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Honey, Why Get Married?

Ken braced himself for Marian to leave in a huff. Instead, she smiled and asked, “Can you promise?”

Since then, the couple has been happily together for seven years. “I always joke that the best way to get rid of Marian would be for me to propose marriage,” says Ken, a field biologist living in Boulder, CO. “People occasionally ask me why we’re not married, and my answer has always been, ‘Why would I get married? What possible reason would there be to do that?’ These questioning people, who usually are long-married, seem dumbfounded by my response. They usually fall back on thinking it’s a societal norm — which these days, of course, it is not. It might be a grand statement to our friends and families of our commitment; it seems unnecessarily complicating to me.”

Ken and Marian are both familiar with the complications that marriage can entail: Ken has been married twice; Marian only once, but for 20 years. Both are in their sixties and have grown kids and grandkids, and they both can see why marriage was important back then. “Marriage is a very real convention for the benefit of children or to solidify property concerns,” says Ken. “Otherwise, I think it’s an antiquated institution.”

Marian agrees wholeheartedly. “Our relationship is probably much better this way than if one of us complied with the other’s marriage demands,” she says. “We love one another and we love our independence.”

The new no-marriage pact
Ken and Marian are hardly alone in vowing they’ll never walk down the aisle. “The days of desperately seeking marriage or remarriage seem to be on the downswing for all age groups,” observes Debra Castaldo, Ph.D., a therapist in Englewood, NJ and author of the upcoming book, Relationship Reboot. “Many middle-aged or older adults rushed into first marriages in their early twenties because it was the ‘gold standard’ thing to do.” Now, just about 50 percent of those couples are divorced — and they’re rarely eager to jump into a second marriage. “It’s been said that once a cat sits on a hot stove, it never sits there again!” says Dr. Castaldo. “In [their] forties and beyond, the ‘been there, done that’ feeling can cause people who have been married and divorced to shy away from repeating the mistakes of their past.” Meanwhile, younger people who’ve never married have their own reasons for not making a relationship official. “Many have grown up as children of divorce and are shying away from the risk following in the footsteps of their parents’ life-changing mistakes,” says Dr. Castaldo.

Even celebrities have hopped on the no-marriage bandwagon. George Clooney, a man whom most women would kill to marry, has sworn he will never tie the knot again, pointing to his failed marriage to actress Talia Balsam (the couple divorced in 1993). “So I’ve proven how good I was at [marriage],” Clooney said during an interview on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight show in January of 2011. “I’m allowed one.” For Brad Pitt, his refusal to marry Angelina Jolie is a political issue. Why should he have the right to marry when homosexuals do not in most U.S. states? “I’ve said that we would not be getting married until everyone in this country had the right to get married,” Pitt told Ellen DeGeneres on her daytime talk show, Ellen. “We allow this discrimination to go on every day and that’s not what we’re about — that’s not what makes us great. Until that is reversed, I just don’t get it.”

Many agree with Pitt’s sentiment — including Naome, a 27-year-old from Wilmington, NC who told her boyfriend of five years that she’d never marry until gays and lesbians had the right to marry, too. “A friend of mine, she and her girlfriend have been together awhile,” Naome explains. While they want to get married, “they’d have to move to New York City for it to be legal. They’d be leaving their careers here behind. I just don’t think it’s fair,” she says. When Naome explained her no-marriage stance to her boyfriend of five years, he understood. “I asked him: ‘Are my feelings toward marriage an issue?’ He didn’t think so at all,” she recalls. “When I explain things, I usually get a positive reaction from people.”

Marriage = a mistake?
In retrospect, many people who admit that their first marriage was a mistake say they felt pressure from external sources — i.e., to please their families or adhere to religious practices — instead of a genuine desire to tie the knot. After Christie married at 24 and divorced eight years later, “I did a lot of soul-searching and realized the only reason I really wanted to get married was because of my fundamental Christian upbringing which told me it was mandatory, especially if you ever wanted guilt-free sex,” she says. Now, as a 46-year-old life coach in Edmonton, Canada, “I’ve come to the realization that marriage was an outmoded convention that doesn’t really work in today’s society. It was created when people lived shorter lives and needed a partner to create babies, till the land and stay warm. This led me to decide that I didn’t want to be married again,” Christie explains. “I’m living with my current beau and neither of us is in any rush to put a formal label on things now — and maybe not ever.”

