I went to therapy for the first time last week. Between the recent breakup with my (our) girlfriend, and general marital stresses at home, it was time to find someone to vent on that would actually be able to help, instead of just thoughtfully nodding at me and offering hugs. Not that I don't like hugs.
One of the questions that my new, delightful, poly-friendly therapist posed to me was about marriage. We were discussing commitment, and she asked what marriage meant to me in terms of commitment, and how it's different from a long-term boyfriend/girlfriend type of relationship.
This is actually a pretty poignant and pertinent question for me, especially because I've seen so many people that seem to be on board with polyamory or open relationships, until marriage becomes a question. In an online article about an open marriage, I read a horribly vindictive comment that basically said “Sure, it's great to fuck around when you're young, but once you get married, it means you need to be monogamous forever.” Worse, we encountered a similar sentiment in real life with the parents of one of the girls in my constellation. My husband had to deal with his girlfriend's dad basically treating him like a confused frat boy. His sentiment was that you know, it's great that you can get this many girls to fall in love with you, but you're married now. Stop that. He treated the idea of multiple partners as a great thing for a young man that wants to sow his wild oats, but that's all. So my husband's girlfriend's father is now treating her like a homewrecker, and is concerned on my behalf for my marriage – mind you, I've never met this man.
So, no. Marriage does not mean it's time to sever all the polyamorous connections and commit to monogamy with my one and only. Pardon my severity, monogamous folks, but that's stupid. If I wanted to be monogamous, I would be monogamous with my boyfriend or girlfriend just the same as my husband or wife. I want to be polyamorous, and therefore I will do so with my boyfriend or girlfriend just the same as my husband or wife. Which brings up another issue I've come up against. I've heard a lot of people – poly folks included! – who have assumed marriage is off the table with any new partners because they're already married. Yes, it's true, unless we all move to Northern Africa or Southeast Asia, we can't be legally polygamous. Sad, but true. But just speaking for myself, I don't need the government to rubber-stamp my marriage in order for me to consider myself married. I am legally married to my husband, but personally that part of the marriage was primarily to make our financial lives easier. We're now able to be on the same health insurance, and I think both our credit scores got a little better. We file our taxes together – by which I mean he does it for us, so big win for me. But I didn't need the government to tell me when I was married – I just needed them to give me permission to do all those annoying money things. This means that I am open to the idea of being married again. It hasn't come up, but it is hypothetically an option.
Ok, I hear all your frustrated sighs, enough stalling and explaining what marriage does NOT mean to me. What marriage does mean to me, is that if I decide to marry someone, I'm choosing them forever. I know, in the world of the 50% divorce rate, that doesn't seem to be what marriage is about anymore. The fact that the phrase “starter marriage” even exists is evidence of that. Polyamory may have scrapped a lot of the terminology of the standard wedding ceremony (“forsaking all others,” for example), but I hold strongly to the “'til death to us part” portion. A wedding, to me, is a promise made among people in the witness of family, friends, and your optional deity of choice, that no matter what happens, that relationship will survive. My husband and I promised each other that we are committed to each other for the rest of our lives, and not just because we've legally tethered ourselves together. To me, the difference between being “partners,” “together,” “in a relationship,” etc, and being “married,” is the promise of forever.
That's my easy definition, now let's throw a kink in it, because my constellation are a bunch of kinky bastards. I'm gonna talk about my boyfriend. He's got two ex-wives under his belt, and as such will not get married again. Period. Hard limit. And we accepted that as part of the deal when we got together. The question – and fear – that boundary raised in me was about how much he was willing to commit to a relationship. Based on my personal definition of marriage, “never getting married” meant “never making promises.” It meant forever wasn't an option. But the world doesn't operate on my definitions of things. So when he told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me, I started doing some hard thinking. Once again, I do not have a gift-wrapped platitude to close with, because life doesn't come with those. But I am reconsidering the meaning of commitment, within marriage and outside of it. The one thing that is certain about polyamory is that you have to let your definitions be fluid. All of them.