Marriage. Seriously, I don't get it.
This came up while in Dublin with my journal colleague. He is younger than me, and married, and has been married for several years, so I asked him why he got married. And this is how that conversation went:
Me: So why did you decide to get married, and so young?
Him: Because we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with each other.
Me: But that doesn't answer my question. You didn't need to get married to each other to do that.
Him: Well, we knew that we were the only person for each other.
Me: That still doesn't have anything to do with marriage.
Him: Well, we wanted to commit to each other.
Me: Still not answering my question.
Him: Because it was just what we wanted to do.
Me: Oh. Ok.
And, there you go. A lot of people give a lot of reasons about why they wanted to get married like they are real reasons that require marriage. And there ARE some real reasons that marriage may be a necessity, I suppose. Like, healthcare, maybe. Or, your partner is not a U.S. citizen, and for them to live here with you, you need to get married. But that covers, like, maybe 1% of marriages (and if you were wondering if I totally pulled that statistic out of my ass, I did!).
Otherwise, when people talk about the benefits of getting married, these are not really the reasons people get married. I mean, gay marriage is important to folks, because gay people should get equal tax benefits, rights to see a partner in the hospital, manage a partner's estate, and be able to live in the same country as their partner (as it stands now, gay folks, if their partner is a foreign national, must decide often between being apart from their loved one or moving abroad to be with them). Yet the problem with the gay marriage argument is it doesn't take on the problem of marriage. Should gay folks have equal rights? Yes! Damn straight we should have equal rights! (Also: maybe single people should get some of these rights, too?) But at some point the queer community went from doing a much needed critique of the institution of marriage to wanting to participate in it, and I don't know why that happened. And I think it's a shame it did, because marriage? It's a pretty problematic institution. And also, I still don't get it.
And let me get two things out of the way right now: First, I do not judge anyone for getting married. Really, I don't. Because, being feminist, getting through the world is really an exercise in line-drawing; it comes down to where you, personally, are comfortable drawing the line. As in: sometimes, when I want to feel sexy, I put on make-up and wear high heels, and thus conform to the patriarchal beauty standard (because I don't know of any other way to be sexy, which is another long post in itself). I haven't ruled out heels or make-up as something beyond my line. Do I recognize that it is problematic? Sure. But I have to live in a patriarchal world, and if I were to reject everything that was non-oppressive and non-feminist, I could never leave my bedroom. Some women draw the line at make-up, or shaving their legs, and they choose not to participate in such silly rituals, and that's fine, too. The thing is, we don't get to decide what is on the menu, so we are left with choosing the best options. We have to negotiate. And marriage involves often negotiating with intimate partners, and so, I mean, I don't think getting married means you are a bad feminist. Or wrong to do so. I think the institution is oppressive and anti-feminist, but not the individual act. This is an important distinction.
And second, I understand that marriage is not always a totally personal decision. Like, ok, if I have a partner? And xe really wants to get married? I would consider it. I am not on a crusade. Especially if my partner is a woman and thus our getting married is kinda a revolutionary act and that's important to her, then I can see where she is coming from, and where she is drawing her line. When I say I don't get marriage, I mean I really just don't get it. When I was little, my two best girl friends and I didn't play House. We played "Apartment." I am not even shitting you. We played Apartment and we all had the job of our dreams (mine was to be a vet!) and we play-acted our jobs and then coming home to the apartment that we all shared together and we'd "cook" together (Readers, those big plastic fold-out kitchens with plastic food are AWESOME) and play-act living as grown, independent ladies and we thought this the best game EVER. We were ridiculous, right, I know. And the two best friends, they were twins, they were coming from a VERY conservative, evangelical Baptist family, so lord knows where we came up with this. But in conclusion: I never imagined getting married. It never occurred to me growing up. I had no fantasies of a white wedding, a one-kneed proposal. I never cared. So, essentially, if my partner really wants to get married, I wouldn't just totally refuse. I'm not the only one implicated. I'd think about it.
But marriage is a problematic instituion. Because traditionally, it is about political or business alliances and exchange of property. And women were part of that property. And even if you ignore the history, marriage has gotten no less problematic. It is about state control, now, and the exclusion of certain groups, and it still, by every statistic out there on heterosexual marriages, kinda screws women. Yet people give the same old reasons for why they get married, like love, and commitment, when these things? Have nothing to do with marriage. What is up with that?
There are a couple more arguments about marriage we can throw right out the window, too. The first is, I know religion and the state got all mixed up in marriage, but marriage is primarily a state-controlled institution. The state decides who can have it, who can't, pushes it as a way to fight poverty, and tells kids they shouldn't be having sex until they have obtained it. So, if you are telling me you are getting married because you want to do this before god, whatever. Isn't god supposed to everywhere? So have the ceremony in your living room. Also, I bet you got that state license to go along with your god-wedding, didn't you?
Second, you may want to have kids, but this has nothing to do with being married. You can have kids just fine without marriage. Marriage is not required here, to manage anything as regards to your children. Being a legal guardian is.
Third, marriage is not about commitment and love. Or, you can have commitment and love, but marriage is not how you show that. Loving and committing to your partner are how you show that. Because, to be overly obvious: domestic abuse. And spousal rape. And marriage is kinda not really the most sacred symbol of devotion anymore, you know? There are high divorce rates, and there are fucking TV shows like The Bachelor or whatever where contestants fall deeply in love with each other as kindred spirits in the span of a half hour and there is a marriage as the big finale. Marriage does not equal commitment or love. You can decide to attach that meaning, but it's not naturally there (and for the great majority of human history, and in some cultures still today, it never has been).
The thing is, no one ever admits the reasons they are really getting married, which I feel like are closer to: "Yeah, ok, I am using this patriarchal, state-sponsored, oppressive institution to declare my commitment to my (probably opposite sex) partner because it is one society values and recognizes and means will take my relationship seriously and because I just want to, ok? Because THIS IS WHAT EVERYONE DOES, AND THUS I AM DOING IT."
And if people told me that, I would say, "Oh, ok, word." Because at least that would be honest and make sense.
I have been in long-term relationships before, and ones where I have been able to imagine spending my life with that person. But marriage? Never was really on the table. Never seemed like a necessity (and in some cases, would not have even been legally possible). Like, do people need to put rings on each other to show ownership? Is this about possession? Is it about just doing what society tells you is the next step in Being a Grownup? Do folks just want a really fun fucking party that is All About Them? And what the FUCK is up with Bridezillas? That is a TV show, right? (Readers, I don't have a TV, I get TV culture incidentally).
I have lots of questions, but as a feminist and a lady who just happens to be my self, I just don't really get marriage. So I'll just continue to probably annoy the fuck out of my married friends with questions. But, please, stop telling me you did it for love. That? Is just silly.