Random musings: Marriage - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Random musings: Marriage
Saturday, 08 November 2003 at 01:45 pm
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I tried to respond to shreena's marriage survey only the system rejected my comment for being too long. So I'm posting it here instead, cos I'm too lazy to edit it to be less verbose. And because the post in question is getting old anyway, so maybe more people will see it this way.

Well, strangely enough I've been doing some thinking about the subject recently, and even tentatively sort of maybe discussing it (though most of the time the discussion is about marriage in the abstract, but it has occasionally merged into the particular). For this reason I'm a bit reluctant to publish a manifesto of My Views on Marriage, but what the heck.

1. Would you like to get married?
Essentially, no. Though I can just about imagine possible circumstances in which the prospect might become appealing, assuming the person I was marrying was absolutely the most wonderful and compatible with me person I could possibly imagine.

2. If so, is it something that you see as vital to your future?
Absolutely not; what I regard as vital to my future is indepedence and close friendships. I see marriage as almost certainly compromising the former and quite possibly impacting negatively on the latter as well, which is largely why I don't want it.

I've thought occasionally that I might quite like to get married after I retire; at that point I wouldn't feel I was compromising on my career ambitions and so on. I have a few friends who've married at that age, often to people who already have grown-up children from a previous relationship. That seems quite appealing to me; I'd quite like to be a grandmother without going through motherhood first! And I'm a little scared of a lonely old age, I suppose. But that's just a pipe-dream, I would hardly call it vital to my future. And it's not exactly like I go about planning my retirement in great detail!

3. If not, is it something that you would consider if you fell in love with someone who did want to get married?
I would consider it (and indeed I have); I don't want to be completely closed-minded about such things. Simply falling in love with someone would not be enough to change my mind, though. I would only want to get married if my suitor (!) wanted a lifestyle that would be pretty much compatible with mine, most particularly sharing my views about children. I definitely don't want children; I certainly couldn't marry someone who did, and I also wouldn't want to marry someone who vaguely thought they might like children, but felt it was something they'd be prepared to give up in order to be with me. (This isn't purely hypothetical, by the way.)

Also I don't think that 'falling in love' is what matters. If I were thinking about a potential spouse (or life-partner of any title) it would have to be a close friend I thoroughly liked and respected and felt I could live with long-term. I wouldn't gamble my future on love alone, because I can't feel confident that love would last decades, there would have to be something more profound than that between us.

Yes, I am picky; given I basically don't want to get married, I can afford to be. I want to be single, and the only reason I'm going to compromise on that is if someone so amazingly wonderful comes along that it's worth reassessing my goals for the sake of being with that person.

4. Either way, how do you picture your future? In terms of day to day stuff, lifestyle, etc
I'm really hoping that my lifestyle will always be pretty much the way it is now. I hope that doesn't make me sound too conservative. I have a job I love, and enough money to do what I want to do without having to worry, and a really wonderful circle of friends. I spend a lot of weekends visiting people up and down the country. I'm heavily involved in community stuff, both Jewish and Interfaith. And I live on my own without any other person getting under my feet, which I would hate to give up now that I've experienced it! I have a really lovely boyfriend, who is comfortably 500 miles away, so I feel I have most of the advantages of a relationship without any of the nuisances.

This isn't entirely realistic, mainly for financial reasons. It's unlikely that in real terms I'll ever be as rich as I now am, and thus I probably won't be able to afford to live on my own. Also, one can't be a PhD student forever; as I advance through the system I'm pretty likely to end up with more responsibility etc. I hope I will enjoy the responsibility as well, but I won't be in quite the same situation of just being able to do stuff I enjoy all day. But I'd like to keep as much of this lifestyle as I can, because I really am very happy now.

5. How connected are children to marriage? I.e. do you want children but not marriage or vice versa?
Children are connected to marriage in that I don't want either... Um, I passionately and absolutely don't want children, but I am not quite that adamantly against marriage.

6. What is the difference, do you think, between a cohabiting relationship and marriage?
Not much, in principle. When I say I don't want to get married, I don't mean that I want to have a relationship exactly like a marriage, only not go through a wedding ceremony. I mean that I don't want to share my life intimately and exclusively with another person.

I think I have certain expectations of a married couple, and I possibly wouldn't be quite so quick to make the same set of assumptions about a cohabiting couple. But there are a subset of cohabiting relationships that I personally regard exactly as marriages; for example, the partners involved would be completely off-limits to me. This would still apply to a couple that wasn't legally able to marry (eg same sex, more than one partner, etc).


