Marriage: yes, no, and why
February 24, 2020 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Help me sort out my feelings about marriage. Why does it hold particular meaning to me, and can I change that? What meaning does it hold for you?

I'm a mid-40's female; I've been unhappily married and divorced. I'm partnered again, in a long term relationship, and there is no compelling reason to get married. We are very happy, love each other deeply, and there is no doubt that we are 100% committed to each other. So: why do I still want to get married one day? Not just that, but I want him to want it, too. And he's not opposed, per se, but doesn't have strong feelings on it either way. Why do I?

I'm not religious, and I don't much care what others think about me/us. However , I DO feel on some subconscious level that marriage is the ultimate commitment between two people. I'm interested in examining and challenging this notion. I'd love to hear from people who have a different perspective, especially people who once felt like me and no longer do. What changed for you? Alternatively, if marriage does hold strong meaning for you, why is that?

Note: I'm aware that marriage can have certain economic and legal benefits, but they aren't relevant to the question because they're not driving my desire to be married. For me it's more about the feeling of commitment.
posted by yawper to Human Relations (29 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Important! Need to add that monogamy is not a motivating factor. We are monogamish and that wouldn't change after marriage.
posted by yawper at 6:27 PM on February 24, 2020

Marriage holds a strong meaning for me because it is (in any form I would bother to do it) a promise to stay with someone forever until one of you dies and to consider them your closest family, above all others. binding in the way that all promises are binding and all promises can be broken.

if someone were to say to me, You are more to me than anyone on earth and I promise to stay with you until I die, I would not feel the need to then ask them to marry me, too. you could say that this promise would break the spell that the ideal of Marriage has upon me.

on the other hand, if they said that to me and I said it back to them, and we both meant it, I would consider us married. because, legalities apart, that's what marriage is. so it wouldn't be that I'd stop caring about marriage at that point, but rather that I would be in one.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:34 PM on February 24, 2020 [9 favorites]

For me, as a married and now divorced person, it's clear to me that the actual act of getting married has no meaning. The one-day, one-time nature of "getting married" means nothing next to the every-day, all-the-time nature of choosing the person you're with.

I don't care if I ever get one-time validation ever again. I do care about having the meaningful, every day commitment of a person I love.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:36 PM on February 24, 2020 [10 favorites]

I too, feel this pull. My desire to marry my partner is, admittedly, largely based on getting us both healthcare and tax benefits. Beyond that, I recognize that society has ingrained this idea in me that marriage means forever, even though as a divorced woman, I know that's not reality.

If you want to get married, do it! Have a big party, or ceremony, or whatever. You dont have to get married 'on paper' if you dont want to. Keep in mind many states will recognize you as married (for better or worse, ha) if you cohabitate for a certain amount of time.

It's worth examining how much your gut feeling is driven by the social structure we were born into. It's ok to go along with that, just as much as it's ok not too.
posted by ananci at 6:39 PM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I recommend the essay collection Young Wives’ Tales: New Adventures in Love and Partnership, eds. Jill Corral and Lisa Miya-Jervis (this is not the Adele Parks novel). It is out of print, so you will have to find a used copy.

When I was contemplating what marriage meant to me and trying to clarify how I felt about it, during a time when lots of my friends were getting married and I kind of wanted to but also wasn’t sure, I read this book and found it extremely helpful. It’s a highly multivocal essay collection — everything from “marriage is a crock” to “monogamous marriage is the greatest” — so you’ll probably find some things that you totally vibe with, and others that you find infuriating, and others where you’re like “Yeah, but I’m uncomfortable with your reasoning.” Reading all these different perspectives and seeing where I agreed and disagreed was what helped me sort out my own thoughts and feelings.

And, ultimately, I became comfortable with saying “It actually is important to me to make a public commitment to each other in front of our community of family and friends. It’s important to me to have that explicit definition of our relationship and commitment, rather than just falling into it and having to guess and assume. And yes, the wedding ritual is important to me too, and that’s not wrong or stupid or just giving in to social pressure — rituals have a function.”
posted by snowmentality at 6:48 PM on February 24, 2020 [19 favorites]

and regarding different philosophies between members of a couple: I think some people don't believe promises are real and didn't have complexes about keeping their word instilled in them early enough to fester, and I think these people are more likely than others to find marriage relatively unimportant -- I think this is a big thing, unrelated to direct experience of bad marriages. Doesn't mean they aren't as trustworthy as anyone else. but for some of us there is a meaningful difference between saying you'll do something and not doing it and promising you'll do something and not doing it. both may be bad, but many of us who habitually disappoint our loved ones would never think of actually betraying them by breaking our word. it's just altogether different and more serious. and so having a promise from someone who loves you is different, and more, than just having someone who loves you and relying on that to be enough.

