Marriage – A Requirement of Commitment?
To help address the question at hand, I’d like to introduce you to two of my favorite women. Both are in extremely happy, committed relationships. Each are on two completely separate relationship paths. The first of the two got engaged within six months of dating her new boyfriend. She used adorably obnoxious phrases like, “when you know, you know!” and “why wait?” when making the announcement to friends and family. The second of the two lives with her boyfriend of five years. They’re unmarried but blissfully sharing a home, a dog and a life together. They’ll probably get married one of these days, but, as she puts it, “psssssh… what’s the rush?!”
Let’s just pause here to self-reflect on how those two relationship-paths make us feel. Does one make you feel slightly more itchy, sweaty and anxious than the other? Because I’m pretty sure there’s a large group of you out there that, if it were your life, would prefer the first scenario.
How incredible that two people can feel so strongly about one another that they can’t wait to make the ultimate commitment! They MUST be meant for each other. #RelationshipGoals
I’m just as positive that there’s a second group of you, perhaps slightly smaller, that would prefer the second.
Marriage is an outdated institution. Why do you have to spend an outrageous amount of money and sign a piece of paper to prove your love to another person? Isn’t sharing a happy life enough? #RelationshipGoals
And then there’s me. Both scenarios scare the living shit out of me. Although I’ve never experienced the first (outside of my favorite Nora Ephron chick-flicks), I’m directly familiar with the second. I was in my last semester of college when I met my ex. He had already graduated from University of Illinois when a mutual friend introduced us. It was the second time in my life, apart from an unrequited high school crush, that I felt pure, magnetic chemistry. Not only did he know who The Shins were, he made a direct reference to my favorite lyrics. He understood how insanely clever Arrested Development was and he could quote Steinbeck or Poe in mid-stride.
Within a few months of dating, we were living together in Minneapolis. We were super poor and anxious to turn our liberal arts degrees into careers. It was a difficult and happy time. We were suspended in that terrifying early-twenties bubble – the one in which you’re allowed to be broke, confused and say dumb things like, “I want to live my life, not plan it.” Unfortunately, that’s how we approached our relationship, too.
Five years and countless wedding invitations from friends later, I started to get insecure about how little we discussed our future. We both avoided the topic like it was an unplanned pregnancy. As the ratio of my single to married friends shifted in a new direction, my insecurity deepened and wedged itself between us. The societal, Disney happily-ever-after-trained part of my brain demanded security in the form of a proposal and marriage. The rational side of my brain recognized how terrified I was of what that commitment could mean for the next fifty years of my life. Our relationship ended in a nuclear stand-off; a complete melt-down in a willingness to be the vulnerable one and figure out what the hell we wanted.
I can’t pretend to know what makes a relationship last forever. But I’m all too familiar with what causes a good one to fall apart. In my personal experience, when insecurity finds its way through the foundational cracks of a relationship, it becomes impossible for communication, trust, vulnerability and commitment to thrive. So yes, marriage is a highly effective way of providing a sense of security to the person you love most. It’s a legally binding way to give that person the freedom to be uninhibitedly themselves and know they’ll still be loved. For those of us who find it more difficult to be vulnerable in a relationship than others, yes, marriage might be a necessity for lasting commitment. (Trust me, It’s a fact I’m wrestling with at this very moment.)
With that said, we all know that marriage doesn’t necessarily equate to a happy ending. Marriage is only one of many ways to build a sense of security between two people. Some of the couples I admire most are the ones secure enough in themselves to use every day acts to reinforce the health and happiness of their relationship. It’s impossible to align a success metric to something as nuanced as love and commitment. Instead of using marriage as the ultimate benchmark, maybe it’s time we emphasize the other things that help contribute to sense of security in ourselves and in our relationships, too?
What do you guys think? In your experience, is marriage a must for commitment?
Allie is a Minneapolis-based digital marketer, lucky enough to make a living by hanging out with really smart people and coming up with disruptive, technology driven ideas at Space150. Her passions include traveling, coffee, books, feminism, obsessing over the dog she just saw on the street corner and trying not to blush at inconvenient moments.