Is Traditional Marriage On Its Last Legs?

marriage alternatives

This is the first conversation I can remember having about my aversion to marriage: I'm in high school - either eleventh or twelfth grade, I can't remember which - and I'm in the laundry room in the basement of my house, talking with my mother.

She's folding something. Brown bath towels, I think. Anyway, the two of us are chatting amicably, as we often do while she's making her daily housekeeping rounds, and somehow we end up on the topic of marriage. "I am absolutely never going to get married," I tell her. "I can't even imagine why I would want to."

I'm not sure if my mom looks me square in the eyes at this point in the story, or if she focuses on the laundry and gives the brown towel a good shake. But I do remember what she says. She says, "You'll change your mind." She says, "At some point, you'll start to think about it differently."

If you really want to understand this story, however, it's critical to also understand the tone of voice my mother uses while delivering that prediction. She doesn't say it with the condescending tone parents often use while discussing grown-up topics with teenagers. She simply... says it.

It's almost as if she's empathizing with me - maybe because she knows exactly how I feel. Maybe she's felt the same way herself at some point in the past? Or maybe it's simpler than that - maybe she can hear the sincerity in my voice. Maybe the only reason she says what she does is because from her point of view, it's the responsible thing to say – the parental thing. I don't know.

What I do know is that for as long as I can remember, I've had a philosophical aversion to the concept of traditional marriage. It has always seemed so wrongheaded to me.

But when I think about the way my mind worked 15 years ago, back when I was still in high school and not yet on anti-anxiety meds, I realize that it probably wasn't so much the actual concept of marriage itself that rubbed me the wrong way. Rather, it was the style in which so many American couples practice their marriages: with constant arguments, with disdain and loathing, and with cheating and lies.

And do you know what? I'm now smack-dab in my mid-thirties, and I still feel exactly the same way.

I've been involved in an open relationship with my girlfriend for about two years now. But hang on - before you whip yourself into a wild frenzy of anger and finger-pointing, let me first say that our arrangement is not even close to the type of hedonistic, over-the-top open relationship that most people probably fantasize about.

One fact I will happily concede to, however, is that when compared to a commonplace, monogamous dating situation, ours is certainly is non-traditional. To wit: My girlfriend and I both occasionally see other women.

Back when we first started dating, in fact, my girlfriend was living with another man. This was a man she had been dating for six years, and with whom she also had an open relationship.

At any rate, the two of us had been dating for about six months when it became glaringly obvious that our relationship was much more than just a series of meaningless flings. In other words: Without actually intending to, we had fallen in love with each other. And that was when things got even more interesting than they already were.

At first, we made the same dumb jokes every young couple in love likes to pretend they came up with: We laughed about how funny it would be to get married, just as an excuse to score free gifts. To us, this was considerably funnier than it might be to most people, because Carrie Ann - my girlfriend - doesn't believe in the institution of marriage any more than I do. And incidentally, neither one of us intends to have children.

One night a few months back, neither one of us could seem to fall asleep, so we appeased ourselves by making ice cream sundaes and watching bad cable. We ended up stumbling upon some goofball who was speaking about the myriad joys of his "Life Partnership" - he was talking about his relationship - and because we were in a particularly goofy mood and had the giggles, we both immediately broke out into howls of laughter.

Carrie Ann and I are big fans of in-jokes, so after that night, we naturally began referring to each other as "life partners”. We even dreamt up the idea of organizing a "Life Partner Ceremony". This was an idea we found especially hilarious. (We tend to take our in-jokes a little too far - especially the bad ones.) At any rate, the concept behind the Life Partner Ceremony was this: If Carrie Ann and I ever decided to spend the remainder of our lives together, we wouldn't actually have to go through with the process of becoming legally wed.

Instead, we would simply gather together our families and best friends in a small ceremony, and then proclaim to them our intention to live together – forever - in cohabiting bliss. As life partners, of course. We were already fantasizing about the toaster ovens, and the gift registries at Crate & Barrel, and Pottery Barn, and Pier One...

And then over time, the jokes about getting "fake married”, as we called it, and about living together forever, started to become less and less funny. Eventually we decided it might actually be, you know... nice to make a public commitment to each other, and to share that moment with our families and close friends. And after all, by that point we had both managed to admit to each other our respective desires to stay together forever.

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And yet neither Carrie Ann's opinion about traditional marriage, nor mine, had changed one bit: We still weren't interested. Nor were we interested in having a ceremony