What does it really mean to say “I do”? Marriage is always on people's minds, but is anyone really thinking about it?

Marriage is always on people’s minds, but is anyone really thinking about it? As tying the knot becomes less and less common amongst young people, it would seem logical to assume that everyone doing it has carefully considered the options available and realized this is right for their relationship. However, is this really the case?

As a child, I assumed that my life would take a certain direction once I left full-time education — I would grow up, find myself a man, get married and have babies. After all, that’s what society always used to tell you to do — or, at the very least, hint heavily at it — but a few years down the line I realized that I could actually choose. If I didn’t want to have children, no one would force me to. If I didn’t want to find a man, the world wouldn’t end. If I didn’t want to legalize whatever relationship I had, well, that’s just fine and dandy too.

Not that there aren’t people who will try to tell you that your life choices are wrong, simply because they don’t fully align with their own, of course. Anyone who chooses a different relationship route than the classic heteronormative child-rearing one will be forced to deal with endless questions and accusations of selfishness, but at least they have their reasons. Marriage is the place where it really gets confusing though.

Ask someone why they’re getting married and you rarely get a sensible answer. “Because we’re in love” — But why get married? “Because it was time” — Does it happen automatically after a certain time then? “Because I wanted to make an honest woman out of her” — Seriously, what? Some people will have perfectly valid reasons for tying the knot, but they’re rarely thought of as romantic and so therefore are hardly ever used as answers when people question why.

Does the legal status of your relationship actually matter as far as romance is concerned? You and that special person of yours are no doubt romantic. A wedding day… well, that can be very romantic indeed, depending on how you go about it. However, you can’t deny that marriage itself is actually about as romantic as a spreadsheet. It’s about legalizing a partnership that, in this day and age, perhaps doesn’t really need to be legalized. As Doug Stanhope once said:

If marriage didn’t exist, would you invent it? Would you go “Baby, this shit we got together, it’s so good we gotta get the government in on this shit. We can’t just share this commitment ‘tweenst us. We need judges and lawyers involved in this shit, baby. It’s hot!”

Whether you choose to get married or not, having truly thought about it is the most important thing. After all, it’s your relationship so why follow someone else’s rules? If you want or need to get married, fine, but to go through all the expense of a wedding simply because you think you probably should is not really fair on either of you. As for all you happily married folk out there… if you can explain to me why you thought that bit of paper mattered, I’d be ever so grateful. Thanks.

Lori Smith likes weddings, but doesn't want one of her own. She is content poking around what makes us and our lovers tick.

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[…] themselves, doesn’t necessarily mean that they think it’s wrong. I may occasionally ask people why they want to get married, but that’s because I’m genuinely interested. “Because we wanted to” is a […]

Karen
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Karen

I’m sure there are as many answers to this as there are marriages (after all, some of us do it more than once!). It would be nice if there was some other way to register a significant other as just that. Perhaps to some people that’s what a civil wedding is, but in that case maybe it should also be easier to dissolve.

For us, not wanting either a) a big wedding we had to invite everyone to, or b) a small wedding that people would resent not being invited to, we just made up our own rules: I changed my surname by deed poll and we stood on a beach in the sunset and swapped rings.

Pilvi
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Pilvi

Call me old fashioned, but my question is “why not get married?” When we’ve dediced we want to live together as partners and build our life together, share a home, finances, bodily fluids on a regular basis, all that stuff – and when government offers a framework to make some aspects that are already mentioned (next of kin rights etc.) easier if you go in front of a judge and say vows, my question indeed is why stay unmarried when marriage is there to make all this just a little simpler.

However, my question of “why not” get married is the wrong one if people are about to do it just in order to be able to throw a wedding, or because others expect them to do it.

I wish more people would view marriage and getting married in a less romantisized way. It’s come naturally for me since we got serious with my now-husband, because we “need” marriage for immigration reasons. I’m even religious and in a civil union because immigration (Finland-USA) dictated the manner and timing of our marriage. (We’ll have a blessing later this year, though.)

Harri (or someone knowledgeable), can you tell me what is a GRC?

Tom Adams
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Tom Adams

In the UK, if you transition from one sex to another, the only way you can get your sex changed on, for instance, your passport or drivers licence, is to get a “Gender Recognition Certificate”. And in the UK, only heterosexual couples can get married, and only homosexual couples can get civil partnershipped (though the rights are almost identical).

Harri
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Harri

Pilvi, Tom Adams:
Actually, you can get your Passport and Drivers Licence changed without a GRC. The only thing which a GRC changes is your Birth Certificate. One of the things you have to do to get a GRC is prove that you’ve lived in the gender you want to be recognised as for at least two years. For many (most?) people this would be very difficult without being able to change your other ID documents, so a letter from your doctor will suffice to change Passports and Drivers Licences.

Harri
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Harri

We both had a lot of (internal) conflicts about this. We knew we wanted to get married, but at first couldn’t articulate why. It also made us uncomfortable to think about all of the historical/social/cultural connotations of marriage, though we feel much better about that now that we’re getting a civil partnership (I’ve decided not to get a GRC, as I don’t think it is necessary/feel it’s important for me to not ‘revise’ my past). In the end, we want to publically, and to each other, recognise and mark the fact that we’ve decided we want to build a life together, to be partners. We appreciate that things change (we’ve seen it a lot in our relationship already), and we’ll never say never, but there’s a kind of permenance that we want to commit to which is represented by marriage.

(Don’t get me started on wearing wedding rings, I really want to, she pretty much doesn’t, and I’m having difficulty figuring out, much less explaining, why I feel so strongly about wanting to wear one.)

La Snare
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La Snare

For us, the “bit of paper” mattered because it gives us certain legal benefits. Guaranteed next of kin rights is probably the most important one at the moment. Once married, the state views you are as the other’s closest relative, rather than your parents or anyone else. That’s how we consider each other, so it’s reassuring that all organisations are obliged to view us that way too. It doesn’t matter to me if that is considered romantic or not!

A lot of the other benefits only kick in later in life (unless you are very unlucky) like inheritance, pension etc, but they are still rights that we wanted and could be useful to us one day. There are also other benefits that we don’t need, but others do (immigration issues, for example). Marriage also comes with certain legal responsibilities to each other of course, so these benefits won’t be worth it for everyone, no matter how committed. But we were already very financially intertwined and interdependent, so we didn’t mind being legally obliged to stay that way.

All the other, more romantic, reasons we got married have very little to do with the “piece of paper”. They are just social/cultural benefits that seem to be easiest to access if you get the piece of paper as well. Might as well get all of them at the same time!

Helen
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Helen

We got married to commit to spending the rest of our lives together and to share that commitment with God, and our families and friends. For us, I guess, it was not a legal issue, but showing that we intend to look after one another and share our lives, come what may. :o)

Phil Evans
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Phil Evans

In all honesty, I don’t think I could give any better reason than “because we wanted to”. I’d certainly never say that anyone “should” get married, or that non-marriage relationships were inferior. Equally, I’m not religious, so it wasn’t anything to do with getting the relationship blessed (though I suspect that’s a very big deal for some people).

For me, it was a way of saying “I intend to be with this person for the rest of my life”, and sharing that with our friends and family. I’ve been to handfastings and similar which performed the same role, and are equally as good in that sense – a wedding was just the one that felt most right to us. If I’d grown up in a society where people got tattoos of each others’ names to show commitment, I probably would have done that.

The other thing, of course, is that it’s an excuse for a bloody good party 😉