Sunday, December 14, 2008

On Marriage

[The photo above was actually taken at City Hall here in DC]

Honestly, I just don’t get it. One moment you are sitting in a dive bar with your guy friends drinking beer after beer, mourning yet another Redskins loss and arguing over whether sex with a blonde is actually better than sex with a brunette (welcome to my last couple of Sunday afternoons). And all of a sudden you are married with two kids, living somewhere “quiet and safe,” and hoping the market recovers because you really need that college fund to start compounding. What. The. Fuck.?

Having never had the pleasure, I really, REALLY would like to know what makes a person decide to get married in the first place?


Could it have something to do with that 14th century construct called ROMANTIC LOVE? You know…“I am so in love with you that marriage is the only thing that can fully express the depths of my commitment to you,” or the venerable “Baby, I love you so much that I need to be married to you!”

But wait a sec! The last time I checked a person can, in fact, love someone strongly, fully, and deeply without being married. Why does a couple need a piece of paper to prove to them that their romance will continue unabated, that their commitment to each other will long endure? I think the most disturbing question of all is this: is it possible that some people get married because they are afraid that if they don’t get married their love could run its course and flicker out as many loves tend to do? Are we so afraid of being alone that we seek to trap those we love with a signed piece of paper and a rehearsal dinner?


Love and marriage definitely gets more complicated when kids are involved. There is no question about it: kids are better off when they are raised by two parents. But where does it say that both parents have to be married to raise a child? The way I see it, if married parents really can’t get along they will just get divorced. Similarly, if unmarried parents can’t get along they will just end their relationship. What’s the difference? And, isn’t it far more traumatic to go through a divorce than to end a relationship?


Maybe this whole post is essentially moot given the gay marriage issue. Depending on the state, marriage may, indeed, be the only way that some couples can protect their assets, maintain legal custody of their kids, and have a rightful say in how their loved ones are cared for.

On the other hand, marriage may, indeed, be the only solution for many couples, but only because of the current lack of safeguards afforded by contract and family law. NOT because marriage is some kind of panacea.


For many people, having children, indeed, the very act of sexual intimacy requires that you be married in the first place.

Well, you got me there. I guess if you’re really into someone and your heart tells you that you can’t even get to second base without stepping inside the church/synagogue/mosque of your choice then who am I to criticize. Actually, I admire a person that can place so much of themselves in the hands of faith. Personally, I would need to get further than second base before popping the question. A LOT further.


Oh, who am I kidding? I can sit here and criticize marriage till the cows come home but the real reason I’m not big on marriage is because I’m just plain terrified of it. You spend years putting up walls around yourself, hoping to protect every inch of your heart from every kind woman with a nice pair of legs and a penchant for being brilliant. Then, one day, one sneaks behind some crevice you never quite got around to fortifying and she manages to scale the walls. Suddenly you are that dude with the two kids, a house in the suburbs and the college fund. And then you start asking a bunch of painful questions like “Where did all the beer go?” “When was the last time I watched the Redskins with my friends?,” and, the most crucial, “Is sex better with blonds or brunettes? I just don’t quite remember…”

I don’t ever want to ask myself these questions. Besides, I already know the answer to the last one.


Heather said...

I got married at 22 because I assumed thats what people do when you've been with someone long enough. He asked, I said yes. It may sound cliche but the longer we're together the more I love him. We don't even fight really. An arguement here & there, sure. Granite I think for, some reason, I'm luckier than most. I've seen ALL of my friends indure crappy relationships only to end in breakup. None were married. I personaly like the idea that I'm sort of "trapped" in my marriage. We cannot simply give up if things get tough. We have to work it out or pay out the nose for a divorce.

10 years later we are still good. I hope it last.

Sorry I got long winded.

Anonymous said...

I got married because I couldn't imagine my life without my husband. I still can't. Marriage was a way to tell the world how much I loved him.
If you ask my husband he will tell you that it was love at first sight. In fact, he told his friend before we even went on a single date that he was going to marry me one day.
It seems though that you have a few misconceptions about women and marriage though. Not all women are out to capture a man and his money and once you are married you don't have say goodbye to your friends and retire to your couch for the rest of your days. Marriage can be fun, fulfilling, and intensely passionate or it can be on the other side of the spectrum - comfortable, safe, and a way to avoid being alone. Some married couples spend literally every waking hour together, work together, and have the same friends. Other married couples have different jobs, different friends and different lives outside of their house. Some marriages are open and some are monogamous. Marriage just can't be packaged in some convenient little box. Marriage is what your and your special someone makes it.
Lisa - Married for 9 years and can't believe it's been that long!

Jerry Critter said...

I know the answer to the last question also, it is yes.

stranger in a strange van said...

hmmm. your depiction of a woman sneaking into your flimsily fortified fortress is unnerving. i, for one, would never dream of trying that hard to get into a place i wasn't wanted. perhaps the woman you really want wouldn't either, and you won't find true love until you realize it's not a trap, it's a mutually beneficial agreement. do you think you're such a prize? who cares how good looking or rich you are, you don't know what love is, and you certainly can't understand marriage until you do. i'm not trying to be a jerk here, but this post made me ill.

Me said...

Read my blog... I answered you in my own post :-)

Unknown said...

I agree - I'm not religious and I don't care about any financial benefits etc. - for me, marriage is just a way of publicly announcing my intention to be committed to my partner for the rest of our lives - scary stuff indeed... now if I could just persuade him (after 13 yrs) to ask me ;)

Anonymous said...

Jack!!! You simplified it waaaaay to much. I think when you get older your preferences, and even life view changes. You may not be ready for marriage, but that doesn't mean that someday you won't desire it.

I think marriage could be cool...having your best friend stick by you through thick and thin, vowing to work it out even when it isn't working. Its different than just having a really great long term relationship. I don't know of any non-married relationships that have worked "until death do us part." Maybe because with a breakup in sight, the stakes are different without that "piece of paper." And, although marriage is very personal, I still can't shake the idea that its also a way to proclaim you honest love and commitment to the world.

Really, though, I do think someday you will get bored of considering blond vs brunette and find a long term commitment more rewarding. Until then, make sure your conquests are on the same page as you.


Anonymous said...