Some people write it all off as "just words" on a piece of paper, and sure, but different words mean different things. "I love you" is different from "I'll always love you" is different from "I love you so much right now that standing on the foundation of that great love, I promise to stand by you always, no matter how I feel from day to day." one is a statement of fact that can change any time; one is a hopeful prediction, subject to change and an unknown future -- but the third! the third is different.

I used to be violently anti-marriage for feminist/historical reasons and still am. but as bad as legal marriage has historically been for straight women, and as bad as husband-habits and husband-patterns still are for wives, I feel very strongly about non-legal romantic-symbolic-secret marriage (real marriage, as I think of it) for the reasons above.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:58 PM on February 24, 2020 [19 favorites]

Married is just easier in North America, and a definite part of why I did it. Yes taxes and legal rights (death and dismemberment!), and all those other things I laughed at in my 20s with my now spouse. Ignoring those is a real privilege, imo.

But also it just gets tiresome introducing your partner as a partner. Especially after a decade or two. And some people think you mean business partners, or bridge partners, or anything other than spousal partners, because they simply lack any terminology for long-term-committed-romantic-partners-who-cohabitate-and-may-even-co-parent-or-co-own-real-estate. And really; who can blame them?

And yeah fuck the patriarchy but teammates for life is kind of an ok—and even cool—promise to make and uphold in my book, ymmv.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:08 PM on February 24, 2020 [10 favorites]

Note: I'm aware that marriage can have certain economic and legal benefits, but they aren't relevant to the question because they're not driving my desire to be married.

I mean, they may not be driving your desire directly, but (*gesticulating wildly at, like, everything about our current society, like the gender wage gap and precarious & at-will employment for pretty much everyone and how in the US health care is still a wreck and often tied to employment, and and and and*) I wouldn't at all doubt that those economic and legal benefits are a factor in the back of your mind.

So: why do I still want to get married one day? Not just that, but I want him to want it, too. And he's not opposed, per se, but doesn't have strong feelings on it either way. Why do I?

From the cis-straight-male "doesn't have strong feelings about it either way" camp - it's just . . . really really obvious that there is & has been enormous cultural pressure on women to, well, view "getting married" and "making a family" as your Life's Work, like the entire reason for your existence. Guys don't get that pressure - there's an enormous Wedding Industrial Complex ("Say Yes To The Dress" & other reality shows, 50 zillion different bride/wedding magazines, huge wedding expositions, aaaaalllll the ads for diamond rings) and so much fiction/media (rom-coms, the Hallmark Channel), all sorts of social media posts and influencers, all about GETTING MARRIED as the end goal of a relationship, or at the very least THE BIG MEANINGFUL MILESTONE - and it's pretty much all aimed squarely at women. And largely invisible to and/or easily ignored by men.

Even among the 30-year-olds I know who are getting married, when guys talk about it amongst themselves, it's pretty much just "Hey, congratulations!" and jokes about how the groom's only job is to show up at the right place at the right time in the right tux. They may consider themselves pretty feminist-friendly guys, but *eh*, weddings and marriage are Women's Concerns, not really a thing that guys have to pay attention to or have any interest in discussing amongst themselves. Maybe worth comparing that to your own experiences discussing weddings and marriages and relationships with your women friends and acquaintances.

Like ananci and snowmentality say, just because "GET MARRIED" is sort of the cultural water we swim in doesn't make a desire for it stupid or proof that you're just being some kind of brainwashed sheeple, but it may well be worth thinking about & examining that social & cultural influence.

And it seems like there's maybe a bit of confusion or concern on your part about why your parter doesn't feel the same way, and I think that cultural influence is a big reason for that - you were 8 and watching Disney's animated Cinderella, where the point is to get the princess married, he was 8 and watching Transformers Saturday morning cartoons where the point was to prevent the Decepticons from taking over the world or whatever. Cultural influences start early, run deep, are pervasive and constantly reinforced.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:25 PM on February 24, 2020 [9 favorites]

1. You had an unhappy marriage. Maybe you harbor curiosity about happy marriages, and would like to experience one of them. (The happily married can be terrific salespeople, however unwittingly.)

b). If you're dragging around any culturally-induced-but-still-personal baggage about that marriage being a 'failure' because it concluded with a divorce (and I sincerely hope you aren't, because that is neither true nor helpful), maybe there's a part of you thinking a marriage with this person, a marriage enduring until one of you dies, could be deemed 'successful' and cancel out the earlier 'failure.' The phrase starter marriage was coined for a reason. (Again, I hope this isn't what is going on behind the scrim, in the theater of your mind. I offer it because you're clearly uncomfortable in some way, and are asking for suggestions to help suss things out.)

