“I DO” OR “I DON’T” – BY ELLIN CURLEY

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.

My son, David and his fiancée, Katie

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.

Tom’s wedding ring

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.

One of our Xmas tree ornaments

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.

My wedding invitation with Tom

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.

My dining room table at our home wedding in 2002

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!

 

14 thoughts on ““I DO” OR “I DON’T” – BY ELLIN CURLEY

    • Thank you! They both had bad experiences with their first spouses so it is wonderful to see them happy and relaxed and planning a future together.

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  1. I also believe in marriage. I also think standing up, telling the world you are married means something, even today. What is more, if something goes wrong, you have a legal contract and a way to get out of the union without necessarily losing your shirt, pants, house, and car (though I pretty much always did, but I’m an idiot). I know people who lived together for a dozen years and finally got married, then got a divorce a few months later. I always wondered if they got married entirely so they COULD get divorced.

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    • I know of two couples who had been living together for years and broke up shortly after getting married. Maybe their relationship was just going to end at that point anyway. But I think it has to do with the changed dynamic of marriage. Being a husband and wife feels different and is perceived differently by the world. I guess that change can tank some relationships.

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  2. We in India believe in the fundamental institution of marriage. Because it marriage brings with it emotional bonding and a sense of commitment and responsible behaviour which is way more incase of a relationship

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    • I agree. I think people avoid marriage to avoid that extra level of commitment. Without marriage, they think it is easier to end the relationship. But after years together, it may even be harder to divide up your lives without the rules of matrimonial law.

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      • That’s why I think you see those long relationships where they didn’t marry finally marrying just so they can get divorced. Without a marriage, when you’ve been together that long, breaking up is not just an emotional thing. It’s financial issue and sometimes involving kids, too. Suddenly, that legal marriage thing IS important.

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  3. They may eventually marry, Ellin. With what our older son is going through, I would strongly advise any of our children to live with the other person for some time to be sure there is a mutual commitment. I believe in marriage too, divorce is so painful.
    Leslie

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    • I think my son is avoiding marriage because he thinks it will be less painful and less complicated if it doesn’t work out. I understand the fear, but I don’t think breaking up after years together is easier without the legal system to rely on. It’s never easy emotionally, but it helps to have laws to guide you through the process. I think they will see where they are a few years down the road. You can get married any time!

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  4. I think marriage is great for those who want it and believe it signifies and important commitment (as you do), but in and of itself it’s nothing. I’ve been married three times. The third time was the only one that made any sense to me. It was for purely practical reasons and out of friendship and love for the man and his family. My best man (witness) even asked me before he agreed to stand up with us, “This isn’t about ‘luv’ is it, Martha?” I assured him it was not. The whole thought of marriage gives me the willies! 🙂

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    • My point is that if you’re going to be living together anyway and you consider yourself committed for life, then why not get married? You’re already living as if you are married so why not go through the legal and social customs?

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      • I think marriage is very meaningful for many people and I get your point. I’d never argue against anyone doing it, but if I had it all to do over again, I wouldn’t marry anyone. I don’t think it’s everyone’s cup of tea. I admire my friends who’ve managed long and loving marriages, but I would not trade places with them.

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