Sexual desire is the nothing more (or less) than the instinctive biological requirement to reproduce. Use a condom or other contraceptive device all you want (and who doesn't, even married couples) but to say that relationships and children are cultural appendages is to say that you've never had the urge to F%^k, and that you never will. Relationships and family constructs are humans' way of managing an aspect of life that we share with animals.


Did you see the film "Into the Wild"? Regardless of what you think of the film or its protagonist, the lesson at the end is universal. Life is worth living only when you share it with other people. Serial monogamy is not a true form of sharing. (although I concede that it does have its appeal)

Talking in a bar with your buddies about which chicks you want to bang next when you are approaching your 40th, 50th, 60th birthday is a disturbing thought, isn't it?

When you reach those milestone birthdays, you're likely to find that your access to eligible sexual partners (see above) dwindles for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that women are wired to make babies, and they want to put a human construct around the act and process.

This country is in jeopardy because the culture leads people like you (healthy, educated, intelligent) to write essays such as your post here. Forget religion, look at your writing from a humanitarian perspective, and there is no future.

Anonymous said...

What's the answer to the last question? :P

Anonymous said...

Having lived and worked in DC since 1992, I can tell you that the place is a mess in many ways. But you already know that. You know the DC government is corrupt and dysfunctional.

You know that DC's communities of long-term residents are damaged and dysfunctional. AIDS, poverty, illiteracy, violent crime, etc. are interrelated plagues in this city, and the dysfunctional city government does a poor job of sorting it all out. But it tries; hence the signs in your photos.

Using those signs in the context that you did, is a cop-out. This is DC, what do you expect?

dtb said...

In my experience, falling in love was a resignation to the inevitable. Marriage has, in fact, been a perfect example of voluntary simplicity. Two people share one bed, one television, one kitchen, one bath...and while we very much have lives apart from one another, the core of our life is together.

And after ten years together, we still hang out with our girlfriends/buddies, drink plenty of beer and loudly discuss silly sex questions. None of that has to be sacrificed.

That being said, a lot of people don't do well with marriage. Like most things in life: it's not for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jack,
I’ve been following your blog silently for a while but I decided to stop 'lurking' because I've been asking myself the very same question lately.
I’m in a stable relationship and we co-habit for a very long time and I really don’t understand why we should get married. I don’t see the reason to do so as I believe that a ceremony will not add anything to our relationship. However, I think that you are thinking of marriage as slavery – ‘...and then you start asking a bunch of painful questions like “When was the last time I watched the Redskins with my friends?” It doesn’t have to be like that. Nobody can force you into the ‘bourgeois’ laws of conformity to buy that house in the suburbs and have 2.3 children, just because you got married. It is yours and your partner’s choice. The only thing that I could think of is that a wedding ceremony is a good excuse for a party afterwards, where friends and family come together to celebrate. If you find an answer to your question please let me know!
Take care,

Dreamer said...

Hi Jack

I think that you are really afraid of being trapped. Women also feel that way - there are men out there who want the conventional life also, there are men out there who want a wife to stay home and have children. I dont blame you for being afraid of being trapped into a conventional life with the wrong woman - I've had some close calls myself (with men) - I think that you will find "the one" and it will all fit into place when you do. But in the mean time I agree that you are right to feel on your guard with woman - because a lot of women would see you as a great catch.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 35 year old female and I used to have the same attitude toward marriage. But really, I had a huge fear of intimacy and, at my core, subconsciously did not think I would ever be capable of being in a healthy relationship with someone who could accept me for who I am. My attitude about marriage started changing when I started taking myself and relationships more seriously. Now I'm in a fantastic relationship with someone who is my best friend. I still don't know if I'll ever get married
(I'm definitely not ready yet), but that doesn't mean I'm completely dead-set against it for myself anymore. It's good that you are exploring these concepts!

Jack said...


Ummm, maybe there is a ton of value in being "trapped." Or at least, it is so much more complicated to get a divorce than to end a relationship that you are forced to focus on making things work. I can definitely appreciate that. For me, it is the feeling of being trapped that make me cringe in the first place.

Anonymous #1 (Lisa),

All very good points. I actually see my view on marriage as a reflection of how scared I am to connect with another person emotionally. Don't you worry Lisa; you are the one that has found contentment and love with another person. I just have to get to a place where I can let someone in enough for me to chose something as scary/meaningful as marriage.


Would you stop reading my mind! :)

Jack said...


I have a feeling you might have missed the point of my post. Please see my last comment: for me, there is a lot of self-flagellation and sadness in this post. I actually would love to open up to someone enough to let them inside long enough to even consider getting married. Beats being alone at 50 without someone there to enjoy my life with. I

And no I don't think I'm such a prize. I'm just damaged.


Will do so later today. Looks like there is a ton there to respond to.


Here is hoping he does. What's your view on having a ceremony without actually getting a formal marriage certificate?

Jack said...

Sailing (Teresa),

I have a feeling you are right. Who knows? Maybe one day I will have the courage to let someone in and go all the way. It's just that I can't shake this feeling that there is something absolutely wrong about relying on a civil process (the complex nature of a divorce) as a means of focusing one's energies on making a relationship work.

Anonymous #2,

I take your points. The reality is that serial monogamy is the coward's way out. Those who open themselves to someone else, who let themselves feel real love and real hurt are the courageous ones. While I agree with your analysis I do want to make it clear, as I have in prior comments, that I discern a great deal of sadness in this post. This is NOT healthy, nor am I happy about it. This is just an expression of someone's id and ego, all at the same time. I would love, though, if you could clarify your comment regarding the future.

Anonymous #3,

Sorry, I'm keeping that one for myself. :)

Jack said...

Anonymous #4,

Agree with everything you said, though the photo was just meant to inject a little irony and humor into an otherwise serious topic.


Good point. Just remember that I find you to be more evolved than I.


I will see what I can do:) I will say that if I ever find someone that is worth being petrified of being hurt I will be the one planning the biggest wedding non-wedding event in the history of voluntary simplicity!

Anonymous said...

I got married because I wanted a public and official acknowledgement of the commitment I was making to my husband. It's not because the strength of my commitment would be any less without the marriage certificate, but it means something special to have "society" and "the government" recognize that there is a bond there that supercedes all else.

Meg said...

Interesting question! Friday, my husband and I will be celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary. It seems like forever ago and I'm certainly learned a lot about us. And yes, we've both grown a lot over the years (fortunately, together and not apart).

