage can and should be exactly what works for you and your other half, however you negotiate that.

So while you may not want a bunch of stuff you've no interest in, consider the one thing marriage universally is - a contract with the state - and if you want any of the benefits that conveys. Would you like to be able to leave your partner your estate, or inherit his, without paying punitive taxes? Would you like access to one another's healthcare benefits? Would you like the right to make medical decisions for each other? To be one another's next of kin?

Marriage is an extremely practical and privileged institution, and all I am saying is that if you find someone you want to build a future with, you should just consider what you are giving up by not joining it. As long as you know, do whatever you want.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:20 PM on August 13, 2012 [27 favorites]

Marriage does absolutely nothing for you, until:

1) You want to have kids, or
2) Your partner needs serious medical care.

That said, number one you can work around (plenty of "formerly" married people manage it); number two, you can grant each other medical power of attorney (though I've heard horror stories about hospitals refusing to honor it for a variety of reasons). Everything else just boils down to making sure you have the "right" kind of legal partnership in arranging for the eventual disposition of any shared assets.

Any other reasons amount to the surgical use of fear to keep you locked up in a traditional relationship when you may not want that.
posted by pla at 6:22 PM on August 13, 2012

When I was 31 and single (and knew I didn't want children) I didn't think I wanted to marry, mostly bc it seemed like a lot of negotiation and compromise for not much return. I, too, had a rough outline of serial monogamy for my life. It's not a bad plan, considering the divorce rates, and especially if you don't desire offspring (this is actually key, and gives you an incredible amount of dating freedom).

Echoing escabeche above, it's difficult to make a decision in the abstract: I think you can objectively look at a *particular* person you are dating and determine if you want to marry them, but writing off the whole thing seems a bit much.

What happened to me is that I met on a dating website a kind & gentle guy who made me laugh a lot and was very easy to be around (when really, all I wanted were some dates & sex) until I realized that I wanted to be with him all the time, and that's when I realized that I wanted to be married, bc I wanted to *share* my life with him. I never wanted our ongoing conversation to cease. And our marriage, where we are a team together, a cohesive and complementary unit, who give each other backup/support/validation is just spectacular, better than I imagined that it could be.

So maybe your past cohabitations weren't great due to the relationship or personality issues, but that's what's great about dating...you move on when it doesn't seem to be the alignment for both parties.

I don't think it's necessary to decide beforehand whether you are for-or-against marriage on a first date, or even change your dating criteria, just go with it and see who you meet! Though, feeling like you could be single for the rest of your life and be ok with it is a position of great strength. Good luck!
posted by Pocahontas at 6:25 PM on August 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

"What's so special about getting married? "

My wife sees it like this:
"if a Boyfriend gets on my nerves, fuck it, who needs his crap"

"Husband gets on my nerves, better fix it, 'cause I have to live with the fucker for the rest of my life."

Marriage is a deep emotional, legal and financial agreement. You're pledging to go the distance, not quit after x number of years or when things get rough. You are pledging to grow together, to build something and for one of you to bury the other at the end.

You get to see someone grow, through the stages of life and for the chance to learn and grow with them. That's what is special about marriage.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:27 PM on August 13, 2012 [30 favorites]

Marriage does absolutely nothing for you, until:

That is pretty simplistic. I'm clearly pretty ambivalent about marriage but it does currently confer legal rights that are more difficult and expensive to replicate otherwise.
posted by muddgirl at 6:28 PM on August 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Sounds like you don't want to get married. Cool. Everyone here can say "marriage doesn't mean x, y, z" but let's be realistic--when people say they want to get married they generally make some assumptions about what that means.

You could live a perfectly full and happy life without getting married. The only thing I'd say is that as you get older, it gets harder to find men to date because a lot of them are going to be married or otherwise off the market (and then at some point they start dying) so the whole series of monogamous relationships thing might not be super realistic forever. At some point you'll probably end up pretty definitively without a romantic partner.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:41 PM on August 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

For us, I think the biggest change after we got married was how outside parties perceived us. It's a signal that we were committed for the long haul, and that the amount we cared for each other was [maximum value]. Our relationship got more respect.
posted by colinshark at 6:43 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, I am engaged and a few years ago I think I probably thought the same as you. The idea of committing to one person forever was sometimes really daunting and scary.

