First off, this is NOT about gay vs. straight marriage. We have a kazillion threads about that already. This is about marriage in general and its place within society.
Okay, so this is part rant, part question.
I must admit that the idea for this post originally came to me after watching How I Met Your Mother
a lot. One of the many things about the show that struck me as peculiar was how 'settling down' was almost completely equated with 'getting married'. Main character Ted, well into his thirties, doesn't say he wants to settle down and start a family - he says he wants to get married. Eternal skirt-chaser Barney doesn't say he's against stable, long-term relationships - he says he's against marriage.
Now, as This Very Wiki
likes to point out, TV shows usually aren't a perfectly accurate representation of reality; few people would watch them if they did. But between HIMYM
and casual remarks by various other American sources, I started to suspect that in the US, you can't have a stable, serious, adult relationship - as in the kind where you live together, attend all kinds of family gatherings together and possibly have kids - without getting married.
As a Dutchman raised in mostly progressive circles, I see this as a strange and archaic attitude. My parents never married, and I sure as hell don't intend to myself (while I definitely do
want a stable partner and children). In our country, views on marriage vary wildly, with the most conservative groups seeing it as the norm, the most progressive as a tacky and old-fashioned ritual to steer clear of, and most people falling somewhere in between. Generally, though, outside the staunchly Reformed Protestant "Bible Belt" (yes, we have one of those, too) you can live together and have kids as an unmarried couple without anyone raising an eyebrow.
I think part of the difference stems from the fact that the English language doesn't have commonly-used words for unmarried couples beyond 'boyfriend' and 'girlfriend'
. If a man and a woman are both 35 years old, have lived together for eight years and are raising two young children, they'd still be called 'boyfriend' and 'girlfriend' as if they were teenagers or college students! After all, the only step up from that, 'husband' and 'wife', is restricted to married couples, and simply talking about her 'man' and his 'woman' usually sounds overly informal and out of place
Compare German or Dutch, where the words for 'husband' and 'wife' are the same as those for 'man' and 'woman', respectively (Mann und Frau
in German; man en vrouw
in Dutch). Hence, these words can - at least in Dutch, I can't really speak for the Germans - easily be applied to unmarried couples, if their relationship is long-lasting and serious enough. Sure, there are also more specific and formal words for married partners (Ehemann / Ehefrau
in German and echtgenoot / echtgenote
in Dutch), but those aren't used in everyday conversation.
Anyway, I'd be interested in your opinions on this subject, and in the general attitude towards marriage and non-marriage in your country. The latter especially interests me if you're American, since I'd like to know whether the above description of the 'American attitude' is somewhat accurate.