Thursday, May 25, 2006

Please please please let your thoughts

I know the LDS (Mormon) perspective on this question, but I'm interested in another point of view.

Do you think getting married is nothing more than a piece of paper?

I'm interested to know.


Stacy said...

I am coming from the Mormon perspective, so of course for me it means a lot more than a piece of paper. I often think about it from other perspectives and wonder why I would want to get married if I wasn't Mormon. Now days, most people think that it is really only good for a big wedding party, health benefits, tax credits, and making sure that you and your kids have the same last name.

Anonymous said...

What a complicated question...I'll share my perspective. I've been married for 10 years, I am not Mormon. My wife and I bought a house together and lived together for about 6 months before we got married, though we were already engaged at the time, and had dated off and on for many years. We recently (just over a year ago) had our first child. We've come very close to divorce at least twice, once very early in our marriage, and then again a few years ago. I'm thankful our marriage has survived the hardships we've inflicted on it.

The commitment level associated with marriage depends nearly entirely on the people involved. Marriage is defined by peoples' religious beliefs, prior relationship experiences, and their societal and familial models. Very few people know or care about the "legal" definition of their marriage, at least not until they try to end it. In truth, many contracts are much more legally binding than marriage (i.e. Buying a house together). Most people, however, would probably consider marriage a bigger commitment.

Children can also drastically impact commitment levels. My youngest brother is forever tied to his girlfriend because they have a child together, though they aren't married. My other brother has been married for 5 years, but since they don't have a child together, he could probably break completely free of that relationship easier. My bond to my wife is stronger now that we have a child together. I now see her, not just as my wife and partner in life, but also as my daughter's mother and my partner in raising her (and I will be forever grateful to her for giving us our daughter). The last parts would remain true, even if our marriage failed.

So I guess the simple answer is yes, it's always more than a piece of paper. It's at the very least a binding contract with certain legal requirements for its dissolution. Once there are children involved though, it's a lifelong commitment (even if you're not technically marrried and even if you end up living apart and rarely talking to each other).

Religion can certainly introduce other requirements or expectations onto a marriage (some of them good, some of them not so good, IMO). But, religion is not nearly the only source of feelings of commitment. Nor is marriage necessarily a prerequisite for life-long commitment.

Even in this cynical world in which we live, I doubt many people (even non-Mormons) get married for big parties, health benefits, tax credits, or just to make sure their kids will have the same last name. My dad is considering getting married again, to a woman he has lived with for several years, and dated for about 10. His reasons do have something to do with health benefits, but I'm sure he wouldn't even consider it if he didn't already have a deep and lasting commitment to the woman. In fact the primary reason I've heard him give for not getting married a second time is that he feels as though his religion only recognizes one marriage (he was raised Baptist). He's been divorced for 22 years, he was married the first time for 14 years.

Wow, I'm long-winded!


Wide Lawns Subservient Worker said...

Im mostly Jewish so I come from a culture big on marriage. It is a lot more than a piece of paper. The people who say thats all it is are cynical and stupid. But the real reasons I am commenting are because I love the post about how you love comments from strangers and that complete strangers, like me, are interested in your thoughts. Now how wierd is this - my husband went to the same high school as the ear doctor and then continued on to go to school in Boulder. Maybe they know each other!

k said...

Personally, certainly not (and not because of a religious perspective), although sadly, I think that is becoming more of a universal take on it. My perspective comes from seeing my parents and grandparents in loving, committed marriages and being raised to expect (and work towards) that when I get married.

Anonymous said...

What makes you think it's becoming a universal take on it?

Eddie said...

Religion aside, it is more than a piece of paper. It is a public profession of lasting commitment to one another. I believe that marriage is more than between a man and a woman... it is a contract between a man, a woman and society.

Then again, I'm idealistic.

Courtney said...

Are you serious??? Are there really people out there who believe what Stacy said above?

"I often think about it from other perspectives and wonder why I would want to get married if I wasn't Mormon. Now days, most people think that it is really only good for a big wedding party, health benefits, tax credits, and making sure that you and your kids have the same last name."

I'm sorry, but that is quite possibly the most closed minded, ignorant, thing I have ever read. To assume that only Mormons get married for reasons other than the big wedding and the tax breaks absoltely BLOWS MY MIND! Has Stacy ever met a non-Mormon?

To assume *ANYONE* (aside from a VERY STRANGE and SERIOUSLY MESSED UP minority) gets married for a party and health benefits is beyond ridiculous. And I'm from California ... so if people were doing that... they'd be doing it here.

