Anyone can say, "I do"

I can't believe I left out one of the essential points about why Alex and I haven't "taken that leap". Because the reasons I gave about how we have nothing against marriage just like we have nothing against moving to Minnesota are all true but in addition I have to admit I just cannot see making a promise like that. I don't think you can or should unless you are sure that you'll keep it. And I mean really 100%, not 110 or 150 (Once you start going over 100 you're just undermining your whole point. Why only 150? Why not 160? Why not infinity percent?)

I'd feel mortified to break it. Not saying I would, but how would you know, really? You can't. And maybe this relates to caring too much what others think but it's not something I could stomach. Talk about a generalized sense of disapproval. I feel that if I back out of a picnic lunch. Sometimes people say, "Why don't you have a low key wedding? Like your parents did. With a few friends and family members where Alex wears a 35-cent-tie he bought that day and you wear a dress your sister made and everyone eats manicotti afterward?" But even though yes that is more our style and wouldn't include bridesmaids hollering out about how first they were afraid, they were petrified, I'd be afraid and petrified about saying anything at all with that much conviction.

Roo and Moo: people do question our "arrangement", though luckily few harp on it. Recently someone asked me if the reason we're not married is that we can't "make that commitment". I felt annoyed. I want to say I can make it, I just don't know if I can keep it. It's like the Seinfeld bit about making a car reservation.

Agent: I'm sorry, we have no mid-size available at the moment.

Jerry: I don't understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation?

Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars.

Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That's why you have the

Agent: I know why we have reservation.

Jerry: I don't think you do. If you did, I'd have a car. See, you know how to
take the reservation, you just don't know how to *hold* the reservation and
that's really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody
can just take them.

I feel that way sometimes being compared to those who have "made that commitment" when I feel judged for not doing the same. So far you've shown that you can make it, but the important part is holding to it. Anyone can say, "I do." And it's a little hilarious to me that having a kid without being married is, even among our peers, viewed as somewhat radical, while a decade full of one night stands is old hat, as is a nice little narrative arc of marriage + divorce. Another friend told me he had trouble describing us to friends when we were getting together. "My friend and her boyfriend and her baby." Was the baby related to the boyfriend? Was the boyfriend a post baby add-on? Either way had a slightly trashy feel. It made me laugh and also surprised me which it shouldn't have, I suppose, but I just never thought of it from that angle, how odd it does in fact sound when to me there's nothing odd about it at all, kind of like half-Jewish, half-Irish was always just how it was until it was questioned later in life. 

I don't want anyone to think I didn't have fun at their weddings. I had a blast at every one of them, the next logical step weddings and the great romantic love that later plummeted and the ones that are still "going strong". And I don't think anyone I know did it to get attention, or if you were motivated by that, you hid it well. I  also think as long as it's an enjoyable and meaningful event then it's not over the top, no matter how many firecrackers go off the first moment you kiss. Here's a question Rhonda (and everyone else please weigh in),  is it okay to simply have fun at your own wedding or are you obligated to go from table to table and guest to guest including anonymous +1s to make sure you spend time with them and thank them and yadda yadda yadda? Or can you just be out there doing the macarena and knocking over wine glasses? Because I've always thought the former, but then if you're not having fun at your own wedding, there really is no point to that. It's your party, can you have fun if you want to? What are your thoughts or how did you personally handle it?


  1. I LOVE how seriously you take the concept of wedding vows! Marriage is a wonderful thing, but our society shouldn't put so much pressure on people to partake in it unless they are in the mindset to commit. I had one and half kids with my husband when we decided let's get married and it was funny how shocking people still find the fact that not only did we get pregnant ONCE on purpose but twice before we decided to get married. AND we had NO shame...we are proud of our choices. I think THAT was hardest on people.

  2. Rachel,

    I've been with the same person for 7 years, living together for 3 or 4 (I lost track), and lately we've been getting a LOT of heat about this same issue. I feel exactly as you do. And while we don't have a kid, it's possible we could someday; I guess that's the point at which I *might* reconsider. Right now, I don't see any reason to change things.

    It really does confuse people, though. The thing I can't figure it is WHY. Half the people who seem to wonder why we're not married aren't themselves religious people. So if we're not sinning and everyone involved has health insurance, where's the harm? It's just semantics.

