Friday, September 21, 2007

Stamped and Approved

I once had a soulful and spiritual accounting professor. You read that right, a soulful, spiritual accounting professor. He was definitely one of my favorite teachers out of my college career. He was fond of posting a profound quote on the chalkboard, every class, before we got to the dirty work of preparing statements. He was cleansing our cranial palates.

One morning he posted a quote that read something along the lines that people shouldn't be putting their faith into institutions, lest they find themselves disappointed (...I have googled all morning and I cannot find it exactly).

I asked the professor, being one of the few married students in the class, that if marriage is an institution, should I not have faith in my marriage? It was my habit to sit in the front row of all of my classes and that made any of my questions difficult to ignore. That's why I got A's people.

He smiled and replied, "Have faith in your husband."

That was one of many lessons I've had over the years that marriage is not it's own separate entity. It's a private entity, it's an individual entity. It is not in itself the cause of happiness or despair. Like water, it only takes on the shape of the container it's in.

Throughout the years of my many interactions on the interwebs with people from all walks of life I was again recently presented with the ever pervasive notion that marriage is just a piece of paper and therefore it doesn't mean a thing. That, if they avoid marriage, they will also avoid a painful future. Why get married when the divorce rate is that mythical 50%?

The piece of paper argument bothers me. It's wussy. Hell, I don't care if you get married, or don't get married, just don't tell me that marriage is an institution beyond your responsibility or input. You aren't marrying marriage. You are marrying a real live person with individual interests, goals, values, habits and history. You are marrying a person who will fart in bed and gleefully pull the sheet over your head.

Pieces of paper? Yeah, I don't need those either! You can have the twenty dollar bill in my wallet, don't mean nothin'. Have the credit cards too. Take the deed to my house and my car. Birth certificate? Take it. Here are my bank statements and bills and checkbook and W-2s. Have my coupons. Take the library card and the card that guarantees my kid a free cookie every time we visit the bakery in the grocery store too. All pieces of paper that I shouldn't need!

We live our lives by media. We thrive in mounds of paper that grant us stuff. Don't single out one piece of paper and declare it meaningless out of questionable self serving least not while you have a wallet in your purse or back pocket.

Wait, give me that cookie paper back. I really do need that!


  1. I ask these kind of people why they don't go ahead and get "the piece of paper" if it really is no big deal to them. What's it gonna hurt?

    I even lost a couple of boyfriends that way.

  2. That is a good, thoughtful post. I suppose that the condition of being officially married isn't as necessary today as it was a number of years ago, but I still feel it is important. Especially if there are going to be children from the couple. And there are some definite income tax advantages as well as being able to legally represent the other party if they become incapacitated, even temporarily.

    But I also know some seniors in my age range who live together but do not choose to marry because one of them, almost always the lady, will loose her retirement survivor benefit that she and her original husband worked so long for. It isn't right that she should loose those. I sure can understand not remarrying if they will loose them.

  3. Yup Dick, I was going to mention that scenario. It's becoming fairly common for the boom generation and it's perfectly understandable.

  4. I think marriage—a partnership in which you promise to do right by each other, and in return, society grants certain pragmatic advantages—is a lovely institution. It can be done poorly, but so can anything. Just because some schools are ineffective or some businesses are crooked, it doesn't mean the basic concept isn't a sound one.

    I am grateful to be in a good marriage, and it makes me sad that my non-heterosexual friends can't take advantage of the same thing. Sure, they can love each other and support each other for the rest of their lives. But they have to pay legal fees to adopt a child born to a partner, even if the baby was planned from day 1 as their child. They have to pay income tax on domestic-partner health insurance benefits. They have no rights of inheritance or health-care proxy unless they draw up legal papers, whereas a married man and woman get those rights automatically. I have a friend who's in a same-sex marriage in Massachusetts; their marriage isn't valid in other states, and federal law prohibits any federal spousal benefits.

    The only argument against marriage that I truly respect is this one: "We won't reap the advantages of marriage until our gay and lesbian friends have the right to do so, too."

  5. I agree that the institution of marriage is only as meaningful as the two people in it make it, and it appears to be a reflection of the trends of our society in the high divorce rates.

    Why don't those people be honest and say they don't trust themselves and their partner to be there for them always? That's really what they're meaning when they refuse to get married to "avoid a painful future."

    I prefer to trust and have faith.

  6. Amen. I have always stated that those who don't want to get married are generally those who are too lazy to follow the boundaries that will invariably come after and are waiting for a quick, relatively painless, and cheaper exit.


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