Where Logic Meets Love

Why Get Married?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

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Why Get Married? | Faith Permeating Life
In Sunday's post, in which I dismantled the bishops' argument about how marriage is for procreation and therefore gay people can't get married, I wrote about how some of the initial reasons for marriage (paternity, inheritance) are not very relevant in America today. I started to write about what benefits of marriage are still relevant today, but it got really long and I cut it out... and then immediately got called out for it in the comments:

Interesting. And here you've said what marriage isn't for - any thoughts on what it is for?

It's a difficult question to answer for a number of reasons:
  1. There are various legal benefits that come from marriage as a civil institution. This is a big reason many gay couples want to get married. In college I took a class on LGBT history and current issues and we had a lesbian couple visit our class. They had a huge stack of legal documents that they brought with them whenever they traveled anywhere in order to ensure that they would have the same rights that a married couple would have automatically. (Some of these rights have since been granted for same-sex couples by the Obama administration.) But I don't think the legal benefits are why most people get married.
  2. Similarly, there are health and financial benefits. You can save money on car insurance and get better loan offers when you get married. Various studies have claimed health benefits ranging from "married people have more sex" to "married people live longer." The health benefits of marriage have even been compared to the benefits of giving up smoking. But again, I don't think most people are this calculating when they choose to get married.
  3. Many people get married because they were brought up to get married. The acceptance of unmarried couples raising a family together is a lot higher now than in my parents' generation. Growing up I didn't know anybody who lived with two parents who weren't married to each other. And I don't want to overlook the role that societal pressure and expectations can play in a person's decision. Now that gay marriage is legal in New York, some gay individuals have been pressured to get married. Religion, obviously, can also have a lot to say about when and why you should get married, and if you are a compulsive rule-follower like I am, that may play a role in your decision to get married. But it's a cold and incomplete explanation to say I got married because I was supposed to.
  4. Marriage is about love... except when it's not. Arranged marriages still happen. One girl I went to high school with was totally comfortable with the fact that she would eventually have an arranged marriage, and she explained how arranged marriages begin with respect and develop into love, rather than starting with love, which can be fleeting, and expecting it to develop into respect when the passion subsides. I wouldn't have wanted that for myself, but I can understand why she was OK with it. Marriages don't all result from the same kind of relationship.
The truth is, what marriage means to any one person and their reasons for getting married -- or not getting married -- are personal. I know that some people would like us all to be operating under one, static definition of marriage, but marriage's purpose and role in society have never been static.

So all I can share with you is what marriage means to me. How my relationship with Mike was different, in my eyes, after we said our vows at the altar.

First, I need to explain what I consider to be the difference between unconditional and conditional love.

Unconditional love is, by definition, love that has no conditions. It's most often talked about in the context of a parent's love for a child or God's love for us. It means that no matter who you are or what you do -- no matter if you're totally ugly, or you become disabled or ill, no matter how badly you screw up, no matter what -- you will always be loved. It is the love for the Prodigal Son. It is the love of a family and sometimes of close friends.

Less talked about is conditional love. When you are dating someone, your love is conditional. It has to be. You don't know enough about the person to know if you will always love them. You date them to find out if you're compatible, whether you have the same goals, and whether there's anything about them that you absolutely couldn't live with -- like, if it turns out they're a jerk. You may date many people, and when it doesn't work out, one or both of you ends it. You agree to stop having the same kind of relationship that you had. If you said, "I love you," you probably stop saying it. If you continue dating someone, you're both aware that it's a choice, that your significant other has the option to end the relationship but chooses to stay with you.

When I said yes to marrying Mike, I said yes to making my love for him unconditional. And at our wedding, I declared out loud, in front of family and friends, that no matter what -- no matter how much money we might have, no matter if one of us got sick, no matter how bad things might get -- I would love him. I would support him. I would join my life with his until death. I would look to God's unfailing love for me as a model for how I should love Mike.

That's how big of a commitment marriage is. It is not to be taken lightly. It is a commitment you make when you're absolutely sure that you can spend your life with this person no matter what.

