I grew up wanting a high school sweetheart that I could marry and spend the rest of my life with. Something about that seemed sensible and wholesome. By the time I got to university, I was looking for brains and beauty. I thought that if I set my standards super high, I’d be able to find a super awesome woman, and the rest would be easy enough to figure out. As it turns out, compatibility and chemistry can be important, especially when I’m a bit of a basket case.
First girl I thought I’d marry laid out the ultimatum of 2 kids within 5 years, and working backwards meant that we were getting engaged in the coming year. Considering that we had been together for less than a year, I couldn’t do it. 3 months after we broke up, she was engaged to another guy. She’s still an awesome person and I hope that it all works out for her, but it was the first time I was really faced with the ridiculous concept of marriage. Let me explain…
Marriage, as we know it, is a life-long commitment of a romantic relationship to another person. Am I the only one who thinks that sounds absolutely crazy?
Maybe I need to back the truck up for a second. With the exception of the last few years, I used to be a big romantic. Flowers delivered at work, spontaneous cross-country surprises, breakfasts in bed, gifts from Tiffany’s… nothing made me happier than putting a huge smile on her face. But just about all of my relationships lasted less than 6 months. Once that initial stage of infatuation settled and the real dynamics of the relationship started to emerge, I would see issues. Then I would try to solve these issues. If I couldn’t solve them, I would try to put up with them. Eventually, I would be disinterested or frustrated, and the relationship would end. I can’t help but think that a big part of that is on me, but when I describe the situations to others, they usually agree that it just wasn’t the right fit.
Over the last few years, my time and my finances have been much tighter so I didn’t quite have the capacity to be the same happy-go-lucky romantic that I used to be. Instead, I focused more on the inter-personal dynamics, trying to understand what it would take to build the foundation for something that would last forever. What boxes would we need to tick over the next 2-4 years before we decided that this was what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives? Physical chemistry was a must. A deep friendship was a must. An ability to work out our differences was a must. Etc. Etc. There was something that just wasn’t adding up though.
Back in my early 20s, I was watching this amateur comedian at a local bar… I think he was an English teacher. He said that he had been with his girlfriend for about 20 years, but he still thought that marriage was a dubious proposition. As he put it, he loved his girlfriend, enjoyed being with her, and wanted to keep being with her… and yet marriage still sounded like the most ridiculous proposition. He went on to explain how marriage was first introduced when humans would barely live past 30. That made sense. Get married in your teens, have a few kids, and call it a night. ‘Til death do us part is easy when you’re only going to last another 15-20 years. When we’re expected to live into our 100s though…
Putting aside the idea that marriage was brought about in a manner that treated women like property, let’s just focus on what marriage today looks like. I had this conversation with a friend’s girlfriend the other day. I made the case that if our success rate for marriage was 50%, and that just about every couple enters into a marriage beaming with love, confidence, and hope, wouldn’t that suggest that we don’t have the capacity to pick life partners with accuracy or consistency? She conceded. But she protested, “What about the romance?” There it is.
As with many things in life, I can’t help but think that a more logical approach would make for an emotionally healthier situation. Her perspective on marriage was a little more traditional. She thought that the grand gesture of marriage was romantic, and that committing yourself to someone for life was what helped you get through the rough patches. There was something about taking that plunge into the unknown, together, that made it special. I admire that. But I also disagree with it.
My parents split when I was in my early teens. Most of the families I grew up around were single parent households. As an adult, personally and professionally, I’ve seen marriages breakdown. There’s a yin and a yang to this dynamic. All the optimism, hope, love and trust that usually exists during a wedding, is usually replaced by pessimism, hatred, and mistrust during a divorce. When it comes to splitting the kids and the finances, things get downright ugly.
What about a prenup? But that’s not very romantic. The idea of getting married to someone is forever, and as soon as you introduce a prenup, you’re already planning for it not to be forever. Well… if 50% of the time, it doesn’t last forever… what exactly is going on here? If we took a more pragmatic approach to things, wouldn’t a prenup be standard protocol? As I’ve often suggested to others, it’s best to make decisions about how to walk away when you still really love and want the best for each other. It certainly beats figuring it out when all you care about is making the other person hurt as just much as you are.
So what’s the solution? Glad you asked.
By no means will this be for everyone, but I can’t help but think I’m on to something with this. First, you abandon the idea that marriage is forever. If you’re 30 and plan on living to 100, appreciate the ridiculousness of being legally bound to someone else for the next 70 years. If you want to make a commitment to that person, along with a grand gesture and a big party, you should go for it. But maybe go for a 10 year commitment. Say that for the next 10 years of my life, through thick and through thin, I want to be by your side. If after 10 years, things are going great, extend that agreement.
