Three years ago, Daniel and I were interviewed by Redbook magazine for an article called “The Changing Shape of the American Family” which profiled several different family structures. The Alternatives to Marriage Project referred the reporter to us as an example of a stable couple raising a child without being married. The final article [which, in its online archived version, has a photo of another family next to the text about us!] used only brief and paraphrased excerpts from what we’d said in two phone conversations and a lengthy e-mail interview. So, in case anyone is wondering why we aren’t married, here’s how we explained it in lots of detail!
Daniel and I answered the e-mailed questions separately (although I have interwoven our answers here) and we were impressed by how similar most of our answers turned out to be–no wonder we get along so well! (Daniel’s answers are more succinct, though, whereas I tend to ramble….) Answering these questions was a great exercise for us, even though most of our answers didn’t get used in the article; it helped us clarify what we believe and value and appreciate about our relationship.
UPDATE: I decided to try opening comments on this article. Please be respectful if you choose to comment.
QUESTION: How long have you been together (and by together I mean romantically, as opposed to just knowing each other)?
BECCA: We decided we were “together” in May 1994. We’ve lived together since April 1996 and bought a house together in July 2002.
DANIEL: Twelve years.
QUESTION: How did you meet?
BECCA: We both were students at Carnegie Mellon University and were members of a social organization whose mission is to promote safe silliness on campus. We became aware of each other’s existence sometime in 1992 but didn’t really get to know each other until the summer of 1993, when I was dating a close friend of Daniel’s and also had become friends with both of Daniel’s housemates, so we found ourselves hanging around together and discovered that we have some things in common: Both of us are “grammar geeks” who can’t help noticing and groaning over things like misplaced apostrophes. We’re both interested in psychology, architecture, environmental preservation, education reform, and speculating about life on alien planets. We have very similar senses of humor and values.
DANIEL: In college, we were in the same social club and had some mutual friends. We knew each other slightly for a long time. When we finally got around to talking together at length, we discovered ourselves to be, essentially, soul-mates. After that it was almost inevitable that we’d start dating, and fall in love.
QUESTION: Do you feel that you will spend the rest of your lives together? Why or why not? If so, when did you first feel this way?
BECCA: I think it’s very likely that we’ll stay together. We’ve done very well so far at resolving problems when they come up and continuing to feel that we’re especially well-suited to each other. Our relationship is an important part of our lives, and it’s hard to imagine an event drastic enough to end it.
I can’t recall any single specific moment when we decided this was a permanent relationship. It’s built up very gradually. Rather than saying, at any point, “I promise to stay with you forever,” we’ve had a whole series of moments in which we realize the depth of our desire to be together. One of the early moments was in our first summer together: We kept seeing an elderly couple who seemed to attend every free event in the city, always looking interested in whatever it was and happy in each other’s company. I said something like, “I hope we’ll be like them when we’re that old. I hope I’ll still wear long flowery skirts, and you’ll grow your beard long and fluffy like that, and we’ll ride around on the bus holding hands and always be able to think of things to talk about,” and Daniel said, “Really? That’s exactly what I want, too!”
We first realized we wanted to be together (although we were not thinking yet about whether or not it would be permanent) on May 10, 1994, when we went with some friends on a day trip to upstate New York to get a better view of the solar eclipse. Daniel and I sat next to each other the whole time and talked about all kinds of things and had such a good time that we didn’t want the day to end when we got back to Pittsburgh, so I came home with him and ended up staying all night, talking and talking and realizing how cool he is and how well our ideas mesh. We celebrate our anniversary on May 10 because that was the day we first felt a special bond between us. It was not something we planned, the way people plan a wedding, and it was private rather than public; to us, those things make it more “real” than any formal ceremony could be.
