This week, the discussion of marriage has dominated headlines and conversation. With DOMA (thankfully) struck down, the move to make marriage legal for same-sex couples is monumental. But marriage, as an institution, is still problematic for many women for many different reasons, from legal definition to larger, more theoretical issues. For some, fantasizing about a dream wedding isn't just in the cards, a piece of paper doesn't signify a healthy relationship, and religion and government don't have any place in their partnership. (Of course, for others, a wedding and a marriage is a wonderful and significant symbol — to each, her own.)
We spoke with five different women in five different stages of their lives — some have been married before but vow to never do it again, while another doesn't know if she will ever settle down, and a third is actually in a sham marriage to stick it to "the system" (yes, that exists). Each one has her own reason for saying "I don't", and while the ability to marry should be available to all, the choice to not marry is also a valid option, as well.
"I'm a gay woman who got married seven or eight years ago to a man so he was able to obtain his green card.
I was working at the board of trade still, so I didn't need the money, but I needed to feel like I had the control to make the system work in my favor since, as a lesbian, it doesn't normally. So in my mind, if I was to get paid 75 cents to every man's dollar, yet pay the exact same amount in taxes as a man in the same job and I still can't get married...then f**k that. I'll get the system to work for me in a way that isn't hurting anyone. Most importantly, I helped a guy who only wanted to make a living. He was a hard worker, and very nice.
I think marriage is about money anyway. History shows how it has been used as business for wealthy families for generations, and how marriage has become a transaction between a man and a woman. It frustrates me that women are worthless in a lot of countries. I hate that marriage, in its modern form, feels a lot like an 'exchange.' I can love and be loved and it won't have anything to do with dowries or how much land I have. To me marriage is a crock, and as a lesbian, the only purpose is for laws and taxes, both things that are unnatural and man-made. Love between me and mine is the only thing that matters, and I have plenty of that without the court headaches."
"Explaining my decision to never get married is something I do quite often, but is still hard to really find the right way. I tried to get my point across to my mother (who is currently on marriage number three) and she is still confused.
I know a lot of girls dream about marriage and starting a family — like, it’s their one life goal, and they aren't complete without it. I was never like that. When girls gush over engagement rings and dresses I can’t even fake interest. I once asked if it was a girl’s birthday when she showed me her ring, because it just didn't feel right. Somehow, I’m supposed to tell the difference between an engagement ring and 'hey, my boyfriend spent a paycheck on this thing that I now have to guard with my life' ring. I’m 31 now, and my views haven’t changed a bit.
I’ve been in a relationship or two that has become serious enough where, through the grapevine, I found out that they might be popping the question. I sent the message straight back up the same grapevine that it would be a terrible idea. They always think I’m 'going through a phase.' I’m in a relationship now that is completely fantastic in every way. And, I'm happier than I have been in a relationship… ever. But I'm still not looking through bridal magazines.
Basically I think people get married for the wrong reasons. They do it because they believe this is what comes next…right? Or for tax purposes. Or because children popped into the picture. Why marry just because I’m 'supposed to?' Not saying it can’t work for some people, but just look at the divorce rate. I don’t need a contract to prove my love for someone. I believe in monogamy without marriage."
"The marriage question is a thorny one.
My own parents were indeed married and produced eight children in 20 years, the first six in eight years. They were extremely devoted to one another and my mother just told me that if my father had lived they would have been married for 63 years. I, myself, have been in a relationship for ten years, with the last five sharing a household. Before this relationship, I was with a man for approximately eight years. All of these relationships I hoped would last my lifetime.
I've always been suspicious of marriage. Maturing during the second wave of feminism, I was aware of the ability of marriage in general to reduce the importance of a career — and all work of the 'wife' revolved around familial 'duties.' In my twenties, many of my friends were divorced, finding the relationship chafing to their sense of artistic and social freedom. These women became role models for me as parents when my cohabiting boyfriend (of six years) and I decided to have children. Because of them, I knew in the back of my mind that it would be possible to parent without marriage.
I did, however, decide to marry, but it was a difficult decision. I had fears that the social construct would eat away at my personal and artistic liberties. We talked much about this. For practical reasons, I was the primary caregiver and inhabiting that dynamic for only a few years helped me begin to understand why utopian colonies thrived in the sixties, where shared domesticity was one of the goals of equality.