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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:November 8th, 2003 07:00 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry, 08:00 pm (lethargic_man's time)

Re: Random musings: Marriage

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I've thought occasionally that I might quite like to get married after I retire; at that point I wouldn't feel I was compromising on my career ambitions and so on. [...] And I'm a little scared of a lonely old age, I suppose.

Something which struck me recently is that if, חס ושלום, you have a heart attack or a stroke or something, living in the same house with someone could mean the difference between life and death. (Would Douglas Adams have lived if other people had been in the gym during his fatal heart attack?) And, whilst such a medical emergency is of course extremely unlikely in the short term, over the course of a lifetime there is (especially towards the end of it) a reasonable chance one will occur.
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livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:November 9th, 2003 12:19 am (UTC)
10 hours after journal entry, 01:19 am (livredor's time)

dying alone

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All right, if we're going to be morbid about it...

Given that I have to die at some stage, I think probably the best I can hope for is to die of a nice clean heart attack in my own home. I don't particularly have any ambition to spend months undergoing unpleasant medical procedures, or living in terror of the next incident, or as a severe stroke victim.

Even in the best case scenario, where living with someone might mean a few extra years of good quality of life, I think that giving up my independence is too high a price to pay for that. It's not dying alone that scares me. And against that you'd have to weigh the possibility that I'd predecease my partner; so much simpler to stay single so that no-one gets widowed.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 10th, 2003 02:25 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry
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You're not twenty-five yet, stop this nonsense!

Seriously, I imagine a lot will have changed in fifty or so years' time. Or whatever our generation's life expectancy is meant to be. (I devoutly hope that old people's homes will have improved.) And considering how long marriages tend to last these days, I don't think anyone marries in their twenties just so that they won't die alone in their eighties. In their sixties, this might be an issue.

Chances of being widowed will vary according to the age, gender and general health of the partner involved. I know a perfectly happy lesbian couple with a 28 year age gap who've been together about eight or nine years. Ok, chances are the younger partner will be widowed relatively young, two of my mother's friends married men 20 or 30 years older than them and both were widowed a few years ago; but then these two have already lasted longer than most marriages (scary, that one), I think there are other things to worry about.

EM
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lethargic_man: beardy
From:lethargic_man
Date:November 10th, 2003 10:01 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 11:01 pm (lethargic_man's time)

Life expectancy

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Or whatever our generation's life expectancy is meant to be.

Average life expectancy nowadays is something like 75 for men and 78 for women; and is increasing in the most healthy countries at the rate of about a quarter of a year per year, with no reason for it to stop doing so. Taking the life expectancy predicted for me by http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/tools/living_100.shtml and compounding it at a quarter of a year per year puts my own mean life expectancy at 100 (just).

Assuming, of course, no major developments to revise this in the interim.
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livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:November 11th, 2003 07:13 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 08:13 pm (livredor's time)
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Um, I think you're missing the point a little. This probably has a great deal to do with the fact that M and I have been falling into the bad habit of having discussions partly in public and partly not.

But regardless, you've made some useful and interesting points in turn. Yours is also a happy direction the dicussion could head in. Lots of interesting speculation is possible about what our old age will (please God) be like, as opposed to what old age is like now.

Also well pointed out that the average (is it a median or a mean, does anyone know?) these days is under a decade. Which makes marriage not less different from cohabiting than it might otherwise be.

I don't think anyone marries in their twenties just so that they won't die alone in their eighties
Yes, obviously. It seems a bit daft to marry at any age for that reason! lethargic_man was talking about falling ill and having somebody around, rather than simply dying. But he clarified later that the somebody didn't necessarily have to be a spouse.

In their sixties, this might be an issue.
To be fair, I was talking vaguely about getting married after I retire, which may have been what triggered the whole slightly morbid angle.

Chances of being widowed will vary
Obviously. Not wanting to be widowed is a fairly weak argument against not wanting to get married, I agree.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 15th, 2003 01:29 pm (UTC)
6 days after journal entry
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Er, possibly we're missing each other's points. I was just trying to say that if you're thinking about your old age, if you marry now who knows if you'll still be together then, and if you marry then the world will probably be fairly different as will you, so isn't the whole point a bit irrelevant?

And by the way, flap not, despite the best effort of the Marriage Protection Week lot, marriage is not compulsory!