I think this is why, before same-sex couples could legally marry, many still had commitment ceremonies or something similar. To make that official, once-and-for-all declaration and confirmation of unconditional love. It's something that can't just be assumed once you've been together for a period of time. Even Elizabeth Gilbert, who was entirely opposed to getting married again until she was forced to (see Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage for that story), and her partner had a private commitment ceremony and exchanged rings. Even she, suspicious of (maybe even outright hostile to) the idea of an official, government-sanctioned marriage, wanted to draw that definitive line in the timeline of their relationship.

That is what I think marriage is for.

What about you? What does marriage mean to you? If you are married or want to be, why is that important to you?

(UPDATE: Check out the What Marriage Means to Me guest post series for other responses to this questions!)

26 comments:

  1. I got married for several reasons. One being that I love my spouse, and wanted to make that covenant (like you said) before God, friends and family. Another is that I believe "the family" is sacred, and the foundation of Christ's gospel. Another is that I firmly believe that God is a God of order. I believe we marry to establish a pattern of order and definition. I also believe that my relationships with my spouse and future children are eternal, but could only be so by entering the marriage covenant.

    That's why I got married! Thanks for the interesting post! :)

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  2. @Hannah
    I agree that marriage brings a certain amount of order to things, and that's actually what I started to write about in my previous post. According to this really interesting NYT interactive infographic, married couples with no children are (from what I can tell) the most common household makeup in the U.S., around 21% of all households. To some extent our society is organized around married couples, and I think that is one of the few ways that marriage has been consistent throughout history.

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  3. I'm not married, so I can't add my own experience to this, but thank you for writing it. It's a good piece :)

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  4. @Just me
    Thanks! I would be interested to hear if you plan/hope to get married someday. Why is or isn't that important to you?

    And thanks for challenging me to provide a good answer to this question in the first place!

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  5. @Jessica
    No plans as such, as I'm 19 & single, but yes, I do want to. Why? I think your third reason is probably an important one - I was just raised thinking that's a part of what you do with your life. But I really, really love the idea of having such an intimate relationship with someone who's your best friend. For life. Love sounds amazing, and put simply, I want it. I guess that sounds like I've idealised marriage.. but it's the aim, right?

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  6. @Just me
    Thanks for sharing your reasons! I think it's interesting that you approached the question as "Why do you want to find someone to be in a lifelong relationship with?" as opposed to "Why do you want to someday marry the person you're in a relationship with?" But I totally get that--there was a point in my life where it seemed so obvious to me that everyone married their lifelong partners that no other option would have even been on my radar screen. Well, actually, when I graduated high school I didn't want to be in a relationship again, ever... but that's a different story.

    Regarding idealizing marriage... well, again it depends on what you're talking about. I think some people get in trouble idealizing marriage as something that's going to solve the problems in their relationship. But you're talking about idealizing the whole idea of having a life partner. And from what I remember from my Interpersonal Relationships class in grad school, that can actually be beneficial to some extent. As long as you don't let it blind you, having an idealized view of love and seeing your partner as better than they actually are can be beneficial for your relationship. Or so I remember :)

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  7. My reasons were pretty much what has already been shared :)

    One thing though, and it probably depends on the state or the insurance companies--some unmarried couples, both hetero- & homosexual, can be on their partners' insurance policies. Car and health. My company offers it for health (because our insurance plans do) and I know my old insurance company did for auto/home stuff.

    A good friend of mine's dad had a long term girlfriend (for over 15 yrs) before they finally got married. They had the same amount of documentation as the lesbian couple you mentioned. In their case, they'd both been married before, and given that he has a BIG drinking problem, I think she wanted to NOT be fully tied to him. Honestly, I think that's ridiculous in both cases, having that much documentation when a marriage license would wipe out the need for that instantly! And then they did wind up marrying, so who knows? Everyone does things differently, I guess!

