[This is a post for Forward Thinking. The question is "What do you believe should be the purpose of marriage in our society today? What do you personally see as the purpose of marriage for your own life? And finally, what responsibilities, duties, and/or obligations do you believe marriage should entail?"]
The first question is really easy for me to answer. I think marriage is a collection of rights and responsibilities which we as a society have agreed to give to people who are in some kind of Important Non-Familial Relationship with each other. I don’t think it’s any of my business to police what sort of Important Non-Familial Relationship that is– romantic or non-romantic, sexual or non-sexual, monogamous or nonmonogamous, for life or until they get bored of each other– any more than I would non-marital relationships. (Which is to say that there are moral obligations, like not to abuse each other, and Best Practices, like communicating regularly. I have a lot of Opinions about other people’s relationships actually.)
Like, honestly I’m trying to think of a situation where I’d treat marriage different than non-marriage. Children maybe? Given that children generally do better with more than one parent who is stably and reliably involved in the child’s life,* marriage is often a useful tool for people who want to be parents.
On the other hand, I have very specific ideas of what marriage would mean for me personally.
I have wanted to be married as far back as I can remember, possibly because my parents are the single most functional relationship I have ever witnessed. They’re not Hollywood in love, with the passionate tearful declarations and soaring music and Big Misunderstandings. They’re just… quietly each other’s best friends. They have each other’s backs. They’re in this– whatever it is– together.
When I was very young, I decided that I would get divorced in cases of abuse, infidelity (later, when I discovered that I was poly, changed to “severe betrayal of trust”), my partner and I both being utterly miserable in the relationship even after we’ve tried everything we can to fix it, or my partner’s decision to divorce me. The idea is that I choose to have a relationship with you– even when I don’t want to, even when I’m pissed off at you, even when the only thing I want is to walk out that door and never come back.
Part of it is that, if I selected my life partner well, it is more likely that Future Mes will be happy in the relationship than that Future Mes will be unhappy, even if that seems implausible in the moment. For one thing, I did get married to the person. For another, age and depth of relationships do in fact make relationships richer and more enjoyable, at least in my limited experience. (It turns out, if you have borderline personality disorder and don’t realize it, and if you can only be happy in poly relationships and you’re trying for monogamy, you’re really bad at relationship stability.) I mean, technically all I have evidence for is “Ozy prefers relationships of a year and six months to relationships of two weeks and passionately hates New Relationship Energy.”
Part of it is that I find the decision to be unhappy for the sake of some higher passion to be… aesthetically pleasing; it’s the same sort of aesthetic pleasure I get from people sacrificing for their art or science. I don’t know why; I assume this is one of my Arbitrary Preferences. Of course, I’d expect that my marriage would be happy more than it’s unhappy– but you don’t exactly need much commitment to stay in a relationship that’s good.
Other than commitment, what would I be looking for in my Hypothetical Marriage? Domesticity: I don’t think it’s an accident that a lot of my romantic daydreams revolve around cleaning and cooking and budgeting. Yes, really. Do you want to see the Word documents with hypothetical budgets, or will you take my word for it? Fortunately, domesticity seems to be in high supply in life partnerships.
And I want someone who’s my best friend. I want to read books or sit on the computer late at night in companionable silence. I want to play around with ideas with them. I want that sort of creepy hivemind you get where you can say “the thing” and they’re like “but what about” and you’re like “yeah, right, but still.” (Seriously, my parents do that and I can’t even understand what they’re talking about half the time.) I want someone who understands that I’m always going to be in a triad with my partner and writing and, ideally, is going to make it a quad. I want someone who complements my weaknesses and enhances my strengths, and to be a better person because I’m with them.
Things I don’t care about: sex. Really don’t care. I mean, I’m poly, I can get sex elsewhere, and sex really isn’t that important to me in a relationship regardless. I like holding hands and snuggling and kissing and having my head petted, but if we do all that and never interlock genitals I don’t care. It’s very odd to me to see people talk as if all marriages must be sexual relationships: why is a relationship of friendship and commitment and mutual support somehow less valid because you aren’t participating in one admittedly very enjoyable recreational activity?
Still odd, although slightly less stupid, is the insistence that marriages must be romantic. Romantic love is a storm of emotion that often makes you want to be with someone forever, so of course people assume that if you’re in romantic love you must be together forever. But I think a lot of people think two friends marrying is Less Real Somehow, which is just bizarre. And while it is perfectly valid to get divorced because you’ve fallen out of love with your partner, because anyone is allowed to end relationships for any reason, I find the assumption that falling out of romantic love automatically ought to lead to divorce to be silly. You can still be partners even if you are no longer lovers. It’s totally valid!
*Although many times this is not possible. I in no way intend to shame single parents, who are usually good people struggling with a very difficult job.