My parents want me to get married. My grandparents want me to get married. When the marriage is over and done with (or, in most cases, before it’s even been floated as an idea) they will all want me to have children. To produce tiny copies of myself and my other half, then send them out into the world to follow in their mother’s footsteps/continue the family line/whatever it is that people expect children to do.
But although these things are unarguably signs that you’re committed to your relationship, there are other things that – to me – indicate commitment in a different way, yet are rarely celebrated or treated as exciting.
A long time ago I moved in with my partner – an ex. When I told my family, I had a mixed range of reactions, from ‘congratulations!’ to ‘are you sure? It’s a pretty big commitment.’ The latter, bizarrely, was from people who’d previously asked me when they’d hear wedding bells. I had another relative who said ‘why are we celebrating this? You’re basically just housemates – it’s not exactly commitment, is it?’
Weddings versus other commitment
I love a good wedding – they’re desperately romantic. I like turning up on the day and smiling alongside the happy couple in cheesy photos, throwing confetti and drinking booze and getting a bit weepy over the speeches. Cracking stuff. Best of all I love hearing the pride in friends’ voices when they start saying “my husband” or “my wife”. Marriage is pretty cool, for those who want to do it.
In terms of marriage as commitment, though, I think it gets far too much of the credit. Sure, it’s a commitment: a public declaration of your togetherness and all that. But as a tediously practical nobhead, I can’t help but think that ‘marriage’ gets a lot of the commitment glory that should realistically be given to other, less romantic, things.
I’m talking about mortgages, mostly.
For many reasons, I have some fairly strong ideas about money and equality and independence in relationships. When I say ‘fairly strong ideas’ what I mean is if you even think about suggesting that I live off my partner’s wages, or that my credit card bills don’t matter because he could pay them with his savings if I really struggled, I am liable to burst into sanctimonious ranting.
Independence means a lot to me. My money is my money and his money is his, and that is the way it has always been. I’ve struggle to ‘share’ in the traditional, ‘committed’ sense of the word: joint bank accounts, paying bills without splitting to the final penny, not counting up who’s added six bags of Malteasers to the Ocado order, that kind of thing.
Money as a sign of commitment
So when I say I don’t want to get married, it’s not because I have a fundamental problem with marriage, or that I’m pissing on your happy day if that stuff works for you. I’m not even saying I’ll never get married – if I were with someone who gave a massive and deal-breaking shit about it, I’d say an enthusiastic ‘I do’ to keep him happy. What I am saying, though, is that if you want a real test of whether I’m committed to a relationship, don’t ask for my hand: ask for a joint bank account.
Ask me for a mortgage. Buy a sofa we’ll sit on together. Offer to pay some of my debts then wave a hand and say ‘whenever’ when I ask how I’ll pay you back. Romance wise, it isn’t a patch on standing up in front of your loved ones and pledging to ‘love, honour and whatever it is they say instead of ‘obey’ these days’, but it gives me the warm and fuzzy feelings nonetheless.
These activities make me gooey because they’ve previously made me so afraid. If I throw my money in with yours – save jointly for a holiday, buy a house, or split the cost of getting the bathroom re-tiled, then… what if we break up? The knowledge that if this relationship goes down the toilet we’re left not just splitting book collections but setting up standing orders for repayment terrifies me. Would he charge me interest? Would I be left with a bill?
These fears and more mean that I’ve probably taken my fear of financial commitment a bit far. What started as ‘rent is split 50:50’ has become ‘I would rather watch you eat take-out on your own than eat a portion of a meal I can’t afford.’ In any relationship, my partner and I have paid for our own things, kept our own money, and always – always – split the bill.
Which means that, while my relatives might still be nagging for marriage, I can hug myself with the warm fuzzy feelings that come from looking at mortgage rates together. I can see romance in him chipping in to help re-tile the bathroom.
It’s not that romantic on the surface, but I’ll happily say ‘I love you’ with a spreadsheet.