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Marriage is an outdated institution.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?


Photo by Antasia Galka

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.

 

 

 

  • My boyfriend and I talk about this all the time. We’re committed, and he says though he wants to marry me because I want to get married, he would be perfectly happy not getting married because he’s ALREADY committed to me for life. He doesn’t see marriage as a step that makes you MORE committed than you were before. But I do believe it makes you DIFFERENTLY committed. I love what you say about that difference in commitment depending on the couple. I like the idea of being legally bound to work through our challenges because I know my own tendency to get overwhelmed by insecurity and run. As a side note, I think it’s interesting that we consider marriage the ultimate romance, but there’s nothing romantic about signing a contract that says you’re a couple forever now. But contract or no, you still have to choose to love and commit to your person every day.

  • Sigh. I’m struggling with this question myself. I’m currently in a three year relationship with the best guy ever, and I’m still not really sure where I stand on marriage. My last relationship lasted six years and that guy had some major intimacy issues, we never talked about the future unless it was me having a total breakdown because I never felt loved in the way I wanted to be loved. All of my friends were getting married and were constantly asking me when it would happen for us, and that made me think, “yeah, why isn’t he asking?!”, but I never really asked myself is it what I want or is it what I’m being pressured to want? Anyway, when I broke up with him he said he had been planning to propose and all I felt was relief that it never happened. So now that I’m with this wonderful guy and in the best relationship, I’m not really sure if it’s all that necessary. Neither of us want kids and we already live together, would much really change? Maybe I’ll have it figured out next year…

  • It’s an interesting idea and one that is very dependent on the situation and couple. I don’t think that marriage makes people any more committed to each other than those who aren’t. I have friends who were together for 10 years and only got married for tax and insurance purposes but they still call each other boyfriend and girlfriend.
    Marraige also does not mean an automatic pass on the relationship and it does not equate to a lifetime of happiness and ease. People ebb and flow within their identities, desires and interests as well as within a relationship. Success can be had for any committment type with communication, vulnerability, integrity, honesty and a sense of desire (for ourselves and for the other person). Additionally, monogamy does not work for everyone, nor does it mean someone is a failure at relationships because they practice open, consentual non-monogamy.
    I think what it comes down to is the pressure from outside sources to do what is deemed ‘right’ for everyone. That isn’t a one size fits all. It’s more about, how can we educate people to be comfortable, non-judgemental and honest with what is right for them and what is right for this particular relationship? The judgement from others “ohh.. you’re NOT married”, “ohh. you ARE married”, etc. (cue side eyes and snarky attitude) is a general reflection on how we view not only our own relationships, but also how we view ourselves and interpret our own value/worth within them. It ties back to the importance of being honest with ourselves on what we want our relationships to look like and what will bring the most joy AND how we communicate our needs to ourselves and others.

  • Marriage is not for everyone and that is ok. At the top level, it is a legal commitment to the state, at a personal level it is a legal commitment to the state and doesn’t make your relationship with the other better or worse. My guy and I have been together for over eight years. I will admit it has not always been a blissful eight years, we’ve had our moments of extreme highs and underground lows. We are not married nor do we have plans to be married. We have friends who are happily married and friends who should really get a divorce. We have friends who are in long term committed relationships with their significant others and like us don’t really have a goal of being married. I think there is room for all of to create environments to be happy and if that means marriage then go for it. If not then more power to you. My only caveat with marriage is a lot of the times, people look to it to solve all of their relationship problems. That walking down the aisle and signing the marriage certificate will absolve them of the challenges of being in a relationship. That now that they have made the legal commitment together they have to stay together. That they don’t have to work on growing together as two separate people. A commitment to the relationship should at the center, whether or not there are rings. The two who have chose to be in a relationship together has to choose to work on it daily, to accept and work through the skeletons, anxieties and fear. Marriage doesn’t fix anything and can sometimes magnify our flaws.

  • I think everyone has different definitions and expectations of commitment and marriage– so it’s just about what is right for you. I personally think that extra step in committing to someone legally is a significant thing that I want, but who knows what will happen down the road. The most important thing is that you have aligned expectations and both partners feel secure and loved 🙂

  • I think whatever works for your relationship is what’s right! (Even though I’m happily married myself.) Maybe marriage makes people more secure, maybe not having that bond makes people work harder at the relationship to keep it together…I think it differs for everyone and every couple.

    I would, however, maybe suggest a good lawyer and a signed contract about who gets what if you split up if there are pets/kids/co-purchased property involved.

  • You have to do what feels right for you. I’ve been with my fiance for nearly four years now (he proposed July 2015 and we’re getting married in September) and I’m really happy to have the commitment on the table, but we haven’t rushed anything in our relationship. I do, however, think that there’s something to say about having a legally binding commitment, not to mention the legal benefits. For example: sharing health care benefits that are only available to spouses are legal partners.

  • Love this! I’m definitely in the 2nd category. My boyfriend and I gave talked about marriage and while he says yes he will eventually ask, I flip back and forth about whether I want to even get married. We have been together almost 6 years, have a life and house together and are expecting our first child this year as well. I’m not worried about commitment. I think from a legal standpoint it makes sense to sign the paperwork but I don’t need it to be secure in my relationship or need it for commitment.

    But of course, this is my personal preference. I also come from parents who aren’t married, so it isnt abnormal or against status quo to me either.

    But it comes down to whatever makeshe you happy!

  • I’ve been married for nearly 2 years now and I can guarantee we would have broken up many times over were it not for that piece of paper. The problem is when you have different ideas of what “married” vs “committed” looks like. We were happily committed to each other and I, more than he, thought that marriage would somehow “adult” our relationship. So many traditional ideas were floating around my head it took a long time and many arguments before realizing what really worked for me.

  • What a great article. Every woman has to deal with this at some point it seems. My boyfriend and I have been together 3 years & are not married. We have broken up a few times (both pretty brief) but I think those were good for us. A little space helped us think and reflect honestly on ourselves. I think it really comes down to, what gives you more anxiety? Marriage or no marriage? Right now, marriage gives me anxiety. I’m in my 20’s and riddled with insecurities. My relationship is not perfect, but I don’t want to get married to try to make it perfect or fix problems with myself. I want to give myself to someone (in the sense of forever) only when I feel like a complete person on my own. And I’m not quite there yet. But I’m so in love with him & am very happy with what we have. I really do see a “legal” commitment sometime down the road, because I see serious growth happening with both of us. We’re just gonna keep being honest with each other and I’m confident that will lead to the best outcome.

  • I agree with the comment above — it doesn’t make you more committed, but it does make you committed in a different way. My husband and I lived together for six years before we got married. We were both in the latter “why rush it?” camp, but at some point it just felt like the right thing to do, for both of us. Since we got married, we haven’t had a single regret, because we knew we were in it for the long haul. But I don’t think being married changes a relationship. It doesn’t automatically make it better or worse. All relationships take work and have highs and lows.