III. Maybe it's just another kind of cultural conditioning? Traditionally (in North America), a spouse is marked out (socially, with every introduction, on forms, with symbolic jewelry, etc.) to the world at large as your special person; he is so special to you, and you'd like him to have the same feelings for you (as described in the shared, commonly-defined language). But men don't experience this sort of conditioning in the same way, for myriad reasons. Consequently, he can be just as committed to your relationship, and deeply happy with you, only not using that vocabulary to describe his experience. A lot of women (our generation, and older, particularly) who are attracted to men have been schooled that the two-step of 'I want to marry you' and 'I do' are the most powerful signals one can receive 'proving' one's worth to one's beloved.

TL:DR I DO feel on some subconscious level that marriage is the ultimate commitment between two people. That's why you want it, and that's why you want him to want it, too. It's not an awful thing to want, either. (On preview: yes, greater ease overall, and the idea of being teammates, for life, can be a real draw.) If you don't want to feel this way, though, a therapist can help you isolate your own desires from the 40+ years of situational static surrounding them. Best wishes.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:32 PM on February 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

I married young and was astonished by how much society viewed us as True Adults whenever I called the dude next to me my husband. (I’m still married at 40, so I don’t know if the converse is true once you’re not in your early 20’s, but I suspect it is.) It is surely bullcrap, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect the way many people will treat your relationship, up to and including a variety of situations considered “family only” where people who don’t call each other a spouse are excluded. It’s not exclusively a matter of what people think, but also doors and relationships that open up.

In a flip of usual roles, I was the one who was hesitant about marriage, while my then-boyfriend viewed it as the obvious and right thing to do when you seriously want to spend your life together. I feared it would change the relationship, as it seemed to in some bad marriages I saw in my family. It didn’t change it, though as I said it made a lot of logistics easier. It also gave us an easy shorthand to describe our relationship as being one between two people who were committed to being each other’s family by choice. That easy shorthand is “married.”
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:53 PM on February 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

I can answer this normally or really sideways. So normally: for me, at 25+ years of marriage, 98% of the time, being married is about being together, partners, doing stuff...regular relationship things.

1% of the time has been mystic (I’m not even to the sideways part yet.) For example, my older son had a seizure and emergency surgery. My husband and I had to travel separately while transferring him from one hospital to another. And yet, I felt we were in the same place the whole time. There is an entity between us that is not about legalities or words but it is a thing.

The final 1% is the 2-3 times that I would have left or slept with someone else or said something unfixable. In the haze and smoke of emotions and hormones there has sometimes been a bright row of emergency lights that lead back to Married Us, set there by the precise vows we have taken.

Now for the sideways part. I’m multiple, so I personally did not choose originally to marry my husband, although I considered at the time that “silence gives consent” (that sounded not so terrible pre-MeToo) meant I had to be nice to him and follow the technical rules of marriage. In fact out of more than a dozen of us, only one person really was at the wedding. Even though this is our usual reality (job acceptances, etc.) the points at which individuals haven chosen to enter the actual marriage as opposed to date or co-parent have been palpable. For us there is a quality of marriage that is transformative, not like a chrysalis to a butterfly but like a new tributary of - stretch, that thing that makes you reach a bit further, push a bit harder.

I don’t know if that helps but there it is.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:06 PM on February 24, 2020 [10 favorites]

So: why do I still want to get married one day? Not just that, but I want him to want it, too. And he's not opposed, per se, but doesn't have strong feelings on it either way. Why do I?

Don't know if this is helpful but this is my path. I'm in my 50s, in a long term long distance relationship with a guy I've been with for nearly 12 years.

I was married once in a sort of stunt-ish marriage and we divorced because my partner-in-stunts met "the one" which was a little hard because, well, the whole point was that we didn't need marriage to be happy with the world. That said, he's married and is happy and good on him.

My next really serious relationship was with a guy who was a bit younger than me, seemed to share my "Eh we don't need to be married" feelings right up until we split up and he married his next girlfriend very quickly. He's married and is happy and good on him. But! One thing about that guy was when I was having a (temporary) health care crisis and I asked him "Hey if I were in a jam we could get married right?" his deer-in-headlights look was chilling and sort of spoke for itself.

My current partner is someone who had a child when he was younger and was never married to his son's mom though they had a long relationship both together as a couple and afterwards as a non-couple. We talked about marriage early on in our relationship, not in terms of being married to each other but in terms of explaining our past histories a little and what marriage meant to us.We also had the same"Hey if I were in a jam..." talk (though i am much more financially stable now, though he is the one with the good health care) and he was like "Yup." with no questions.