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  8. @Rabbit
    Yeah, you can definitely be on the same policies (depending on the company), but for many car insurance companies, men's rates go down as soon as they get married. That's what I was trying to say... sorry if it wasn't clear!

    It is kind of crazy to compare all of the legal benefits of marriage vs. the paperwork needed to achieve the same outside of marriage. As a married person, I'm grateful for all the benefits that were conferred automatically when we got married, though I can understand why that automation can cause problems (people getting married as the easiest way to be able to stay in the country, for example). Our government definitely seems to incentivize marriage. I would be interested to know the rationale behind the various marriage benefits and how they benefit the government/country in return.

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  9. @Jessica
    I'm not entirely sure what you mean? I'm not in a relationship at all at the moment so for me it's not a question of eventually wanting to marry the person I'm currently with. But I would hope that when I do enter into a relationship, it's with someone I can see myself marrying further down the line. I don't want to be in a relationship that I can't see headed for marriage. (I wrote about it more here, if you're interested)

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  10. @Just me
    Sorry for not phrasing that well. What I mean is, after going through all these benefits of getting married (vs. having a long-term partnership that is not marriage), I was curious whether other people felt it was important to seal their commitment to their partner with marriage, and why. For example, one of my readers is happily unmarried to her long-time partner. So the question I intended to ask was, "Why is marriage important to you?" as opposed to "Why is love/partnership important to you?" which was the question you answered (from what I could tell).

    But if you've never even considered being in a long-term relationship that didn't culminate in marriage, then it's a really difficult question to answer. That's partly why I found it difficult, because the answer is so wrapped up in expectations and religion and how I was brought up. And I think that's OK because, like I said, what marriage means to each person is different.

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  11. @Jessica
    That's exactly why I had such a hard time answering the question too, I think. I definitely grew up with the understanding that the purpose of relationships was marriage, but without any rational reason for marriage itself. It was just a given. So for me, besides being able to have a big fun party, the marriage itself never had a rational purpose in my mind. I would have stayed with husband my whole life whether or not we were married, I'm pretty sure. There was also the family pressure though, where my parents were appalled at the idea of me sharing a bed with someone I'm not married to. So I guess for me, the reason I got married instead of just being in a long-term non-married relationship was to have a big fun party and to please my family. Ugh, so depressing to admit that.

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  12. Jessica, LOL what happens when two gay men get married? Do both of their rates go down!?!? :D

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  13. Just Me, I wasn't in any REAL relationship, besides a few dates here & there per guy, before I met my husband at 24. (Looking back, it's no big deal, but it is when your best friend met her future husband at 19 and other friends met their husbands quite quickly/easily!)

    Anyway, I always knew I wanted to be married. It was important to me. Some people don't know until they meet "the one" and some people just know they don't want/need to be married.

    Do you fit into any of those "types?"

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  14. @Jessica
    Oh okay, sorry, misunderstood you! In which case, yes, marriage is important to me. As for why.. again, I guess it's just what I assumed is "normal" - you fall in love with someone and then you get married, right? If I have to go deeper on that line of thought though, then I'm not sure. Because I don't agree with sex before marriage? But I suppose that could easily be turned around into sex being okay as long as it's a committed relationship that you're planning to stay in for life, if you only see the difference as a ring & a piece of paper. So something to do with my faith then, I suppose? But marriage in my faith is still something I'm trying to get my head around because in working through the Bible, so far all I've seen is a whole lot of seemingly acceptable polygamy, which completely contradicts what churches are trying to teach now. Sooo.. in all honesty, I guess the answer is that it's what I've just been brought up thinking is normal. Does that all make sense?

    @Rabbit
    24 still seems very young to me. I think my parents were married at 28 so I'd always figured that was pretty average but then growing up, as I got to know Christians, I realised that actually it's not unusual at all to be married in your early 20s, but even so, it shocked me every time it was announced that someone that young was engaged. It took me a long time not to see that as weird. A friend my age thought it was awful that she wasn't engaged by the time she turned 19, because that's what her parents had done. It shows the impact of the way our parents did things, I think! Now, the idea of marrying young seems completely normal to me. I think I had always kind of assumed I would get married at some point but to be honest, now I do want it to be soon, although in the logical part of my mind I know it's perfectly reasonable for there to still be plenty of time before it happens! But yes, I definitely do want to be married.

