More on Marriage.

Way back before he started cashing them Atlantic Monthly checks, TNC said on his blog that one day he would explain why he and Kenyatta, his long-time companion and the mother of his children, had never married. Today, finally, he told the story of why he and Kenyatta decided not to tie the knot when they found out they were having a their son, and why that choice doesn’t cancel out his support for gay marriages. It’s thoughtful and honest, as usual. 

As soon as we started telling people, the first question we got was, “Are you getting married?” Now, if you talk to Kenyatta, she has been a feminist since the day she learned to read, and she never put much of a premium on marriage. Still, up until then, neither of us were opposed to the idea. We just didn’t think we needed it. But the constant questioning put us in a place where we were able to ask why. Why did people think we should get married? What did that have to do with pregnancy? We both knew we were committed to the life of the child. But we did we think about each other? Truthfully, I don’t think we thought much past the child. We’d been friends for two years before we started dating. I knew Kenyatta would be a great mother. I knew we wanted the same things for our kid. What else was there?

Well, a lot, actually. The marriage convo brought out quite a bit. As much as I can recall, there were basically three reasons for us to get married. 1.) I might leave. Marriage would force me to do the right thing. 2.) To declare our commitment to each other before a community of people whom we loved. 3.) The business reasons–the legalities of your estate and guardianship. I found–and still find–the first two reasons were utterly unconvincing. The third held some sway, but with the help of a lawyer we’ve managed to take care of that. The first turned marriage into a kind of insurance policy, and I just believed that if you felt you needed insurance for the person you were having kids by to stick out, you needed to reconsider the whole proposition. The commitment and community reason held some appeal. But I believed, and still believe, that long-term romantic partnerships are between the two people entering into it. 

Go read the whole thing.

12 thoughts on “More on Marriage.

  1. universeexpanding November 18, 2008 at 7:28 pm Reply

    TNC’s whole stance on this makes intuitive sense to me. I think a lot of the pressure to get married is social, assuming you live a secular lifestyle. If your life is informed by your faith and marriage has important ceremonial value to you then, by all means, so what makes you happy. I think TNC is right in saying that what happens when no-one is looking is what makes your relationship *yours*. Staying true to that shouldn’t change depending on what kind of piece of paper you have to back it up. Of course there is any number of options that two people can have, but if you wake up everyday and choose each other…well that’s it right there. The rest is superfluous show imo.

    The only thing that would give me pause, like some of TNC’s readers, are the legal implications. True, he has said that between himself, Kenyatta and lawyers they have sorted out all the relevant issues concerning custody of their kids, parental rights, power of attorney etc. I don’t know if it’s just that I have watched too man episodes of Law and Order or heard too many horror stories about stuff getting overturned in court that seemed *ironclad* but I would be worried. I know this is speaking from the position of an extreme but let’s say you had an issue of brain death like in the Terry Shaivo case, and you wanted one thing for your partner and their family wanted another? Could that go to court and get ugly because you weren’t that person’s “spouse”? Probably. I’m also thinking about this from the perspective of being an immigrant. Of my 26 years 15 have been spent in countries that I held no passport for. All things remaining equal there is a good chance that I will end up with a mate who is not from my country, or settling in a country where I am not currently a citizen. Marriage for me would be one way of clarifying my status where that is concerned, for my safety and that of my children should I have any. I’m agnostic, but I think I’d have to at least do a quick trip down to JoP to put my mind at ease.

  2. universeexpanding November 18, 2008 at 7:49 pm Reply

    This just came to me:
    Reason 1: “Marriage as contract” has been bothersome to me for a long time.

    I live in the Caribbean and we stay with that “well at least you have the ring” nonsense. Like it’s some sort of insurance policy. You have people waving these rings around as talismans against spouses who flagrantly cheat or who are abusive. To me that’s a dirty sham of a relationship. My parents were married for 18 years and it ended in an ugly divorce. I have had 3 serious relationships with men whose parents are all still married, none of whom have a relationship with their father. Two had dads who were prolific philanderers and they “stayed for the kids” the other has a father who simply isn’t emotionally present – he used to describe his dad as having a presence in the house tantamount to furniture. Some of the readers of TNC’s blog argued that schoolyard politics might make life difficult for the child with parents who aren’t married, but I can vouch that having married parents doesn’t necessarily make for an “easier” life either. I know none of those past SO’s of mine credit their parents’ long unhappy marriages with any of their successes.

  3. shani-o November 18, 2008 at 8:46 pm Reply

    UE- I had the same intuitive reaction you did.

    I have weird, unresolved, feelings about marriage… but eh, that’s another thread.

    In a societal context, I think a premium is placed on marriage, despite all the signs pointing to marriage being only as strong as the two people who enter into it.

    And wow, some of the comments on Ta-Nehisi’s post were a bit much.

  4. universeexpanding November 18, 2008 at 9:04 pm Reply

    Shani: GD and I were marvelling at that. How he laid out this wonderful thought-provoking and honest piece and all some people could come up with in response was “But are you SURE you don’t wanna get married?”

  5. glory November 18, 2008 at 11:38 pm Reply

    I think most of the naysayer comments at TNC’s page were more about the commenters’ thoughts for their own lives – not for his and his partner’s. Families differ so much, and have for so long, that it always makes me wonder why people seem confused when they see a family different from theirs.

  6. Ralph H. Manningfield November 18, 2008 at 11:59 pm Reply

    Although I am married, I always thought of a wedding as no more than a press conference to show folks how much you’re in love. I really agree with TNC about the whole vain spectacle bit.