So for me part of it was, early on, being a "marriage is not for me" person and having a lot (A LOT) of people tell me I would change my mind. That was aggravating. But then when two of my serious partners who had been with me in "Yeah not getting married, at least not like that" decided to marry (and were happy) I sometimes questioned my choices. For me, having someone have the option to walk at any time and choose to stay is a big deal. But for many other people I know, making that commitment, that leap of faith, is what makes something special. There's always a nagging part of me who wonders if my current partner could in some future time find himself happily married to someone who wasn't marriage-averse. But I doubt it. And if it did happen, we had a good run anyhow.

Absent from my feelings are any religious feelings (raised without religion and still don't have one) but they can be powerful, even if you don't believe,but were just raised within a tradition.

Amusingly in this story is that I'm actually an elected justice of the peace and perform civil wedding ceremonies frequently. People get married for so many reasons. I have definitely felt what you are feeling.
posted by jessamyn at 8:24 PM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

As a queer person who was close to forty when the Obergefell decision came down, marriage means nothing to me except legal benefits.

The legal benefits are huge. Healthcare decisions. Power of attorney. Rights to property when one of you dies. A thousand messages about the validity of your relationship from your government. I don’t think these things can be dealt with separately from the emotional side you’re talking about. You seem to want the validation of it, both from your partner and externally.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:18 PM on February 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

For me marriage is about so much more than the legal aspect, and I am not specifically interested in marriage for the legal and economic benefits either, but like you it is still important to me. To very narrowly look at that part, it’s important for me for someone to back up their promises of lifelong love 1) in the every day sense, showing up and being loving and doing what they said they would, and 2) by making a binding contract that kind of intertwines us even in the event of the relationship ending.

I have a lot more feelings on marriage but 2 above is what I have come to understand as my stance on why the legal part is important to me. There is a thought out there that marriage makes it harder to leave (as does cohabitating to a lesser extent), and that if you don’t have that legal/cohabitating commitment it means you need less inertia to leave and thus some people stay married even when they shouldn’t. So maybe it’s better to stay together but not married, because it means more that they show up every day when they don’t have to, vs showing up because divorce sucks.

This can certainly be true and it’s taken me a while to figure out why legal marriage is still important for me.

I would not want to marry or even stay long term with someone I did not 100% trust to do 1 above, show up every day and be there.

But to me the legal part is backing up words with actions by promising that I love you so much and am so committed to this relationship that if it doesn’t work out - because obviously that’s always a possibility - I am willing to go through the ass pain of divorce for you. I am willing to commit in such a sense that even if it doesn’t work out, our financial and other decisions during this time will have been OURS and even if we get divorced and those finances become separate after that, we will have decided and committed to them together, in both an emotional and legal sense, and we have to go through a legal disentanglement that recognizes these things as ours and not mine and yours.

For example if your partner stays home with kids for x years, you can promise that if the relationship ended you would always help out (your ex, not just the kids) because they gave up career experience and money.

Or maybe you get a mortgage in only one of your names because of credit scores or something, but you still split the payments 50-50 and say if this ever ends we will sell the house and split the profits.

And I wouldn’t want to marry someone who I didn’t trust to do those things. But it’s the legal commitment that whatever we do during this time is OURS together, and if it ends I can’t just walk away with my equity and career experience - I will most likely have some legal obligation to you even after the relationship ends, if it does.

(Obviously this legal aspect can be very complicated and divorce can be financially ruinous, but it’s the general sentiment)
posted by sillysally at 9:56 PM on February 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

I've been married three times, going on 20 years with current husband and happy. I don't think I ever had any big starry-eyed feelings about marriage... I married twice before I was 20, and neither marriage was particularly well thought out (obviously.) I suspect this is probably had something to do with the fact that my parents have six marriages between them. Surprisingly, this did not put me off marriage (I certainly wasn't one of those people who are put off marriage forever because their own parents split up.) This is all to say that while I never consciously went into a marriage thinking I'd just divorce if it didn't work out, I suppose on some level that must have been part of my thinking, because I also didn't spend a lot of time contemplating on the idea of "OMG this is FOREVER and it will be disastrous if it ends" and then being afraid to make the commitment to marry because of that. I just kind of jumped in, all three times.

As far as what marriage means vs long-term partnering, if someone is willing to marry you they are voluntarily closing off the easy-out option. They are saying "right now, I am so committed to being your partner I am setting up a legal barrier to just walking away." Even though this is somewhat illusory, as divorce is not that hard to get while walking away from a long-term unmarried living situation is not as easy as it sounds. But I think there is a certain peace of mind in knowing your partner is willing to lock down the relationship in that way, as opposed to wondering if the real reason your partner doesn't want to get married is because they do perceive it as harder to walk away from, and wondering on some level why do they feel the need to keep that option open?
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:24 PM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been married twice.

The first time around I wasn't really psuhing it, but we were going overseas and everything was just easier with a wife than a partner.

The second and current time it was the commitment thing.

