The Case for Marriage—at Least Mine

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Photos: Ten facts that might make you think twice about marriage.

After only eight months together, my boyfriend and I made plans to find a place of our own. We had both dated around enough to realize that what we had was good, that we wanted more of it, and we wanted it for a very long time. I was thrilled, and slightly overwhelmed: by making such a bold stance so soon in our relationship, I knew I was placing a bet that we would have a sustained and significant pairing. It was wonderful to know that he felt the same way, but the fact that we were taking such a life-changing step felt like an occasion worthy of some sort of celebration. I was sad we’d be resigned to a low-key house party a few months after all the moving boxes were broken down.

I was never a wedding girl—I don’t have an ideal dress or dream location or fantasy cake picked out since childhood. So when Brett proposed on the day we signed our lease, I didn’t cry or scream or jump up and down like I had won the bridal lottery. Getting married felt like an extension of the realization I made when we decided to live together, like both a natural conclusion and a brand-new start.

Why get married? Why not just see how it goes, or enter into some kind of legal partnership? Because I believe that my relationship with Brett is important, and I want to publicly recognize that. Because I want to go through life as part of a partnership, and I want to kick off that partnership in a meaningful way. Being a couple is hard, even when you’re in love, and having the institutional support, as well as the support of my friends and family who recognize what it means to be married, matters to me. There’s a reason that weddings transcend most cultures, and that so many people are now fighting with whole hearts to earn the right to marry: those reasons go far beyond property rights and health-insurance issues.

(That being said: although any government perks Brett and I will receive never factored into our decision, they’re a hell of a lot better than what’s provided by the patchwork system of civil unions and domestic partnerships currently in place. These are half measures to provide rights and benefits to people denied them by the government, and what rights and benefits they afford are more expensive and less comprehensive than what we’d get from marriage. Domestic partnerships are a consolation prize, one not intended to give heterosexual couples the protections of marriage without the totally unhip matrimonial association. That’s why most companies—including NEWSWEEK—don’t extend domestic benefits to heterosexual couples.)

I know the facts and figures: that half of marriages end in divorce, and that 35 percent of high-achieving married women do 100 percent of the housework. I’m also aware of how meaningless those statistics are as a way to judge individual unions—by marrying later, and with more education, my chances of staying married increase exponentially. As for housework, much of those numbers reflect demographic holdovers: boomers and Greatest Generation women who are still fulfilling the duties of a postwar wife. In our house, I cook and Brett does the dishes; he washes the laundry and I fold it. Getting a marriage license won’t change that dynamic.

Statistics about marriage are helpful only to a point, because marriage is such a personal and personalized thing: it reflects, not creates, the culture, ideals, and attitudes of the people involved. Getting married doesn’t suddenly increase one’s chances of wanting kids, or breaking up, or getting heart disease (I’ve found that any romantic partnership leads to increased fatty-food consumption and time spent lounging on the couch). For many couples, it doesn’t even mean lifelong monogamy. Marriage is how you define it—it doesn’t define you.

Just as I’m not ill informed about the difficulties of married life, I have no illusion that a happy engagement will make for a happy marriage. But I do know that I’ve never experienced anything quite like the outpouring of happiness that our engagement brought out in everyone from my already loving family to the normally scowling woman at the dry cleaner. Getting engaged made us part of something bigger than ourselves. It ushered us into a tradition thousands of years old; it gave people who had known and loved us since we were children a reason to celebrate.

That gay marriage is the defining American social issue of our generation speaks to the importance of marriage, and it wasn’t until I was engaged that I fully realized the extent of the inequity. The fact that my 12-month relationship will soon have more legal legitimacy than that of friends who have been together for years seems eminently unfair to me; a problem not with marriage, but with the laws restricting its access to everyone.

Which is not to say that everyone should get married. Many couples are happy to stay unwed, and sometimes they last longer than those who do walk down the aisle. Many individuals don’t need to be coupled up to feel satisfied. But I do, and I am. I’m not saving any money by getting hitched to Brett (in fact, the wedding is costing us tons, and anyone who wants to argue against the wedding-industrial complex has my full support). I’m not gaining any sort of social status or political legitimacy, but I’m not sacrificing any part of myself either: it wasn’t until I was settled in my career that I even felt ready to get married. My fiancé is one of the most feminist and supportive people I know.

I realize that writing about how much you love your prospective spouse is the journalistic equivalent of standing onstage at the Oscars and thanking your husband for his loyalty. And there’s a chance that our union won’t work out—but I believe that it will, and I am willing to get in front of everyone I love and promise to try my hardest to make that happen. I like the idea of planning our lives together as though we might make it: it gives me both a goal and purpose that suits me. My future plans—children, dogs, home renovations, world travel—are all things that go better with a partner, and I can’t imagine a better partner than he. I also think the potential benefits of married life can sometimes outweigh the potential risks, even if the marriage were to end. (See Al and Tipper Gore.)

So this isn’t an argument for marriage as much as it’s my argument for my marriage. I’m very fortunate that I was able to put off deciding on a spouse until I was ready, incredibly thankful that I was the one doing the deciding, and pleased that we’re entering into our partnership as loving equals. I’m grateful for the support of my family. Most of all, I’m incredibly privileged that I have the right to tell him “I do.” Call me naive, ignorant, unreasonable, but what can I say? We’re two grown-ups in love, and we’re going to give happily-ever-after our best shot.

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