Friday, 7 November 2008

Married, qualified and otherwise approved

The stuff about prop 8, in California, has sparked with some other floating thoughts about qualifications and made some connections in my head.

Marriage has always seemed strange to me. I shocked my grandmother when (at about L’s age) I announced that I wasn’t going to get married as it was just a nuisance to have to get divorced later. On the whole, I think I had a point. For me, there has been no moment of walking up an aisle or even standing with my beloved in matching tuxedos at a civil partnership ceremony. The moments that have marked commitment in my relationship with D have been largely private. But, for me, commitment is not about standing up and saying something before witnesses. It is about doing it. It is about time and tests and patience and trust. It is about communication and flexibility and, more than anything else probably, respect. I know what our relationship is and what it means. I can’t see that it makes the relationship any stronger to get it stamped and classified. OK, so there are some practical advantages in getting your relationship approved. But, personally, I think it would make me feel more vulnerable. I have never asked the PTB to ‘approve’ us and they never have. So they can’t withdraw that approval. They can’t tell me what my relationship is, or isn’t.

I wonder if part of the reason why people strive to get married is that they want to be approved? They want to get the stamp and have the photos. It is strange that there are certain occasions when photos must be taken. One is at a wedding and another is at a graduation ceremony. I wonder if marriage and qualifications are largely about the same thing – getting validated? I did do the qualification thing but I never went to a ceremony and don’t have that photo with the hat as the idea made me squirm. Once again, there are practical advantages in getting qualifications (sometimes) but I wonder if they carry the same danger as marriage. The bit of paper tells you you’re clever like the bit of paper tells you you’re loved. The bit of paper validates your life. The bit of paper gives you a place in the world, some status, some identity. And that identity bit is, for me, the most risky. Because that given identity is like a veneer over a real person.

I don’t have anything against people living in loving, long-term relationships and I don’t have anything against people studying. (That’s a good job as I live in such a relationship and make a living out of other people’s study!) But I do think that, for me, it is important to remember that content is what counts – not badges.


Gill said...

Oh wow, I'd never thought of it like that, but now I've read your post I can definitely see the link between marriage and qualifications. Brilliant bit of fresh thinking :-)

mamacrow said...

hmmm. very very interesting and food for deep thought - especially as I am married, and graduated, and have the obligatory pics of both!!!

the thing is, from my point of view, as ever, i did it my way, in my order. not the 'right' order.

There's a phrase that goes round my family (i mean the one I grew up in as aposed the one i'm the mum in, if you know what I mean), I've now discovered - 'Ah well, m has always gone her own way, hasn't she...'

The irony is, I now have a son (no.2 child) to whom this phrase applies EXACTLY. he's a charming child, but there are cyclones, there are hurricanes, and there is him... you just get out of the way and let him get on with it :)

I left school at 16 (not the family tradition, but i was blessed with incredibly supportive parents who's reply to everything was 'if that's what you want, but you must get a qualification and proper training and we'll help you with that') and worked with horses before getting an injury and rethinking, and ending up doing alevels and having a truly inspiring english teacher who told me I could do a degree standing on my head so I went to uni.

But when I went, I was pregnant, and in a serious relationship, so I didn't do the whole 'freshers week' 'living in halls' thing. In fact, I was more of a 'mature' student, except that I wasn't, I was barely 20.

And then again, we did get married - but we already had a son at that point (our eldest), in fact he was 2and half when we married... My parents are catholic so you can imagine how the order I did things in went down initially!

The photos for me, symbolise alot... especially my graduation photo, as it so nearly didn't happen... For me it shows the crowning event that was reached by so many people's hard work and support - my now husband, my inlaws, my parents, a couple of my tutors, my course leader - he died suddenly a few years ago and I still think of him. He had the whole school of Library and Info to run, and 100s if not more students to oversea and yet he took the time and effort to encourage me and help keep me there... When you talked to him, you really felt he was listening with all of his face, if you know what I mean...

and the same with the wedding photos... it IS about exceptance a bit I suppose. Us declaring that we are serious and grown up about our relationship even though we may not have done things in the order and in the way that everyone else thinks things should be done, that doesn't make our relationship any less sacred or valid... It was about all our families coming together and all that too...

and it was a FAB day and a great party and we did it all OUR way, and didn't bankrupt ourselves either!

i degress. as ever, an incredibly intresting and enjoyable post, that really made me think... more please!

mamacrow said...

gosh. apologies for writing a book! :o

Allie said...

