Views on the Status of Marriage:

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Beata Maria, je clame que mon me est pure...
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.

Auf dem Lande, auf dem Meer
lauert das Verderben;
die Kreatur muss sterben!
2 TheBatPencil15th Jan 2013 04:25:01 PM from Glasgow, Scotland , Relationship Status: I'm just a hunk-a, hunk-a burnin' love
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!

Just to point out that the term "partner" can and often does fill that gap.
And let us pray that come it may (As come it will for a' that)
3 AceofSpades15th Jan 2013 04:42:00 PM from The Wild Blue Yonder , Relationship Status: Yes, I'm alone, but I'm alone and free
Actually, some people do refer to a partner as their "man" or "woman", and some people find it insulting to be referred to as "woman". Depends on social context, largely. I mostly here that sort of phrasing in songs, myself. I really don't think your whole "language equals thought" link actually applies here. "Boyfriend" and "girlfriend" don't actually sound childish to us.

Also, "lover" is a term, but it feels kind of strange and outdated. I don't know exactly how widespread use of it is. "Significant other" also finds a lot of use. There is also common law marriage, which is what happens when a heterosexual couple lives together long enough and don't actually have a ceremony. I'm not sure of the rest of the particulars, though I'm sure it's a bit more complicated than just that.

Mostly, marriage equals a serious commitment in most cultures, and with divorce now easier than ever it's not like you have to stay married. In the most ideal situations, anyway. There's also religious significance, since religion is a big thing here; you're making a commitment before God, and you damn well better keep that promise.
4 Pykrete15th Jan 2013 05:09:14 PM from Viridian Forest
NOT THE BEES
I don't really care if they ever explicitly get married or what the composition of a family is, as long as it's there and stable. Messy breakups and musical divorce when the excitement wears off wreak pretty fierce havoc on children, finances, children, living arrangements, and children. Also children.

Why yes, I'm annoyed at hookup culture WHY DO YOU ASK.

edited 15th Jan '13 5:11:09 PM by Pykrete

Kind of skimmed through the first post, but I wanted to point out that the portrayal of marriage in fiction is one of the reasons I created the True Love Is Boring trope. True Love Is Boring is the corollary to Shipping Bed Death in that fiction likes to assume that the only stories worth telling about romance are the beginning and end of it. Marriage is treated as a finish line. I remember I had a discussion with a troper here one day about how marriage is seen as the Prime Meridian of Badass Decay. In other words, once you cross it, The Call To Adventure has officially hung up on you.

Unless, that is, you are dragged back by The Call Knows Where You Live, in which case those you love will be almost assuredly killed off or captured. Otherwise, True Love Is Boring will assure that your life can't ever be about how you and your loving spouse and great family help you with the Call to Adventure. Remember, Battle Couple and Badass Family are tropes specifically because of how rare they are in fiction.
The Razruchityel
As long as the people love each other I don't particularly care one way or the other about their marital status. Although, in my view people might as well get married if they're that committed to each other. To me it symbolizes them acknowledging their commitment to one another and saying to society and their friends and family that they agree to be with one another for as long as possible. You can do this without getting married but I see no reason not to get married. Obviously some people view this differently and while I find it peculiar I'm sure they feel the same way about me.

edited 15th Jan '13 5:18:48 PM by Kostya

7 AceofSpades15th Jan 2013 05:19:16 PM from The Wild Blue Yonder , Relationship Status: Yes, I'm alone, but I'm alone and free
Well, part of the pressure to marry isn't entirely social or religious; you do get tax perks or something for married couples, apparently. Although if you're poor there's probably a lot of people who don't get married specifically for other tax exemptions or whatever that apply for that situation.
[up][up] One reason not to get married (to play Devil's Advocate, because I don't really have anything against nuptuals) is that the very act of doing so prescribes suppositions that the couple may not be ready for. For example, does your spouse have the same beliefs about retirement? I work with a married 30-something at my job and he said it's something he's never even thought about. But, it's a good question: when do you both plan to retire? What will you do if one of you is ready to do it and the other isn't? There are other questions like that, too.

And of course, every couple has to ask the question of what's to be done in the event of relationship-altering circumstances. Will your wife still want to be with you if you develop a health issue that leaves you immobile and obese? What about if she is in an accident that leaves her face horribly disfigured? Will that affect your love/sex life? And what if the two of you decide to divorce at any point? Most couples I know hate the thought of pre-nuptual agreements, because it "kills the romance", but it's serious shit. If she's worth half a million, and he comes in with bupkis, does he get a quarter-mil if he contributed nothing, business-wise?

