Emptied of expectation. Relax. (tinyjo) wrote,
Emptied of expectation. Relax.

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Love and Marriage

This post seems to have touched a chord with a couple of people and bought up a couple of really interesting comments. In order to prevent me from repeating myself, I thought I'd try to answer a few points here and explain a little more what I think about marriage.

What: In the traditional service in the UK, you promise to have and hold, love and cherish etc in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad for ever and ever until death do us part. Now that might be a laudable ambition and something you want to strive towards and you really hope you'll achieve, but that's not what you've said. You've said, you've promised, that you *will*. And you can't know that. You don't know everything about the person you've promised it too - you never can. And, even more than that, you don't know everything about yourself - even if you're particularly self analyzing. Who knows where you'll be and what you'll want in 10 years time. Now, I don't believe in making promises that I don't know if I can keep. I can promise to try, I can promise to work at the relationship, to give it every chance over the changes and the bad patches, but in the end, I can't promise to stay in love with someone forever. If things change, then sometimes there is nothing you can do about it. You can't force yourself to be or stay in love with someone.

The enormity of this promise seems to be less and less regarded these days. Now that divorce is not so difficult to get, it seems to be just another step up in a relationship - once you've been together for a couple of years you might as well get married, and if things aren't working out a couple of years later, just get a divorce. It's just a longer, more expensive way to dump someone. Of course, in counterpoint to that, there is still some perceived stigma in a "failed marriage". You made an impossible promise - it shouldn't be surprising if you weren't able to live up to it.

Who: If you're making a promise about your relationship and how you're going to conduct it, the only person you absolutely need to share it with is the person you're making the promise to - the other person in the relationship. You may well choose to share the extent of your commitment with your friends and family, to a greater or lesser extent, but you don't need their sanction for that commitment. This is one thing that I would object to about having a church wedding - I don't need the permission of the church to be in love, or, for that matter, to have sex. I'm also suspicious about civil weddings - why does the state need to know about it anyway? What business of theirs is it who I choose to live my life with. And if we decide between us that things just aren't going to work, then we shouldn't need the state's permission to end our relationship either.

While it definitely needs some more work, that's a basic overview of my position on marriage. I'm now going to go back and look at some of the specific points made in the comments to the other post.

Anonymous: It's true that whether you and Alex are in love or not is nobody else's business. The legal questions have to do with 'society' having to pick up the bill(s) if you generate dependency relationships, based on "love" which then "doesn't work out".

It's true that marriage is a short cut to getting a big set of legal rights/responsibilities, but I'm not actually comfortable with short cuts of that nature generally. I would much rather make things like property rights explicit by having a joint mortgage. If I choose to have children, the fathers name will be on the birth certificate unless otherwise requested, which is sufficient for full paternity rights. I already have made a will, although, not owning a house, there aren't really any significant issues there yet. The one thing that you can't simulate is that co-habiting couples cannot designate each other next-of-kin, meaning that in medical situations, they have no rights over your treatment if you are unable to make those choices yourself. For me personally, this is not an issue as Alex and I are both close to my parents and it seems unlikely that there would be conflict, or an attempt to exclude him from such discussions, but it can be an issue for some couples.

Anonymous: Marriage, when it is undertaken in an informed way, ("not lightly or unadvisedly") trains you and informs you about what to do when you are headed for a tailspin.

I strongly disagree with this. Going back to my earlier point about easy divorce, I think that one of the problems is that it's something which is not taken seriously and for which no training or advice is provided until it starts to spin out of control. I don't really think that married couples are any better of than co-habs when it comes to hitting a rough patch. It gives you a stricture that you have to stick it out no matter what, which can be foolish and unhelpful, but it doesn't give any mechanisms for how to do this, or how to improve the situation when there are problems. That comes from within your relationship and yourselves, not from the institution.

Anonymous: Not everybody wants the framework of a marriage, of course, but they do have to take on board the consequences for others of their failed relationships. ... But in general, making a promise in public is a form of leading by example: it tells the rest of us that the persons getting married *have* thought about their responsibilities which would devolve upon the rest of us in the event of failure.

Again, I don't really think that this is true. Most people don't go into a marriage or a relationship making plans for what they'll do if it doesn't work out and that's more true of marriages, I would say, because the whole ethos of marriage is that it will work out. Till death do us part. So why bother. In some ways, marriage encourages you not to think about how things would be split if you split up for example, because you assume that it's all taken care of. In a co-hab situation, you have to be explicit about that sort of thing, which I think is healthier and safer - assumptions are often dangerous.

I'm not saying that I think marriage is a dreadful thing, or that no-one should ever do it, but I wouldn't. Partly, it feels like a validation that I don't need, and mostly because of the first point I made. You can't make a promise for ever and ever. You don't *know* about the other person, and you don't *know* about yourself.
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