An Uncertain Case for Marriage

Last week's Modern Love features a love story that was never supposed to be conventional: Boy proposes to 24-year-old Girl, former Newsweek reporter and Tumblr executive editor Jessica Bennett. Girl freaks out; she loves him, but wants to focus on her career, and promises that she doesn't need a piece of paper to commit to him forever. Years pass, and sometimes she wishes she said yes, but for the most part feels happy with her decision. She works hard at said career, even co-writing a cover story for Newsweek on "The Case Against Marriage":

Our argument took romance out of the equation. As we explained it, Americans were already waiting longer to marry, and fewer than ever believed in the "sanctity" of marriage. As urban working women in our 20s, we no longer needed marriage to survive - at least not financially. We weren't religious, so we didn't believe that unmarried cohabitation or even child-rearing was an issue.

But we were also cynical. As children of the divorce generation, we had watched cheating scandals proliferate in the news. We had given up on fairy tales, and we didn't know how anybody could see the institution of marriage as anything but a farce. It was "broken," one sociologist told me. So, what was the point?

"Happily ever after," we proclaimed proudly, "doesn't have to include ‘I do.' "

Her boyfriend says he doesn't care about the article, because, over the years, she's convinced him that he doesn't believe in marriage, either. Then, power shifts: Bennett wants to get married but her husband does not. Eventually, he breaks up with her, six years to the night he proposed:

In the end, we had no shared bank account or property. We didn't have to go through a trial separation or mandatory counseling. We had spent seven years living in a 600-square-foot New York City apartment, inseparable and intertwined. Yet in the end, the relationship ended in one night. No discussion required.

As I tried to make sense of it all, I had a glimpse into why that sheet of paper had been so important to him. Sure, it may well be a jaded tradition, an antiquated ritual. But it's also a contract.

When he was packing his stuff, I remembered a conversation my Newsweek co-author had had with her mother about our article. "I'll tell you why you need marriage," she told her. "Because it makes it harder for the other person to leave."

Bennett's takeaway is that while "happily ever after" may not exist, "there's something to be said for uttering 'I do.'" Does that mean she thinks she'd still be with her ex if they had signed off on their relationship? "I'll never know," she writes. Hindsight isn't always 20/20.

Missing the Boat: A Case for Marriage [NYT]

Image via MNStudio/Shutterstock.