Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I had an interesting conversation with a young man the other day.

He mentioned that he was eager to start a family with his girlfriend — wanted her to "start popping out babies" — but had no similar urgency to get married.

I expressed (gently, I hope) my shock at the lack of commitment, and he took my comments in stride and said it was probably just a generational thing. He and his peers do not see the value in the formal commitment.

"You're probably right," I said. And we left it at that.

But, obviously, I didn't stop thinking about it.

Flash back to 28 years ago. I told a cousin about a friend who was excited to be pregnant. The mother-to-be was in a loving live-in relationship with the father and the baby was planned. My cousin asked, "Are they going to get married?"

"Oh, I suppose so," I replied. The question honestly had not occurred to me.

The couple did get married (before the birth). Though they gave it their best, it didn't last. But they both loved — and love — the child who is a bright, talented and secure young man in his own longstanding relationship.

So what has changed in me in the intervening years that I now think parenthood without a public commitment is a bad idea?  In this age of Kardashian 72-day unions, why would I feel that public vows and legal documents still matter?

Here's why.

A legally binding, public commitment, when made with your whole heart and not just as an excuse for a really expensive narcissistic party [cough]Kim Kardashian[cough], removes a whole world of possibilities from the table. Things that are no longer part of the equation include:
  • infidelity
  • selfishness
  • short-term thinking
  • letting one partner take all the responsibility (financially or even in terms of housework or childcare)
  • giving up easily
I readily admit that there are many non-married couples for whom most of those things apply - perhaps even most couples. And obviously there are married couples who flout every last one of those before the wedding reception is over. 

When children are involved, I think they deserve to have parents who will declare their intention to be faithful to each other, to be selfless and equal partners and to push through difficult times. The public declaration is important. Just ask Alcoholics Anonymous or Weight Watchers: we are less likely to succumb to our weaker selves when we have made our intentions public.

Yah. I'm an old square now. Possibly because I now know exactly how hard it is to maintain all of that in the face of parenthood! 

As a final thought, the issue of gay marriage has been on my mind throughout this particular meandering. It is ironic that while some couples struggle for the right to declare their union, others take it so much for granted that it has no value to them. I think this picture shows so much beauty it is inspiring.

Brad Altman and George Takei waited 21 years
for the opportunity to publicly declare their commitment.


  1. It's not just the public commitment or the "intention" of fidelity and selflessness -- it comes down to civil law. I don't know how Canada views it and I'm no lawyer but it keeps the child and spouses safe within the law for support, etc. I wish it weren't required but sometimes it is. And, I wish that gay marriage would be legally recognized to protect all involved. No law can make someone be true and honor their commitments - that comes from within. But civil law protects the innocent.

  2. Good point. In Ontario (I'm not sure what the law is in other provinces) a heterosexual couple is considered "common law" married if they've cohabited for three years, which doesn't really help a lot of children/partners.


What did you think? Any comments?

Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...