To me, there is something powerful about standing up in front of God and everyone (in a religious ceremony) and/or the state and everyone (in a civil ceremony) and saying yes, this is my person, this is who I want to be with. Neither of my ceremonies were big deals. One was with a judge and two of our friends. The second one was with an officiant we found and it was in her living room with her two neighbors as witnesses.

But ritual and ceremony still has its power, you know? And making a public commitment in front of others and the might of The Almighty and/or The State is a pretty powerful ritual.

It's also kind of, hmm, earned through hassle?

Even if you don't dig the mystic side of it, it's still a fair amount of gathering up documents, doing paperwork, filing paperwork, etc. It still feels like you're doing this big important thing. Like you go to The Courthouse the same way you would for a trial. You deal with Important People like judges or clergy. At a less-whimsical level there's a difference between "I love this person" and "I love this person so much and I will do annoying, time-consuming paperwork to prove it."

It's also a kind of a creation of a new legal entity. Obviously it depends on your state and the specific laws, but in a very real legal sense, your relationship is now a unit. You are Me and My Wife, LLC, with tax burdens and benefits and legal burdens and benefits. You're basically starting a small business with someone.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:34 PM on February 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Illusion of security, belonging, and control. Evolutionary "wiring" plus societal example and inculcation of belief.
posted by dancing leaves at 5:45 AM on February 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been in my current relationship for 20 years; half my life, through some really difficult and terrible events that didn't manage to drive either of us away. I don't remember when we started talking about this as our forever, death-do-us-part relationship but, maybe five years in? I don't know. It's been a long time. What I'm saying is, I've known for at least ten years that we both intend to be in this for life. We're not passing on marriage because either of us thinks something better might come along; we're death-do-us-part without the vows.

So, why aren't we married? A few reasons:

1) It's just not something either of us wanted. Neither of us ever felt any pull toward or desire for marriage. It would add some practical ease to our life (and I'll talk more about that in a second) but beyond that, there's nothing specifically positive that I feel it would add. I have all the commitment I want from my partner, and all the family and community support I want from my friends and family. I'm an atheist and don't attach any spiritual meaning to marriage. Practicality aside I don't have any feeling that marriage would change or improve things in any way for me. (Note: we both come from families where our parents' marriages were...difficult. I'm sure that's relevant.)

2) Oof, the social history of marriage. As a bisexual woman, I've had a lot of Feelings over the years about what marriage has meant for women, and for queer people. It hasn't been great for them, in my eyes, and I'm not particularly interested in propping up that social institution. Since I don't have any warm fuzzy feelings attached to marriage as a concept, the negative history weighs a lot more strongly. I don't feel as strongly about this as I did when it was a very stark matter of "I can marry this partner but I couldn't have married a past girlfriend, strictly because of the gender markers on their paperwork." That's at least no longer a thing, so this factor weighs less than it used to, but it's not gone. I still feel a lot better about practicing/modeling a different way to be a family.

3) We have the privilege not to really need it, yet. Being married would definitely add some practical ease to our life. There are various forms of paperwork (powers of attorney, etc.) that we wouldn't need if we just had a marriage license. The annoying extra taxes I pay on his health insurance as my domestic partner would go away if he were my spouse, so I'm actually paying significant money to NOT marry him. But right now, we don't need it as long as we can afford to pay for the extra paperwork and the taxes and blah blah blah.

4) On the flip side of privilege, if we *do* need it eventually (and we may at some point if we need any extra support in keeping some terrible family away from him, where having a ring to wave might help me), there are some concerns about what that would mean in regards to his serious and permanent disability. First and most importantly, being legally married to me could be considered a really significant change in his finances and might disqualify him from aid he needs now or may need in the future. Second and less important to me but not NOT important, it's been years since he had the sort of manic episode that resulted in many tens of thousands of dollars of unwise impulse spending, but it could happen again. So if we were to marry we'd need to do some serious consultation with (lawyers? accountants?) to figure out how to protect his ability to get aid if he needs it, and my ability to make sure I don't wake up one morning without the savings we need to support both of us. There's probably a way to do it but it's not a straightforward proposition and there's a lot to be said for a status quo that already protects us both in this regard.

That's the big stuff. Long story short, marriage has few positive connotations and several negative ones for both of us. It's not a hard no. There's always a worry that the paperwork we've done won't be enough to keep his family from e.g. trying to overrule me on his medical care, if it ever came to that. Someday if we're in a dire situation, we may go ahead and pop down to the courthouse for a low-key wedding. If we do, that will be a sign that something has gotten worse in our lives, not better, and we needed that extra level of government protection.
posted by Stacey at 6:09 AM on February 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

In romantic fiction there is a particular scene that is the payoff for the readers. Sometimes it is the ILY, sometimes it is the first kiss (a lot of fifties and sixties romance novels ended at that point), sometimes it is the proposal, sometimes it is the epilogue post wedding scene showing the happy married life, sometimes it's the active partner doing something that involves a personal sacrifice without expectation of gratitude or recompense, as when Mr. Darcy paid Wickham in secret to marry Lydia Bennett. Every reader has at least one of these that make a romance novel satisfying. If the book is missing the scene they want it's just not as good.