    Almost every day, someone says to me, "Is your husband home?" or "Where's your husband?" I'm starting to just accept it instead of correcting them.

    By the way, that friend of mine I introduced you to on FB? She didn't marry her guy until their child was a few years old.

    - k

  3. I was 22 when I got married - which would be before it ever occurred to me that you had to go around to every table to say hi and make small talk. Yet I did do that. Why? Because I was glad to see every single person there, and WANTED to say hi and make small talk with them. Even your sister and her then-not-even-love-interest Jon. Even Sam who I called 2 days before the wedding to see if he wanted to drop by and haven't seen in 10 years since. Even my boss and several coworkers who drove 90 min from CT.

    And I had fun at our wedding. Oh so much fun. We had a kiddie pool with ice and beers in it and a sign in front of it that my sister made that said "brew lagoon". Instead of a sign in book, we had a set of 8 make-a-plates that people signed and were subsequently made into plates that we still eat off of. For favors my sister drew a cartoon version of me and Josh and we had it printed on cups that said "Live Long and Prosper - Josh and Rhonda 6/1/96" and my mom filled them with hershey's kisses and hugs and put a little strip of paper in each one that said "hugs and kisses from Rhonda and Josh". My parents' cat wore a kittie tuxedo and apparently licked some of the cheeses that we set on plates at each table. My mom scored us a dance floor from the local hotel that we set up by the porch and turned my dad's speakers around and played mix tapes. My 12 year old neighbor did the video and his mom and sister kept the buffet full. My mom made the cake and my aunt decorated it. My sister sang during the ceremony - an original song that she wrote for us. I could go on and on, I remember every second of it. Debbie caught the bouquet.

    But I digress. And to be clear, I certainly do not judge your lack of marriage. I mean, it doesn't really impact me, so what would I care? haha. For me, I wanted to be married. It felt like the right thing to do. So I did it. And like most things I do, I did it my way.

  4. GGW - I'm not sure I understand -- are you saying that I take the vows so seriously (too seriously) that I wouldn't say them myself? Love that you say 1 1/2 children...and very cool that you are proud of your choices.

  5. I do see marriage a little differently than you - for me, it's not about keeping a promise 100% - although, I do think it's important to feel that way at the time of getting married - but for me, personally, I wanted to get married because I know how "capricious" I can be, to a fault, and after Jim & I had been together for several years, recognizing the high and lows of our relationship, how every time we had troubles we always got through them, emerging with a stronger sense of love and understanding of each other - after recognizing this pattern, how if I had bailed during the rough times liked I wanted to, I never would've experienced the golden periods afterwards, and the joys of a maturing, blossoming relationship. I knew marriage was a way for me to hold onto what I finally believed, with 100% conviction, was a good thing. It was a way to save myself from my fickle nature, because no one can deny divorce is much messier than just breaking a lease. And, as I mentioned in my comment on the last post, the legal benefits were important to me as well, since it was annoying for us to run into obstacles when were not married but had been living together for years - issues of insurance, securing a one bedroom vs. a studio in our hospital housing, because only married couples can live in one bedroom apts - etc. Being married does make those kinds of practicalities much, much easier.

    As far as actual weddings go, we had a blast at ours. We really enjoyed doing it because it was a way for us to share our love, what we see as unique about our relationship, with our friends and family, and in the most fun way possible. It was a bonding experience, truly memorable, and afterwards we were on a high for weeks. We talked about how the wedding really brought out the best in our family and friends - we were so touched by everyone's generosity, especially seeing and experiencing their joy in celebrating with us. It really made me think about how being a good guest is in itself a form of generosity and love, much more important than any fancy wedding gift we received.

  6. Rachel doesn't know the real reason why I don't want to marry her. But Hein, you do ;)

  7. Nope, I was saying that you take it serious enough to not want to do it just for the sake of societal expectation! That's the way it should be.

  8. But don't you see having a child together as the ultimate commitment? Vows can be broken, but once there's another person's life in the mix, it's much harder to walk away....