Marriage is a prescribed belief that none of this will matter. That no matter what, none of these things will change how you love each other. That's the assumption being made—and in many couples, it's an ignorant assumption.

edited 15th Jan '13 5:47:57 PM by KingZeal

9 Pykrete15th Jan 2013 06:00:59 PM from Viridian Forest
NOT THE BEES
Although, in my view people might as well get married if they're that committed to each other.

That's likely one of the problems we're hitting that's causing the high divorce rate lately, actually. Casual hookups that last longer than expected figure they "might as well" settle down, and then discover that they hadn't even built that kind of foundation in the first place.

edited 15th Jan '13 6:01:08 PM by Pykrete

10 0dd115th Jan 2013 07:18:15 PM from Nowhere Land
Just awesome like that
[up]Casual hookups aren't the sort of long term commitment s/he probably meant though, so that's a different but related subject entirely.
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[up]I think pykrete's argument is that some casual hookups get mistaken for long-term commitments.
Grandma, what big teeth you have! It would be a shame if anything happened to them.
12 deathpigeon16th Jan 2013 02:30:19 AM from Everything sacred is a tie, a fetter. , Relationship Status: One True Dodecahedron
Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Personally, I view marriage as unnecessary and outdated. There's no real reason for it to exist anymore beyond tradition and there's especially no reason for the state to grant special privilege to married people. I mean, if someone wishes to marry, all the power to them, but marriage should not be treated as anything special under the law. People shouldn't have to marry to commit to each other. People shouldn't have to marry to see their loved ones in the hospital. People shouldn't have to marry to show their love to their partner(s).
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My Story
13 Gabrael16th Jan 2013 06:59:04 AM from My musings , Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
Funny, my best friend and I were just talking about this!

My boyfriend and I have been together a bit now. I'm not sure how long we've been in a committed relationship now, at least 2ish years. (Our romance evolved from friendship so we don't have a set anniversary or anything.) But because we are both over 25, people are asking if we will be getting married. I'm not offended by this because I know it's a social expectation: we're of age, educated, and have been together a while.

But the big reason I think people ask down here (and at least for his mom I know is true) is children. I already have one child and the condition of our custody arrangement is no live in partners for myself or my ex. So we have that point, then people also expect us to have children of our own in spite of my inability to have children.

While no one would treat us negatively for not being married in some areas, people are getting more and more accustomed to unmarried couples being together.

But for me, marriage as a legal institution has a lot of safety nets built in to protect the couple. Say I died before my son turns 18. If I am legally married, Aprilla will be given a chance to maintain full custody of my son. Aprilla will be given full right to anything my will didn't cover, such as any assets accrued between it's writing and my death without much hassle. However if we are unmarried, all that is gone.

It's a delicate balance. We are not rushing into anything and we both know we are not leaving each other. But we're not about to just "OMG Marriage!" Because everyone says we have to.

Honestly, if not for the legal implications for my son, I would guess we would just live together forever and maybe have a ceremony just to make his family happy. But there wouldn't be any pressure to go get it legal.

Now there are such things as common law marriages; my state forces those. You cohabitate for 7 years and the state forces marriage upon you.

"-pats- it gun be ok bear someday you will eat them all." - Aszur
The Razruchityel
King Zeal: I don't know if retirement plans is the best example. Many people don't know think that far ahead and even if they do they'll probably change their plans as new circumstances arise. I also don't see the issue with one person retiring while the other keeps working. It's not like they'd never see each other or something.

That sort of thing needs to be talked about by all couples beforehand. Still just because these are questions that need to be asked that doesn't mean you should never get married. I'm not talking about "we've been together for a year, ready to get married?" relationships. I mean "Well it's our four year anniversary. Speaking of which, *gets down on one knee* Will you marry me?" In my mind a relationship needs to have proven staying power before you consider getting married. It's not 100% full proof but if you can manage to be with someone for three or four years you have to be compatible enough for it to be worth a try.

Pyrkete: How long is "longer than expected"? A year is one thing but if you've been together for several years your relationship has to be built on something that can last.