When I was a young teenager, I daydreamed about the man in my future, who I imagined would have red curly hair and a beard and a warm voice and would appreciate me the way I really wanted to be. I was very unpopular at the time, and after a couple of years I made myself stop thinking about that man because it seemed so implausible that I’d ever find someone like that, even in a future too faraway to bear thinking about. Well, one night when Daniel and I had been together a year or so, we were talking by candlelight, and I looked at him and suddenly realized, “Hey…YOU’RE THAT GUY!!” I don’t believe that there is exactly one Mr. Right for everybody or anything like that, but it was amazing to realize that not only have I found that man who looks and sounds right and loves me, but he is in many many other ways more wonderful than I’d ever dared to imagine.
DANIEL: Probably. We see the world the same way. Being together is fun and useful for both of us. ‘Becca is delightfully smart and pretty. We have a beautiful son and agree on how to raise him. Why would we split up?
It’s been gradual. It began with those first long conversations, when I realized that ‘Becca might well be the partner I’d been hoping to find. When we’d been dating for a while, I expected us to stay together at least until something obviously better came along–which didn’t seem very likely, given how good this was. I think it was only after we’d been living together for a few years that I felt sure we could keep it up indefinitely, and would probably want to.
QUESTION: Has either one of you ever brought up marriage? How/why/under what circumstances? How did the other person react? Why?
BECCA: I think that by “brought up marriage” you mean “suggested that you get married”, and the answer to that is no. However, we have discussed the topic of marriage many times, both in regard to our own relationship and in terms of societal practices. Combining our observations of what other people do and say about their relationships gives us new insights into the role of marriage in society. Discussing our own feelings on the subject always strengthens our resolve to stay unmarried, as we find more and more reasons to agree that it’s the best way for us to live. Those conversations often make me feel even more in love with Daniel because they remind me how similarly he and I think and how strongly it contrasts with the way many other people think about marriage.
DANIEL: We’ve talked about it, and have always agreed that we’re not interested in getting married. We discussed it seriously several times, fairly early in our relationship. We still chat about marriage in the abstract sometimes, as with any political topic we enjoy agreeing about, but we’ve already decided against it as a lifestyle choice for ourselves. In every such conversation we have been in near-total agreement. It’s a bit uncanny, frankly.
QUESTION: Do you feel that marriage isn’t for either of you (ever) or do you just not intend to marry each other?
BECCA: It’s not for either of us ever. One of the many things that attracted us to each other initially was that both of us were opposed to marriage. Each of us had a previous serious relationship in which one of the reasons for breaking up was that the other person was hoping to get married. It turned out that Daniel’s ex-girlfriend married the man she’d left Daniel for, and we went together to her wedding. When the ceremony was over, I turned to him and said, “Please don’t ever make me do that!” and he was delighted because he’d been feeling exactly the same way!
DANIEL: We both feel that marriage simply is not something that we need or want for our relationship.
QUESTION: What specifically turns you off about marriage or why have you decided that it isn’t for you?
BECCA: I just don’t believe in it. There is nothing about marriage that feels to me like it has any real power to strengthen or improve a relationship. I think it’s kind of similar to the way atheists must feel about God. I’ve always felt this way since the concept of marriage was first explained to me in any detail, when I was around five years old. To me, it seems very simple that when people want to live together and start a family, they can just do that. The idea that it’s somehow wrong or won’t work if they don’t say certain words in front of certain people and fill out certain government forms, strikes me as completely wacky. I thought maybe I just didn’t understand because I hadn’t tried to live with a partner, but now we’ve been living together longer than many marriages last, and marriage still seems like somebody else’s religion that doesn’t make sense to me.
I don’t like the idea of declaring another human being to be my exclusive property or declaring myself to be someone else’s property.
I feel that a wedding ceremony is a strange way of expressing commitment. Even when a couple has done things the traditional way, not living or sleeping together before marriage, it seems bizarre to me to invite people to a public ritual to announce that they’re going to have sex! The bond between lovers is private, and their commitment to each other is not something that can be created by reciting magic words. To me, the spontaneous declarations of love and commitment that Daniel and I make to each other repeatedly are far more powerful than anything we could plan for a particular day.
