Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why get married at all?

Well apparently my situation is sooo fascinating that now Frum Satire has a post about it too. And it's not even a satirical post!

I tried to respond to some of the posts there, but his website keeps eating my responses. So I'm posting them here instead.

shoshi wrote:
"Why does the person have a wedding ceremony in the first place? If you are a true atheist (in the sense of the 70ies anti-establishment movement), you do not believe in marriage, so why celebrate it…? … and why insist that certain persons (close friends, parents, family) should attend it…"

I actually have thought about this quite a bit. I consider myself a feminist, and fairly non-traditional, so why get married at all? Why not just live together? (Which we already do). And this is the answer I have come to: while I don't believe in marriage in the sense of a marriage with traditional gender roles, I do believe in marriage in several other senses.

The first is legal. As I teach in my sociology of the family class, marriage carries over 1000 federal rights, and additional state rights (which vary by state). Me and B have several practical/legal reasons for getting married. Well, maybe not several, but at least three.

The first is that B doesn't have health insurance, and I do. By marrying B, I can add him to my health insurance, so he can get fun things like asthma inhalers, and stop wheezing all the time. And also all those other fun things that you get with health insurance, like the ability to not hesitate over going to the doctor when things go wrong.

The second is next of kin rights. I do not want my parents to be able to make medical decisions on my behalf, and I think B would make better decisions, and is more likely to know what I want. Since my parents don't like B, it is particularly important to me that if anything goes wrong, B will be at my side, and my parents will not be able to legally keep him away.

The third is not exactly legal...but I'm going on the job market in a little over a year from now. In my field (academia) people can frequently negotiate a job for their spouse when accepting a new job. It is a lot harder to negotiate a job for a 'cohabiting partner' than it is for a 'husband.'

So those are the practical reasons. But then why not have a wedding at city hall and just get it over with?

Well to be honest, we considered going the city-hall route. But after thinking about it for a while, we came to the conclusion that we want to take our vows in front of our friends and (some) family. Why?

Well, we're not just getting married for practical reasons. We love each other, and plan to be together until one of us dies. And we want to make the commitment to stay together no matter what happens in the future.

See, when religious people get married, they vow before their god to love and protect each other, etc (ok I know jewish ceremonies aren't exactly like that). But we don't believe in god. So whats the point in even vowing anything?

Well, what we want to do is vow in front of the people we love and who love us (including friends and whatever family decides to come) that no matter what happens in the future, we will honor the love we have for each other at that moment by always trying our best to work things out between us, no matter what that takes. I mean, of course there are some unforgivable things we might do...if B suddenly starts beating me (unlikely) i'm not going to be like "oh but we're married I must stay here and get beaten!" But barring that...

It is precisely because we don't believe in god that it is so important to me to exchange vows in front of the people I love. Cause otherwise what are you doing, just exchanging vows in front of some judge you'll never see again? In my opinion, exchanging vows in front of all the people you truly care about is a lot more meaningful. And that's why we want to do it. To make a public declaration of our love for each other, and our intention to be with each other no matter what comes our way. With the exception of beating.

As to what some other people have been saying in that thread...I understand why my parents are sad and angry about my decision. But that doesn't negate my right to be sad or angry at their decisions. Now that I've had a few more days to cool off, it doesn't bother me so much that my parents aren't coming to our wedding. I mean, if they came it would be a very meaningful gesture to me- it would show me that they truly love and care for me despite our religious differences. But I never expected them to come, and I never expected them to make such a gesture. Even apart from any religious issues (or maybe stemming from those issues) me and my parents have never had the greatest of relationships. And that's not necessarily a bad thing desire to be out of my parents house and financially independent of them was a major impetus for me applying to graduate school.

My biggest problem right now is that even though me and B are planning on getting married, and despite my many efforts to set up a meeting with B and my parents, my parents still refuse to meet B. Of course that is upsetting to me in general, but I also don't see how I can continue to have a relationship with them now...I don't want to just leave B at home and go visit them (as I said, even the last time I was home, after I had moved in with B, I felt like I was betraying him somehow by being there). And if my parents continue to refuse to meet B, how can I have any relationship with them at all? I really can't think of any practical way that that could happen.


  1. Hey the comments go to spam sometimes- they are all up now- by the way I would come to your wedding and any of my friends who decided to marry out of the tribe.

    Do I always have to write comedy- if you want I can make fun of your situation- but its not a funny matter - although I agree- no parents- more food for me haha.

  2. no you don't always have to write comedy. That was my joke! :)

    I think there's some hilarity to be found in the I have to write a post of hilarious wedding ideas!

  3. dudette, i'd come to your wedding

  4. AE wrote:

    "And if my parents continue to refuse to meet B, how can I have any relationship with them at all? I really can't think of any practical way that that could happen."

    A few thoughts:

    1. The likelihood is that your parents are still hoping to influence your decision. In other words, before you actually marry, they're clinging to the hope that unambiguous disapproval on their part might help you change your mind. Once you marry, and especially as the months and years pass, I'll bet they'll relent and meet him, and learn to have at least a cordial relationship with him.

    2. If there's one thing you can give yourself credit for, it's being smart. You wouldn't be pursuing an advanced degree, or a career in academia, if you didn't value intelligent thought. And I'm confident that if you simply applied your creative intelligence--and tried to remove from the equation such confounding variables as pride, anger, competitiveness, rebellion, etc.--you'd be able to come up with dozens of practical ways to maintain a relationship of one form or another with your parents, even before they meet your guy.

    3. It would, of course, be an easier situation for you to manage well if your parents accepted your guy from the outset, but simply because you feel like you're betraying him if you see your parents without him neither means you are actually betraying him nor that you couldn't see your parents--just as you marrying a non-Jew may feel to your parents as though you're betraying them and various other people and institutions, but it need not be construed that way.

    (And isn't it interesting that when you have the feeling that you'd be betraying your guy you can't think of a way to meet with your parents, but when they feel they'd be betraying themselves, each other, their people, and thousands of years of tradition (and even you) by attending the wedding...this is hard for you to conceive of, and your first instinct is to see it simply as them being closed-minded and insensitive to your needs.)

    As always, your actions will be yours to decide, and nobody gets to tell you what you must do. But surely there is no lack of practical options if you did choose to keep a relationship going with your parents.

  5. I don't think marriage is for everyone, but I see no reason individual atheists shouldn't decide it's for them.

  6. I would definitely come, too. But ince you're trying to keep it small and intimate, I say you have an online wedding too - we'll all come virtually and dance!

  7. If you want knew that they would not come, and you don't see any further relationship with your parents, then what was the point of ending your letter to your father with this:?

    "Hope all is well otherwise. I will find out the genetic testing results on August 11th at my follow-up appointment, and will let you know how that turns out."

  8. well...i don't know. Cause i'm too darn polite? Cause my dad helped pay for the genetic testing before this whole thing went down?

  9. well, ok, if thats the only reason

  10. i don't get what you are trying to insinuate here..that I wasn't sure? that I still want a relationship?

  11. ...but I don't really think that it is a clear-cut halakha that the parents are not allowed to meet B. I think it's an more about hurt feelings and refusing to accept reality as it is: an emotional response.

  12. Just seems like you still wanted some sort of relationship. You knew very well most likely they would not come yet the letter sounded very understanding and it ended with you telling your dad you would be intouch in the future regarding the test.

    If its only out of means of being courteous since he shelled out the cash, then fine, i take it all back.


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