  9. I agree with Anon's comment that having a child takes much more of a commitment than marriage! Then, no matter what, you're always in each other's lives. So Rachel, I definitely don't think you and Alex have any problem with commitment - you took more of a plunge by having a child than by getting married.

    Alex, I don't get your comment!

  10. D - do you mean walk away from child or from partner (or x-partner)? I know it sounds unusual, but I don't see that as a major commitment. I see it to the child (in this case Wally) but not to the partner. People often said that, "Now you're tied to Alex for life, no matter what" but you're tied as parents, not as a couple. It's true that it's more of an incentive to stay together than marriage is, but I wouldn't feel like I'd gone back on my word to break up and raise Wally together but apart. I don't think it makes my commitment to Alex as a life partner any greater, it just changes it, because the main goal now is a happy life for Wally, so whatever serves that is what I hope I choose to do. Then again this is a whole other line of discussion, where "kids won't be happy if parents aren't happy" comes into play. But in the sense that a formal commitment makes together-ness more likely, so having a kid makes that more likely, and it's hard to say if that's the right thing to have happen. Should you stay together (if it comes to this) mainly because of the kids? Is that any better/worse than staying together because you dread the embarrassment and inconvenience of a divorce? I think in years past I would have thought you should never stay together for any other reason than that you WANTED to, but now I'm starting to see it differently. For ex, in the past the idea that a messy divorce or children or laziness would keep people together would have horrified me, but now I think it's all the choices themselves that are so toxic. As far as having a kid goes, for maybe the first time in my life I saw clearly the outcome of a non-decision when it comes to having kids: that waiting wouldn't mean I'd just be putting off having kids, that instead I'd be accepting the possibility of a life without ever having one (biologically). So the alternative to waiting until I was ready to "fully commit" whatever that meant invited a very real possibility of no kids. Not to say adoption isn't equally meaningful, and that's something I am still open to and considering. But the time limit on having kids was perhaps the only one that rang true for me in this ridiculously prolonged state of adolescence I've indulged in. The choice wasn't wait or not. It was do you want to have kids or not? Are you willing to risk not ever having one? The commitment having one implied to Alex is less than secondary. Maybe many would see it as crazy, but I would find it harder to split after marriage than in our situation now. This probably goes back to the ridiculous amount of attention I give to "what others think" which is just a stand in for what I think. Going back on one's word is wrong. Saying, "this isn't working, let's try something else" is okay.

  11. Rhonda, Hein & others -- I enjoyed reading your take on your own weddings, and glad to hear they were such great and memorable experiences. You see people's wedding photographs, but you rarely get to hear how they felt about the whole things, especially years later after the initial hoopla has died down.

  12. I saw a proposal tonight -- it's such a beautiful thing, even if, as in this case, it could have been a rerun of the last dozen or so proposals: restaurant, drops to one knee, ring, shock, crying, kissing, clapping, more kissing, borderline sobbing. A joke called out from across the room: "So... when's the wedding?"

    The ring was small and the restaurant modest, but they were happy. As were we -- Rachel, you're so right about the anthropology, the standing before others, in your last post.

    I was living abroad when Gavin Newsom started marrying gay couples in San Francisco. A fellow ex-pat, a lesbian in a committed relationship who now makes a living studying gender and sexuality, scoffed. "Why would we want to get married? Other than for the health insurance, of course." It seemed to her something like gays getting straighter, not straights getting gayer -- a move in the wrong direction. But I thought (and think) that's wrong. Everyone should have the chance to say, "I know that I don't know you. But I commit to you just the same," and to have the other person cry and kiss them and say yes, and later to say it all again in front of everyone important. And to have someone who has had a bit too much to drink call out "So... when's the wedding?" And later, at the wedding -- same guy? who invited him? -- tapping his glass with his knife.

    Anyone can say "I do." Amazing, and hard, to learn for myself what my parents must know, all of our parents must know, whether they're still together or not -- just how much will be demanded of us after that "yes" in the restaurant.

    Wishing those kids luck makes me feel old, but ... good luck, kids!

  13. GGW- Thanks for saying that. Yes I guess it's true that a generalized sense of disapproval which is such a driving force for me in other ways has not affected me in terms of "the marriage question".

