Quick! Get Marrried!

Wedding cake with hearts and roses on the buff...
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Getting married is still the most important thing you can accomplish?

Are we living in 2010  — or 1810? Maybe 1610?

From the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal:

Daters are ravenous for advice to order the chaos, even if it comes from a book, like “Marry Him,” that berates them or, like “Committed,” claims that marriage is a terrible institution for women (though the author gets hitched by her memoir’s end).

“People are desperately looking for order out there, because they want to be in committed relationships,” says Jessica Massa, 26, who is developing WTFIsUpWithMyLoveLife.com, an interactive forum to help young people make sense of their relationships or absence thereof. “But the lack of signposts and guidance is making it very hard to get to the point where you end up in one.”

You live together, but only until one of you gets a great job offer in London. You go out to dinner and a movie, but aren’t even sure if it was an actual date. There is no longer that social urgency that pushes couples to the next stage.

The more pressing dating issue for young women today is not that they are skeptical about marriage or too choosy, but that their potential spouses are in less of a hurry to tie the knot than they are. A 2005 poll, “Coming of Age in America,” which surveyed 18- to 24-year-olds, found that women had the edge on eagerness: 55% said they’d like to be married in the next five years, compared with only 42% of men.

Adam Rich, 29, editor of Thrillist, a daily email blast targeting young men, says all this ambiguity is obscuring the traditional march to marriage and giving guys more leeway when it comes to casual dating. “This whole set of cliché indicators—call a girl to ask her out for drinks, then later a dinner date—are becoming less the dating norm. What if he Facebook messages her to meet at a wine bar where they share small plates? Where does that put them on the roadmap to the altar?”

Beth Bailey, the author of “From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America,” thinks this might be an unprecedented time in the history of dating and courtship. “The lack of rules and structure in dating means it’s become more difficult than it’s ever been to get to the place where marriage seems like the obvious next step,” she says.

Help me out here, please.

I mean it.

Why do the next steps have to be “obvious”? To whom? Your parents? Your friends? Your siblings?

Is it because — one can only assume — we are all in a time of such horrifying political and economic insecurity? Go for the gold, as it were (“Put a ring on it”), to ensure something, somewhere will actually be there tomorrow morning or the day after that? Which, as every divorced or unhappily married person well knows, is the the saddest bit of fantasy imaginable.

A familiar prison isn’t much comfort.

I was married, miserably, for two years. I knew on my wedding day it was a bad idea, but wanted more than anything to make it work and tried my best. Like many women by that point in my life, I wanted to be a wife, dammit! I was worn out from independence, making hard and unlovely career choices, my own chronic ambivalence about lifetime commitment, the loss of my family, friends and country to move to the U.S. for my husband.

I loved him deeply; that failure — of my own will to walk away from what I knew was a poor, if deeply powerful, comforting and seductive choice — haunts me still.

I now live with my partner of 10 years, who also had a short, early marriage many years ago. We did get engaged in 2002, so long ago I forgot when it was, (at midnight, on Christmas Eve, I remember that bit), but I haven’t once seriously sat down to pick flowers or invitation styles since then. Life — with recessions and orthopedic surgeries and my mother’s illness and my stepmother’s death from cancer, the gain and loss of several staff jobs, producing two books — continues to intervene. No one’s going anywhere, last time I looked.

A wedding always seems to me like one more thing to fuss over, an addition to our busy, committed lives that keeps falling to the bottom of our long mid-life to-do lists. We do not have kids nor ever planned to. Would I feel any more “married” the next day? One day I’ll find out.

I do understand that imperative to the altar, to take legal responsibility for children — but few others.

We made the biggest commitment (beyond kids) imaginable to me this week — co-signing a mortgage and deed to a shared home. It doesn’t get bigger than that in my world. Finding another secure and affordable home in New York? Terrifying thought.

So, instead of reaching for a pile of six-pound bridal magazines, my priorities this month include re-newing my green card, filing my claims for a writers’ legal settlement in Canada, getting the car fixed so the exhaust doesn’t rattle anymore. Tugging on my partner’s sleeve to get him to the altar, (when it’s my feet dragging), seems a waste of valuable time and energy, something we have increasingly less of in this economy and failing industry, one whose woes scare the hell out of me almost daily.

These days, I feel like we’re already in the same boat, rowing as hard as our arms allow. Yes, we are headed in the same direction, that much is clear. It is not a great time to work  (or love) at cross-purposes, that’s for sure.

But why are Americans — and such young ones — so totally obsessed with getting married? “Closing the deal” as if your partner is (are they?) a real estate transaction?

Weddings, beyond city hall or your living room, are emotionally and financially costly, often five or even six-figure events. So are divorces.

If you must have something concrete, figure out your co-hab agreement. Then chill.

6 thoughts on “Quick! Get Marrried!

  1. inmyhumbleopinion

    Hi, Caitlin:

    Seems to me that the desire for motherhood, and all of the infertility horror stories we hear about women over 35, is still the driving factor behind getting hitched among young women. Sure there are plenty of folks who are going the motherhood route alone by choice, but I think they are older and more financially independent.

    I think that “baby lust” is the reason so many people make bad marriage choices, and I know a lot of people, myself included, who are much more happily married (or partnered) the second time around when having babies is off the table.

  2. Caitlin Kelly

    imho, thanks for weighing in on this. I always assume, as well, that wanting kids — and needing to have them while you are biologically able (if you don’t wish to adopt) is much of this driver.

    But the WSJ piece, and so much of this appalling drivel and rhetoric is focused on other issues, I think — the desperate search for some form of certainty or security. It’s human and we want it, certainly.

    But no certificate protects the human heart, or other bits of the anatomy, as we all know.

    I wish women would focus their energy instead of getting decent laws into place to protect their economic interests, single, cohabiting or whatever, so marriage (I know, hopeless idealist) also becomes a choice more based on love, not the fastest access to cheap(er) housing or healthcare benefits.

    1. inmyhumbleopinion

      It’s an excellent point you make. I think many women are disillusioned by what happens to them once they are in the working world–i.e. financial independence is still elusive given pay disparity and outright discrimination against mothers is still, sadly, very much the norm. So they go back to the “security” of marriage and raising kids, crossing their fingers their Prince Charming doesn’t trade them in for a younger model in 10 years.

      I don’t know how we get young women motivated to be more political re: their financial interests; I’m not sure they think it’s really a problem.

  3. April Peveteaux

    It’s always struck that me that weddings are a massive distraction from the actual coupling.

    But the bigger issue here is a national media outlet perpetuating this idea that everyone (every woman) is desperate to get married. I haven’t found that in my social circle so much. And when I was in my 20s, even less so. Who are these husband-hunting throw backs?

  4. Caitlin Kelly

    April, I think it’s linked to the economy. Maybe not, but I think it’s inevitable that – as so many of us are scared to death about finding/getting/keeping a job or getting out of debt or student loan debt, we feel so unanchored. Ten or even 3 or 4 years ago, we had jobs. We thought we might have them for a while. That gave many women a solid identity and sense of pride and accomplishment. (Still does, for many, of course.)

    I am not so sure people are desperate to marry. I suspect many are desperate for security (in any form) in a time of chaos and confusion. I wouldn’t find it especially amusing to be single and dating in these times, although I enjoyed the hell out of of my single 20s.

    I think anything that focuses attention on false dramas like these keeps us all nicely distracted from less amusing stuff like a lousy economy.

    April, the women happy to be single — are they in NYC? 🙂

  5. Pingback: Making Sense of the Proposal Decision | The Luv Biz

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