I feel that many of the customs associated with weddings and many of the stereotypes of husbands, wives, and marriage are demeaning and detrimental to a loving, close relationship between two individuals. Although it’s possible for married people to treat each other as equals and divide their family responsibilities in the way that works best for them as individuals, too often people make assumptions about what a wife does or how a husband should act. I know some married couples who defy all the stereotypes, and I know we could too, but I feel more comfortable just staying away from those roles altogether.
I believe that governmental recognition of marriage is inappropriate. It’s kind of like giving special privileges and responsibilities to members of a particular religion. I think that the laws and the tax system should be set up such that each adult is a fully independent person, regardless of sexual relationships, and a wage earner who fully supports another adult should get the same credit regardless of whether that person is a romantic partner, adult child, elderly parent, or friend.
I don’t want the government involved in my relationship. Daniel and I are able to treat each other kindly without being forced to do so by law. If we ever split up, we probably will be able to decide together how to divide our property, rather than having some judge who doesn’t know us declare what is fair. The laws that protect every person from other people (for instance, laws against murder and fraud) are fine; it isn’t necessary, and in my opinion is insulting, to have additional laws protecting me from the man I love.
I believe that the wedding industry harms the environment, the culture, and the viability of marriage itself. American weddings tend to be elaborate, wasteful events that “require” gold rings to follow the diamond engagement ring; gold mining is among the most polluting industries in the world, and the diamond industry is connected both to African bloodshed and to Al Qaeda. The idea that a person (especially a woman) is incomplete until she’s had a wedding drives many people to marry when they aren’t really ready for the commitment or haven’t found a really compatible partner. The focus on the wedding day and wedding vows, rather than the steady establishment of a long-term relationship, encourages people to put all their effort into having the perfect wedding, as if that will make the marriage work.
I dislike the way marriage (and also dating) are set up to show off a relationship in public. There are contexts in which it’s just fine to discuss innermost feelings and personal sexual behavior and domestic arrangements–I don’t object to those topics being raised in conversation or being coincidentally obvious from someone’s public behavior. What bothers me are the purposeful status displays, like when someone waves her engagement ring in my face.
DANIEL: When you’re married, you can’t break up without permission from church and state–that’s the basic idea of marriage. But I believe we’re adults who can make our own decisions–and change them later, if circumstances change. Our relationship is a personal matter between us, and it’s for us to say when it ends, if ever–not the church or the state.
Marriage is a contract. We don’t need a contract between us; we love, respect, and trust each other. Contracts are for people you don’t trust.
When you’re married, people start making rude assumptions – “ball and chain” for starters. Listen to some of the things people say about “husbands” and about “wives”. Ugh! Why would I want us to be thought of that way?
The wedding ring itself is a kind of symbolic chain, or at best a receipt. ‘Becca isn’t my property, she’s my close friend and partner.
A wedding is seen by many people as the symbolic beginning of your romantic partnership. Well, our romantic partnership began twelve years ago beneath the light of a solar eclipse. That’s ceremony enough for me. We don’t need to feed each other cake in rented clothes.
A wedding is also seen by many people as the symbolic end of your independent life, the end of your time as a whole person separate from the couple. Traditionally the woman even gives up her name. I find this whole idea offensive.
I just don’t see much that marriage would add to our relationship. I don’t care for the traditional symbolism. It’s a label that doesn’t feel accurate, so it won’t really help people understand us. The legal consequences are a mixed bag at best, based on inaccurate assumptions about how we want to live. “Married couple” is simply not the image I have of my family, so why should I want others to think of us that way? I’d rather you think of us as a sexy adventuring team, like The Avengers or the Three Musketeers. (And raising a child certainly counts as having adventures!)
QUESTION: What will you tell your child when he asks why you aren’t married?
BECCA: “Different families believe different things. We believe that marriage is not a useful idea for our family. You have a mother and a father who live together and love each other and love you.” When he asks for more details, then I’ll explain the things above.