Why did we get married? A few reasons. Yes, we loved each other and felt that was what was expected of us -- though we didn't take long to get engaged and then married. We started living together before marriage, not exactly as we had planned, and there was some pressure because of that. There weren't any kids in the picture, but we assumed that would be yet another step down the road and we would want to be married before that. And while it wasn't necessary so much at the time, it was nice to know that we would be able to share things like health benefits.

Nowadays, we care a lot less what society thinks. We're not even planning on having kids (at least not currently). However, we still really like being married. I think it's important to separate out, though, the ideas of legal marriage and the emotional commitment.

On the legal side of things, we both enjoy all those benefits. Plain and simple. Some people are better off financially not having a legal marriage, but we wouldn't think anything less of them.

On the emotional side of things, we've really tested that commitment over the years and proved its worth. Maybe other people don't need to know that they'll always have someone there for them, someone on their side through thick and thin. However, we wouldn't want it any other way. Did our marriage certificate guarantee us that? Nope. Do people need a piece of paper to get that? Nope. However, that is what our marriage certificate *represents* to us and it has been a reminder of that promise we made to each other. Maybe we would have left each other if there weren't such barriers to us divorcing. However, looking back, we are both so glad that we didn't because we can't imagine life without each other.

Yes, we've had our fights. We will again. But my husband and I are a team, as strong a partnership as could be. And cliche as it may be, no matter what happens, we feel like we can get through things so long as we have each other.

Anna said...

interesting post jack! this is something that i've been thinking about a lot recently ... i definitely agree with you about being with someone without have a certificate to prove it - despite the legal benefits, i don't want the government involved in my personal life. but then there's the non-legal side of it - there's something so amazing about taking this huge leap of faith with someone ... i see heather's point about being 'trapped' together - but i sometimes think that not getting married would force you to work hard to stay together and not take your relationship for granted - because you know that your partner could much more easily leave you. not that leaving someone with whom your whole life is entangled is that easy.
last point - getting married doesn't have to mean succombing to a mindless suburban life - i know a married couple who live together with their daughter in a schoolbus in the mountains and couldn't be happier. you just need to find someone who is a real partner - who shares your view of the world and your goals for your life together.
(btw - living out of a van this summer was absolutely amazing - i'm hoping to take 6 months off as soon as i pay off my credit card debt and do it again!)

Jack said...


Thanks for support, though I would clarify something. It is not that I feel that someone is out there waiting to get their claws into me. The post is very self-deprecating. What I wanted to convey was my inability to let anyone in, for good or ill.


Sounds like you are already more evolved than I. I long to be where you are, even if marriage is not really an option in the end.


Question: would the strength of that public commitment be any less strong if you actually had a wedding and lived together, et. al., but did not actually have a marriage certificate? I'm not sure I know the answer

Krista said...

I married at 20. Its been almost 5 years now. I think the certificate of marriage for some is a sense of security. Though we all see how a little certificate doesnt automaticly make the marriage perfect or work. I've seen 90% of my friends marry/divorce/reconcile/have kids then seperate and so on. All with in their early 20's! Its horrible! Some sadly went and got married again before 25.

I do think marriage is all how the couple makes it and with whom you chose to be married to. I dont believe you need the certificate to make the relationship what it is. Who knows maybe one day you'll find that woman that believes what you believe and you'll live happily ever after sans certificate.

I think for my husband and I the certificate was more so a promise to each other that we'll always be there for each other. Though only the future will tell whats in store for us. Marriage is all how you make just as with life. And finding that person that is supportive of whatever it is you want to do with your life.

The ideas of and reasons for marriage are definately different for everyone.

Jennifer Cameron said...

I don't think the "piece of paper" makes the commitment stronger, per say. But it serves in a couple different aspects. First of all, it legitimizes the relationship not just to those outside the relationship, but more importantly, to the husband and wife. Without the legal binding, there is no TRUE responsibility to that other person. It is too easy to leave if things get a little rocky or have an affair. Also, without marriage, I don't thing there can be the same level of security and trust with each other.

However, marriage isn't for everyone and not everyone is willing to do the ultimate for each other and that is COMPROMISE. If you're not ready, don't fight it.

I married my best friend 15 years ago and we are more in love and hot for each other now than our wedding day, in spite of our first baby dying, in spite of the years of his working long hours, in spite of the demands on us every day. I would be lost without him and he without me.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2 here.

At the moment, the most succinct way to clarify my point about the future is to refer to the policies of foreign governments regarding reproduction of thier citizens.

The Thai goverment offers economic incentives to women with graduate degrees if they have a baby. It provides economic disincentives to poor, uneducated women if they have more than one baby.

France is in the process of engineering its own "baby boom" because the population is in decline; presumably because enlightened adults are opting not to have children in order to be socially, economically, and environmentally 'conscious'. But in doing so, they are putting their very society at risk.

Did you see "Children of Man"? The world as we know it literally ends when people stop having babies.

None of this is to say that you should or must have children. But it does suggest that it is possible to intellectualize ourselves into oblivion.

Anonymous said...

Anon #2 again,

Apologies for all those typos. Ouch. I was in a rush at work and wanted to get my thoughts out quickly. Isn't complexity grand?

bill h said...

First, you are wise to approach this so soberly. I wish more people did. I married my best friend, which 24 years later she still is. I was happy single, but I believe I'm much happier going through life with Jill as a companion.

We spend lots of time together, but lots of time apart too. We have many similar interests. Mostly we support each other in all of life's challenges.

Jack, I hope, quite sincerely that you find that. I hope you figure out what you really want in a marriage, and that you find that.

Now, as far as the State, and licenses and such, that's legal stuff. I suppose bottom line, I think it's a piece of communicating commitment to each other, not essential, but its a very tangible way of saying, we're committted....or in my case, ought to 'be commmitted'.


Fortuna said...

Hmm… I think this writing conflates the ceremony and the commitment.

To ceremony, I’m not in favour of expensive displays of affluence but society has really lost a lot of important human connection by dismissing rites of passage. To me, if I ever have one, a wedding is a celebration and demarcation of something new. Ceremony can be powerful and life affirming and I would gladly have one with someone I felt strongly enough about to want to form a family (even a small two person version), albeit probably shoeless on a beach.

