Vanessa wrote a recent post addressing some thoughts on marriage, namely, what’s the benefit to getting married these days? Isn’t it better to stay unmarried but live together in a relationship so if things don’t work out, there’s no messy divorce later? Why is marriage still so important to so many people, especially women? Isn’t it scary and messy to commingle assets and debts, because why would anyone want to acquire someone else’s debt or lose a personal asset? Although musing about these issues, she seems more skeptical toward the institution of marriage than optimistic.

She sounded so much like me back then. (Just type “marriage” in my search field on the right toolbar and you’ll see.) We do have some similar relationship histories. She’d been engaged twice (to two different guys) but suffered two very painful and difficult breakups. I’ve never been engaged before now, but breaking up was so painful and looking back at the old relationships, we’re both so grateful that we didn’t marry the guys from our past, that it feels like we’d narrowly avoided disaster by not marrying these awful relationships. Kinda didn’t make the best argument for marriage when we constantly thank our lucky stars that we didn’t get married earlier.

And yet the issue of marriage always hangs out there in a relationship, behind a burgeoning tree, within the clouds in a blue sky, in the back of your happy mind, in the eyes of other people’s babies, in a conversation with your mother. So you have to address it at some point, even if it’s only in your own head. In my situation, because Mr. W was unbudging in his conviction that marriage and more children would never be in his future (which decision he developed before me and maintained in the first year of our relationship), I thought hard about the pros and cons of marriage and in a sour grapes sort of way, convinced myself that all the logic behind staying single prevails as the better lifestyle. I’m not dependent on a guy, I don’t need anyone to wipe my butt, I’ve done well for myself, and as a single woman, I have nothing holding me back from full enjoyment of my hedonistic pursuits. Plus, being with Mr. W, I had the security of a committed, faithful, fun, trusting relationship, and I can’t imagine that he’s giving me anything less than what he’d give me if he were legally bonded to my hip. So I wasn’t missing out on anything.

Except I knew I was. I constantly pushed the thought back and threw giant mental throw rugs over it, but there was that tiny little voice wondering why I wasn’t good enough to consider marrying, why he was willing back then to pledge his life to someone less deserving than me — or at least, I’m better than her in his opinion, and if that were true, then why wouldn’t he give me something he so willingly gave her? Unless I’m not everything to him that he claimed I was. He said I was too good for him and that his baggage isn’t worth marrying for me, but what woman in love actually believes that with her heart even if her head buys it? So for the sake of my relationship and ego I had to ignore the heart and follow my head, and head’s loud logic explained why marriage is an outdated joke of an institution and I’m much better off being the progressive modern enlightened woman whose life outsiders watched me lead, believing what they saw because they were not inside my mind.

I soon got so acquainted with the “marriage=bad” mental rhetoric that I became nervous and queasy with the thought of marriage and never brought it up. Time went by and at our one-year anniversay, Mr. W took me out to a nice dinner and brought up the possibility of marriage. “I want to give you a real commitment.” I reassured him there’s nothing unreal in our commitment now and ditched the conversation cleverly for another 9 months until he proposed on the ship during our joint birthday cruise. Even as an engaged woman it took awhile for me to want to deal with it, and up until recently I’ve been criticized as not having a “good enough reason” to be married because I didn’t subscribe to the romanticism school of thought about marriage. I didn’t have a childhood preconceived idea of the perfect wedding, I still don’t know the perfect hairstyle and veil, I don’t particularly care for wedding details and wedding planning. I wasn’t flipping my left hand down under the nose of every passerby to show off my beautiful ring, I didn’t scream my engagement from every rooftop, I don’t talk wedding with anyone I may be hanging out with (unless I’m asking an experienced person for their recommended vendor information). When people ask me “How’s the wedding planning going?” (which is more often than you’d think) I give generic answers and don’t care to gush about it. I’m busier addressing wedding issues as task lists instead of emotion-charged bragging rights, even on this blog. I’ve discussed future practical issues and finance plans with my husband-to-be to lay the foundation for a smooth marriage. We have a plan for our life — not just dreams but how to work the day-to-day practical angles in life to get to our dreams. So does this mean I’m not excited enough to be married? I certainly think not.

As I told Vanessa, where I am now, I believe:
* we’re caught between 2 generations of thought regarding marriage. The old generation idealizes marriage as the highest commitment and symbol of true and lasting love that one person can give another. You are so sure of your love for another that you want to pledge the rest of your life to that person. And the current generation thinks of marriage as a scam, because marriage no longer guarantees a commitment. It no longer guarantees true love or happiness (not that it ever did, I reckon, except people didn’t use to talk about their problems so openly). It doesn’t even guarantee permanence. And the business end of marriage with post-divorce financial division problems and the way people have learned to work the legal system to REALLY screw their exes really make marriage unappealing from a practical standpoint.
* But I think if you can keep the original ideals for the institution of marriage, and work together to manage the practical business issues (like have living trusts or not incur debt to leave to the other person, or have a massive life insurance policy if you have massive debt), marriage can be a great partnership both in the emotional and financial realms.

I don’t think the two schools of thought have to be mutually exclusive. I don’t believe that if you’re in love and can’t wait to be married, that you have to be irresponsible and ignore “unromantic” things like prenuptial agreements and estate planning to split assets fairly between children, stepchildren, half-children, etc. And if you’re taking out insurance policies together and agreeing to what is financially “fair” and suitable to your coexistence, that doesn’t mean you’re not in love. Being in love and wanting it to work for a lifetime means you prepare for the bumps in the road ahead, and you keep your eye out together, hands linked, minds joined.