15 Gabrael16th Jan 2013 07:35:11 AM from My musings , Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
[up] I completely agree that those issues should be discussed previous to marriage without a doubt and in long term relationships in due time.

Aprilla and I have talked about everything from where we want to be in 5 years, career options, parenting stragedies, owning vs. renting, joint check accounts, to the more fun stuff like places we would like to travel eventually, goals we would like as a family, and what cars we would like to own.

To me, these are couple building duh-things. Love is work. A partnership is work. And by having these discussions, not only are you learning each other, but you are building a game plan together for the future.

To me, a marriage (ceremonial or legal) can only be truly successful if the partnership has the same broad goals (own our own home/have kids/retire at 50, etc.) with an adaptable plan on how to get there (kids or no kids/school sacrifices/financial planning, etc.).
"-pats- it gun be ok bear someday you will eat them all." - Aszur
I also don't see the issue with one person retiring while the other keeps working. It's not like they'd never see each other or something.

She retires from her job to spend more time at home. He continues working a job that keeps him away from home for days, weeks, maybe even months at a time and uses up most of his time.

Or, they both retire, but have no idea how to manage their time afterward. Having spent all of their lives only seeing each other a number of hours in a day, they suddenly see each other a lot more often than they're comfortable with, and the lack of necessity to work creates several unhealthy or abnormal habits that may affect health, hygiene, personal safety, etc.

I've seen both happen.
The Razruchityel
[up]If he's in a job that makes him work that much I fail to see how her retiring would make it harder for them to spend time together.

Well how does not being married solve that exactly? They'd still see each other more often after one retires.

I'm not saying this is perfect but if two people really do care about each other they'd go to counseling and try and work things out. You seem to be saying that they shouldn't get married because 30+ years down the line something could start to drive them apart. While that's true it also means there was something holding them together in those 30 years. Basically my view is that worrying about those "what if" things means you always worry about the future and will never settle down and have a fulfilling relationship because you'd always be afraid it would end.

edit: Your argument seems like it's against long term relationships in general rather than marriage specifically. I know you don't intend it that way but that's how it comes off to me.

edited 16th Jan '13 10:58:37 AM by Kostya

If he's in a job that makes him work that much I fail to see how her retiring would make it harder for them to spend time together.

Lots of reasons. Maybe she doesn't want to go on a trip, or plain doesn't like travel.. Maybe she has a comfortable lifestyle outside of constant travel. Maybe the travel is hard on her health. Maybe there's some sort of corporate bureaucracy that prevents her from traveling with him.

There's an infinite number of situations I could speculate, but the bottom line is that it can and has happened.

Well how does not being married solve that exactly? They'd still see each other more often after one retires.

It doesn't. My point wasn't that being unmarried solves this problem. Someone asked why not get married, and I was just providing reasons. It's that the public perception of marriage and married life creates and/or exacerbates the problem. People assume when they get married that things will work out because "Yay love!". It's like a study I once saw that showed people felt safe enough to be in more life-threatening situations as long as they thought there was a surveillance camera, or a policeman nearby, or some other method of being protected.

In the same way, people subconsciously treat marriage like a finish line.

I'm not saying this is perfect but if two people really do care about each other they'd go to counseling and try and work things out. You seem to be saying that they shouldn't get married because 30+ years down the line something could start to drive them apart. While that's true it also means there was something holding them together in those 30 years. Basically my view is that worrying about those "what if" things means you always worry about the future and will never settle down and have a fulfilling relationship because you'd always be afraid it would end.

edit: Your argument seems like it's against long term relationships in general rather than marriage specifically. I know you don't intend it that way but that's how it comes off to me.

Not really. But phrases like "if people really love each other" are a particular pet peeve of mine because it's cyclical logic. Let's say two people in love argue about an important subject that affects their future possibly 20 to 30 years down the road. A decision that may involve future kids, if they're particularly young and plan on multiple children. Or if they want to adopt.

Let's say they break up when they decide their goals for this subject are mutually incompatible. Does that mean they did or didn't love each other? If they loved each other, they should have stayed together for those 20 to 30 years and hoped a solution would present itself, right? Or did agreeing to end the relationship on amicable terms, realizing that they're just too different to last show a real type of "love"?

