I've been hard at work on a new story for the site. This one's a little sadder than most - it's my awkward breakup story, and it's one I've never written a draft of before, so it'll take some time to polish up and post. Nevertheless, all the pondering about relationships prompted me to pop down a few thoughts I've incurred over the years on the subject of marriage.
I've mentioned before that I have a significant other. We've been together for a long time, but we're not legally married. Our situation is fairly comfortable (we had an engagement party in 2012 with the tagline, "Livin' in Sin since 2010!"); most people mistake us for a married couple and our lives are rather intertwined. When the full gravity of this registered, I was forced to ask myself the heretical question: Why bother getting married?
The Perils of Human Autopilot
Most of us perform a ton of behaviors without applying a whit of thought to what we're doing. We do them out of habit or because our parents did them. We're victims of societal inertia. There's usually nothing wrong with this, but if you really take an unbiased look at things, you can spot the exceptions. A great example is circumcision - it's a medically irrelevant procedure with no real point (hygeine? really? If you can't wash your dong well enough to where cleanliness is a factor, you've got bigger problems than the existence of your foreskin).
So why do it? My guess is momentum. I'd bet 95% of people opt for a procedure in which they cut off a portion of their child's genitals just so their son looks like his daddy. What really underscores the point is the fact that circumcision seems to be the one part of American culture that hasn't caught on around the world. Despite being in the minority on this, circumcision remains relatively popular here; people who point this out are ignored and/or stigmatized (there was a guy at U of C who would protest this; most of us - including me at the time - assumed he was bitter about a botched circumcision*). Fact of the matter is, on a global scale, we're the weirdos opting to mutilate our own genitals. And we think nothing of it because it's what our parents did.
Point is, some of these decisions probably should be considered a little more. Three of the biggest decisions that seem to be taken for granted are marriage, having kids, and owning really heavy furniture. Since each of these topics are so massive, I thought I'd split them up, starting with the sacred institution of marriage.
In Defense of Monogamy
Marriage is not a for-or-against kind of issue. Obviously people work well in a paired, reasonably monogamous system. It's a nice way to raise children, economize, etc. But there's a real question that needs answering within the institution: Since we can completely mimic the physical arrangement of marriage in our day-to-day lives simply by cohabitating, what exactly does legally binding ourselves to another add to our lives?
Reasons Marriage isn't better
Taxes, The Old Chestnut
I've asked dozens of people what the main advantage of marriages are over the arrangement I refer to simply as "living in sin." Know what the most popular answer is? Taxes. Some people spit out this answer so fast, it's clear that they've actually memorized the answer.
Marriage is rarely an effective tax strategy. On face value, this belief may be true in one particular situation - if you have a high- and a low-earner paired up, you can stretch the standard tax deduction of the lower-earning party to reduce the tax burden of the higher earner. If you have two working professionals, though, there's no advantage. Having children? No married advantage.
The really troubling thing is the epistemology; taxes are mentioned as the main reasons for getting married. Not love or commitment. Cold, badly-figured financial logic is the main draw.
Other reasons (legal) marriage ain't so grand:
There's no insulation against failure. I do not believe being legally bound decreases the likelihood of divorce (as evidenced by statistics). I'm not going to start shit-slinging statistics, but you can easily find this out yourself if you examine unbiased sources.
It's not an educational process (per se). You hear people about how much they learned from their failed marriage and how they're a stronger person. This is revisionist stuff - there's no qualitative gain from being married. People maintain habits independent of whether or not they're married; we cheat, lie to each other, etc. whether or not they have a spouse. Moreover, people fail to change, or even learn to recognize their faults, as evidenced by higher rates of divorce for people in their second/third/etc marriage.
Reasons marriage is inferior to simple domestic partnership
Marriage compromises your ability to personally protect yourself financially and personally. Divorce is financially devastating. Moreover, it replaces common sense with judicial decrees from a stranger. Imagine a judge ordering you to pay alimony to your cheating spouse. Screw that noise.
The "damaged goods" stigma. People who break up, even after a long time, are simply single. Being divorced is a label that you can never escape.
Cost of Actual Marriage. Average wedding is $26,444. I have no energy to get into what a monumental waste this is right now, but the effects are obvious. Debt does not glue people together as well as you'd imagine, as money is a leading cause of divorce. On the other hand, $26,444 is a lot of relaxing vacations.
A strong argument can be made that a domestic partnership is stronger than a comparable traditional marriage. There's nothing keeping Susan from leaving me tomorrow - no legal hurdles, no mandatory waiting periods or financial penalties. The only thing there is her voluntary desire to be with me, and vice versa. One can argue that we trust each other more, as there are vitually no consequences associating with splitting. You can also say we're acting more as adults, as we are relying on dual maturity to prevent splitting over the occasional fight.
Finally, I tried to play the other side of the coin:
Reasons marriage is superior to domestic partnership
I'm grasping at straws here, possibly because I lack the perspective of someone who is legally bound to another human being. But I did think of three-ish reasons:
It's easier for people to understand your relationship. Calling someone "partner" has kind of vacilated between a gay thing and a business thing. I still call Susan my fiancee, though, and it's no big deal.
I would think having a traditional platform would make your kid's life easier at school. This, of course, presupposes a desire to reproduce. On the other hand, you're also bringing up the possibility of a traumatic divorce.
There are some legal advantages to being married, one of which being spousal privilege. If being compelled to testify against your significant other is a major factor in getting married, by all means go for it; this worked out really well for Skylar and Walter White. There's also power of attorney and de facto inheritance positioning if you don't have a will. I solved those issues by granting Susan power of attorney and writing a simple will. This will - hopefully - work out for me better than Terri Schiavo's husband, who couldn't even pull the plug on his vegetable wife without a court fight.
Honestly, I can't think of much more. These reasons are kind of crappy; I'd be genuinely interested in hearing arguments in favor of legal marriage over domestic partnership (other than religious superstitions).
"So when are you getting circumcis- err - married?"
When we got engaged, people asked us when we wer getting married for about two years. The most persistent were Susan's friends and, among those, there was a correlation between their persistence and the size of their wedding. I'm not sure if this was coincidence or not, but it happened enough to where I truly questioned whether their motivations were less a desire to see us together and more a need to validate their own decisions. I have no answer to this question, but I do know that I'm not fixing something that isn't broken.
PS - I write these in a frenzied bout of typing with no spell check. In other words, quality control in nonexistent.
*The guy did actually have a botched circumcision, by the by. I know this weakens my argument, but it was too good a detail not to include.
Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.