Thanks, Gill and please don't apologise, mamacrow. The more comments, the better!

I knew that course leader. When I completed my MA I phoned in to the uni to see if I could get my result as I had two children under five and didn't really want to drag them in to look at a noticeboard. He said that the results weren't officially out yet so he couldn't tell me, but then he said "Congratulations, anyway. A very interesting dissertation and you fully deserve the MA." So he did tell me. A really nice bloke, I thought.

I am perfectly happy for everyone who has had fun at weddings and graduations and enjoyed the occasion. I just wonder why we mark some things in this way, and neglect others and why people crave these marks of approval. I think it all starts very early on, with ticks and gold stars and pats on the head of all sorts. In the end we need to look to our own hearts to know what counts for us.

One of my grandmothers was a great one for form and respectability. In her arctic front room (kept nice for proper company but never heated because you weren't to go in there) were the graduation photos of her sons - the first in the family to go to university. She also had wedding photos for each one. Somehow they fitted right in to the stage set that was that room.

a said...

I was really reluctant to go to my MA graduationy thing (gave in because my mum really wanted it) and refused to wear a gown - I didn't even go to my degree ceremony - you've put into words a lot of my reasons why. To me, it was the study that I'd done that was important and it almost trivialized it to do this funny stage business.
For me, my relationship as an ongoing thing means much more than a party/announcement/piece of paper ever could, my years of study were more important to me than a piece of paper/gown/hat/letters after my name, my parenting now and relationship with my daughter is more important than how the birth went, etc.

mamacrow said...

I know exactly what you mean re your grandmother's front room ali, and maybe I should have said more clearly i didn't feel AT ALL threatened or critisied or anything, it just set me musing...

my mum's living room (not artic and you do go in there! lots!) has all of our graduation photos (I'm one of three. well five actually but two are half sisters, my dad's daughters - he was much older than my mum and had a first wife who died) in there...

they just seem to stand for a)her abiding pride in anything we do and b) more than meets the eye - none of our paths was easy or smooth and one my sisters too, graduated 'late' and in a roundabout way...

i think i like them being there because on first glance, it does look like that sterotype, pat on the head 'get the photo on the wall' situation, but she is so not like that... and those photos prompt so many stories!

also, in one way the three 'h' girls live on... we all have different surnames now...

peri said...

Another interesting and thought provoking post - thank you.

I did the whole white wedding bit and 20+ years ago at a young age - I felt that we 'had' to, family expectations ditacted etc and I felt too overwhelmed to disagree. I also that age thought that being 'Mrs' would get me more respect in my chosen work environment at that time - weirdly enough it did! If I knew then what I know now - I wouldn't have bothered. It's not a piece of paper it is the depth of love commitment and respect that holds it all together and that is all that counts.

As for my degree. As a mature student who had always felt academically lacking and a bit of a thickie I did my degree solely for me, to prove to myself that I could acheive that. I have the bit a paper somewhere. I can put letters after my name, and never do. I didn't 'do' the ceremony cos I couldn't be asked to faff around like that. It never devalued what I did for 'me'.

More posts please Allie - I like a good think first thing in the morning.

Kate Ahrens said...

I really liked this post, Allie and fully agree with you. I too "failed" to attend my graduation and haven't got married or announced my committment to my partner in any way.

I've never felt the lack of either, although not getting married does have the peripheral problem of what the names of certain relationships are - Nick is often referred to as my husband and I have to choose each time whether to correct them, but I've never had a very satisfactory alternative description of him! Mostly I just call him Nick but that doesn't really explain anything.

Your brother J and I often refer to each other as "outlaws", because I suppose we want to acknowledge our relationship as having an added dimension beyond that of our friendship. But that too is a private description between ourselves rather that a straightforward designation you can use to the world in general.

Most of the time, of course, these things simply don't matter, although reading back over what I have written I realise that I'm usually much less bothered about someone calling Nick my husband that I am about them calling me his wife....

That's a whole different post I expect!

Allie said...

Oh God, Kate, yes! I find the names of relationships thing really hard. This is probably because I am never quite sure what the orthodox names refer to! What counts as brother-in-law or sister-in-law? I tend to enter into long descriptions of who is who and get people very confused.

I also have some people in my life who are old friends but whom I see as part of my extended family really.