I'm probably going to be spending the next ten days knocking romantic ideals about marriage to bits for my Chaucer essay, by the way, if you fancy a rant on the subject give me a ring. (I'm off MSN until they give my computer back, it's finally gone to be fixed.) pseudomonas turned up unexpectedly early last night, while I was still annotating "The Franklin's Tale", and was treated to my muttering indignantly about sexual power struggles, emotional blackmail (the courtly young lover spends his entire time threatening suicide) not to mention sexual blackmail, and the whole "shame" ideology.

off to finish Persuasion in the bath and admire the lovely way Austen gets everyone married off.

EM
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rysmiel: can't rain all the time
From:rysmiel
Date:November 11th, 2003 06:07 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 02:07 pm (rysmiel's time)
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I think I have certain expectations of a married couple, and I possibly wouldn't be quite so quick to make the same set of assumptions about a cohabiting couple.

And there's the rub, or in some annoying cases of my acquaintance, the thing getting in the way of administering the rub when it would be a very beneficial thing to do.

I spent many years dead-set against marriage largely through having a set of fixed assumptions in mind about what marriage by definition entailed; discovering that it was possible to have a positive, solid and healthy marriage built around negotiating which elements one actually wanted in it made a big difference, in consequence of which I am now happily married. We're not by any means joined at the hip - that would have been entirely unacceptable to either of us - and will most likely live separately in the longer term, when finances allow for the maintenance of two apartments, as we did happily for the first six months of being married and the five previous years of being involved.

[ Am also married to misia as part of a protest against Shrub-Niggurath's Marriage Protection Week. I am very much in favour of means of formalising and legally recognising relationships of sorts other than that between two people with implicit procreation - would really like a way in which I could have some recognition of my Adoptive Big Sister as a bedrock-level serious connection, frex. ]

But there are a subset of cohabiting relationships that I personally regard exactly as marriages; for example, the partners involved would be completely off-limits to me. This would still apply to a couple that wasn't legally able to marry (eg same sex, more than one partner, etc).

These days I ask about that, and go by what the people involved tell me, rather than making assumptions. It gets me weird looks betimes, but also the occasional very nice surprise.
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livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:November 11th, 2003 07:21 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 08:21 pm (livredor's time)
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Ooh hello, good to see you back.

These are all very sensible counters. I think I am not making quite the same set of assumptions you seem to be challenging here, but the challenges are still worthwhile. Thank you.

I need to do boring but essential chores just now, so proper reply to follow. But to start with, I feel there's a language issue here. Just as I don't want a relationship exactly identical to a marriage, but to call it not-a-marriage for some political reason, I also don't want a relationship that completely doesn't overlap with the consensus definition of a marriage, but to call it a marriage.

Since you are talking personally, whereas I am talking theoretically, please don't take this comment as an attack on you, cos it certainly isn't intended that way. It's a preamble to continuing the discussion, hopefully.
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rysmiel: can't rain all the time
From:rysmiel
Date:November 12th, 2003 05:08 pm (UTC)
4 days after journal entry, 01:08 pm (rysmiel's time)
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These are all very sensible counters. I think I am not making quite the same set of assumptions you seem to be challenging here, but the challenges are still worthwhile.

"Challenge" is a bit more adversarial than I had intended those points to come across as.

Just as I don't want a relationship exactly identical to a marriage, but to call it not-a-marriage for some political reason, I also don't want a relationship that completely doesn't overlap with the consensus definition of a marriage, but to call it a marriage.

What do you see essential to the definition of "marriage", then ?

What I would like to see is the existence of some form of recognition of relationships that are fundamental for any given person - by which I mean emotionally essential to that person, and also taken with the degree of seriousness than one would wish to consider making the person or persons involved one's next of kin, or sharing a commitment to some part of a parental role with them [ which is absolutely not congruent with wishing to have a child with them ] - outside the two contexts which seem to be taken seriously in the West at the moment, which are blood family and marriage. The expansion of marriage beyond the one-man-one-woman model seems the most practicable way to do this, judging by the long-term successful three-or-more person partnerships whom I know personally; if anything, the issues I see arising out of social perception of blood-family connections that cause people the most harm are where those relationships have become toxic but external perception insists there has to be a relationship there.

Since you are talking personally, whereas I am talking theoretically, please don't take this comment as an attack on you, cos it certainly isn't intended that way.

