16 January 2008

i'm not the only one

If you don't know me in real life, if you only know me through the blog, you probably don't know that I'm not married. I'm in a committed relationship with the father of my children, but we are not married and we have no plans to marry anytime soon.

"Maybe someday," is what we say to people who ask if we're ever going to get married. And people do ask -- not so much anymore, but at first, when I was pregnant and when James was a baby, we heard it a lot. Actually, when I first started telling people I was pregnant with James, one of my co-workers at the time asked me if I'd set a date. I was confused -- I was about to tell her that it's the baby who decides when it's time to come out, not the mother -- when I realized she was asking when Greg and I were getting married. That was when it became clear to me that marriage is not just a life choice you make, but for many people, especially when pregnancy is involved, it is an expectation. People have asked us if we've ever thought about marriage -- of course we have! How could we avoid it in a culture like ours?

For a number of reasons, Greg and I have made a conscious decision not to marry. This surprises a lot of people. We've put a lot of thought and discussion into it, though, and it's not something we're interested in for the time being. We've got no religious inclinations, no pressing financial or legal reasons, and no money to spend on a wedding even if we were interested in marriage. We already have a very public symbol of our feelings for each other and our commitment to each other -- our two children. Most people we meet assume we're married, and I don't bother to correct the assumption most of the time, because what difference would it make? The only thing that differentiates us from married couples is a little piece of paper, which neither of us care about.

It wasn't an easy decision to come to -- there was a while where I really did think I wanted to get married, until I examined my motives and found, at the root of my desire, mostly social pressures and expectations. And there have certainly been times where I've felt condescended to, looked down on, or as if my relationship wasn't legitimate in the eyes of some others simply because I don't have a ring on my finger. After seven years, though, I've gotten used to it and am rarely bothered by it.

I bring all of this up because I read an essay in Newsweek that made me cheer a little bit on the inside. It isn't often that one finds a public, carefully thought-out, well-written defense of choosing not to be married. The author writes a lot of things that ring true to me:

We are committed to spending our future together, pursuing our dreams and facing life's challenges in partnership.

Yet I do not need a piece of paper from the state to strengthen my commitment to Jeff. I do not believe in a religion that says romantic, committed love is moral only if couples pledge joint allegiance to God.

I don't need a white dress to feel pretty, and I have no desire to pretend I'm virginal. I don't need to have Jeff propose to me as if he's chosen me. I don't need a ring as a daily reminder to myself or others that I am loved. And I don't need Jeff to say publicly that he loves me, because he says it privately, not just in words but in daily actions.

Our married friends say you can make a wedding—and a marriage—what you want, but that is not true. It's a specific institution with defining principles and values. If it weren't, there wouldn't be so-called marriage-protection laws in the majority of this country's states.

And for me, that's the bottom line when I consider cashing in on all the benefits our heterosexual relationship is entitled to. My gay friends can't do that. I don't want to send a message to anyone, including my daughter—who may someday choose a same-sex life partner—that the value of her relationships can be determined by law and the affirmation of others.

I wouldn't say that marriage equality -- or, currently, inequality, I should say -- is "the bottom line" for me or for Greg, but that's certainly been a consideration in our thoughts about marriage too.

It was just so refreshing to read some of my own thoughts written by someone else. Greg and I are not the only people out there who feel this way about marriage, despite often feeling as if we're the only ones. Marriage is not a priority for us -- we are actively building our lives and raising our children together without pausing for a ceremony to recognize that, and that's not a common sentiment, nor one that many people readily accept.

And -- I realize that marriage means much more than this to many people. I realize that it has personal importance and tangible benefits for lots and lots of people. I do think it has its problems as a legal institution, but this is not to say I'll never get married. Maybe circumstances will change and we'll decide it's better to be married than not -- who knows. But please, if you're thinking about leaving a comment about how wonderful marriage is, and/or how many benefits it has, and/or why I should get married -- I've heard it. In seven years I've heard it all, and I've not yet been convinced to get married right this minute, so save your energy. I'm happy with my choice.


Jessica said...

Congratulations on your non-marriage! In leaving Mormonism, I have been glad to shed many of the marriage expectations that at times seem to only serve to exclude or set others at lower status.

I think I have accidentally called you Greg's wife a time or two, even though I know the situation. Our culture needs to adapt and come up with a better term than "significant other" or even "partner" (too business-like/ too preschool).

Heidi said...

Yes, Jessica, the problem of what to call each other has been the biggest practical problem we've encountered so far. "Boyfriend" doesn't really convey the depth of our relationship or his role as father of our children. I've used partner, domestic partner or life partner (kind of as a joke, because of the gay association), and I've even called him my husband myself a few times, for simplicity's sake. But you're so right, we need a new word.

Jessica said...

Yeah, boyfriend is too high school. Domestic partner works, as it loses the business/preschool association.

melissa said...

unmarried people make baby jesus cry.

Julie said...

Hey Heidi!
I think it's great that you guys are so committed to each other. All of us should be so luck to have someone who gets us and who we want to spend our lives with (I'm happy I have my someone too ;-) )

m said...

ahhh... marriage. all my old schoolmates seem to be getting married these days or thinking about doing it and i keep wondering whyyy. it's like a mid 20s pattern. i mean really, what else can a person do once they (sort of) got a job, have been with another person for a while and are planning to have children? must marry and spend a fortune on a one day event to get a certificate of their love. sigh.
great post!