    As a stubborn contrarian I had been against marriage for the better part of my adult life. Matter-of-fact I vehemently fought with my wife, then fiancée, whenever she would broach the subject. I even went so far as getting her name tattooed across my chest in hopes that that would express my undying love for her more than signing a few papers and buying an expensive ring that to-this-day I am still paying off! 🙂 But it was to no avail, I was forced to compromise. We’re married, but at least she let me keep my I still have my nihilism! Well, it’s in her purse, but I get to play with it every now and then, along with my dignity….I kid!…I kid!

    Really, and I’m paraphrasing TNC here, marriage just makes it harder to break up and I have seen many people who are in rocky relationships who get married thinking that the ceremony, stuffing cake in each other’s faces, exchanging rings, and having sex in a hotel miles away from home will somehow strengthen their bond.

  7. verdeluz November 19, 2008 at 12:04 pm Reply

    I’ve always felt that #2, in terms of the public ceremony, was weird and unnecessary as well, but eloping and/or a trip to the courthouse make the point essentially moot.

    I’m not religious, but I do plan on getting married at some point, as much as one can plan for that sort of thing. Married people can split or hurt each other just as badly as unmarried couples can, and unmarried couples can work like hell on their relationships and stay together too, but I still think that for a lot of people, myself included, there’s a different kind of gravity to having a Spouse. But that’s me, and as upset as I get about the people who would deprive someone else of the chance to have that when it’s none of their fucking business, it would be silly of me to object to anyone’s decision not to marry.

    Ralph, sex in hotel rooms can absolutely strengthen the bond a couple shares (well, provided the sex isn’t with someone outside the relationship).

  8. Liza November 19, 2008 at 12:10 pm Reply

    Yes! I decided when I was young that I never wanted to get married, for many of the same reasons as TNC stated – although not as articulated back then, of course. The whole idea just embarrassed me.

    When I came out as a Lesbian I was relieved that my family couldn’t pressure me to get married because, well, it didn’t exist as an option.

    Funny thing, when I commented on another blog that one of the reasons I came out as a Lesbian was so that I would not have to get married, I got a personal email from a reader telling me that I was obviously an abusive person and should do some honest soul searching. Huh?

    Another reason I’m against weddings (rather than a quick trip to a Justice Of The Peace) is that weddings are expensive for the guests. If people want to spend a fortune on their special day it’s their decision, but for the guests it’s more complicated. You have the choice of not going – which can cause fights and hurt feelings – or you can pony up for the travel, lodging and present. Most brides and grooms don’t take this into consideration, but I wish they would.

    So, thanks for posting this.

  9. Kjen@ November 19, 2008 at 10:05 pm Reply

    I read the entire post and although he made some interesting points I realized that my approach to marriage is too different to be satisfied to equating it with being in a committed relationship.

    In my family, marriage is like being in a gang. LOL! Once in, you’re in for life! All other ties pale in comparison.

    Among many of the commentators for the original post, a lot of people seem sick of weddings not necessarily marriage. The ones who did have issues with marriage were not opposed to committed relationships, which like marriages they accepted the fact could be terminated at any time.

    Marriage, the term, the institution, the relationship, seems to carry a heavy emotional resonance for many people whether they are for or against it.

    My biggest fear or concern with ‘the institution’ (why the heck are we refering to marriage as an institution anyway) is how deep the roles are molded for institutions. Even among the most egalitarian couples, once marriage they quickly revert to traditional gender roles, with wives bearing most of the house work and husbands expected to earn the most or steadiest income source.

  10. G.D. November 19, 2008 at 10:25 pm Reply

    Kjen: i dunno about that. if people were averse to weddings, they could still marry and avoid the rigmarole of a wedding ceremony.

    i really don’t get why people don’t understand that lots of folks don’t see the big damn deal with marriage. Or, in TNC’s case, that they’ve taken a good long look at it and still decided it wasn’t for them. The responses to that post were wild obnoxious.

  11. Ralph H. Manningfield November 20, 2008 at 2:36 am Reply

    All right, I love this discussion! We are in the process of deconstructing the entire institution of marriage. At the moment it seems we are training our sights on the various methods of tying the proverbial knot. Which is preferable? Gaudy ceremonies or informal jaunts to the county clerk’s office (my method of choice!). Although I think that this is a viable angle to explore, I want to get back to the impetus of this discussion. If it wasn’t for all of the hubbub over the gay marriage issue we would not be having this discussion.

    I think what needs to be said is the fact that no matter what right is being denied a people, the people who are being deprived will fight tooth-and-nail for it. If Samoan firefighters were denied the right to watch syndicated episodes of Perfect Strangers you betcha there would be a contingent of Samoan firefighters out there beating down Bronson Pinchot’s door. Now you may say, “What’s all the fuss, it’s just a lame old TV show.” Hey, I will not argue its lameness. The fact is people do not like being told they cannot do something that others can.

    Here goes a bad sports analogy — let’s look at the gay marriage issue as a basketball game. On one side you have the Anti team and on the other the Pro team. Right now there’s no time left, the Pro team is at the free throw line shooting three (for some asinine reason Anti decided to foul on a three point shot, hey it happens). Okay, so they hit the first one, miss the second, now they gotta make this next one to win the game because you do not want to go to OT against this very physical Anti team.

  12. […] doesn’t make me want to tear my hair out. So i was reading/lurking on postbougie and they hat tipped TNC (another place where i lurk) and he was explaining why he decided not to […]

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