As for commitment. I went through a wonderful phase of non-commitment, it involved getting to know a lot of beautiful people and then letting them go. I emotionally connect to virtually everyone I’ve had even brief romantic involvement with, a larger number than you’d think. It’s been a good run with no regrets; interestingly, many of my ‘conquests’ keep in touch. I like seeing them happy with someone more permanent, when it happens.

Emotional commitment is not an all or nothing preposition. My guess from other entries is you’re not exactly authentic with people you’re involved with. Being present and honest with people ups my sex appeal astronomically. You will start to attract the kind of people you smile about in fifty years, not an anonymous hair color. But, even better, getting involved with people as yourself on your own terms makes sex and/or relationships better. In other entries you’ve written about seducing with your job or your wealth – but neither of these are you and you’re actively seeking to abandon them.

Even a brief, real connection makes a long term one seem more plausible, maybe what you need is practice. Go somewhere and don’t talk about your job, money, your journey, your life experiences, or anything else you’d offer on your average DC first date. Sit alone at a bar and find someone in the room you want to talk to more than anything else right then. Then, just talk. About what you did that day, the place you’re in, how the song playing in the background reminds you of something, or better yet – ask questions you really want to know the answer to. All of this is foreplay. Life is foreplay. And maybe you never see that person again but they offer you something that makes your life different, or you hear the song and think about them. And slowly, you will learn what kinds of romantic relationships life has waiting for you. Maybe you’re not long term monogamous, maybe you are.

After a literal volume of love affairs, my current and best ever literally saw me across a crowded room at a charity event and tracked me down the next night. He had the kindest eyes and masculine gentleness; I immediately recognized in him something that I wanted to know. I was ready. And even if we never get to the ceremony, my life will be richer for knowing him. That is the standard I set.

Jack said...


Congratulations! You sounds very happy. And the background you describe sounds very typical of newlyweds, or, at least, the newlyweds I know personally.

I can also see the merit in the argument that just because a marriage certificate does not imply happiness, a marriage certificate can help secure one, specially if you endow one with such strong meaning. The question for me is whether there can be anything else that can fulfill the same function without it being a marriage certificate.


I think we think a lot alike. Maybe the test of relationship is not whether you can avoid divorce, but whether you can avoid a breakup. And I take your point; the whole suburbia life scenario is just one of many that a couple can choose. Just some hyperbole I added to the post.

And let me know when you start your next adventures! :)


Thanks for sharing. You are absolutely correct: who knows! Maybe I will meet someone and everyone will be invited to Jack's wedding next year. :)

Jack said...


Great analysis. But the question remains: why are we so focused on preventing people from breaking up in the first place? What is the value in that? I have some ideas, but just figured I would punt back a bit.

And my condolences on the death of your baby. I can only imagine how that challenged you and your family to make you who you are today.

Anonymous #2,

Fantastic point! I would say, though, that the inquiry at hand should not be taken as a challenge to intellectualize anything in particular. For me, the issue can only be framed as a never-ending battle between one's need for emotional intimacy and a need for personal freedom. The latter is definitely a Western construct that borrows heavily from individualism.

Anonymous #2,

No worries. Have you seen some of my posts and/or comment responses? I shudder...

Jack said...


I do as well, Bill, I really do. Though, at this point in my life, I might get her a really nice ring, as opposed to a wedding certificate, to demonstrate my commitment to her.


Agree with your distinction. Personally, I would absolutely have a ceremony, followed by some serious partying, for all the reasons you mention. As for the commitment analysis, I would say we are very much alike, though, obviously, I am still mired in that non-commitment phase you describe (with lots of straight, honest, "this is who I am and where I am at in life" encounters).

And believe me, I've already started the practicing phase, albeit with some occasional relapses. It takes time. The only thing that keeps me going is being honest about who I am and where I want to be.

vee said...

To speak to your last "self-depreciating" comments: (Un)solicited advice. In order to avoid "being one of those dudes" who is trapped in an unhappy marriage, focus on your self instead of your walls. (Your blog indicates this is a goal for you already.) Maybe you'll get married, maybe you won't. But it will be a less terrifying prospect. One function a mate plays is to be a mirror. I truly believe that being at peace with yourself (and as corny as it sounds, loving yourself) is the first step, and all else will follow. Your outside world will become a projection of your inside world. Piece of cake ;)

The beginning of the post of why people get married is very interesting, but seems to be an ancillary topic, so I'll reserve my thoughts on that for another day. But basically, I'd look at the history of marriage as an indication of what function it plays in society now, and why people feel compelled to get hitched.

Anonymous said...

Interesting question, Jack, but I think it's the state recognition that was more important to us than the ceremony itself. There is a certain comfort in the knowledge that I am a member of a union that the state has acknowledged and ratified. And that the government cannot take that status away from me. My relationship to my husband is "official" in a deeply-rooted societal sense because of this recognition. No matter what happens, for better or for worse, I now have a special status with respect to my husband that I did not have before. The government is forced to recognize this relationship, and society has picked up on the tradition by also according a certain deference to the relationship that wasn't there when we were equally committed partners or friends.

My husband and I were encouraged by family not to get married so that one of us could get loan repayment assistance from law school that would not be there once a spouse's additional income was taken into account, and it was a choice that was not difficult for us to make. The money would have been nice (and arguably, there should not be a financial difference drawn between committed couples because it creates a disincentive to marry), but we both felt that the slip of paper was too important to give it up for loan assistance, however financially helpful that would have been. It was more important to us to have our relationship recognized and respected in this very traditional way.

The marriage license itself seems to confer additional responsibility, a new kind of legitimacy and stability, and a rootedness that is out of proportion to the every-day significance of the piece of paper.

Anonymous said...

Marriage is just one form of commitment.
What about owning a home or running business together? Neither of these commitments can be walked away from easily.
If my partner and I were to separate we would lose: home, friends/neighbors, livelihood, years invested in learning skills and improving land. Many of these things are only partially transferable. Not unusual in a rural situation.

Jack said...


Agree. Already on a similar path (but I think you already know that). And yes, the history of marriage is definitely instructive in figuring out what it means to us today.