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  15. Man, I go to take a programming final, and everyone starts commenting! :)

    @Macha
    I can see how that could be depressing... but it's also an insight into your values, don't you think? Like as much as I'd like to think of myself as an independent thinker who doesn't need the approval of others, I'm realizing more and more that my self-definition since childhood has been around being obedient and not causing problems for my family (I was the "good kid," my brother was the "problem child). I've kind of come to terms with the fact that conforming to the rules and honoring the family and the religion I was raised in are important to me, and I choose very specific issues that I want to "rebel" on (which also tells me a lot about my values). Just something to think about :)

    @Rabbit
    I don't know! Haha. I will ask my friend who works for an insurance company.
    Also, thanks for helping to explain what I was trying to say. Sometimes I get too wordy and I just need someone else to paraphrase my thoughts!

    @Just me
    That totally makes sense. And there's no shame in struggling to explain why you want to get married. I just think it's good to think about at some point. I ask these kinds of questions because I think it's important to understand why you believe something or why something is important to you, even if I may disagree or have different reasons. For example, I have very specific reasons that I took my husband's last name when we got married--it's something I really thought about, though. And there are people who judge me for doing such a "patriarchal" thing, but because I actually thought through it and have a reason for it, it doesn't bother me like it might if I'd just done it because I didn't know any other options. Does that make any sense? Here I go being wordy again!

    Whew, sorry for the super-long comment, but I think I responded to everyone!

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  16. @Jessica
    Yep, that makes perfect sense & I completely agree that we should have reasons for our views! Can I ask about the reasons for taking your husband's surname/have you written about it somewhere? I guess I always assumed I would take my future husband's name, again just because it's 'the done thing' .. although I do like the idea of it.. it seems more family-y to me, if that makes sense! But I would be interested to know your reasons for your decision - it seems like you've given all this a lot of thought & I really admire that :)

    Oh, and how did the programming final go?

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  17. @Just me
    I haven't done a post on it, though it's kind of a long answer. I'll see if I can be brief.
    I was ready to get rid of my maiden name for two main reasons:
    1) It's super common. At one point there were four of us at my college with the same exact name, which occasionally caused problems. My husband's last name is so rare I only know of one other person in the world with my name.
    2) It was similar to a celebrity's name, and so practically every new person I met felt required to make an awkward joke about that. It was so sick of it, and I would get called the wrong name a lot because of it.
    Also, I wanted to take Mike's name for at least two other reasons:
    3) He comes from a big family--he's one of 23 grandchildren--yet very few of his grandparents' sons have sons, and it looks like we may be the only one to pass down the family name. Since it's really rare, that's kind of a big deal for his family, and by taking his name there was no confusion over which name our kids would get.
    4) Similarly, it just simplifies things. It's likely to get confusing enough with our kids being adopted--this way I don't have to worry about their school being confused about whether I'm actually their mother, etc. We'll all have the same last name.

    My final went pretty well, I think! He changed the instructions halfway through (which he'd warned us he might do), which threw me a bit, but it turned out OK. Thanks for asking!

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  18. @Jessica
    That makes sense. Unfortunately, it's the other way around for me - I'm the one with a rare name. Our family are the only ones with this name, and since I just have a sister, it won't get passed on after us unless we choose to keep it. So that makes me want to keep it, but the at the same time.. well, I just like the idea of taking my husband's name!

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  19. @Just me
    Nothing wrong with that! If taking your husband's name is going to make you happier than passing on your family name to your kids, then go for it. Or who knows, maybe you will end up with a guy who really wants your last name (my boss's husband took her last name), and that will change your perspective. You've got some time still :)

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  20. Just completely stumbled across this blog and wanted to say a big thank you for supporting gay rights. As a member of the LGBTQ community, it really is heartwarming to know that not all religious folks are anti-gay. Thanks for being a great ally!