    K- Thanks for relaying your experience. I totally agree. I'm curious why it bugs people who aren't themselves religious. Having a kid "outside of wedlock" (yes, people have actually invoked that phrase to me) I guess they feel is proof of sin. The sin itself is okay as their own lives have attested to for 15 years or so, it's the proof of it that goes too far. I find it hilarious that people always say "husband" to you. Do some do it knowingly and some not, kind of like "friend" to reference a gay partner (though not nearly as offensive). The only place I usually trip over it is describing Alex's mom. "Who's taking care of Wally?" "My boyfriend's mom." It's just confusing to people who don't know me. Mother-in-law is a more accurate term. I guess I could go with "His grandma". I wonder what prompted that friend of yours to marry at that point. Always curious what the tipping point (ours even) might be, especially when you've already pissed people off for years.

  14. A more succinct response to D and Hein regarding commitment: I can not imagine any circumstance barring mental insanity under which I would willingly renege on my commitment to a child therefore that is a promise I'm willing to make. Does that make sense? The problem (I don't think) is not commitment-phobia so much as a resistance to saying something is absolutely certain which is not (endurance of the romantic relationship).

  15. Rachel, what you wrote in your last couple of comments totally makes sense, and I agree with you. What I meant about having a child being MORE of a commitment than getting married - which is why I see you as DEFINITELY not being commitment-phobic - is that if you get married, you can get divorced and never see the person ever again, cut off ties forever, but if you have a child together, then you are deciding to work with that person, whether you are together or not, for the rest of your lives. Unless of course, you try to deny your partner the right to see his/her child, which some crazy people do or otherwise it's for the safety of the child if the partner is abusive. Even in those cases though, you're much more mentally tied to the person than if you just divorced w/out a kid, and have to deal with him/her in some capacity, even if it is to get away and keep him/her from seeing the child.

    Barring those worst case scenarios though, I think when you decide to have a child with someone then you're taking a reasonable leap of faith that even if you split up, you are ok with the idea of working with that person to raise the child together, for the rest of your lives. And that takes commitment and optimism, because most likely you're believing that you probably won't hate the person so much that being co-parents is going to torture you for the rest of your life. I don't know if a lot of people who are married without kids can necessarily speak to that optimism.

  16. Oh yes, you're totally right. In that sense a child is more of a commitment. It is more of a leap of faith, that's a good thing to point out. I like that "commitment and optimism" and also like the term "co-parents". What I wish was that there were even more of a community around it. That fantasy of mine of us all, somehow, raising our kids together, with weekly group dinners, shared resources, and of course goats in the backyard.

  17. From a fortune cookie opened 4 October:

    "Commitment is what turns a promise into reality."

    Can one have commitment without the promise? I think so...examine the reality.

    What's important? (variation of "why is that important?") To me, the reality.

    What does the promise bring to this table?

    joy, affirmation, hope, expectations--factors enhancing one's experience of reality, so perhaps therefore providing a positive incentive for ongoing commitment. Worthwhile, I think, but not a necessary condition for commitment. and most certainly not necessary for reality, which just *is*.

    As a social contract, the official promise also brings legitimacy: insurance, access to significant others in health crises, social security, probate & inheritance & property ownership, etc. There are ways to create alternative paperwork to accomplish the same goal, but it takes "more work" and at some point one might ask oneself what's the point of that extra effort. so one might enter into a social contract because it's "easier"--very little to do with promise/commitment, more to do with taking the easier legal path to gain rights.

    and then there's the social acceptance piece. how other people see you. All I can say is that after 35 years nobody asks anymore. Actually not too many people asked at the time and most never pursued the question beyond my answer "it's what we want. an official marriage isn't important to us." Last name choices provoked more discussion, believe it or not. So, I'm so surprised to learn that the marriage question is still a big issue in 2010 in terms of social acceptance.

    People see us how we present ourselves. the reality of day-to-day life with commitment. or without. which may or may not have started with a promise, private or public. What's important to me is behavior. another version of "be the change you want to see"

    As difficult as it for me to understand, there are parents, either gender, who do walk away from their children, or in other ways have weak commitments to their children. So, don't take that commitment for granted! I know, for myself, it was and is both life-changing and life-enhancing.


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