And I think this is where we might differ. I can absolutely understand why and how a piece of paper confers so much importance. I would rather have my partner and I confer such importance on a couple of rings, a ceremony, or even a memory of a ceremony. Somehow, the fact that it 'official'/civil makes it less real and meaningful for me. I can't argue with the actual pecuniary and civil benefits though.


Another good point. Except that many of those things are valuable in of themselves. A marriage certificate has no inherent value, except whatever value you confer on it directly and the privileges granted to couples under civil law.

Fonk said...

The problem with trying to have a rational, logical discussion about marriage and children is that these concepts don't really apply. When I was younger, I had no desire to ever get married, or at least not until I was MUCH older. I had what I considered to be very solid reasons for this, some of them echoing what you've posted here. Then I met my wife and all that went out that window, and I was married at 23.

Ok, so I was married, but I still wasn't going to have any kids. Then years later my wife got pregnant, we had a beautiful little girl, and it was the best thing that ever happened to us. We loved her so much we intentionally tried for another one (and ended up with twins!). Again, all my reasons for not wanting kids right out the window...

I'm not saying you should do either of these things, but simply stating that your "rationality" about them doesn't really apply, because if you ever find yourself at the level of emotion - that deep, deep love for somebody - the likelihood is that you won't be able to think about it quite so logically at that time. The brain shuts down and the heart takes over... :-)

Carrot said...


You get a prize for getting people to respond with the most long-winded, thought-provoking comments, with the least typos. How do I get people to do that on my blog? Also, I like this post, but please stop making gross comments about which types of women are better in bed. The answer is lesbians, duh!

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous #3,Sorry, I'm keeping that one for myself." - Selfish. You should share your answer. ;)

I think marriage is overrated. There is no need to 'get' married. Goldie & Kurt Douglas lasted quite a significant amount of time without getting married.

Why did I get married? I think I got caught up in all the excitement of planning and 'making it official'. I've been married 2.5 years and am not happy. But then, I think we forgot to be true friends before marriage. I think we still think that we can make it work. But its been the hardest relationship I have been in regarding making things work.

Why don't I just dump the relationship. I have 2 kids - mine, his by marriage. They have a stable, suburbia lifestyle and its taken a long time to get here. I don't want to waste the relationship because of them. And because we have financial ties now.

I don't hang out with my friends (I have friends), go camping anymore, have to watch the redskins all season long (sorry, but I don't care to watch football all day long, everyday), I don't watch my shows anymore, hike anymore, eat what I like anymore... wow, marriage sucks. At least right now for me.

Even if I wasn't in this situation right now... marriage is still overrated at this time.

I know one reader said something along the guidelines if you will be wanting to compare sex in your later years. I think then, post 50s, marriage might be a nice commodity to live with. I would like to share my life then with someone I really love.

Thanks for letting me vent. Perhaps, I am just doing it all wrong. :/

Anonymous said...

When you refer to "romantic love" as a 14th-century construct, I think you may actually mean the 12th-century construct of "courtly love," which was eventually extended to husband and wife.

As for why people get married, well, there are probably about as many reasons as there are couples. My husband and I wanted to be together forever and wanted everyone to know that. Some couples will be together forever and don't have any interest in formalizing it. If that works for them, great, but I'm not them.

The "it's just a piece of paper" argument works both ways, by the way. As one of my colleagues once said, "If it's just a piece of paper, why do you object to it so strongly?"

I do hope that somewhere in the mix of your self-reinvention, you've made room in your schedule and budget for therapy.

Meg said...

Thanks, Jack! My husband and I are indeed both very happy, despite the crap the world seems to be throwing at us and those around us right now. I guess it's easier to get over things quickly when there's a dedicated shoulder to cry on.

To answer your question, I believe that other things can definitely serve the same function as a marriage certificate, insomuch as it is a symbol of commitment. Essentially, it is just a formal contract of what two people agree to in marriage according to our government's laws. However, if one doesn't care as much about the legal stuff, one can another symbol that has great meaning to them -- perhaps a religious symbol if the couple is religious.

However, my husband and I are still rather partial to the marriage certificate idea as a tangible symbol, our signatures attached and witnessed. And going through the process of a rather traditional wedding, including planning it, gave us time and motivation to really think things through. So maybe there is a point to traditions, even though I believe that whatever people choose for themselves should have meaning to them first and foremost.

kate said...


I am not married, so this perspective is different. (I can't say what it's like.)

I want to tell you what I experienced: different people have different kinds of marriages.

One startling difference I noticed is some marriages are closed off from people. They are a tight bond that excludes people. (And I don't mean just sexually.) There are other marriages that are so wonderfully open, like meeting you and welcoming you adds to their life, not threatening it.

I guess some people have introvert marriages and some people have extrovert marriages -- to greatly oversimplify it.

But I want to let you know about a married couple here in NY who moved to a poor area of town with their three young kids to help poor people, living right there. He's a PhD college professor and she has an MA. They invite homeless people into their home to live with them.

In other words, it's not just a move to suburbia thing, being married.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jack. I was thinking about your last post and I think it's kind of strange when people view marriage in general as a trap b/c i am SURE there are people out there who do not have marriages that consist of house in burbs and 2 kinds. my parents were married for like 5 years before me and my mom said they had a blast and it never stopped. they are like ridiculous teenagers. they have their own lives, but they are just made all that better by getting to always come home to your best friend (who you also get to sleep with, bonus). maybe my parents have been lucky enough to have 35 years of great i sex, but i just don't see my dad feeling trapped. i mean, i KNOW people who feel that way, but not everyone...and I certainly know that I'm a female and I am avoiding moving to the burbs and the white picket fence like the plague. (who wants to clean all those rooms when you could be scuba diving or skiing?)i just don't understand saying this isn't a part of your argument: i'm gonna marry someone who wants the same things as me?? and, not someone who will force a dream i don't want upon me?? unless you truly just don't want to be married. cause that's cool too - it was just your lump sum generalization of all marriages that made me wonder...

Anonymous said...

I got married a year and a half ago aged 34 and it is brilliant! I didn't think I would get married, but the old cliche is true. When I met my husband I knew we would end up together. It makes me feel more content and hasn't changed our lives into some boring stereotype. We are currently living in California for 6 months (originally from the UK). It has meant that two of us can pursue our dreams and I've never been happier! (although we still bicker all the time.....)

Anonymous said...