But I met my fiancee, and I proposed, and what seems special about it already is the security. Even in years-long relationships I've had before, whenever there was a big fight or a looming disagreement or one of us was just acting like a jerk or crabby, I had this deep, maybe irrational fear that "this could be the thing that breaks us up because one of us is sick of it and thinks there must be somebody else out there". Without even explicitly agreeing on it, engagement at least for me has felt so much more like "this person is on my team, and even when we disagree or are crabby jerks, we know we're going to be here tomorrow and next month and next year." You accept and commit to each other KNOWING that you will fight and be crabby jerks sometimes, but they'll still be the crabby jerk you want to be with when they're done crabbing.

As for your question, I think it's fine to honestly say "I don't know if I want to get married. Maybe to the right person" is totally legit. This might remove a few guys from your dating pool, but I think plenty of early 30's guys still don't know yet either.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:44 PM on August 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: You'll never know if you want to get married in the abstract. That question isn't even emotionally grammatical. The question of whether you want to marry a particular person is the only one that makes sense.

I disagree. It's easiest to see in the other direction -- I know I'm not the only person who has had friends and family members who basically say "dammit, I want to get married!" and they go out and find someone and get hitched. A lot of people want what they see as the trappings and benefits of marriage, and they know they want it before they meet the person they actually marry.

Marriage does absolutely nothing for you, until:

There are all kinds of other benefits, too. Little things like it's easy to go into the bank and take care of something "for my husband" or "for my wife," and not as easy (though much better than it used to be) when it is a boy/girlfriend. And big things that are hard to measure, like the example above of having an easier time making partner if married. Colinshark nails it: a marriage gets more respect (unfair and crazy as that is) and makes dealing with the world easier.

And, if I do decide I want to be single for quite a long while/forever, do I have to totally re-imagine the guys I date and the way I date? How do I find guys who are in for a penny, but not necessarily in for a pound? I think I'd like a series of monogamous relationships 5-10 years long, max. That's most appealing to me.

When I was single, 5-10 years sounded great and was what I was pretty much thinking. It's a time frame that is long enough to know someone without feeling like forever. But then I met someone I liked a lot, and there were practical issues that pushed towards marriage rather than just cohabitation, and so far I'm liking it ok.
posted by Forktine at 6:45 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wife and I only got married because I was going out of the country for work and she needed a spousal visa. Otherwise, we would've been content living in sin forever.

Benefits include tax breaks, it can be cheaper to do health insurance as a couple rather than two individuals especially if your employer pays a portion of yours (at one of my employers, I only paid for 50% of hers, they covered me entirely and 50% of a spouse), cheaper car insurance, and it being easier to do things jointly as a couple (bank accounts, etc.). Also if you're in a more conservative area, places like hospitals are much more respectful of a marriage than a boyfriend or girlfriend when it comes to visitation, etc.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:52 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

A professor of mine remarked once that marriage gives you something like 169 specific rights. Gays fight for the right to marry because too many of them get thrown out into the street by the disapproving relatives after the love of their life dies. They lived as a couple. They comingled finances. They bought property. The estranged parents inherent said property and evict the long term boyfriend with little more than the clothes on his back.

I read an article years ago about a young hippy-ish couple who did not wish to marry and chose to cohabit and have an infant out of wedlock. They were struggling tremendously to arrange simple things like medical insurance, things which would have been essentially automatic if they simply got married. Plus the guy had started saying at parties "My wife is pregnant" instead of "My girlfriend is pregnant" because the reaction to the first was "Congrats!" whereas the reaction to the second was invariably "So sorry to hear that dude". They were considering getting married just to end the time suck involved in arranging insurance, wills, and a zillion other little things that would have taken almost no time for a married couple.

Marriage bestows a long list of rights and privileges which may have little impact between the two people in the couple itself but can have very significant impact when interacting with "society"/other people. It is a means to protect someone you care about in cases where other people might otherwise screw them over. It may never really matter to your life to forego those rights and privileges. But you might take a look at those things before you make a decision.

Some areas impacted:
Ability to purchase real estate.
Medical coverage.
The right to not testify against your spouse (in the U.S.)
Retirement funds.
Social security.
Ability to live where your spouse lives even though you are not a citizen.
Right to make important decisions for this person should they become incapacitated.

