Monday, December 11, 2006

I Don't

First thing today, Annie sent me a link to the marriage discussion on Jewcy. Annie and I periodically discuss marriage, being both of marriageable age if not of marriageable inclination and both having recently ended “marriage bound” relationships. Please note the quotation marks around “marriage bound.” They are not there for show, but to highlight that our relationships were labeled “marriage bound” by others, but not necessarily with our consent. Regarding the Jewcy discussion, Eliza Albert is now my hero.

As you all know, I went to a certain seminary. At this seminary, people pair up like animals on Noah’s Ark and there’s a presumption that you will graduate and marry. Last summer, I had the honor of attending several beautiful weddings that resulted from this process, all of which I whole-heartedly support. I am not against marriage; I just don’t wish to opt into the institution. It’s like Christmas: I get it, it seems fun, but it’s just not for me, thanks. And don’t get me wrong, I think marriage is an exquisite institution for those who chose it. My father’s been “blessed twice” and he and my mother are passionately and unfalteringly committed to one another. I also have two siblings who are married and thrilled every day to awake next to their life partner.

I am not the marrying type. I have removed myself from the trajectory (datingà boyfriend/girlfriendà engagedà married). Not to say that no one would want to marry me. In fact, this weekend I discussed my views on relationships with the Pretty Boy, who followed up his agreement with me on all points with a request for my hand in marriage. Luckily (for him), he was joking; I was not amused. I am relatively humorless about marriage because my humor has been exhausted by the endless barrage of “Marry her, already!” and “Look at all the great stuff you’ll get, if you two get married!” (actual quotes from actual people.)

The incessant questioning irks me. If you are not in a relationship, the question is to “When are you going to find a nice Jewish boy?” If you are in a relationship, the question becomes, “When are you guys going to make it official?” or the more insidious, “Are you next?” (I had no idea there was a line). To add insult to injury was the presumption that I remained unengaged because my boyfriend would not propose, not because I did not want to get married. The idea that I would choose, consciously, to say that I don’t want to marry (certainly not now) was unfathomable. Not Chosen posted a hilarious discussion that he had with the Manwhore about marriage, which underscores my aversion. Some woman will unwittingly marry the Manwhore one day and to what end? Babies? Health insurance? Perish the thought.

Nearly two months ago, the Failed Messiah wrote an excellent and incisive post called “Sex and the Single BT,” about struggling with his sexuality through the process of engagement and disengagement with the traditionally observant community. We’ll save my diatribe on sexual restriction for another time, but I call your attention to this post because of the discussion that follows. Bayit Bourne and Treifalicious both posted comments, in which they equate living together without the benefit of marriage as concubanage, to the benefit of the man and the detriment to the woman. Bayit Bourne argues that women should marry in our teens, as those are peak procreating years. The purpose of marriage is not life partnership, but procreation. Given that I have no intention to procreate (yes, again, I know that I am young and may change my mind, but I can only act on what I know about myself now, ok?), does this argument mean that I can feel free to give myself over to concubinage? That I can give away the milk? Ugh. I hate being described as a commodity, don’t you?

Lastly, I reviewed this issue with Maverick (aka, BRP), who elucidated her view on the issue for me:

I have no problem with marriage as a religious institution, unrelated to any legal civil commitment; however, marriage as a religious institution within the legal civil framework is a misplacement of values. If I want to spend the rest of my life with my best friend Maxine, she and I should be able to commit to one another, with the legal benefits that come along with that. We can then have a huge discussion about our lack of universal health care and the [mishegas] surrounding our tax system, and the fact that some of the issues regarding marriage as a legal institution would be null and void if our health care and tax system were correctly set up. As far as marriage itself, should someone wish to enter a "lifelong" commitment (in quotes because of the high divorce rate, suggesting that the oath of lifelong partner is not taken all that seriously) with their partner, more power to them, but I do not think it is mandatory in the "coming of age" process. And then we could talk about the pressure to have children: a whole different, and wholly linked, story, since so many members of our society think marriage is the union meant to bring the sinful act of sex into a slightly more holy union, with the express purpose of creating more children.