Ok. Had to put in my tuppence worth; 1. Read " the four loves" by CS lewis, he is far more eloquent than I could ever be.
2. When you meet some one worth marrying you'll want to marry them.
3. We did the no sex before marraige thing and it worked out very well for us ;), but this one has to come from a faith perspective I think...pretty tough to manage celibacy without faith ;)

Jack said...


All in all, I think you probably have nailed it on the head more than anyone else. How often does rational thought enter into matters of love, affection and intimacy anyway? I know I have lost my mind in relationships before. These choices are antithetical to reason.


Well, duh! See, it was a trick question. You clearly saw through it all...


Sorry, keeping my mouth shut on that one, though Carrot is definitely onto something :)


I hear ya, though, in defense of marriage, they do say that the first couple of years are the most difficult. No one ever said anything worthwhile was going to be easy.

But hey, we definitely agree a ton. Here is the scary million dollar question: if you had to do it all over again, would you?

Jack said...


No, I was referring to the 14th century construct "romantic love" (i.e., Petrarch, beginnings of the Renaissance, et. al.,). "Courtly love" was just a precursor to what eventually became modern love. But I know you know that and I digress.

Good point on how that argument works both ways, though the reason it is even rejected at all is because having that piece of paper is how the dominant culture legitimizes relationships in the first place. No paper, no legal/tax/civil benefits. People might seem to be objecting to it so strongly only because the pressure from society to conform requires a rejection from the status quo.

Do repost re the therapy reference. Not sure what you are referring to.


Thanks for the follow up. Everything you wrote is spot on. I did want to clarify that if I were to find the right person, I would definitely have a ceremony and a bitching party to boot. It's the need for that paper I question. But hey, you are in a committed, happy relationship with someone you love. Both of you have relied on that piece of paper for some measure of stability, commitment and love. And here I am, sitting in a huge empty townhouse responding to your comment. Who is the big winner here:)


Super perceptive comment. Extroverted vs. introverted marriages, huh? What would be interesting is whether one of the partners in these marriages feels they should be in one type but have developed in another. And yet, good point on suburbia thing. Just some hyperbole I added to the post. If I ever get married it will probably be to an adventurer. Boring is not for me.

Jack said...


Sorry, yes, point taken. I mentioned this issue in earlier posts. Absolutely. The critique is not that marriage=a boring life out in the suburbs. The life in suburbia image is just a way to critique the institution itself. If I were to get married it would be with someone who would be super adventurous and would reject the very same things I am rejecting going through this process of simplification.


Congrats! Maybe this is the answer to my question: the reason people get married is that they just have no choice when they meet the right person. :)


1. Good suggestion.
2. Probably true.
3. I would second that. But that's a separate issue from whether marriage still has meaning in today's society. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Jack, I've been following your blog for awhile now so I thought I'd finally post something as marriage is something I thought I was an expert in.
I was married for 12 years and the first 10 were absolute heaven. He was my best friend and true love. Then we moved from the city to a rural area where we were going to retire (we were in our 30s) and travel. Well, things didn't quite work out that way. Somehow we completely disconnected and life fell apart. We are now separated and are both trying to put the pieces of our lives back together, without each other. Let me tell you, this has shattered my image of the perfect love lasting through thick and thin. A very painful experience. I thought our marriage would last forever.
I'm still trying to figure out what exactly did go wrong. Is it possible that sometimes people that work/live well together in one life cannot live together in another life? In other words, moving from the city to the country may have been too much for us and changed us too much as individuals and therefore as a team. I don't know.
Do I regret getting married? No... and I would do it all again. I am still open to love and long term partnership...

Nomad said...

Interesting post and some good points in it. Also interesting responses.

My personal take on it is that if you don't know enough about how to build and maintain a relationship, then being married won't save it.

Consider anyone that you now who has been in a committed relationship for seven or eight years then they get married. How many of those relationships last more than two more years? Not many, as often in those cases, the marriage is an attempt to save a failing relationship.

I also fail to see how an unmarried couple can buy a house and set up home together can be seen as uncommitted, simply because they are not married. They are definitely not in a position to just walk away.

Also, since when has the act of being married stopped either party from having affairs outside of the marriage? Plenty do and yet plenty of unmarried couples also manage to remain monogamous.

Anonymous said...

Re: Therapy comment

Let's start here: "You spend years putting up walls around yourself, hoping to protect every inch of your heart from every kind woman with a nice pair of legs and a penchant for being brilliant."

If you're going to experience the world, you need to pull the walls down. The world is made up of people, and you're not going to value them if you "protect every inch of your heart" from them.

You're going through a lot of change, all at once, and questioning how you got to this point in your life. That's great. But what I see in these posts is questions about accumulation, not questions about yourself.

The interactions you describe with women are disturbingly faceless, and denigrating in ways you don't seem to recognize.

If you're not relating well to women--and it looks like you're not--then you're not relating well to people. And if you're not relating well to people, and you're exploring how you relate to yourself, you really ought to consider therapy as part of that process of discovery and self-examination.

Because I don't see it happening the way you're doing it now.

Jack said...


I can feel the emotion in your response. I am sorry it did not work out. It sounds like you just drifted apart and grew away from each other enough to untangle the bonds that held you together. I know you already know this, but don't give up on partnership/intimacy/love. I couldn't go on myself if I ever did.

Mobile Home,

All good points; I think the issue of getting married to save a failing relationship adds a great deal to the discussion.


Your analysis is spot on. Not set against therapy, but at the very least I KNOW that now is not the time for it. Too much going on. Can only deal with so much for so long. But could be open to it sometime next year, when things are more in place.

Anonymous said...

I did not want to get married. I was pregnant and my live with boyfriend, the father to be, had asked me before and during the pregnancy. My family and his were all over me poking at my new found (short lived) mother guilt buttons, "think of the baby" they said to me, several times every day.
I wrote a list of pro's and cons and only had one pro and pages of cons - marriage is better for men as far as I can see and at the time, the only benefit would have been that in case there were complications with the home birth I had planned, I would have insurance.
I did not want to be married. Most of the women I know do not want to be married. I have not been to any weddings in my adult life. I am in my 40's.

I am not the only one who breaks the stereotypes propagated by myopic, misogynist producers in Hollywood who don't have a clue how to get the female audience back in their theatres and so instead continue perpetuating the BULL SHIT myth that all women are born to plan a wedding.

