I’m three years into my second serious relationship. We live together and have a dog. We spend holidays with each other’s families. Around the year and a half mark, marriage jokes started weaving their way into conversations with my mom. “Just remember…I need advance notice to find the right dress.”
At three years the subtle hints from his grandmother have morphed into “I’ll talk to my slow-moving grandson for you.” The implication of all this nonsense being since we’re in our late twenties, we should be married soon. Or, at the very least, that as a woman, marriage would clearly be my goal. And if this were the 1950’s, or even probably the 1990’s, social norms would indicate that we would be married by now.
But I didn’t grow up thinking marriage was the end-goal of a relationship. My mom loves to quote 10-year-old Nora correcting people with “IF I get married. IF I have children.” I never fantasized about my future wedding and I know nothing about shapes of diamond rings. Too often, woman my age talk about wanting to be married, when they really mean they want a wedding; little thought goes into what happens once all the gifts are opened and the relatives leave town.
The older I get, the more I understand that the history of marriage has little to do with love. In fact, up until recently, marriage was more of a business deal than a romantic endeavor.
That’s not to say I don’t believe in love or committed relationships. I do. But I like to make promises I can keep, and “I’ll love you forever until one of us dies,” implies that I can predict the future. I can’t.
It seems to me, that instead of a traditional marriage, there’s a different way we can express our love and show our commitment. The idea being we get married – with all the legal and financial benefits that go along with it – with an expiration date. At that date we decide to end the contract and go our separate ways or we have the option to renew for more years.
This allows for a relationship evaluation. We’d decide either to reaffirm our desire to be together or, if the answer is no, to at the very least save on lawyer fees and some of the complexity of divorce. Ultimately marriage – at least civil marriage – is a business venture – lives and assets merge. People don’t enter into business contracts with a forever clause.
To me, there is romance in the practicality of “you are the one I chose, not because I’m bound to you, but because I want you to be in my life.”
As it turns out, I’m not the first person with practicality on the brain. Mexico City stirred up controversy when they proposed renewable weddings, and there was an interview about it during an episode of the iconic radio show This American Life. In her book, Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about Lillian Harman and Edwin Walker, who — in Kansas in 1887 — were arrested on their wedding night because at their non-religious ceremony they “[spoke] of the absolute privacy of their union…Lillian…stated firmly that she would ‘make no promises that it may become impossible or immoral for me to fulfill, but retain the right to act always as my conscience and best judgement shall dictate.'”
When I tell people about the contract idea I’m met with one of two reactions: they either think its progressive or are taken back by its unconventionality. I get that this isn’t for everybody; I won’t try to talk somebody out of a traditional marriage if that’s what he or she wants. And I unequivocally believe in the right for same sex couples to marry, if that’s what they choose.
I love my boyfriend fully. I’ve never felt lost inside my relationship, rather I feel like we are both fully formed people who heighten each other’s lives. He can make me so angry I want to punch a wall, and seconds later make me laugh until I can’t catch my breath. I cherish the security that encompasses our relationship. There is nobody I’d rather spend time with. And it’s because of those feeling and our mutual respect that I want to continue to build a life together. But it also is the reason I don’t want to make a promise that’s impossible to guarantee.
By Nora Resnick