My 37-year-old son just got engaged. He and his fiancée were both married before and neither are in a rush to get married again. They probably won’t have children so they feel there’s no reason to ever get married. They’ve made a life-long commitment to each other and that’s enough for them.
I’m fine with that – for them. I still want to be married. I believe that marriage is more than a piece of paper. It’s a socially and legally reinforced creation of a new family unit. Does the social and legal recognition matter? I think so, at least for me.
I’ve been married twice. Both times, the marriage ceremony marked a subtle change in the relationship. Calling your partner ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ carries with it an emotional punch. Social mores and rituals effect us on an unconscious level even if we fight against them intellectually.
I have found that even symbols matter in relationships. In my first marriage, I wore a wedding ring but my husband refused to. It bothered me for 25 years. Tom, my husband now, wore a ring when he got married the first time. So he had no problem granting my wish that he wear a wedding ring for me. That still means a lot to me. I look at the ring all the time. It’s a symbol of equal commitment and equality within the relationship. Something I never had before.
In Tom’s previous marriage, his ex-wife refused to take his last name. This really upset him. He wanted to be ‘the Curleys’, not ‘Curley and Jones’. When I married the first time, I continued to use my maiden name professionally, when I practiced law. For me, that preserved my separate identity in the aspect of my life that was separate from my husband, but I took my husband’s last name for social, legal and all other purposes. We had children together so it was particularly important to me that we all had the same last name. To me that symbolizes a family.
When I married Tom, I naturally took his name. He was so thrilled! It has always meant so much to him. And I’m happy to accommodate his desire for a new Curley family entity.
To me, the ceremony and the legal document mark a different level of commitment and connection. The fact that my son decided to get engaged, confirms the importance of social customs. He got his girlfriend’s father’s consent, he designed a ring and worked out all the details of the actual proposal. He followed all the social ‘rules’ about getting engaged.
He did it, in part, to show another level of relationship beyond boyfriend and girlfriend. He wanted the world to know that they are now ‘fiancees’. That they have taken a socially designated step toward a permanent commitment in the eyes of society. Marriage is just the next step in that continuum.
When I married Tom, I had a small, inexpensive, at home wedding for only close friends and family. It was a lunch, not a dinner. It was buffet, not sit down. I wore what was technically a bridesmaid dress but in white. The event didn’t have to be big or fancy. But for us, the ceremony and the affirmation before loved ones, did make a difference. We felt different and were perceived differently by the world. Maybe less differently nowadays. But I submit that there is still a difference.
A high school friend celebrated 25 years together with her partner by getting married! How cool is that?
I’m a chill mom, so whatever my son decides to do with his fiancée is fine with me. But I want my ring and my marriage license, thank you! The Curleys forever! Till death do us part!