And not taken as such, definitely.
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livredor: hands
From:livredor
Date:November 15th, 2003 12:07 pm (UTC)
6 days after journal entry, 01:07 pm (livredor's time)

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"Challenge" is a bit more adversarial than I had intended
Hmm, lots of backpedalling and clarifying here. I don't use challenge in an adversarial sense, particularly not in the context of assumptions. But clearly it does have that connotation. In conclusion, I should be more careful with my language (always), but in more useful conclusion, I don't think we actually have a misunderstanding here. We both agree that what's going on is a friendly discussion and not any kind of conflict.

So I'll get on to the substance of the discussion, in reasonable confidence that no one is taking unnecessary offence.
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livredor: mask
From:livredor
Date:November 15th, 2003 08:03 pm (UTC)
7 days after journal entry, 09:03 pm (livredor's time)
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What do you see essential to the definition of "marriage", then ?
Fair question. Of course, that really puts me even more on the spot in terms of writing a manifesto. I'm really only talking at the level of what I perceive as being generally understood by the word marriage; I don't know that any of these things are essential. I'm very wary of ending up sounding like Bush with his big exclusive statement of what marriage is, that ended up justly offending practically everybody. But then, perhaps I am like Bush in having an overly narrow view of marriage.

Let's see. Some kind of long-term commitment, not necessarily irrevocable (chas ve'chalilah) but something that it would take serious intention to alter. And I guess a partial commitment extending beyond the duration of the marriage, that the partners wouldn't be left in the lurch if the relationship broke up.

A public declaration of that commitment; people can define any relationship they like, of course, but in my view, getting married is at least partly a statement to the world at large. I think that's why I don't want to see the definition over-extended to the point where that public declaration becomes meaningless.

A commitment to what, then? Cohabitation in both the literal and the euphemistic senses. A celibate marriage is, linguistically speaking, an oxymoron (qv all the silly talk about that gay bishop the American Protestants have recently appointed). This is a tricky one cos you've already said you plan not to live with your spouse. And likewise, I can imagine a hypothetical couple reading this and complaining, are you declaring that our marriage is not a marriage if we don't sleep together (for whatever reason).

But I'm sticking to it, I think the definition of marriage in general is that it's a commitment to form a household together, and that it's based on a sexual relationship. It is clear that those things are separable, and indeed there should be more awareness, and more legal sanctions, for people who want to form a household together but who are not a couple. There is already a reasonable understanding of the kind of relationship that is sexual, but doesn't involve a shared household; there could possibly be better terms for this, but the concept pretty much exists, I think.

Some sort of pooling of material resources (handwavily not defined precisely; possibly that's part of forming a household). And some sort of exclusivity; sexual being the most obvious, but I did say I understood the concept of an open marriage. Just, if one's relationship with a spouse is exactly like other relationships, it's meaningless to call it a marriage. Taking eachothers' views into account when making life decisions would be another one; maybe that's part of commitment.
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livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:November 15th, 2003 08:32 pm (UTC)
7 days after journal entry, 09:32 pm (livredor's time)
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And then there's the whole religious aspect. I'm emphatically not trying to pull the 'you can't argue with my religion' trick. But to me, marriage is at least partly a religious institution. So if I personally were to get married, that would be a commitment to my community and tradition and certain values, as well as to my spouse. This understanding is very likely to lead to a certain narrowness of defintion.

Civil marriage is to a large extent modelled on Christian marriage, certainly in this country, and I think in most other countries in the post-Christian world. (Jewish marriage is close enough, IMO, to Christian that people who are married Jewishly can reasonably contemplate getting married civilly as well.)

I don't necessarily think this is a good thing (and as an aside, I follow Israeli politics enough to be very well aware that not having civil marriage makes an absolute train wreck of human rights). But I'm not sure that defining a whole range of relationships as marriages would really help, it would tend to introduce ambiguity, and ambiguity is never a good thing in a legal situation.
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livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:November 15th, 2003 08:57 pm (UTC)
7 days after journal entry, 09:57 pm (livredor's time)
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What I would like to see is the existence of some form of recognition of relationships that are fundamental for any given person
Yes, a million times yes. But I think part of that should be an understanding that not all such fundamental relationships are marriages.