It will be interesting to see how old Nicholas gets before he asks why we aren’t married. Growing up in a diverse urban area, he’ll know kids with all kinds of family arrangements, so I doubt that our family will seem strange.
DANIEL: “Lots of couples like to have a big party and put on rings to celebrate the beginning of their lives together, but we didn’t.”
[Becca notes: This is the one question where our answers are really different. It’s because I answered the question, “Why aren’t you in a marriage together?” whereas Daniel answered the question, “Why didn’t you have a wedding?” When I saw his answer, I realized that that probably was the question that would come up first! Nicholas was 18 months old when we wrote this. He is almost 5 years old now. His only direct question on the subject so far was, in fact, “Did you have a wedding?” and he was disappointed to hear that we’d skipped the big party and fancy ritual. He attended his uncle’s wedding last spring and afterward suggested that he would like us to have a wedding so he could attend. He also has some understanding of “married” as an ongoing status, knows we are not married, and occasionally mentions it–once by shrieking, “NO!!! DADDY IS NOT YOUR HUSBAND!!!” while I was trying to answer an older lady’s question, “And what does your husband do?” I was more embarrassed that he was being so loud and rude than by the content of what he said; I just told him that I knew she was talking about Daddy so it didn’t matter that Daddy is not, in fact, my husband.]
QUESTION: How have friends/family/strangers reacted to the fact that you’re not married and don’t intend to marry? How does their reaction make you feel?
BECCA: Most people say that whatever works for us is fine with them. They do sometimes get confused about how to introduce us and say things like, “This is my co-worker Becca and her…umm…Daniel.” Sometimes people forget that we aren’t married and refer to my “husband.” I usually don’t correct them because I know who they mean.
I am a member of an Episcopal church and have experienced nothing but loving acceptance from the congregation. My church friends hovered eagerly around me throughout pregnancy, threw us a baby shower, and welcomed Nicholas with delight, never once pressuring me to marry.
A few members of my family, particularly my parents, have been uncomfortable with the situation. That was partly my fault because I didn’t explain clearly to my parents that Daniel and I were in a committed relationship and were never going to get married; I thought they knew that or, if they didn’t, would ask. We had been living together for five years when I realized my parents were upset and wanted us to marry. Realizing that made me very upset because I felt bad that my parents were disappointed in me, but I didn’t want to compromise my principles just to please them. Daniel and I talked about it a lot and finally wrote them a long letter spelling out my beliefs and intentions, and then my parents and I had several conversations about it. One thing they kept saying was that we “had to” get married if we were going to have a child. Eventually I was able to convince them that the social stigma of out-of-wedlock birth is not what it was 30 years ago, and by the time Nicholas was born they had accepted our decision. I think they still would be happier if we were married, but they’ve stopped criticizing.
Once an old lady at a bus stop was about to start fussing over my baby when she looked at my left hand, frowned, and stepped back. That’s the strongest negative reaction to my unmarried motherhood from a stranger that I’ve seen . . . if that’s really what it was.
DANIEL: Our parents were somewhat disappointed and confused at first, I think, but we discussed it with them, and I think they’re used to it now. We encouraged them to see that our relationship is strong enough to satisfy them, regardless of what it’s called.
Our friends are mostly very open-minded people who’ve seen all kinds of relationships. They’re hard to shock.
I don’t discuss it much with strangers. Lots of people assume we’re married, but nobody seems offended when they find out we’re not. I don’t think these things are very scandalous anymore.
Our relationship is for us, not for them, so I don’t really care all that much what people think.
QUESTION: Are there ways in which not being married (to each other) makes your lives more difficult?
BECCA: Daniel had to pay full price for individual health insurance for a while, when he was working as a temp, because my employer would not insure him unless we were married. Now my employer offers domestic partner benefits, which Daniel enrolled in when he was laid off recently. We had to collect a lot of documents proving that he’s my domestic partner and get an affidavit notarized, which was complicated and annoying, but it wasn’t all that bad.