I have the problem that partner is a gender neutral term and my partner has a gender neutral name. So, if I say my partner is Dani, then it isn't clear to someone listening that Dani is a woman. But girlfriend is rather silly when you get a long way from girls!

You should write something about being taken for a wife - and what that means to you.

Anonymous said...

I am probably missing the point somewhere, but is this the place where I get to rant about how crap marriage IS? Yes? No? *puts down tatty shopping bags and takes off welly boots and settles down for said rant anyway*

Without wanting to be personally insulting to the people I have married, I have to say that both times I have married it was for the validation, to git ligit.

When I was going through immigration, the immigration services couldn't understand why I wouldn't just marry (the man who is actually now dh) to make it all easier, but thing is, there are certain thangs I'd do the deed (marriage) for (to help my kids get legal papers they needed) and certain things I would not (my own immigration case).

I've only ever seen marriage as a conquest of sorts, I've enough experience of seeing families torn apart by marriage (staying when there is no real good reason to)to know it for what it is. Marriage is just bollox, and is given more kudos than is reasonable. I dunno if the Obamies would agree though.

The most beautiful personal connections between creatures don't have to last a lifetime. It is possible to share more love in one single unclassifiable moment with someone never seen again than it is with a married partner during a lifetime commitment.

I know what I am going on about, LOL...

Bare with me...

What bugs me is when peeps see marriage as romantic!!! It is so NOT romantic. How can a 'contract' be romantic in any way? In which case, I shall take the mechanic a big bunch of flowers when I pay him the pound of flesh he is asking me to subtract from somewhere.

Romantic is a lot of things, but being bound and gagged, tarred and feathered and chained over a barrel with a lot of legal stuff hanging over ones head is not.

Not being able to get a loan cos your marriage partners finances are scuppered is not romantic either. Being held accountable in that way is really quite dangerous, certainly for a woman too, I think, because we have to fight and fight just to be seen as having the 'same' human rights as menfolk.

Hahaha, what I think of marriage, LOL.

Problem is that the 'marriage' becomes something bigger than the two people (an of course rest of 'family') in it. Marriage gets a life of it's own and respect for one and another falls by the wayside in the quest to keep marriage going like in some 'friendship cake' starter you are given that you really regret taking on (oh cripes, and now I have to pass it on to four more people?!).

I warn my kids daily against the pitfalls of the marriage contract. There are those I know who are aghast at my cynicism. But our children are peddled a whole load of crap about the virtue of legally binding themselves to another, in my opinion, marriage enslaves us and is no real good. We cannot be slaves to eachother like that without disrespecting each other, and the more people who are eloquently able to suggest healthy alternatives the better.

But, er, I am not very eloquent, so I enjoyed reading your post and the comments ;)

EF x

Gill said...

"But, er, I am not very eloquent.."

ROFL! I don't think I've ever read anyone more eloquent!

One of my sons says he'll never marry or have children because of the laws pertaining to those things. I don't know whether he'll stick to it, but he's pretty determined now, and he'd make a brilliant dad so it's everyone's loss if he does stick to it. I wonder how many other potentially brilliant dads are thinking the same thing.

I have a daughter who sees marriage as a financial contract and another son who concedes that he might marry some day, but she'd have to be one-in-a-million for him to even think about it.

Looks like I won't be buying a fancy hat any time soon!

As for me, I got married once, stayed married too long "for the sake of the children" thereby forcing us all to go through too many years of abuse and because of the marriage he had the necessary parental rights at the end of it to drag us through the family courts for years by way of vengeance. Hmm. Never again!

Elizabeth said...

I also never wanted to get married growing up-thought it looked like pure hell from my view point! But saying that-I did get married. Not to 'seal' our relationship--but to simplify any family legal rights. When we got married, if we had children, Michael wouldn't have automatically been next of kin without filling in all the paperwork--so we took that easier route of a simple ceremony to get full 'legal' rights. Also helped with all the citizenship paperwork, etc.. that we also had to deal with for me and the kids.

(As an aside-I was raised a Catholic by Irish parents--you should have heard my mothers (a normally very open-minded person) voice when she realized I had gotten pregnant a month before the actual wedding, which had been planned a few months before the conception!)

