I’ve been reflecting on marriage lately.
I have many friends who have chosen not to get married. They have been in marriage relationships that have all the fixin’s of a “real” marriage, but they have not held a ceremony or signed any legal documents. They don’t want to be “defined by the marriage” or they don’t want to make such a serious commitment with this particular person.
They don’t want to get so invested that they’ll get hurt is closer to the truth.
Like this woman who wrote All the Single Ladies, which tries to make romance and marriage academic. What she is really doing, in my opinion, is waiting to put herself out there for some promise of perfection, a guaranty that things won’t go wrong or some ideal man who will “be her equal in every way.” Which, because relationships are between fallible and ever-changing humans, does not exist whether you marry someone or just shack up with them or just date them indefinately. Not choosing is choosing by default.
The funny thing is that as the years pass you do become invested with this other person. If, of course, you have the emotional guts to get involved with another human being for any duration. You do become financially and emotionally invested. If you have children then you are inextricably tied to the other person. Whether male or female you end up being in some way, whether emotionally or financially, dependent on your partner whether you marry them or not. To think you won’t is self-delusion.
Marriages and pseudo-marriages don’t always work out. As I witness marriages and pseudo-marriages dissolve some realities strike me.
Those in pseudo-mariages are just as hurt and equally angry. They have to start over and redefine their lives in the exact same way as those with legit marriages. The grief cycle is identical. The attachments they shared with the partner, the compromising, the sacrificing, the dependency are mirror images of legal marriages. If they have children, the children are impacted by both dissolutions of the partnership in very similar ways. In other words, not marrying and not making “the commitment” did nothing to shelter them emotionally.
The difference, from what I can tell, is that with the legal document there is economic protection. Those who didn’t marry, but invested in their significant relationship for over 10 years, did not accrue their partner’s social security points while they took time off to raise children. If their partner chose to take back property given them for birthdays and anniversaries, there is little recourse. Property acquired during the marriage is not “communal property,” but divided up randomly, usually without the protection of the court. If there are children shared, the custodial partner may qualify for child support, but spousal support is non-existent even if they were financially dependent.
This is on top of the years spent in the relationship where they might have gotten insurance benefits and marriage tax credits from being married. They didn’t get the marriage points on their car and home insurance. If their partner dies property, bank accounts, investments and life insurance don’t automatically revert to them as the surviving spouse.
Gay people, for instance, though they do not have access to the legal protection, do not have any immunity to being entangled in the other partner’s life in every way. Nor are they exempt from the emotional trauma of a break-up or death of a partner. If for no other reason, this should be enough to allow them the legal protection that marriage provides.
Certainly not every relationship is marriage-worthy. But, in my assessment it’s simply a good financial gamble as long as women take measures to protect themselves.
The only way to protect yourself from any emotional wounds at all is to wrap yourself in a cocoon and refuse to participate in any and all relationship commitments. But, if you choose that you also insulate yourself from intimacy. No Risk = No Reward. To me, even if it doesn’t end in Happily Ever After, it’s a bold and radical act to jump into the deep end in a relationship and give it your all.