It's not just relationships that work that way. When organizing Christmas there are one or two things that make or break it for most people. "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents" or having a white Christmas, or having kids around, or having a plum pudding, or having the family come home, or oranges in the toes of the stockings. Negotiating a good Christmas requires you to figure out which ones of these are critical and which ones are optional.

Our signifiers are personal and cultural and do not have to be justified. They do need to be unpacked. It's important to note that there are people who don't feel they actually got married unless someone was wearing a white dress that made them look like a wedding cake or if it happened in a church. These rites and rituals and traditions are all symbolic. They got wired in early in life, around the time that you imprinted on what kind of neighbourhood can really feel like home, and what kind of partner can really feel like a partner and how independent you want to be, and how you feel about being a caretaker. You don't have to justify those things. That's what self actualization and autonomy are - the ability to make those choices, and of course to live with the consequences.

You're actually ahead of the game somewhat because you already got married once and then divorced. I'm assuming you don't still feel married to spouse number one, but either way, it would probably help for you to examine when you stopped feeling that marriage was all you wanted and how you feel about having been married and yet the relationship ended.

The biggest concern I have is if you believe that being married will produce feelings in you that it won't. You probably don't want to go the Elizabeth Taylor route. The best reason to not get married would be because it would damage your relationship, and if two weeks after the wedding you're feeling terribly let down, or your new spouse is feeling put upon then it would be better not to get married. You really want to look into why that first marriage broke down in order to guess if your expectations, or hopes or needs are unrealistic. Other than that... It's your wild and precious life and you don't have to justify what you want, whether or not you can actually have it.

His emotions, not wanting to be married the way you do, could mean that you secretly emotionally suspect he's not fully committed despite saying he is. That's very commonly a reason to want to get married, a lingering insecurity. And sometimes that is reason enough because even after the divorce it may matter if you can say, "I know he meant it to be forever and ever and really loved me at the time."

It is also sometimes a status thing, because getting to be the bride with the full panoply is a way of asserting your right to recognition among your friends and family. It would be dreadfully uncomfortable to ask six different people to be your bridesmaid and be turned down my all of them but it would be worse to be in debt for a decade paying for a wedding that nobody wanted to attend. If your friends would be charmed to be your bridesmaids and you don't go into debt or screw yourself up financially then just wanting to be the centre of all eyes and to receive all those good wishes and smiles is justification enough.

But it could mean that you want him to share your cultural and emotional signifiers. If it's not enough for him to want it for you because you want it, and you need him to want it for his own sake, then you may face sad Christmases where you feel awful because he desperately wanted a tree, so you had a tree but whenever you look at the stupid thing you feel indifference, so you feel you have failed him somehow. But this is a matter of your emotional regulation not a matter of if you should have had a tree or if you let him down or not.

You can't be and shouldn't be emotional twins in sympathy over everything and never any differences in feeling and intensity. That kind of obviates the purpose of marriage which is to combine two different things to create another and greater with the sum. But the solution is not to want him to feel exactly as you do and swallow him like an amoeba, but for you to work on the awareness that his different feelings and abilities and needs bring things to the partnership that you can't bring.

With an ideal partnership you may feel strongly that a white wedding cake marriage is important, and his parents may feel that, so he may honour the feelings of those he loves and do the marriage thing for you. "If you want it, you got it, Babe!" Meanwhile he may feel that contributing to the community is important and may throw himself into protecting the flood plain near your subdivision, and when you see the importance of that to him you throw yourself into assisting him in that and go out with rubber boots on every weekend. But you don't feel totally alike about things, you develop good ways of negotiating and supporting each other in your differences, of identifying what is important to your partner and being committed to those few things that are really important to each other. It really is okay if he does the wedding only because you want it, if when it is a choice between Chinese or pizza, you both have times when you win, and you both enjoy the times when your partner picked. It's not okay if you always both have Chinese and he swears doesn't mind even if he isn't glowering at you every Friday night over his chopsticks. In some ways going through the whole wedding thing for the partner just because they want it is a bigger commitment than doing it because you want it too. But if he really doesn't want to and goes through with it, then it's not good.