If you think you will always be able to care for yourself and a relationship is mostly about sex and companionship, none of this may ever matter to you. If you get sick or they get hit by a car or the relatives don't approve...etc...you might find yourself in a very troubling circumstance of the sort which marriage tends to protect against.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 7:32 PM on August 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Well, since I have been married 29 years as of today, let me take a stab at this....you state you would like a series of relationships. But let me ask you this-as you get older, how easy do you think it will be to keep finding these relationships?

The cool thing about growing older with one person is that it's a shared experience. Your life melds together uniquely. To make this more personal, I don't have to think about finding another partner at my age (53) and going through all the personal bullcrap of having to figure them out or worse having to have them figure me out.

We have shared jokes. Shared life experience. Gone through crappy periods in our marriage, and gotten stronger for it. The marriage is an entity we both had a hand in building.

I guess what I am saying, is there are no guarantees in life, no guarantees of companionship, no guarantees there won't be bumps in the road. I personally think it's worth the risk.

If you are willing to risk being alone and the chance of that doesn't bother you, that's one thing. But don't throw away a good relationship if you find one, is my recommendation.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:35 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: a series of monogamous relationships 5-10 years long

The thing here is that you're already 31. Most men, I think, rarely imagine themselves with a woman over 35, even when they're pushing 50 or 60 themselves. So it won't be that long before seeking and finding new partners gets harder. (I am far from being retirement age, but when I plug my real age into Facebook, I get suggestions in the margin to date retired men. Charming.)

No, it's not fair.

I have never been married, but I can see that part of the deal is that you reach a point of no return with someone where you both need some kind of support (emotional, financial or physical) and are not likely to find someone new, so you stick together. However, after a certain age the prospect of taking on (as my mother put it after she'd been widowed a little while) some other old boy's problems becomes even more unattractive. Hence marriage.
posted by zadcat at 7:35 PM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I completely understand your ambivalence and questioning (and it seems like others here do too and you've gotten some really great answers). I too spent a long time unmarried though in a very happy relationship (which sometimes involved cohabitating and sometimes involved living in different states). I'm not sure what tipped us over into the getting married, but I must admit that the pageantry and the everybody-else-is-doing-it played a smalllllllll part. I know that I thought about those things and enjoyed them a little. I enjoyed taking advantage of the financial benefits and the legal rights, but I am still kicking and screaming against some aspects of melding. The whole assuming-I-changed-my-name, the surprise of people when I arrive at events on my own. But it's all good, and better than I could have imagined. It was the right thing to do, after so many years of it not being the right thing. Even after five years of being married, I still ponder over it a lot, and I've come to the conclusion that the phenomenon of being "married" and why it was right for me is different than it is for everyone else. Maybe even from my husband's experience, although we overlap on some huge things. Sometimes it seems quite foreign to me that I really could have capitulated to melding all those aspects of my life with someone else's, that I trusted someone that much, or that someone else would want to do the same with me!!! I kind of have to touch it all mentally, like a new tooth, and make sure that it really feels ok. And then, I feel happy.

My point is, don't stop questioning and pondering and just doing what feels right to you. If that means having serial monogamous relationships, as you propose, then do that. Maybe one of those relationships will get longer and longer, but you won't want to change anything, or you will. Maybe you'll eventually be single for a long time or decide to live with a friend. Whatever you do, if you do it thoughtfully and truly, it will be good. There's not just 'married' or 'unmarried'; there's all kind of states in either realm, and the married/unmarried dichotomy may not be the important split.

Also, it sounds like any person you're going to be with longterm, romantically or otherwise, needs to be this thoughtful or at least respect the amount of weight you give these things.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:47 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: However, after a certain age the prospect of taking on (as my mother put it after she'd been widowed a little while) some other old boy's problems becomes even more unattractive.

How shallow is it that this, this, is the best reason I can see to get married? I sort of assumed I'd be able to hookup with divorcees and widowers as I got older (I have no problem finding divorced men/single dads my age to date), but this puts that plan into perspective a little bit.

Despite this hitting home the most, I appreciate ALL of the advice. I will definitely ponder it all, and bring it up with my therapist, mostly because therapy started me down this path of questioning all the assumptions I had about how I want to live.

Whatever you do, if you do it thoughtfully and truly, it will be good.

This is wonderful. Thanks.
posted by peacrow at 7:51 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I wasn't all that sure I was the marrying kind for many years...until I met my husband. He was the only guy I ever met that I decided being married to would actually make my life better and MORE awesome than my very happy single life.

