Does Marriage Matter?
Steve and Nikki have lived together for two years and have a 1-year-old son. They're not married, but they're feeling the pressure to tie the knot from all directions. What's standing in their way? One of them would love to get married, but the other feels that they don't need a piece of paper to show their commitment. Think you know who's taking which side? Think again!
Nikki is perfectly happy with the current state of their relationship and believes that they don't need a piece of paper to show their commitment. Her boyfriend takes the opposite view. "When Nikki says that a marriage license is just a piece of paper, I don't think that's true at all," Steve says. "There's a lot more to it. You're actually committing to that person for the rest of your life."
"Most people assume it's the man who doesn't want to get married," Rachael says. She brings in Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, to shed some light on their unusual situation and on society's views toward marriage today.
"Young people don't feel that requirement these days to get married," Deborah says. "My two sisters married at 19 and 20, and when I was 21 my mother was pulling her hair out! You don't see that today. Some people might feel it means more that you stay together and aren't married. Today, couples are looking at each other as best friends, as soul mates. Whereas before, marriage was just about an arrangement where he had to work and pay the bills, and she needed to get married, because if she didn't, she was on the shelf, she was an old maid."
In general, the pressure on couples to get married might not be as great as it used to be, but Nikki admits that they still get asked all the time by friends and family.
"All of our friends are getting married now," she says, "and they're like, 'Well, you have a child, so why aren't you getting married?' I'm like, we already have everything so all we have to do is walk down the aisle, but we're choosing not to." Steve also feels the pressure. "I come from a conservative family," he says. "My parents have been married 30 plus years. Both of my brothers are married with families, so I'm the one that gets looked at as the oddball: 'Why aren't you getting married'?"
Deborah says, "I think what's important is to know each of your reasons and to make sure you're not making interpretations that might not be the reason. If it's the guy who doesn't want to get married, there's always the fear he's afraid of commitment. And if it's the woman who doesn't want to get married, then the fear is maybe she doesn't think that he's the one, because everybody thinks obviously she's going to want to get married."
Deborah acknowledges that Steve and Nikki have done a good job communicating their feelings to each other, and suggests there might be another reason behind Nikki's hesitance. "Women are often the ones who feel that they're going to lose control if they're married," Deborah says, "that there are expectations of how you're supposed to be as a wife. Maybe you're supposed to be responsible for the home, for the cooking. Many of us women fear that's going to come more into play if that label is there."
Rachael asks Nikki if she feels that way. "I do wonder sometimes if I just don't want that label as 'The Wife,'" she admits. "I always wanted that label as 'The Mom,' taking care of my son. But now it's like, do I want to take that label of 'The Wife?' so maybe there is a little bit of that fear there. I know nothing is going to change if I do choose to become a wife, but I don't know if I want to be called 'The Wife.'"
Since Steve would love to have Nikki as his wife someday, is there any solution to their marriage dilemma? "Once every three months, once every six months, have a conversation about it," Deborah suggests. "What it all comes down to is what it means to you and what you feel it says about your feelings for each other." Rachael sums it up, "Does marriage matter? If it matters to you."
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