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  21. @tracyjgeiger
    So glad you found my blog! It's so frustrating to me that there's this seemingly large divide between gay rights and faith in God, which I think is constructed much more by public figures than everyday people. I like posting links to other people and organizations who see faith in God as a reason to support the LGBTQ community--that's mostly what's on my Twitter as well :) Thanks for stopping by! Your comment made my night!

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  22. Whoa, I never came back over here to see if there were any more comments...and there are!

    BTW, how do you guys make the names hyperlinked??

    @JustMe--yeah, looking back, 24 seems really young! We didn't get married until I was 27, but even that still seems young. And at 31, I'm still not 100% ready for kids. I feel like one myself!! My parents were 22 & 25 when they got married. I'm glad my rephrasing helped and you were able to answer everyone's questions :)

    @Jessica--glad my rephrasing helped you too!

    Chiming in on the last name change topic:
    1) My maiden name is super rare and hard to spell and pronounce. It's also towards the very end of the alphabet. No more "Huh? What kind of name is that?" and "Can you spell that???" or hearing garbled mispronunciations at the doctor's office. It also can be annoying being last or near last for things.

    2) My family owns a business and is pretty well-known in our area. I had the opportunity for anonymity! No more questions about if I was related to so and so, or did I know someone else, etc.

    3) I also felt like it made us more of a family unit and would simplify things. I also liked C's last name a lot, which is more of a vanity reason.

    Now, here's why I miss my maiden name:
    1) My married name is SUPER common around our area. Combine that with my first name, and there are 2 of me at my hair salon, 2 at my eye doctor, and 2 or 3 at my dentist. Yes, mix ups have happened.

    2) No one knows me! When I called places after I got married that I had done business with before I got married, I had to throw in my maiden name so they would know who I was. This also meant people thought I hyphenated. Little bit of confusion! Also, the name used to mean something to some people. You could hear the "Oh, it's a XXXXX" resound in their head. Not that I got any special treatment but places that had done business with my family remembered the name. There was a familiarity.

    OK I think that's enough!

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  23. @Rabbit
    BTW, how do you guys make the names hyperlinked??
    There's a "Reply" button to the right of each comment. If you click that it'll open up a separate window with the link pre-formatted.

    I am going to make this its own post since it's starting to generate a discussion! Feel free to repeat yourself over there if you want :)

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  24. GAHHH, I have NEVER noticed that!!!! Lol thanks! Will C&P my comments on your other post.

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  25. I know I'm way late to this, but I had a discussion about this recently and wanted to add my two cents.
    I want to get married for a couple of reasons:
    1) A bad reason: eartily security (not financial: I falsely perceive marriage as a sort of annuity of affirmation. You invest commitment and receive affirmation indefinitely. I said it was a bad reason :)
    2) Sex
    3) Iron sharpens iron. A few of my friendships are mutually encouraging and edifying in a way that feels very rare and precious. That, with a man, mutual attraction, shared goals, and commitment seems incredible and worth it.
    4) Balance. I've seen a few marriages in which partners' strengths help the others' weaknesses, and they can do more for God together than separately. Cool.
    5) As a single person I can love in a very flawed way and get away with it. I can brush off opportunities to love like God does, I can stay home and watch TV instead of go out and do something for someone. I think the practice of sacrificially loving someone all the time would teach me a lot about the nature and love of God in a way nothing else could.

    @Hannah, when you say "the family" is sacred, can you elaborate? Where does that come from, and what do you mean by it? (You can't read my non-verbals here, I don't mean "Where did THAT come from?!" I mean it in a normal, curious way :)

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  26. @Karen
    I love how much thought you've given to this! As someone who once swore I was going to stay single forever, I think many of the benefits of marriage took me by surprise, and I'm still learning what those all are. I feel blessed to have such a good partner and a strong relationship so that those benefits far outweigh the difficulties and sacrifices that come with joining my life to another's.

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