I have mormon friends, I have buddist friends, I have catholic friends, I have jewish friends, I have luthern friends, I have agnostic friends, I have atheist friends, I have friends who really aren't religious at all (me included - although I do believe in God.) Not a single one of them believes, EVEN FOR A MICROSECOND, that marriage is about the things that Stacy mentioned or about "Just a Piece of Paper".

Marriage is about making a 100%commitment to someone. Openly, publicly, in front friends, family, and God. It's about promising to love someone for the rest of your life (or in the case of Mormons, for eternity). Promising to be there, to take care of each other, to make a effort when things get crappy. It's a way of telling the whole world "Hey look! I found my soul mate!!! And this person makes me happier than I have ever been or ever thought I could be." It is a way to express an entirely different level of love than you have ever felt before. It's like I LOVE YOU to the 10-millionth power. It's everything.

Marriage is promise, a promise that means something. Really truely means something.

The piece of paper itself is trival... It's the piece of paper means tax breaks and health care... but the marriage means SO MUCH MORE!

It breaks my heart to think that there is anyone on this planet who feels differently.

But maybe I'm the hopeless romantic.

(And sorry to go off on Stacy - she just REALLY shocked me and got under my skin.)

Anonymous said...

It's not uncommon for any given religion to think that they have a monopoly on the truth. It's a very dangerous thing. Tread carefully!

brittany said...

I think there are very few people who really believe that marriage is just a piece of paper.

My students are always trying to get me married off, and talking about getting married themselves in the future. (Although they have kind of a naive view of it all, it's still something they're looking forward to and apparently want for me, at least.)

I think the problem is not so much that marriage is seen as worthless, but that fewer people are really willing to stick it out, regardless of how hard it gets. But if my students are any indication of America's future, I'd say things are looking good.

Anonymous said...

As more and more of us come from divorced families, it gets harder and harder to make it last. This leads to more divorces, making it even harder for our children. My parents got divorced when I was 11, and I swore I would never follow in their footsteps. I had a very romantic view of marriage, similar to the one that Courtney talks about above. I dated my wife for many years before I got married, and I was always so high when I was near her. We were so in love, I was sure she was the one, and that our married life would be bliss. My parents must've just not been right for each other, I told myself.

10 years later, I'm still sure she's the one and I know I did, in fact, find my soul mate. But there have been times when I've wondered if finding your soul mate is enough. Life together is not always bliss. I'm not always on a high when I'm around her. She's suffered some of the same disillusionment. She also came from a divorced home (though here parents didn't divorce until she was off at college), and had built a kind of fairly tale idea around marriage. But, when you live together, and are together much more often than when you were dating, you can't be on a high all the time. Sometimes you're in a bad mood, sometimes you're sick, sometimes you're angry, sometimes you can't stand the sight of your mate. Fairy tales, movies, etc... don't really teach you how to deal with these lows, not to mention how to deal with real tragedy. And if you come from a broken home, where are your models? Your model says that when things get bad, somebody leaves.

My marriage has survived some very difficult times. I have great confidence that we'll make it all the way, but I'm no longer naive about what it takes. It takes work, sometimes constant work. There are times you ask yourself, should it really be this hard? Being in love with someone does not mean that you can live with them. Love does not conquer all, or at least it's not as simple as that. Work, faith, communication, trust, etc.. can conquer all, and that sometimes requires great depths of strength and commitment. Love is the source of that strength and commitment. But love is passive, the action is up to you. If you don't act, you will get overwhelmed, and you will likely fail.

I love my wife more now than I did when I married her, but it is a different kind of love than what I originally felt, and it took time (and maybe surviving adversity) for that deeper love and respect to develop. I've spoken to people who have successful long-term marriages, and the universal message is that all marriages suffer, and all take work. Even marriages that look trouble-free, aren't, at least not on the long term. You cannot judge a marriage by how it looks from the outsie, you have to be on the inside to know what it's really like.

I don't want to paint the picture that marriage is always hard, it isn't. And the rewards are worth the price of admission, though you sometimes do lose sight of that fact. Many of us lack realistic models of successful marriages. I hope to give my children a model that will help them succeed.


Edge said...

Yes, marriage is more than a piece of paper and always will be. I often wonder before paper, seriously, how people got married. I've always assumed they committed to stay together. And that's what marriage is a committment and not a contract.

I didn't read what others have said about marriage on purpose because I wanted to give my own opinion.

Marriage is a great thing and very different from what I thought it would be when I was single.