Oh yeah, I am straight and beautiful too. I do not have pets.

-jd said...

Why was my comment deleted? I was constructive, I didn't say anything harsh...just tried to explain!

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

My thoughts are similar to what I wrote about having kids to your post from a couple weeks ago.

I think that people get married when they realize that pleasure is fleeting and will soon end, but that there's something bigger and better out there that is eternal, and it's something that's worth sacrificing some personal freedom to get.

Meg said...


"And here I am, sitting in a huge empty townhouse responding to your comment. Who is the big winner here:)"

Awwww. Just remember, it's not a competition ;)

Perhaps the hardest part about relationships -- and life in general -- is being honest with yourself and others about what you want. Once you have that down, it's a lot easier to go out and get it. Though, of course, sometimes you don't figure out what you want until it's staring you in the face.

From reading your blog, I think you're doing a great job of figuring out what you want. It's o.k. if that changes and evolves. The important thing is that you don't let fear stop you from questioning things and making your own path. Those are great qualities and shows real maturity, imho. I have no doubt that there are many great people out there who'd love to have such a partner to accompany them through their own life journeys.

Best of luck with your journey! I look forward to reading more ;)

Jack said...


Ouch. It sounds like you went through a great deal. Are you guys still together? At the very least you are now clearly in possession of a great deal of self-awareness and self-assurance. That is super valuable.


I don't think I deleted anything. Are you sure you posted something? Do repost. I haven't deleted a comment for like a month. And even then I think I've deleted like only 2 comments since I started blogging.


Well put. Though I know you are coming from the religious perspective, the question remains, at least for me: be in a committed, long-term relationship or actually get married.

Curvy Gal said...

Mmm...this blog tastes like bitter a little. Sure a lot of marriages are horrible, and I'm sure there are some predatory women who work on trapping men into marriages, but I also bet there are bunches of great marriages around, and that it's possible to fall so in love, and be so up for the long term committment, that marriage is a joy. You may accuse me of wishful thinking, but it does help keep the bitter away.

Anonymous said...

Answer to your question:

I asked myself the same thing, "would I do it again?"

No, in this particular situation I would not. My husband is 18 years older than me and has 'done it all'. I feel like I am whittling my life away.

It was great when we were dating, hanging out and having a few drinks. But, marriage threw in a whole other ballpark. I was jaded by it's illusion of grandure.

Don't get me wrong. He is a very nice guy and my daughter and him have a great relationship.

But, me and him... are not too peas in a pod. We do not have anything in common. :-0

Happy Holidays, Jack!

Jack said...


Thanks for the kind words. Let's see where this adventure of mine leads me (us).


I think you have a point. But I guess it just depends on the relationship. For every marriage that fails there are a bunch that work, for whatever reason.


Ouch. Well, I guess it's just a matter of figuring out how to salvage whatever happiness the relationship/marriage can provide. Think long and hard about it. Maybe there is a way to make things new and vibrant again. If not, think about other options.

rachaelgking said...

I'll get married because it'll be a helluva party. And because, since meeting him... I'm just not scared anymore.

Anonymous said...

Here is an unscientific idea;

Log into Create a custom search based upon specific criteria; physical fitness level, dietary habits, smoking and drinking habits, level of education, minimum height, etc. (come on, you KNOW you have minimum criteria). Give your search a broad age range; say... 25 - 45.

When specifying criteria for the desire for children, check the "No" box. Then execute the search for a 500 mile radius around your zip code. Take some time to explore the resulting profiles. Check out the photos. Read what those women say about themselves.

Then run the same search, changing only the criteria for "Want Children?". Change it from "No" to "Definitely".

Before you even run through this exercise, what do you think you'll find...?

donna said...

we got married after having been together for 10 years ( we first started going out when i was 15 ). marriage wasn't about proving our commitment. i thought it was a good way to celebrate the fact that we'd already made 10 years together. Also i didn't want to have kids outside of marriage- bit old fashioned maybe but i thought it would be less complicated that way- ie whose name do they get etc but hey seems to be working for us so far- this summer we had our 10th wedding anniversary :)

Anonymous said...

You have it all wrong re: blondes and brunettes.

Redheads are where it's at, man. ;-)


Anonymous said...

For us, it was natural to get married to formalize that we were no longer disposable to each other, but immediate family on par with our mothers, fathers and siblings. We knew that we wanted to have children, and that we wanted to have children together and in a stable environment with a strong family structure. Before marriage we were live together boyfriend and girlfriend, which meant we were disposable in a sense, marriage and the ceremony were the formal switch and we ditched the birth control right after. The ceremony and wedding are a tradition, human cultures around the world practise traditions, they are a fufilling human practise that unite families in shared cultural bonds, and it is fufilling to be human and to share this humanity with family, while cementing thew bonds of family.

Jack said...


Just as long as you invite me to the wedding....

Anonymous 2,

Ummm, not sure. I would guess that I would find a whole less people doing the first search.


Sounds like you have found someone for the long term. Congrats. Now wish me luck finding someone just as awesome.

Unknown said...

"Before you even run through this exercise, what do you think you'll find...?"

Generally; withered misanthropes living constrained lives in the first group. Healthy optimists in the second group.

Anonymous said...

Jack....... of course Marriage is necessary. I'm divorce and I won't date anyone after a year if then I feel it is not leading to marriage.

Marriage means you are making a SOCIAL commitment to honor * love * respect not only the other person but yourself for doing so. It is a good social thing to do for communities.

If you LOVE a woman enough; you want all the other MEN to know she is off-limit.

And I like what Will Smith said; pretend the D word (divorce) does not exist and make it work.

Marriage is the hardest thing you have to do; the most challenging.

I know I'm divorce; but for reasons I can't write here...........and by the way I was married 9 years from 32 to 41 and the sex was 3 to 5 times a week the entire time. Sex does not have to get boring.....

Gay people should be allowed to marry too.

It is a good social Intelligent way to live. ( a shame 55% divorce rate now; I interview many divorce men(long story) in their 40s and they regret the divorce for many reasons. Women seemed to be HAPPIER divorce and initiated the divorces in my informal studies at least 99% of the time.

And you grow more as a married team.......and not so self-centered too.......... (I'm getting too self-centered being happily divorce).

