First Comes Love, then Comes....?
July 10, 2015 3:14 PM   Subscribe

What are other ways of creating and defining commitment in a relationship besides marriage?

I've been thinking a lot about what a committed relationship could look for me and my beau if marriage and cohabitation are not currently part of the equation or the immediate future (by mutual choice).

I'm especially interested in articles, essays, books, reading that describe other models of commitment building. I'm looking for things that would inspire me to think about this question in new ways. Things like this.

Wide ranging examples are appreciated. The gender or sexual orientation of the examples doesn't matter to me.
posted by brookeb to Human Relations (17 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, I was going to tell you my family's joke, which is that if people give us a hard time about my husband and I having different last names, we always joke, "But we share a mortgage! We don't need to share a name!" But you're not cohabiting!

So possibly you could share a name, and joke, "We don't need to share a living space! We share a name!"

You could also have some kind of blessing ceremony of the relationship; a big part of marriage/long-term relationships is that they're publicly recognized and therefore publicly supported by your family and friends. So you could host some kind of blessing ceremony -- there are plenty of examples online with language like "choosing each other ever day" as alternatives to marriage ceremonies -- where either a clergyperson of your choice or just your friends offer their blessings to you and celebrate your love. Ceremonies are really important for human beings, to recognize and mark their important life decisions and transitions, and non-marital long-term relationships deserve that just as much!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:17 PM on July 10, 2015

This isn't exaaactly what you're looking for, but the author talks a lot about the negative elements associated with the institution of marriage. I enjoyed reading it quite a bit since it's not an often-covered perspective and I think it brings up a lot of truths people ignore.

"Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human destiny; how can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State and Church-begotten weed, marriage?"

Emma Goldman said it best.
posted by monologish at 4:58 PM on July 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

if you're trying to find some way to "fix" or "improve" things, this isn't going to help, but if you're looking for confirmation that marriage (can't speak to living separately) is not important, then my (our) experience, after twenty-odd years with no marriage or other ceremony, is that commitment simply grows with time.

you stick at it. then, afterwards, you look back and realise you're the kind of people that stick at it. that's all it is.

of course, not everyone does. but whether they had a party, or not, has nothing to do with it.
posted by andrewcooke at 5:10 PM on July 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The Alternatives to Marriage Project is now called Unmarried Equality, lots to read there.

This was the go-to book a few years back for the legal angle.
posted by clavicle at 6:07 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a cousin who is engaged to a great guy, but they will probably never marry. She told me the "engagement" was to appease her parents. They live about a 90 minute drive from each other, and spend every weekend together, work permitting. They spend a couple nights a week together, but not every night. They are very happy.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:35 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

We were together almost ten years and had a kid and mortgage and pets before we got married. Neither of us wears a ring. We got married privately and quietly without telling anyone until afterwards. My dad's joke, when I told him afterwards was, 'what, were they having a sale?' which I thought was a pretty good one. It was because I wanted to so I called a guy and we filled out a form and we got married with our daughter and our dog and the guy, on our front lawn beneath the magnolia tree. I think the man thought we were completely insane. (We're in a state that doesn't require witnesses).

Anyway, it's handy legally in terms of inheritance, property, and next of kin, but you know what, if you refer to someone as 'my husband' or 'my wife' it's like a showstopper of adornment - everybody's like 'yeah, I totally have to let her into the ICU with her husband'. Nobody's sitting there going 'let's see a marriage license'. It gets wonky when you have to deal with conflicting legalities or untrustworthy families.

I'm not sure this helps other than to say 'not part of the immediate future' could mean something to the degree of 'the modern machinery of marriage gives us the serious creeps and I'd just as soon our families never meet' in which case you can quietly ditch that part (as we eventually did).
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:55 PM on July 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

(We don't share a last name, either, fwiw. You don't have to do *any* of the things expected of you, you can totally pick the parts that make sense. I guess one thing that made this easy for us is that we're old, like I was 44(?) when we got married. By the time you're in your forties people aren't so dripping all over you with their expectations.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:00 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The way I explained it my dad, who asked if we going to get married was that I feel like I am making the choice everyday to stay with this person. Each day is a new commitment. There is no outside tether. Just me, and him, reconfirmimg, all the time. We are not one. We are two autonomous people exercising freedom to choose to prioritise each other. YMMV.
posted by girlpublisher at 7:26 PM on July 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

My (different-sex) partner and I have been happily not-married for 15 years. We live together, so that's not exactly what you're asking about.

I had been married before and the experience (especially the divorce) left a bad taste in my mouth - too much state involvement in what was essentially a private, personal matter, I felt. My now-partner had developed a negative perspective on marriage because of the history of oppression and inequality in the institution itself.

We decided we didn't really need or want the state (or an institution representing a non-existent deity) to sanctify our partnership, but we wanted to do something because we were having a good time and felt like partying about it. We held a modest commitment ceremony with family and friends, and then spent a week in the northern California woods hashing out the terms of whatever it was we had just committed to. We wrote it all down in the form of a series of promises to each other, had it framed, and I'm looking at it now on the wall across the room as I type this. I really liked being able to essentially construct from scratch the kind of relationship we wanted without the expectations and assumptions that marriage brings along with it.