For me, marriage ceased to be an adventure and became — as is historically found — an economic relationship. In our culture, economic power is paramount. My creative pursuits, even with financial success, were now merely tolerated by those outside my 'art circles' and advice and even requests to temper those activities surfaced.
Sadly, it took divorce for true domestic equality to again emerge. The economic pendulum had swung out of my grasp, and it has taken years to find a way back into stasis. Now, my (married) friends have advised me to marry for the financial security, so I can continue being an artist without sacrificing the welfare of my children. Indeed, most successful artists I know (male and female) have a spouse who supports them in lean times.
Obviously I've successfully navigated long-term relationships since the marriage's demise, so I have no fear of 'commitment' — only of 'containment.'
Though, let me say that I am glad for my children that we did marry. The contract of marriage does force a couple to think as a unit — socially and economically — and that has benefited the children. The dissolution of our household was accomplished with their needs as priority and in some ways, I think that being married helped. In some ways, I believe couples who decide to have children should try marriage. Economic partnership is very important to family stability.
Love is very important, but it remains an economic contract. Remember that you share someone's debt as well as their wealth."
"It's not that I can't imagine spending my entire life with someone, because I can. But there are two things about getting married that seem really distasteful to me, as a young person. First of all, the culture surrounding weddings seems really daunting. It's expensive, expectant, and filled with this Judeo-Christian ritual that is really counterintuitive to the woman I feel like I have become. On a very basic level, think of all the money I could save by not having a wedding, or filing for marriage papers. That money could literally be used towards ANYTHING else: throwing a party for my family and friends celebrating my 'union', donating to a charity, saving for my kids' college fund.
Secondly, and I don't want this to sound too Angelina and Brad, but I really don't like the idea of taking advantage of a "right" afforded to me that isn't afforded to all people. I wouldn't feel comfortable riding on an all-white bus in the sixties, and while it's not exactly equatable, I don't feel comfortable doing something that members of my family and my friends can't do. Two of my very best friends are a gay couple, and while they would be absolutely thrilled to see me get married, I just don't like that they can't do the same thing — or they can, in the state I live in (thank goodness), but it wouldn't be recognized in the state I am from. So that makes me feel pretty unsettled."
"I feel like my aversion to marriage is a reaction not to marriage so much, or the idea of a lifelong commitment, but more a reaction to the expectation of marriage being an inevitable life goal or milestone. It’s always felt that it was assumed that I would find my one and only, get married, retire together, and all that crap. It has never felt like a natural assumption that my life would progress in that direction, but more like an obligatory expectation that I had no choice in assigning to my life. Marriage, as one of countless options for what may take place or be a part of one’s life, is no less right or wrong than any other possibility.
Getting married is not inherently right or wrong, for me or for others, but it carries this weight of expectations, obligations, and an ickiness that I have no interest in adding to my life. If I choose to be with someone for most of my life, live together, make decisions about life together, have kids together (and there’s a touch of ickiness to that too, for me), then that will be what it is. The idea of adding marriage to that hypothetical equation feels like it’s something I’m supposed to need, or that others think I need to be happy.
My parents were divorced when I was three, and have both since remarried. I’ve seen things in their relationship to one another and to their new spouses that I don’t want for myself, and I’ve also seen neat things that they experience within their marriage. I’m happy for them about the neat things, but I don’t see marriage being necessary for me to find my own neatness.
A lot of men have fallen for me seemingly because it’s 'refreshing' to see such a change from co-dependency in a women, but inevitably it feels like they all want to change that and make me theirs, regardless of how many times I warn them that it will not happen, don’t try, etc. My longest relationship was an on-off affair of five years, and it was co-dependent, suffocating, and fear-based. I’ve recently found out he just got engaged, months after he 'surprised' me with a visit and proclamation that he wanted to make a life work with me. So…I think he just wanted a woman to fit into the role he’d written for a wife in his life’s play.
I'm not fundamentally against marriage, per se, and I get the historical context/necessity of it due to the culture and circumstances of the past. And yeah, women got the shitty end of the stick, but I do accept that life was what it was. I don’t live then, I live now. And I don’t want to be held to the outdated standards of a past era."