When Nicholas was born, Daniel had to file an affidavit of paternity. That seemed pretty reasonable to us. Actually, I felt it was a privilege to be in the position of notifying the state of the identity of my child’s father, instead of being forced to accept their assumptions.
We wrote our wills last year to ensure that if one of us dies, our assets will be distributed the way we want them to be. If we were married, each of us would inherit from the other automatically without a will. However, we don’t mind having to spell out what we want, because that makes our exact wishes clear to all our survivors.
The law exempts a husband and wife from testifying against each other in court. That’s one of those governmental benefits for married people that we oppose–and we don’t plan to get accused of any crimes anyway!
DANIEL: We have to explicitly establish the legal relationships that we do want between us–medical power of attorney, for example. Many of these things are automatically assumed if you’re married. So there’s some extra paperwork now and then.
QUESTION: Are there ways in which not being married (to each other) makes your lives easier?
BECCA: Each of us is able to make legal and financial decisions as an individual. For married people, there are many decisions that require a spouse’s signature and some things, such as beneficiary designations for insurance and savings plans, that require you to leave a certain percentage of your money to your spouse. Daniel and I do share much of our decision-making and responsibility, each allowing the other to influence our decisions and to take care of us and to accept care from us, but we do that out of free will, not because it is required. To say that we will not treat each other properly unless contractually obligated is to say that we are incapable of working together unless forced to do so. We know that is not true. In many situations, we’ve chosen the same options that are automatic for married couples, but we want to have the opportunity to study the facts and decide for ourselves what to do, rather than being sent down a particular path because the authorities have decided that’s what’s best for us.
There are some laws that treat married people unfairly. For example, here in Pennsylvania, a married man is the legal father of any child born to his wife during the marriage, even if he and she and another man and DNA testing all agree that the other man is the biological father. We think that’s wrong and don’t want to go along with it. We planned our pregnancy, and there was no question about paternity, but we don’t like the spirit of that law and many others.
Our income taxes are lower because we’re unmarried. I pay for daycare for Nicholas and take the child tax deductions on my income. Daniel pays the mortgage and takes that tax deduction on his income. Our combined incomes would be too high to qualify for some of the deductions.
We don’t feel “tied down” or trapped. We don’t identify with all those jokes about how horrible it is to be married, not just because we’re unmarried, but because our daily life is not like the married life that comedians and so forth are talking about. I don’t feel that I’m stuck with a husband who does annoying man things. Instead, I feel incredibly lucky to share a home with my best friend, who happens to be male, and even luckier to have my best friend also be my lover and partner and co-parent.
Most of all, we know that we are together because we want to be. Every day, I know he’s here because he loves me, not because of a promise made a long time ago. It is because he could leave but doesn’t, even when things get difficult, that I know our relationship is important to him.
DANIEL: Nobody had to pay for a wedding; that frees up a lot of cash. We don’t feel obligated to merge our finances (which would drive us both crazy). In general we can avoid those legal consequences of being married that we don’t agree with. Overall, though, I think it doesn’t make much difference.
QUESTION: Have you chosen to honor your commitment to each other in ways other than marriage? How so?
BECCA: The first Christmas we were living together, we wrote a holiday newsletter together and sent it to all our friends and relatives. We’ve continued to do this almost every year. It helps the people who get it (some of whom we haven’t seen in years) think of us as a family unit.
We combined our book and music libraries. That sounds like a small thing, but it was a big deal to me to relax control over which books are mine and start thinking of “our” books.
We own a house together. That’s an expression of our certainty that we’re together for the long run. It’s also a major, long-term financial commitment that ties our credit ratings together.
We have a child together. He’s a biological link between us, which is a powerful connection. It’s very important to us to raise him together, and in discussing how to raise him and learning as we go, we’re finding more and more common ground. We’re also getting to know each other better as Nicholas inspires us to tell each other memories of our own childhoods.
DANIEL: We chose to have a child together. That choice affirms, and our responsibility to him reinforces, our commitment to each other.
Also, we always celebrate the anniversary of our first date. Privately.