What is marriage? I think it’s an increasingly difficult question to answer. In the two generations before me, it was about a relationship, but also a lot about church and having babies. Before that, it was a pretty secular, and often political deal. Most often, marriage has been a mutual agreement between a man and a woman that they are together. Much like common law marriages today.
Today there are many variables and factors involved in a commitment between two adults in a marriage sort of way. Gender of each person, length of relationship before marriage, legality of marriage, marriage ceremony or not, cohabitation, eventual divorce, happily together or hate each other’s guts… you get the idea.
What does marriage mean to me? I don’t know if I know. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I want to get married, and many of my friends wonder why it’s such a big deal to me. How is it different from common-law? How is it different from promising each other while chatting in the living room that you will be together forever?
The weight of a formal promise
That piece of paper
Premarital counseling: I think one of the big benefits to a religious marriage is that they often require the couple to go through premarital counseling. I heard through a friend that they require counselling before a divorce. I’m not sure if that’s just if they have kids, or what, but it seems to me that premarital counselling would keep a lot of people from a lot of hardship. I’d rather do my counselling on the front end of things, than the back. Maybe I’ll encourage my children to do premarital counselling before they move in with their significant other. I also think that it sets a nice precedent. I want to make sure that my partner is willing to go to counselling with me while we don’t have problems so that it is easier to go if we end up with problems that need to be resolved with input from a third party.
The weight of a formal promise: It is easy to call yourselves girlfriend and boyfriend. It’s easy to move in together. It doesn’t take a ton of intention. It’s easy enough to say, this will be great however long it lasts – unless you’re planning a wedding. It can certainly be done, but I think it’s harder to think that when you’re saying vows and promising to be together forever. Which is what everyone wants, right? Maybe not. That’s what I want.
Public declaration: Similar to the point above. I think that the added pressure of making a promise in front of those I love will push me to make sure that my vows are something I’m committed to and proud to say. I would make my vows meaningful whether I had 500 people at my wedding, or just two witnesses, but I think it just adds another layer. I think it’s also easier to acknowledge two people as a couple when I have been to their wedding. Not to mention how much grandparents love weddings!
That piece of paper: Maybe it’s because my boyfriend and I just changed our addresses to the same residence this year, though we have been living together for over 4 years and so our proof of common-law is a bit muddy, but I’d like that piece of paper saying that we are legally wedded. No one could take that away from us. It’s cold hard proof that we could be with each other in the hospital, or that we are covered by each other’s insurance plans, and all that fun stuff. I like having iron-clad documentation.
A ring and a name: I always said that all I wanted (if I couldn’t have anything else) would be a ring and a name. If my boyfriend was completely against marriage, I would wear a ring anyway. If he didn’t want to get one for me, I would get one for myself. I want people to know that I’m taken. I want people to know that he’s taken. I would like to have that constant reminder of the biggest commitment I ever made, the commitment I make every day. As for the name, I want my family all to have the same last name. I’m not particularly attached to mine. There are a million of us, and it’s in no danger of dying out. I think that changing your name is easier and cheaper if you have a marriage licence.
As for the religious aspect of marriage, I really don’t know. I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting married in a church, as my boyfriend does not believe in God. I think that it will just be that I’m making my promise knowing that I have the power and strength of my faith, and that will help me keep my vows.
I’ve been to 6 weddings in the last year and a half. They were all different. Some were planned to the nines, some were spontaneous. Two were religious, some were without a single mention of God. Some of the relationships started online, some started in school, some started while travelling. Most of them had lived together for a couple years, one of them hadn’t. Some of them spared no expense, some cut a few corners.
I think marriage means something different to each and every one of us. I don’t know what my wedding will look like, but I know it will be meaningful to us. It’s a huge, beautiful promise and commitment and I don’t take it lightly.