I don't think anybody at all is helped by couples getting married who aren't interested in marriage per se, but want the peripheral benefits of the state, and other institutions, taking their relationship seriously.

one would wish to consider making the person or persons involved one's next of kin,
It definitely ought to be possible to nominate a next-of-kin (I think it actually is, at least in the UK in certain limited circumstances) who is not literal kin.

or sharing a commitment to some part of a parental role with them
Very good point! Given that it's actually a minority of children these days who are brought up by their biological parents, there should definitely be more of a framework for all the different permutations of this sort of situation.

The expansion of marriage beyond the one-man-one-woman model seems the most practicable way to do this,
Now, this is where I disagree with you. I would much rather see acceptance and legal support for long-term house sharing, co-parenting and so on, than see these kinds of relationships defined as marriages.

Part of my problem is that I'm not an activist by nature. I have no real interest in making my relationship into a protest. But even if I were inclined that way, I really don't see what would be gained by my getting into a relationship very unlike a marriage, and loudly declaring that I was married.

I think if I got into a particular relationship situation that seemed to me more like a marriage than not (I don't mean I'd check off criteria on a list; I only made a list because you specifically asked!), then I'd call myself married. And if not, then I wouldn't. If I am to be convinced into political campaigning, I can more likely see myself campaigning for things like recognition for people who live together long-term but aren't a couple, sensible citizenship criteria (that IMO would make marriage pretty irrelevant to the question), and so on.
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livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:November 13th, 2003 05:11 pm (UTC)
5 days after journal entry, 06:11 pm (livredor's time)
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discovering that it was possible to have a positive, solid and healthy marriage built around negotiating which elements one actually wanted in it
At some level, I think the ideal of marriage is probably a contract negotiated between the people concerned, and sanctioned by the state in the same way that any legal contract is sanctioned be the state. However, this simply isn't currently the case. Acting as if it were the case in order to try to change society and bring it closer to the ideal is a very worthwhile thing to do, but it's not something I'm personally interested in pursuing.
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livredor: mask
From:livredor
Date:November 14th, 2003 07:27 pm (UTC)
6 days after journal entry, 08:27 pm (livredor's time)
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Actually, I don't think I really want any of the elements of marriage. I mean, sure, I want close, potentially sexual relationships, but (thankfully) I don't need to get married to have the opportunity for this.

Other than that? I have enough angst about getting into any kind of couple situation. I've several times come close to turning down exceedingly wonderful people when they've asked me out, because I feel like I can't be bothered with the whole 'relationship' thing. So it's hard to find much that would seem to me positive about what I imagine is more intense than simply dating.
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livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:November 14th, 2003 07:39 pm (UTC)
6 days after journal entry, 08:39 pm (livredor's time)

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I am now happily married
That's largely why I was being sort of disclaimer-y at the start of my (rather fragemented) response; if I say I'm not particularly keen on getting married, it could be read as a criticism of people who are married. But you have clearly not misinterpreted me like that, so I shall stop flapping.
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livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:November 14th, 2003 07:53 pm (UTC)
6 days after journal entry, 08:53 pm (livredor's time)
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Am also married to misia as part of a protest against Shrub-Niggurath's Marriage Protection Week.
This seems a useful protest but it's not clear to me that it's a useful marriage. Anyway, good for you!
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livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:November 14th, 2003 07:59 pm (UTC)
6 days after journal entry, 08:59 pm (livredor's time)
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I am very much in favour of means of formalising and legally recognising relationships of sorts other than that between two people with implicit procreation
This sounds like a very good idea, yes. But I'm skeptical whether this is best achieved by expanding the definition of marriage until it no longer means marriage, but any legally formalized relationship. I'm not sure that's quite what you're suggesting anyway; if it is, I'm open to being convinced.
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livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:November 14th, 2003 08:26 pm (UTC)
6 days after journal entry, 09:26 pm (livredor's time)
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These days I ask about that, and go by what the people involved tell me, rather than making assumptions.
This is entirely reasonable. I make assumptions, but they're just that, I'm quite prepared for them to be replaced by information as and when it becomes available.

Don't think I am unaware of the concept of an open marriage. I very carefully said the partners involved would be completely off-limits to me. I wasn't talking in general, it's just, an abitrary principle that I have decided to follow for various reasons. And being arbitrary, I can't entirely defend it, much less expect it to apply to anyone else.

But yeah, I think it's a reasonable assumption that marriage, or marriage-like relationships, are exclusive, until I know otherwise. There's a case to be made that all assumptions are Bad just because they're assumptions, but I think there's mostly only a problem if I'm overly attached to my assumptions, which I very much hope I'm not.
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