I'm not saying the latter is the true answer. I'm just saying that marriage, as it exists, encourages the former more than the latter. If you're in love, fuck it, get married and shit will work itself out "if you really love each other".

edited 16th Jan '13 11:34:37 AM by KingZeal

19 BlueNinja016th Jan 2013 12:46:01 PM from The Middle of Nowhere , Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Plotting my Escape
People assume when they get married that things will work out because "Yay love!" - King Zeal
I cannot say how much I hate this idea. Love is not a universal cure-all, and only stupid lazy people* believe it is. As someone who's been married for *stops to count* almost twelve years now, I can say emphatically love is not enough.

When my wife and I were engaged, my father quoted to me some statistic that said people who dated for less than two years before marriage were 50% more likely to get divorced than people dating for more than two years before marriagenote. Anecdotally, this seems true, but most of my samples come from military life, which has its own set of stressors.

I won't say that marriage is unnecessary in modern society - if nothing else, it gives a concrete reminder of a pledge made between two people who (hopefully) love and care for each other, that they will continue to do so come what may. It's also true that people change, and making a marriage last for a long time** requires a lot of communication, hard work, and willingness to compromise**. I will say that marriage is certainly less necessary, since many of the things marriage was used for in centuries past** can be done with equal ease, and the social stigma of remaining single is lower than it used to be.
I'm going to get killed becuase some guy saw me walk out of a Subway eating a foot long shotgun - Mousa
If anything, I would say that marriage is about tackling everything that's most uncomfortable about the particular relationship sooner rather than later. And I mean everything. Anything that makes you angry or uncomfortable to think about needs to be addressed ASAP. That includes all real, likely, unlikely, and currently impossible scenarios. It often includes things that one or both spouses may not want to hear. In a nutshell, I'm talking about phasing out the romantic love portion of the relationship as soon and as comfortably as possible so that you can get right down to the shitty business portion.

And the worst part is, since people change and grow constantly, the same stuff is going to be revisited again and again ad nauseam.
21 Pykrete16th Jan 2013 02:29:06 PM from Viridian Forest
NOT THE BEES
Pyrkete: How long is "longer than expected"? A year is one thing but if you've been together for several years your relationship has to be built on something that can last.

Certainly it's more likely, but not necessarily. Two of the guys in my fraternity each had fuckbuddies that stuck around for a few years and both were considering marriage for precisely that reason, but their relationships were pretty obviously toxic to a casual observer when naughty bits weren't immediately involved — tons of passive-aggression that lost the passivity with alcohol. They didn't really have a whole lot of interaction outside the bedroom, much less "doing couple stuff" or heaven forbid working out their issues. Both blew up. Both resulted in a good amount of property damage.

As for marriage being "outdated", the ceremony may not be strictly necessary, but the stability is a Very Good Thing. You don't have to look far to find that kids with stable home lives and more than one parent are noticeably more likely to be better off than otherwise for a whole laundry list of reasons, and even if you don't have kids, breaking up cohabitation and financial codependence, especially in an economic slump, is...messy.

edited 16th Jan '13 2:35:18 PM by Pykrete

22 Gabrael16th Jan 2013 02:55:25 PM from My musings , Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
Marriage works for some, not for others. I don't see why we should be demonizing the institution, that's just silly.

To me marriage is a lot like graduate college or military service. It's a lot of work with a certain standard of obligaions as well as rewards. Now it's not for everyone, and you're not a bad person if it doesn't work for you or you don't want it.

But that doesn't lessen the achievements of anyone who chooses that lifestyle and rolls with it either.
"-pats- it gun be ok bear someday you will eat them all." - Aszur
I'd like to point out that it's actually tougher than those analogies, because it's supposed to last forever under the best circumstances. The only happy ending to marriage is death, and in the best case scenario, it's a far-off death.

Believe it or not, I'm not attempting to bad-mouth marriage. I'm only saying this stuff because so many people who go into fail to realize it.
24 Gabrael16th Jan 2013 03:21:41 PM from My musings , Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
Which is a fault of people, not marriage. Just like I don't blame the Army for accepting recruits who get godsmacked for thinking it'll be just like Call of Duty.
"-pats- it gun be ok bear someday you will eat them all." - Aszur
Well, not quite the same because the state/church only has marginal input on what the structure of a marriage is. For the most part, the state wants to disillusion you of that Callof Duty shit real quick.

Marriage is governed by the two peoplenote  that enter it, who also make up the entirety of it. With no code of conduct to fall back on, criticizing peoples' mistakes within marriage is just shy of criticizing the institution itself.

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