You can always ask him directly. What would make you want to have a wedding? What would make you wish we hadn't had a wedding? Of course quite likely you'll just get a blank look as an answer. You might be able to answer those questions for him honestly even if he can't. Hopefully you know him well enough to say if no matter what he would hate having to dress up and having everyone look at him. Perhaps in that classic romantic tragic early deathbed scene he would hold your hand and swear he will never love anyone like you, promising fervently to take take care of your aged mother, but would still balk at the idea of bringing a ring and a minister into the hospital room. Understanding these things should help you feel okay about his different feelings about marriage.

You can also ask similar questions about yourself.

What if you get married and he goes along with it politely and indifferently? Will you then feel married or will you feel it was a sham and a waste of effort and the ceremony has weakened your relationship?

What if you get married but he still feels differently about Christmas, in-laws and protecting your neighbourhood? Will you feel he broke a promise he made when he married you? Is the marriage supposed to magically put you both on the same page?

What if you never get married? Are you going to thirst for romance or a feeling of belonging for the rest of your life as a result?

What if you get married and then feel a romantic passion for someone else? Would that mean you were wrong to have gotten married?

What if you get married and he does his best at the ceremony but your feelings don't change, you still end up wanting that little extra to tell you this relationship is real? Did that happen previously? If you get married is their a substantial chance that you will then start to feel he isn't really committed until he takes you on a romantic cruise to the islands? And once you go on the cruise are you going to want a major investment in overpriced diamonds?

Looking at this stuff is good. It's one of those things that leads to understanding yourself and enhances your chances at happiness. Those simple nuances are often very important - or not at all important, because they are only the hooks upon which we hang our unregulated emotions. But looking at this kind of stuff is the important mental work we all need to do for self-understanding.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:35 AM on February 25, 2020 [10 favorites]

Someday if we're in a dire situation, we may go ahead and pop down to the courthouse for a low-key wedding. If we do, that will be a sign that something has gotten worse in our lives, not better, and we needed that extra level of government protection.

This. As one ages, and one sees the ramifications of being older and ill and lacking legality around possessions and money and inheritances etc. - all the things that can happen if circumstances are suddenly taken out of your control- it becomes more valuable to have a sense of definition around those decisions.

YMMV of course but sometimes, there is a lot of comfort and security to be found by applying even a small amount of legality to things that, left unregulated, have the potential to royally jack up your life.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:39 AM on February 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

Cynical commitment-phobe here. Marriage does show a greater level of commitment, but only because it's so much trouble to get out of it once you've taken that step. It's basically fear-based. "I want to trap you so it is harder for you to leave me, so that we are then forced to work through more of the crap that would otherwise drive us apart."

If we believe someone is committed then we don't need the added layer of legal entanglement unless we doubt that they will stick around through hard times.
posted by crunchy potato at 9:34 AM on February 25, 2020

If you hadn’t divorced but your first husband had died and left you a HUGE widows pension that gave you financial security for life and you never had to work again, but you would lose it if you married again, how would that make you feel about remarrying? Would you be happier just having a long term partner in that case? I think that question should help you decide if there are any deep down feelings about money and legalities connected to this.
posted by catspajammies at 10:27 AM on February 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

First of all, congratulations on a relationship that you describe in such loving terms. After the fog of divorce, I think people often expect that such a thing is impossible, or ill-advised, or even hubris. It's nice to read how you wrote it. So, first, I'll say a little about what you probably aren't looking to hear--because I swore a personal oath in this last year to make sure people consider it--and then I'll get to the headier responses to your actual questions.

I'm also divorced (well, sort of, I signed the final paperwork today). But I was happily married. Ridiculously happy, in fact. For most of the 12 years we were together, it wasn't legal for us to marry. We talked about this situation all the time, and we meant it when we called each other husband even in those long years before we even *could* marry. Our situation was complex. He had three kids from a previous relationship, we had a 19 year age gap, and understandably our incomes were at very different levels because of it. We had to get creative with so much because of all this. It was easier for me to be classified as "uncle" than a stepdad to the kids so I could meet them at school or chaperone field trips (stepdads gotta show proof of marriage!). We each filled out medical power of attorney forms that we kept tiny copies of in our wallets when traveling for work. And, perhaps most importantly, when we bought a house together, it was easier to leave my name off the title because of my student loan debt. Now, throughout this process--and before we married--we would say the usual--we don't need that legal step to make us feel like who we are to each other. But we also recognized that we couldn't foresee all possible outcomes. And, deep down, we both wanted to be married to each other for reasons that are hard to explain (but I'll try in the next paragraph). But we did it, and we did it our way: marriage license, three kids, our three best friends, crashed the Conservatory of Flowers, how our friend (quickly) officiate, kissed, played with butterflies, bought an orchid, then went our for dinner and drinks. It was truly a marvelous day. And then, a couple years later, my soon-to-be ex-husband had a head injury that, very quickly, led to a personality change and some confessions that shook me to my core. Among them, delivered via an attorney a little while after he's disappeared, was a letter saying the house wasn't mine, we'd only been roommates, and I had 60 days to vacate. I still have a hard time recalling that moment. Suffice it to say, had we not been married, I would have had no solid protection from this sort of thing. So there's a practical consideration: marriage indeed grants you all manner of legal and practical considerations for situations that I hope you never have to imagine are even possible.