I think that to get Prop 8, or any such bill, passed in all the States-a new name has to be used. There are just too many fundamentals who will always object when a word that has always had a religious meaning will be used for something they are taught is sinful. We might not change their minds, and we shouldn't have to appease everyone-but every small step now-may make it all the 'norm' to the next generations. I think the name for the 'legality' of the relationship should be changed across the board-but they can keep 'marriage' to mean the religious ceremony within their own religions.

Allie said...

Well, I can't claim to be an expert on marriage - never having done it. So, I wouldn't have put it as bluntly as that, EF! But, many of your reservations probably lurk in the murk in my head. Signing something, in front of witnesses, does make me think of a confesssion rather more than true love. But I'm sure that people feel differently about that.

mamacrow said...

gosh, totally agree with you on all counts EF.

except.. I also see a possible positive side to marridge too. (fairly obviously, seeing as I am married!)

for me, it's there as a saftey net, for those times when I - or us - am/are REALLY not feeling it. It's there for the every day prosiac cleaning poo off your hands and nit combing each other's hair moments...

it's signing something infront of people because (in my opinion) it is exactly for those non romantic, non spiritually connected times as
we have an earthly matirialistic physical side too

there's a fab poem that says what I mean far better:
"The Skin of our Teeth
by Thorton Wilder

I Didn't marry you because you were prefect,
I didn't even marry you because I loved you,
I married you because you gave me a promice.
That promice made up your faults,
and the promice I gave you made up for mine.
Two imperfect people got married and it was the promice that made the marridge.
And when our children were growing up,
it wasn't a house that protected them,
and it wasn't our love that protected them.
It was that promice."

Allie said...

I can see your point, mamacrow, but I wouldn't be interested in being in a partnership where the primary motivation to be together wasn't love. I don't know if I'm just a hopeless romantic, but I can honestly say that in seventeen years I have never felt obliged to stay in my relationship. I wouldn't want that obligation and I would hate the idea that someone was with me because they said they would be. I want a relationship that is a desire to be together in that very day. That doesn't mean that the relationship isn't something to nurture and feed - but it isn't (for me) about staying together at all costs just because we said we would.

Personally, I see this as very different to the commitment we have made to each other to co-parent our children. That is not something that we can choose, or not, it is an obligation. Equally, the commitment to the children is not something we can ever 'leave'.

Anonymous said...

Allie, you said: "I can honestly say that in seventeen years I have never felt obliged to stay in my relationship."

I am impressed, that is really very ace.

I agree with you about the committment to co parent, and you saying that has clarified some issue for me. In my situation, the obligation to stay with someone has been bound up with the very true commitment we made to coparent. In the beginning, my dh and I made the commitment to coparent before the commitment to marriage. But I think we got insecure along the way, and so in came the deeds signed. It is less easy to get out of the binding if one is legally so, and I suppose we were both afraid of just living the practicalities without the romance. Whatever, in my experience, and looking at countless others, one needs to be a total romantic to get through what the act of legal marriage does to a couple, because it is, whatever way we try to dress it up (with poems or hearts of flowers etc) quite a diservice to anyone to obligate them to stay close if their heart really lies elsewhere.

EF x

mamacrow said...

hmmmm. all great comments. I think i mean I see marridge as a saftey net, on a personal level.

I think there IS a point to it, in general, but don't see why anyone else should necessarily agree!

I also see that commitement can most definitely be there without 'the piece of paper'.

I definitely commited to papacrow before being married, and to co-parenting. marridge was not only an extra blessing in the way of help on the sacred front, but also society recognising our commitment to each other and acknowledging it...

kellyi said...


I read this post and having lurked for a long time, thought I would add a comment as I am feeling brave.

I am married. I got married at 20 and the main reason? Because I was expected to. I loved (and still do love) my husband but neither of us really wanted to get married, we did because of parental expectations (his) and because when we met he was in the army and we would only get an army house if we had the proper paperwork.

I agree with you. The truly defining moments of our relationship are private, personal occasions, and not that one day, however lovely it was.

At 20 I reeled off the vows after the minister without a second thought, not really contemplating the full commitment of the words. In practice, it is bloody hard work and we have certainly had our share of ups and downs and being married hasn't made these any easier, it has not been any magic sticking plaster.

I believe love is love and if you want to demonstrate it to the world by having a grand occasion, then good for you, but it doesn't mean you love your partner deeper or better than a couple who haven't said "I do".

Allie said...

Hello, kellyi! Nice to hear from a lurker.