The purpose of this post is not to degrade the institution nor to suggest that it is not beneficial to many people, emotionally, socially, legally. Rather, I hope to question the unerring faith we have in this institution, the path we follow heedlessly. Before we presume that marriage is in store for us, let us question if we want to marry and why. Then, with open minds and full hearts, get that blood test, sign that ketubah, walk down that aisle.


AnnieGetYour said...

Just for clarification purposes. I do want to get married one day. Just not tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shout out...

The Manwhore was afraid no one was paying attention to him today.

Anonymous said...

As an individual who can now be described as a “domestic partner” with my partner, I whole heartedly agree with EVERYTHING you are saying.

Over the years, it has become clear that in every walk of Jewish life the point is not to simply exist and show up to shul or your congregation or your minyan of choice- see look at me reaching out- to pray, learn, eat and have a good time. But it was to shack-on up and pop out some yiddisha kinderlach. While I do want to get married and have little pissed off liberal Jews, I am no hurry and am very happy with my concubine-like situation.

Makin’ me think and it is Tuesday. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

More power to you Harley. The incessant questioning irks me as well. At first I just thought it was amusing. But I no longer think so. I have yet to find a good way to handle it. I think I have tried pretty much everything: responding with humor; totally ignoring it; smiling and nodding etc. Other suggestions are certainly welcome.

Anonymous said...

Rather, I hope to question the unerring faith we have in this institution, the path we follow heedlessly.

In this, I agree with you fully.

Before we presume that marriage is in store for us, let us question if we want to marry and why.

This is where I'm not as sure if I agree with you. You also said:

I am not against marriage; I just don’t wish to opt into the institution.

In both cases, I think you're putting the cart before the horse - I think you may be making the opposite mistake that so many who are looking to get married are making.

How can a person reasonably discuss marriage in a vacuum? If you're having a sociological discussion, perhaps it makes sense to make sweeping generalizations and debate ideals - but in the specific and personal?

I get frustrated whenever I hear someone say "I just want to get married already." To who? The Tooth Fairy? An Imaginary Friend? I get concerned when people elevate the institution above the particular - when people are so focused on getting married they forget how relevant and essential it is to find someone with which they actually want to be married. They become more likely to rush into things. (This is also why unrelenting familial and communal pressure also pisses me off: when they say "get married", don't they realize that their pressure could potentially push someone to commit to a bad relationship?)

There are three ways to respond to pressure: 1) To succumb to it, 2) To fight it by pushing in the opposite direction, 3) To try to make it irrelevant. Only the third approach truly liberates a person.

I guess what I'm saying is... there's no point in proclaiming "I will never get married". If you meet someone to whom you want to get married, then don't stick to abstract principles - marry them! And if you don't meet someone to whom you want to be married, then don't get married, no matter how much friends pressure and relatives push.

Or maybe I'm just being naive in thinking things can be that simple.

harley said...


I think I clarified that I did not intend to "never marry" as a sweeping blanket statement. Nor am I arguing in a vacuum. I was in a relationship for a very long time that I thought was for life and still did not want to marry. For me, I think I would marry if I wanted the legal protections or decided to have children and wanted them to have the legal benefits of married parents. Otherwise, I am in favor of committing yourself for life to one person, but I'm still unsure if marriage as an institution is one in which I care to engage. I don't see it as a de facto good nor am I convinced that being married benefits a relationship (beyond the aforementioned legal benefits). Socially, I recognize that marriage has a legitimizing effect on a relationship, but I am not sure that's a compelling enough argument. I don't think marriage is an end in and of itself. I totally agree that the issue of whether to marry cannot be discussed in a vacuum, but we can discuss the positives and negatives of marriage as a social institution.

Anonymous said...

I'm still unsure if marriage as an institution is one in which I care to engage. I don't see it as a de facto good nor am I convinced that being married benefits a relationship

You're asking the question "does marriage benefit a relationship?"

My answer still could be "that depends on the relationship." I wasn't trying to argue that just because you meet someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, that means you should marry them. I think questioning the institution is worthwhile - and I couldn't agree more that we shouldn't just accept it as a de facto good. It's drawing conclusions in a vacuum that's problematic.


harley said...

Understood and agreed.

Anonymous said...

jt- have you tried making up a girlfriend in "Canada"? Or just popping them in the face next time they ask? Both work well for me. And they never ask follow up questions about "Canada"