And I still would get married again, if the right man were to come into my life. Marriage to me doesn't feel like an old institution. It feels like an experiment, guaranteed to confuse and challenge as much as it delights and enriches. As any relationship can be, without a doubt, but with real skin in the game. That componenet--the skin in the game--is what gets highly personal (or highly repellent) for everyone. I see it as an eyes-wide-open statement between two people who say, yes, change is the only constant but you are so awesome that I would like to change *with* you and not *against* you. I find that many people I talk to about this have a hard time imagining just how much marriage seems to complicate big decisions--do we move where one husband has a job offer or where the other husband has a job offer? take this vacation or save the cash for the house? what if that monogamish crush turns into something bigger and you change your mind about your spouse being more important? At the bottom of it, there's the rub: how willing am I to sacrifice my self-determination to prioritize *our* self-determination? And there you have it. When I think of all my relationships--personal, platonic, romantic, professional--I know just how much joy I've gotten from the one relationship in my life in which I've gladly, willfully, prioritized *our* self-determination. He did, too, for a very long time. That it didn't stay that way is the saddest experience of my life, but I know there are sadder (and hopefully happier) things to come. And I would like to find someone who I want to marry so that I can have him there with me for as much of it as possible.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:18 PM on February 25, 2020 [13 favorites]

It’s a comfort of our social fabric to be able to lean into it and get all those commitment narratives for free as opposed to having live in a structure that you have to constantly co-create in a monogamish relationship.

It’s an alluring comfort, one that governs a hell of a lot of our interactions both in and and outside of the relationship. That you derive a sense of comfort from that overarching narrative that we’ve been raised up in is not surprising to me.

To live outside that structure and maintain an enduring connection is a lot of real-time work. It seems like not much would actually change about the relationship other than providing you a comfort that you want, so I don’t see a reason to not get married.
posted by nikaspark at 4:50 PM on February 25, 2020

(FWIW my partner and I are married. We are also solo poly, living separately and share minimal finances)
posted by nikaspark at 4:53 PM on February 25, 2020

I had to explain to my husband why getting married was important to me, and here is what I came up with:

1) If I'm unconscious and in the hospital, I want him to make decisions and not my difficult parents. This is especially true because we live in his country right now and no one else could make those decisions for me.

2) I quit my job to move with him, and without marriage, I could encounter a financial loss. (I have since started working again, don't worry!)

3) As bad as it is, people will always consider your relationship more serious if you're married.

4) My maiden name is an atrocity and his last name is super easy. (I'm German, and we don't just get to change our names like Americans (seemingly?) do.)

5) It's easier to have kids if you're married, especially since I want to adopt and non-married couples can't adopt together in most countries. I've also seen my brother getting screwed over by having a baby with a woman he wasn't married to, although that might have been because she was married to someone else.

None of these things are might be compelling arguments for you or your partner, and I'm sure I used some of them to reason why my emotional desire for marriage was "right". But they do make some sense in a legal and practical way.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 4:58 AM on February 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Somewhere in the future, someone is going to be looking at the gaps between the birth certificate and the death certificate and ask, "Is this all there is?" Also, the likelihood is greater that they will search for extended family if long-term relationships are clarified with legal documents.
If you want to be considered family, get the legal document.
posted by TrishaU at 1:50 PM on February 26, 2020

My husband and I lived together before we got married, so we didn't think getting married would feel different... but the morning after our wedding, we were laying in bed talking and asked each other if it felt different, and we both agreed that it did.

As far as why it felt different, I think it was the ritual of standing up in front of our family and closest friends and making that commitment out loud. We had a religious ceremony, and had a brief segment in our ceremony where our families welcomed us as a couple into each of our families with bread and salt (Adapted from Polish folk traditions - but the meaning is basically the same as the housewarming in It's a Wonderful Life) so it felt like what happened at our wedding was bigger than just a commitment we made to each other.
posted by antimony at 2:10 PM on February 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

In defence of this:

3) As bad as it is, people will always consider your relationship more serious if you're married.

I think it does make a difference socially, and not in any sort of nefarious way. A person's SO relationship affects the people around them. Your relationship is not operating in a vacuum.

I have to include your partner in my social circle whether I want to or not. If you breaks up, I may lose the partner as a friend. And whilst marriage is no guarantee that the partner is going to be around forever, it is a pretty good indication that it's worth my time to invest in a relationship with them instead of just being polite and friendly.
posted by kjs4 at 7:30 PM on February 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

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