It's deeper than any contractual partnership. You do things not out of obligation but out of love.

Marriage is everything it's cracked up to be, and way more than you could have bargained for or expected, both bad and good. I know, I've lived it.

At a friend's wedding it was once said, "Love [by definition] is meeting needs," and I believe marriage is the ultimate expression of that.

I do know we differ on the after death definition of marriage as I believe our love for Christ will be so great there will be no need for marriage. All our needs will be met by Him.

My question to you is, why do you ask?


Edge said...

Now that I've read some of the comments, I'm a little ticked at Stacy's comment. Ummm, ya, people have been getting married long before there was a "Mormon" religion. Her statements imply the rest of the world is hedonistic. Hmm, maybe we should give Stacy a chance to respond on this one.

But I will say if Stacy wants to place me in a category with a group of people I don't fit in then Stacy needs to meet me and have a conversation on the subject of why I got married before she stereotypes me.


Heather said...

Now it seems like stacey bashing on here. I'm sure she has her reasons for why that is her perspective. I'm LDS too though, and that would never be my perspective. Perhaps this is because I have family that is not LDS? I would never think my "non-mormon" uncles married their wives because of health benefits or anything silly like that. They love their wives, they work hard to keep their marriage a happy and strong marriage, and they knew that was what they were getting into when they decided on it.
I think part of stacy's perspective may be coming from the media. If you watch too much you'll begin to think the majority of people are selfish and do get married only for selfish reasons.
I think the only person out there who may think marriage is just a piece of paper is Britney Spears, due to that 24 hour marriage she had a while back. But, maybe she doesn't even look at it like that...
So, yeah. Mormons definitely aren't the only ones who want to get married and view marriage as more than a piece of paper.

Cory P said...

As a reform Jew, I have to agree with most of the comments above. I'd characterize marriage as a committment of love. I have nothing more to add, really.

But, I am concerned about the question. "Nothing more than a piece of paper" implies that there is no reason to/not to get married. With the rare exception of convenience marriages (taxes, citizenship, or whatever reason...), there has to be a basis for a marriage. A legal and religious commitment requires an investment to begin and to continue. That investment is, in itself, more than a piece of paper alone.

From a different view, the original question might be asking about the value of marriage throughout the life span. When the committment fails, and the investment is no longer worthwhile, is the marriage just a piece of paper? And the answer, in my view, is yes. A marriage without committment, love, and investment is a legal union on paper. Much like a house is a "home" when people reside there and consider it home, a union is a "marriage" when the commitment and love is present.

JenLo said...

Ok, I'm an evangelical Christian, and although I think Stacy might be a little jaded, perhaps her point is that people don't take the vow and commitment seriously--so if it works out, it's all the romantic ideal associated with it, but if it doesn't work out, it becomes just a piece of paper so they can live with their decision to dissolve the marriage (similar to the way if a woman wants to get pregnant, it's a baby, and if she doesn't, it's not a baby yet so she won't feel guilty if she wants to abort.

My personal beleifs, as a non-Mormon are that marriage is a lifetime commitment, a vow that is not to be broken and because of my faith, I have a strong motivation to work it out even if/when it gets tough. I've been married 17 years, and you don't just get to un-promise, un-vow, or un-decide that you don't want to get married anymore. The piece of paper just tells everybody else what you told each other you were going to do when you decided together to begin a family together.

The problem is, people do it anyway.

Anonymous said...

Another belated comment. The comments have come down on the side of traditional marriage, as do I. Every culture and society has recognized the unique relationship of family and codified and set protections around it. Over the last several years, however, I have had to deal with a number of "just a piece of paper" folks and I think a look at their reasoning might be helpful.
There is a large "post-hippie" subculture that eschews comformity with many laws, including marriage. For many, having a child is seen as a less scarry committment than marriage. Unfortuantely, many do have children that never know a stable family. The "loss of personal freedom" is often sited as the reason to not marry.
There are a surprising number of older people who choose not to marry to continue receiving spousal support or survior benfits or to protect an inheritance for their children. Marriage would mean a decease in income.
Another group chooses relationships and lifestyles that fall outside the traditional definition of marriage. They would like the world to accommodate them so that they CAN enjoy the legal benefits of marriage without conforming to its requirements.
Each group would give a different reason to justify their wish to enjoy the benefits and pleasures of marriage while avoiding the committments and legal requirements. When stipped down, each group holds some personal desire more important than commitment to another person in marriage. The "piece of paper" crowd is a selfish one from my viewpoint.