I think you need to take it on a case by case basis. You meet a guy who makes you want to get married? Great! You never meet a guy that makes it worth the plunge? Keep rockin' your single lifestyle. No harm either way, as long as you're happy with it.
posted by ninjakins at 8:00 PM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

What's so special about getting married? (I'm serious.)

I will tell you. You will also note that the answer is entirely secular. I am a lawyer, which may help since civil marriage is a legal creation.

As others have mentioned, civil marriage comes with many rights: tax credits, social security survivor's benefits, the right not to testify (in current circumstances), and so on. These come at a tremendous cost to the state in terms of lost tax revenues, entitlement spending, and the like. In essence, the state subsidizes marriage like it subsidizes corn. The reason is because the state has a compelling interest in the propagation of society, so it undertakes this great expense because a married couple is likely to bear children. That is what is so special. The state doesn't subsidize people just to have companionship. (of course, no-fault divorce does raise the question of what is so special about marriage indeed, but I digress)

Now, from the general to the specific. As others have pointed out, serial monogamy is very likely not to be a viable long term strategy. As a single woman ages, she will increasingly ask where all the good men have gone. The answer is that they have married women younger than the asker. I don't know anything about you, but at 31, you still have a pretty good shot in the sexual market place, all other things being equal. At 41, less of a good shot, and down it goes from there. The commenter known as the young rope-rider hit it on the head. When you are 60, where do you imagine this plan of serial monogamy taking you?
posted by Tanizaki at 9:22 PM on August 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

I don't want the traditional marriage with a house in the suburbs and 2.1 kids either, but I think the idea of a long-term sustained mutually-respectful companionship with someone who knows your quirks and with whom you have established a healthy sexual rapport pretty appealing. Plus, there's the tax incentives.

If monogamy isn't your thing, listen to Dan Savage's podcast. He has occasionally covered non-traditional, non-monogamous marriages. I think it's important to learn what you do want by using what didn't work as training material. If you know that monogamous marriage isn't for you, maybe something else is. You have to do some work on yourself first and figure out what would make you happy.
posted by deathpanels at 9:59 PM on August 13, 2012

And yeah, I think if you're just meeting someone for the first time: "I don't know if I want to get married. Maybe if I meet the right guy." This is a totally fair response.
posted by deathpanels at 10:03 PM on August 13, 2012

The reason I'm excited to get married (or to abstract it, to make a lifelong commitment to my partner) is because I like the concept of With Our Powers Combined.

What I mean is, based on our interests/passions/talents/personalities/careers/outlooks on life, With Our Powers Combined...

We can afford to live comfortably and travel to neat places we've always wanted to see!
We can raise cool, smart, funny kids (and hopefully they get his eyesight, not mine!)
We can support each other in our challenging careers, about which we're each passionate and ambitious, and become more awesome!
We can take on haters and be assured of mutual support for each other in the face of assholes!
We can rely on the other to support us in our responsibilities to care for aging parents!
We can each make life a little easier for the other just by being there at the end of a long day!

But this stuff is important to me because I want that partner-in-crime, that other person to share and support me in what I want to do with my life. And he wants that as well. If you don't need or want that, then you don't need a lifelong partner.

As to "why get married" as in "why have the ceremony with the white dress"? Well technically we already got married so I could get a visa, and our families and friends know this. But we're still having a ceremony and party next year as our "wedding". Part of it is because he wants a church ceremony, and our current marriage is a purely legal affair. But the other part (especially for me) is that it is important to both of us to promise all our support and love for each other in front of our family and friends, and for them to agree with and support it. Because despite our combined badassery, it's not going to be easy, and some things we'll need the help of our families and friends to face. So it's really a celebration of With All Our Powers Combined.
posted by olinerd at 12:24 AM on August 14, 2012 [12 favorites]

Best answer: My partner and I got married after 14 years together because he needed health insurance and I had health insurance. We have been legally married for a year, and it has changed nothing at all about our relationship to each other. As others have said, I did not need legal blackmail to make me committed to my relationship.

But as others have also said, it sure makes the world easier to take advantage of all the privileges we suddenly have. I can call and make a doctor's appointment for him. He is eligible for alllllll of my work benefits. I've found it somewhat easier to get obnoxious men to leave me alone when I refer to "my husband" rather than "my boyfriend". And of course, if one of us gets sick, we don't have to worry about not being able to visit each other in the hospital, etc.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:15 AM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

What's so special about getting married?