Another reason some people are reluctant to marry is that it’s no longer a hard-and-fast prerequisite for living together — or even having kids. When Walt from Mariden, CT was 23, his girlfriend became pregnant. Feeling too young to leap into matrimony, he moved in with his girlfriend to help raise their child and to test the waters for a long-term commitment. But while his girlfriend was gung-ho to get hitched, Walt soon had second thoughts. “I’m glad she’s my son’s mother, but I didn’t know if this was someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with,” he recalls. When his girlfriend finally said “Marry me — or else,” he made the painful decision to end their relationship. “I kept going back in my head, [thinking]: Would we even be living together if we didn’t have a son together?” Walt says. “The answer is no. And I need to be true to myself.”

Today, Walt — a 43-year-old car salesman — is good friends with his ex (he ended up DJing at her wedding), sees his son often, and envisions himself dying a happy bachelor. Not surprisingly, his no-marriage stance causes some women to run for the hills. “Once I was dating this woman who said: ‘Let’s talk about the future. Do you see yourself getting married? Having kids?’ I said, ‘No, I already have kids.’ I’m not opposed to long-term relationships, but if you want to call them ‘permanent’ and make it official? No.”

The woman Walt had been seeing grew silent, and then she broke up with him. The split pained him, because he did really love her… but after doing the math, marriage still seemed like a really bad deal. “If I marry somebody and it doesn’t work out, I’ve got to give her alimony. I’ve got to give her my house,” Walt explains. “That’s the risk. So what’s the reward? If you love me, you’re always going to be with me. If you don’t love me anymore, you’ll leave. Think about it. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. If 50 percent of parachutes didn’t open, would you be inclined to go skydiving?”

The surprising upsides of refusing to marry
Not all singles who’ve sworn off marriage, however, are hurting for dates. When Laura, 42, from Austin, TX tells men that she never wants to get married, they often light up like they’ve hit the jackpot. “Guys tell me how they go out with girls who say, ‘I want to get pregnant, I want to get married,’ which makes them want to run away,” says Laura. Since she doesn’t want to have kids, “I don’t have the pressure on myself to marry someone.” Instead, she focuses on just having a good time — a lesson she learned after terminating a prolonged engagement to a man who was perpetually unemployed and siphoned off Laura’s savings. As their engagement dragged on, “I became frumpy,” she admits. “I was wearing sweatpants, glasses, and no makeup at parties. I’d stopped caring about myself.” Laura eventually called off the wedding. A soon as she did, “I started doing my hair again and wearing flattering clothing. Now, my dating life is exciting!”

Many couples fear that swapping marriage vows will cause the sparks in their relationship to fade — and that their partner will stop trying to make things work, since they know their spouse is locked in and can’t leave easily once they’ve made things official. “My opinion is very simple: when you get into a marriage, people start to take things for granted. They just become lazy,” says Jay, 49, an entrepreneur in Houston, TX who’d love to find a lifelong partner, but does not wish to be married. “I’d much rather have the door [left] open,” he says. “If I don’t tend the garden, leave. For it to be successful, you’ve got to take care of it.”

So when you meet someone who says “I don’t want to get married,” should you take that claim at face value? Or is it possible he or she hasn’t met the right person that would inspire taking that leap of faith just yet? “If someone says [he or she is] not into marriage and will never marry, believe it,” urges Dr. Castaldo. “Don’t get trapped in the fantasy of trying to change [someone]! Women especially get sucked into trying desperately to get the guy to commit, believing they can if they are good, sweet and pretty enough. If you know marriage is a must for you, run to someone who has the same desire and value about marriage as you do.” Or, if you’re ambivalent about marriage yourself, consider weighing whether it’s really something you want for yourself.

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