Lastly the marriages where spouses knock each other down; belittle each other...........gossip.......shame on them. They give other marriages a bad name.

Lastly blonde or redhead or brunette... .. it is the woman that keeps the sex alive in a marriage .. (but a man can always treat her great and she'll keep the sex alive... and it'll get better and better).

My boyfriend got me an engagement ring a few weeks ago; since I broke up with him since he was afraid to commit.

I turned it down ... I was not trying to trap him; I just want to move on if he is afraid to commit. At 47 I give each man I meet and fall for 1 year..(or 9 to 15 months really)... and he was number 4 now.. (I met 67 men and date 4 from ....Love is NOT enough...............and yes, you can love more than one child (I have 3) so you can love more than one man.

If a man is afraid to commit; I rather go on a NEW ADVENTURE at this time in my life. (two kids out of the house) and 1 12 year old who is gone each weekend..

That is the downsize... going on tons of dates; finding a great guy; great sex; great times; and afraid to commit since they've been burned.............and having to end things........ And they upset..?? (saying I must never have loved them); but after a year.. no engagement and wedding in the next year (2 years is enough for dating and engagement).. at our ages we are not going to live forever anyway..

Make sure you don't lose a terrific woman ............and regret it........... she'll move on...

BettyAnn NYC

Anonymous said...

actually that sign is Get Happily Married........or Isolate yourself and talk to a therapy.........grow old and be one of those old misfits.. asking where your life went wrong that you are all your therapist. LOL

I have a beautiful almost 23 year old daughter......she is looking for love and marriage................ after she told me she would never want to marry........ maybe it is natural force putting that in her head.....but it is a good social way for people to live.. if they can get it right.

Jack said...


Dude, you caught me. It was actually a trick question. Redheads are definitely better.


Sounds cool to me. The question is whether you can have the ceremony for family and friends and have all other privileges of being married without the actual certificate. Do you think you can have it all without the legal document?


And maybe it's the optimists that are actually worth a gamble on love.

Jack said...

Betty Ann,

Thanks for your thoughts. Always very perceptive.

Anonymous said...

Hey VSJ! Jess from facebook, 'member me?
Anywho. I've been married for 6 years and have three kids and I actually completely agree with your post. My hub and I have a pretty badass marriage but also agree that everything we've done could have been done without the paper. We felt the pressure from both our parents and being the baby girl, Daddy needed the experience of walking me down the aisle. Yeah yeah, I shouldnt do things just for other people but it didnt hurt me any. Actually, my wedding was pretty fun.
So in conclusion, what people want is what they want. It doesn't really matter why. And if you are happily unmarried then cool. I'm here in marriage land, its really fun and all but definitely not necessary.

Anonymous said...

Marriage.. run away... seriously take it from someone who didnt and wishes she did.

and sex is always better with blondes...

Anonymous said...

True happy marraige is not about what others expect, not about meeting the status quo, not about doing the right thing by someone you have been with for a while. It is a calm in a storm of your own emotion, it's a person who will stick with you even when it is no longer convenient for them, it's a safe place to go when your buddies at the bar don't want to here your opinions, it's a place to create children that you can love and comfort and educate and who will love, comfort and educate you in return (if you do it right).

Your viewpoint is understandable from the perspective of someone who has not experienced the joy it can be (and perhaps has been exposed to a marriage that did not work.) It's not always joy...yes, sometimes it sucks...but when it works, and it is good, your heart understands that all of your hard work was worth while.

Once you are in that position with a wife and children you will not feel the way you feel now. Once you have them, try to do without will rip your heart out and then you will understand.

Jack said...


Thanks for putting it so simply and so clearly. I would agree with that.


I agree. Sex with blonds is the bomb.


It's not that I disagree with you. I think the question still remains: can you have what you are describing without the paper?

Anonymous said...

I have the sneaking suspicion that all unmarried men feel this way. Marriage, when considered objectively as an institution, is not remotely appealing. But despite these facts, I have been very happily married for almost ten years. I can only tell you that when you meet the right person, everything changes! The entire world suddenly rearranges itself.

I'm blushing as I write this, and there's a good chance you won't believe me, but married sex is much better. (Maybe because my husband is blond.)

mKat said...

Hi Jack,

I've started following your blog very recently so my comment on this post comes quite late. I have wrestled with this very topic for a number of years (and, perhaps because I'm a female, with an odd opinion on the matter, I've gotten into a few disagreements on the subject). :P

I've often felt that marriage is a way to legitimize children. Many people, from my reading of the situation, can't, won't, or don't feel it's appropriate to have children out of wedlock. The history that gives rise to the idea of a "nuclear family" as the best institution within which to raise children is complex, and deeply embedded within modern Western society. For that reason many people seem to find it difficult to challenge this "norm".

Religions, as you've mentioned, and civil/legal benefits also play a role, but to what extent? I don't actually know that many people who actively practice religion (and those who do would probably admit the hypocrisy of their actions in doing so). As for the legal benefits... there is that. But with improvements to equal employment do women (especially) actually need their partner's benefits? (Ah, I've normalized heterosexual unions by making that last statement.)

Having said all of that, I don't want kids. I have never wanted kids. (It is often at this point that I end up in an argument with somebody). I don't feel I need to marry a man for access to his "benefits" and I'm not bound by any religion to do right by a God. I also don't see the act of exchanging vows in front of a bunch of people you see once a year as necessary for cementing a relationship. The thought of a suburban existence bores me to no end...and I'm thankful I'm in grad school and in the city with single people.

So I guess maybe I don't see the point of marriage or weddings either.

However, (and here's my own hypocrisy), I like the thought of engagements. Not for the ring (I could write a tirade about the symbolism) or for the presentation of any other trinkets, but for the emotion that should be in place when asking or being asked.

I am a romantic and the worst kind of confused...comes from years of romance novels.


P.S. There's a Facebook group, "Not engaged, pregnant or buying a condo"... Good fun. :)

MarkWilliamson said...


Men get married because we don't want to be the creepy OLD GUY. You know the one, trying hard to be hip, wearing clothes meant for much younger men, hitting on chics half his age, at, at the end of the night, going home alone and pathetic.

I could be wrong, but after 15 years of marriage, I'm not so sure.

The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know.