Our families were supportive - attitudes ranged from bemused to apathetic to enthusiastic. No one has ever made a "thing" of it - even after we had a boy-child 11 years ago (who has my partner's last name). My mother enjoys jokingly referring to our son as the "little bastard" (not in his presence) and my partner's parents have taken to calling themselves my "out-laws" since they are not, technically, in-laws. They are all good sports about it.

I work for a city that offers gender-neutral domestic partner benefits, so we did have to file a piece of paper stating that we lived together, but that meant we didn't have to worry about insurance when my partner wasn't working. We worked with a lawyer to draw up all the wills, rights of survivorship, health care agreements, etc. that we needed to. I think about the only issue that remains is not being eligible for each other's Social Security benefits. It's even tax-advantageous for us to file separately (I'm "head of household" and she's "single").

I'm very touched and inspired by reading the other sentiments expressed here. I love the notion that "each day is a new commitment" from girlpublisher, in particular. Oh, and we did consult with and get some great resources from Unmarried Equality back when it was the Alternatives to Marriage Project (as referenced by clavicle. Definitely check those out.
posted by majorsteel at 8:38 PM on July 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

One of my nieces got married recently and they both changed their last name to a hyphenated version of their two last names. You could do that that without the getting married part.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:10 PM on July 10, 2015

Best answer: my boyfriend and I aren't into the marriage or living together thing either, so we bought a house that has two apartments. it's really great! become neighbours!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:17 PM on July 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

sorry, answering a second time, just to comment that in practice us old-fashioned live-together types do the separate living thing on a smaller scale. i am writing this in "my" study, where i work from home. my partner (an academic) has "her" office, at work. so we spend most of our waking time in our own small, safe, cozy environments. the idea of having adjacent apartments in the same building sounds quite appealing (except that it seems a little profligate and un-green to have two of various appliances!)
posted by andrewcooke at 5:08 AM on July 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Could you do some kind of travel together? An international trip involves a lot of commitment - shared decisions, financial resources, compromises, adventure, and some time - but does not necessarily require marriage or cohabitation. Lots of flexibility to do your own thing within the trip if you want that too. You'd come back with some great photos and stories to share with your families and friends, and an experience that the both of you will remember forever as something meaningful you did together.
posted by belau at 10:37 AM on July 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine has a philosophy on marriage and commitment that I really like.

He doesn't like the idea of the relationship being the default option. His idea is to have a ring that you put on every day. And that putting on that ring is choosing to be in the relationship. So that every day when you wake up, you are choosing to be in the relationship.

Of course, rings already have a pretty strong meaning. You could e.g. put it on a different finger than the traditional one, not get a fancy diamond ring, etc to distinguish it from that other ring tradition if you like.

On a related note, after hearing this I now consciously choose vision every morning when I put on my glasses.
posted by Adamsmasher at 2:59 PM on July 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

IMO, what dooms marriage as a cultural institution is its characterizations as an end state. It's a goal to achieve, a milestone, a pinnacle of relationship-ness, on which tons of money is often lavished, and on which society attaches innumerable expectations; one of which is, that being married means you're 'done' and you no longer need to seek any of the things that one hopes led you to choose *that* person, or bear any responsibility for the state of that union. "I married you, ergo, all that stuff is always true. Now go make me a sandwich/fix my car/have sex with me/do my laundry/take out the trash."

FALSE. Marriage is only the beginning and people. change.

A marriage has to be able to accommodate a ton of change, growth and evolution. And yet it is a foundational element of our country, assuming and even demanding that change remain minimal for best results. Everything marriage is supposed to represent is woven into the decidedly non-romantic, non-Carpenters-song-lyrics fabric of life- tax breaks, health benefits, real estate choices, child-rearing decisions... and so on and so on.

Marriage is a bait and switch. I support any alternate method of achieving equality that does not require traditional marriage to get me in the door.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:28 AM on July 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

My ex-boyfriend did not want to get married. I did. When it became clear that he wasn't going to budge, I read Unmarried to Each Other, which is a book put out by the former Alternatives to Marriage Project. It provided a good overview of the legal and social issues surrounding being unmarried but partnered by choice.

When we spoke about alternatives, we discussed:

1) Having a lawyer draft up similar protections to marriage for us, though that would be expensive and kind of impractical compared to actually getting married
2) Having a commitment ceremony where we exchanged rings
3) Living together

The funny thing is that we broke up partially because of this impasse, but as I go to more and more weddings, I think that marriage is just not for me. I_Love_Bananas has a big reason: the idea that marriage is forever and it's an end instead of a beginning. As someone who places a high priority on personal growth, I simply find it hard to believe that I could commit to someone for 50 years without either of us changing significantly in a way that would lead to an unhappy or distant marriage. And that doesn't even take into account the significant problems with it as an institution for women, having been based on the idea of women as property.
posted by anotheraccount at 7:57 AM on July 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

I agree with Anotheraccount . I too have been attending many weddings this summer. I am happy for the people getting hitched but a little part of me is confused why communities can only "support" a couple publicaly if they go through an arcane institution like marriage.

As _I_love_bananas seems to be arguing, people treat marriages as a sort of teleology, and that is no good, but even those who are more progressive about it allow speeches that make their weddings sound like eulogies. Like "this is it, guys. Let's review all the good things that have ever happened in my life.".
I'm going to start another post on this topic.
posted by jacobnayar at 7:18 PM on July 19, 2015

« Older Help me ID this post-WW2 B&W movie - I never...   |   Truckin' to Truckee; what to do, where to eat? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.