If you’re planning on kids, and this is key, it should be a 20 year contract. Parents really should do everything they can to keep their personal differences from disrupting the formative years of their children. With a 20 year contract, it helps to emphasize that. Not only are you making a commitment to that other person, you’re making a commitment to the kids. You’re signing up for a team effort in raising the best damn offspring you can manage. If you’re ready for a new phase of your life after your kids have moved out or are off to college, that’s cool.
The purpose of the contracts, agreements, or whatever euphemism you’d like to use, isn’t about putting a time limit on the relationship, but rather a minimum commitment. It’s about understanding and accepting the knowns and unknowns that come with a decisin like this. You can do your best to map out what the coming years look like personally and professionally. You can set out who will contribute what. You can make decisions about what happens with the finances if the marriage dissolves early, or if you reach the end of your agreement and want to go your separate ways. It like a built-in prenup and I can’t emphasize enough the power of addressing this stuf when you still like each other. The other things that you can tackle in here are things like infidelity or other deal breakers. No landmines. It’s really about building a long-term relationship on a stable foundation instead of unstable emotions and hoping for the best.
The next piece, and I’m a big fan of this, is screw taking anyone’s last name. For the longest time, I was big on carrying my family name forward. I can only see what I see today because I stand on the shoulders of giants. What my dad did for me and my family will always be appreciated and will never be forgotten. What his mom did for him, and so on and so forth. I thought that carrying my family name forward would be the best way to honor them. It’s bullshit. The best way I can honor them is by taking everything that they’ve given me, and doing my best to make the world a better place. The idea of a woman having to take a man’s last name, while a noble gesture, is rather silly. The guy taking the girl’s last name is just as silly. Hyphenating the name works for one generation, but what happens when that person wants to get married to another person with a hyphenated name? Silly. So what do you do? Come up with your own last name! Seriously. I can’t be the only one excited about the idea of brainstorming with my significant other about our new last name. You can come up with something that’s meaningful to both of you, sounds good with both of your names, and something that your kid can identify with. You might as well come up with a new family crest while your at it. Seriously, the more I think about this, the more it makes sense. I think this would do a lot of good, on many levels.
Part 3, ditch the traditional wedding. The idea of making everyone sit through a ceremony that we’ve all seen before, on uncomfortable church pews, in our best clothes, while we judge the parents who brought the crying baby… just doesn’t make much sense. What makes even less sense is spending tens of thousands of dollars on hundreds of guests, at an overly fancy venue, with overly fancy food, all at a fat wedding mark-up. Not cool. You found someone that you wanna be with so bad that it’s worth throwing a party? It’s a celebration bitches! Treat it as such. Throw the kinda party that you and your friends would love to go to. Stop putting on this masquerade in the name of tradition.
Finally, and perhaps this speaks to some of my other motivations here… fuck the ring (pardon all this foul language). Coming from a guy who’s spent thousands at Tiffany’s, I couldn’t be more confident in this statement. For anyone who hasn’t looked up the history of the diamond wedding ring, it has nothing to do with romance and everything to do with marketing. As someone with a business background, I can’t help but appreciate how effectively they were able to build an industry around the idea that the bigger the diamond, the more he loves you. As a human being, I can’t help but be frustrated and annoyed that we’ve been this ignorant for this long. What I do appreciate about the ring though is that it’s a marker that one wears proudly as if to say “I’m taken, and it’s awesome”. I can get on board with that. Does it have to be a ring? Probably not, but that’s what we’re used to looking for so… maybe it does. Either way, it definitely doesn’t have to be a diamond and that’s where things start to get fun again. I used to be big on man made diamonds. The girl could get a giant diamond, I wouldn’t have to spend much, and I would get the satisfaction of knowing I outsmarted the jewelry industry. But why not explore a bit? If you decide on a diamond for personal reasons, then go for it. If you choose a different type of precious stone, or no stone at all, go for it. Personally speaking, I’d love to have something cool like titanium carbide or maybe something made from tungsten. Whatever it was, it would be designed specifically with us in mind. Because when I look at the ring, it should be us that I have in mind.
We’re in an age where tradition is disappearing to make way for better ideas. I reject the idea that being romantic means making poor life choices. I reject the idea that a wedding is about anything other than celebrating their love. And I reject the idea that marriage is anything more than a commitment where two people who love each other enough to consider a distant future where they’re still together. I embrace the idea that this is 2018 and that it’s about time that marriage caught up to who we really are.