A good marriage transforms your primary self satisfaction into a communal one. "We" replaces "I" over the years. The very act of making plans together and negotiating your happiness in light of another's makes you more enlightened about the needs of those around you. It isn't the only way to achieve self improvement but when couples genuinely seek the middle ground it yields an uncommon contentment. Think of marriage as a discipline rather than a payoff and you can likely determine if its transformative effects are right for you.
posted by dgran at 6:52 AM on August 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Think of marriage as a discipline rather than a payoff and you can likely determine if its transformative effects are right for you.

A very interesting argument. I will consider this, and all of the other points made in this thread. I just needed to hear a variety of perspectives on marriage.

I came to the conclusion that I may never want to get married after reflecting on my relationships and dating choices over the past 3 years since the end of the long-term relationship. I didn't want to marry him, despite him asking me twice, and the thought of marrying any of the guys I've dated since quite literally turned my stomach. I concluded that perhaps it was because I didn't want to get married at all, rather than I just hadn't met the one, especially since I don't idealize "traditional marriage" the way many of my friends--single or not--seem to do. I think either possibility is likely, but I need to think about it more before making any definite proclamations.

Thanks again, all!
posted by peacrow at 7:13 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

How shallow is it that this, this, is the best reason I can see to get married? I sort of assumed I'd be able to hookup with divorcees and widowers as I got older (I have no problem finding divorced men/single dads my age to date), but this puts that plan into perspective a little bit.

It's not shallow. You might really enjoy the economics of marriage, there is a lot of theory about the way people choose partners and underneath it all, we're all pretty shallow.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:33 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think I'd like a series of monogamous relationships 5-10 years long, max.

I know other people having commented on how you may have trouble finding men who want this as you get older, but I have a friend whose parents got divorced when she was a kid. Her dad went on to remarry, but her mom didn't see the point in getting remarried if she wasn't going to have more children, instead having a series of long-term boyfriends. She's in her mid-to-late 50s now and doesn't seem to have any trouble meeting new men -- sometimes they're divorced or widowed, sometime they've never been married, some have children and some don't. My friend and I like to talk about how her mother leads a more exciting dating life than either one of us. So just a data point that it is possible!
posted by jabes at 7:42 AM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think dating has to be with the goal to get married. I think most married people would agree that any dating they did prior to marriage was most often an exercise in figuring out what they wanted (and didn't want). I didn't marry any of the previous guys I've dated because in the end they weren't going to be what I wanted. (Only a few "turn my stomach" at the thought at this point, fortunately) I guess the difference between you and me is that I knew, long term, that i did want to get married some day, because I wanted the partnership/companionship/etc that I mentioned above.

There's really nothing wrong with not wanting to get married or make a lifetime commitment to someone. But I wouldn't say that is the inevitable conclusion based on not having been interested in marrying some guys you've dated.
posted by olinerd at 8:16 AM on August 14, 2012

This question is two-fold: What's so special about getting married? (I'm serious.)

Well, it's good to have someone to have kids with, co-mingle finances with, buy a house with, grow old with.

But since None of that is particularly appealing to you, maybe you're not the marrying type.
posted by Doohickie at 9:07 AM on August 14, 2012

Response by poster: I marked this resolved, and wanted to add a follow-up paper I found useful for getting a bit of (a certain) perspective:

Friedberg and Stern 2003, The Economics of Marriage and Divorce [pdf]

Friedberg and Stern (both UVa) also have a paper from 2010, Marriage, Divorce and Assymetric Information. I have yet to read it, but it also looks informative.
posted by peacrow at 7:31 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Plus, there's the tax incentives.

Just want to highlight that marriage is only a positive in the tax incentive department when one spouse is the sole income-generator; in two-income marriages, it's an *increased* tax burden over two single people living together & filing separately. [Boy were we surprised by our tax attorney at our first married tax appointment!]

Finally, if you keep your original surname instead of taking on your husband's, be prepared for many institutions (banks, employers, insurance companies, etc) to want to supplant your name with his.
posted by Pocahontas at 11:48 AM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've never had any institution try to supplant my name with my husbands, except perhaps informally by customer service agents when I call accounts in his name (which I am personally OK with). I don't live in a particularly liberal state.
posted by muddgirl at 2:41 PM on August 15, 2012

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