Marriage Isn’t A Coupon You Have to Redeem

I’m a big believer in acknowledging times in my life when I could’ve done things better. In fact, that’s probably just about everything I’ve ever done. Wisdom is born from learning from mistakes you’ve made — I’m human and imperfect. I take comfort knowing that I am evolving.

This is not a flattering story about myself. When I was about 26, I went to the beach with a bunch of friends and one of them was talking about her relationship with her sweetie. They had gone through a rough patch, broken up and gotten back together. The gist of what I said to her was, “So obviously you’re going to get married, if you love her this much.”

In my mind, my very flawed, twenty-six-year-old, black-and-white thinking mind, if you loved someone then obviously you were going to get married and pledge to love each other forever.

This is me during one of the Prop 8 protests. I still believe I should get to have at least one wedding a decade, since Liz Taylor did it.

This is me during one of the Prop 8 protests. I still believe I should get to have at least one wedding a decade since Liz Taylor did it.

My friend, to her credit, just laughed and said she wasn’t sure that was right for her. Even though I had known people who had done this before, it was the first time I ever really internalized that folks in a relationship could be very in love and not get married.

At the time, I was living in the lack of that gray area — in a relationship that was very much on a forever trajectory (just a few months later my stealth FTM boyfriend put a ring on it) that was very much not in line with who I wanted to be in the world. But I didn’t stop to think about any other possibilities — John and I were in love and I wanted that good lovin’ feeling to last forever, and marriage meant forever. I didn’t stop to think that I didn’t want to live a stealth straight life in the suburbs, I just figured we’d work it out when we got to it.

This all happened in the 2006 – 2007 range, before DOMA was overturned, before I lived in a state that allowed same sex marriage, before marriage was a right I had — I just meant ceremonial marriage. When John asked me to marry him and I said yes, that was the moment I believed I pledged my love and future to him, it wasn’t about just signing some papers, I believed those to be a formality.

I bring up this story now to illustrate the discomfort I brought onto my friend by assuming she would automatically want to get married to her partner because she was in love and that’s what you do. I think a lot of queers these days are confronted by this as the dissolution of DOMA and the ever increasing states that recognize same sex marriage means that the right to marry is available more and more. How weird is it to go home for the holidays and have your whole family expect that you and your partner will put a ring on it simply because you are able to now.

Marriage isn’t a coupon, you don’t need to redeem it. It’s not like getting to Petsmart and feeling like an idiot because I forgot the coupon for $3 off my cat litter. (But I do always forget that dang coupon.)

I have learned a lot about how to live an interesting life because of my queer communities. I’ve learned new ways of loving, making art, being friends, creating families and homes.

Think about the ways we queers fuck. When straight, vanilla people say “having sex” you can basically assume they mean cis-penis in cis-vagina sex. When queer people talk about “having sex” these activities can include basically anything that gets either of them off. It can be your turn, my turn sex, it can be a whole pervy BDSM scene with no penetration, it can be a wild clusterfuck of pleasure, switching dynamics, roles and sex acts. It can also be cis-P in cis-V sex. Just like there’s no one “right” way to have queer sex, there’s no one “right” way to have ongoing queer relationships. Marriage is just one of the options we have now.

I think a lot about marriage from a legal standpoint since I’m an attorney who prepares pre-nuptial agreements and estate plans. Marriage is a bundle of rights which is as much a business partnership as it is a pledge of lifetime devotion. The right to marry is a great idea, but it might not actually be the best course of action for you financially, emotionally or legally for many different reasons. (I also believe strongly in pre-nuptial agreements as a method for securing your emotional future.)

I think a lot of queers rush into marriage and lifetime partnerships because we want to legitimize our relationships in a society where some people just don’t believe you can be same sex loving, or that somehow we are wrong for loving someone queerly.

I’m the kind of girl who has always felt kind of vexed that I am the “marrying kind”. I had this conversation in college with friends of mine, that I’m this person people don’t want to casually date because I’m steady, not particularly dangerous, I’ve never been a typical “bad girl.” I was a Girl Scout all the way through the end of high school. I thought no one would want to just casually date me because I’m the kind of person you need to save for when you get serious. Maybe that’s true, maybe that’s prevented some folks from wanting to date me.

I’ve had some loves I believed would have a marriage component, I’ve been partnered twice. But I’ve also had some pretty incredible, passionate, wild love affairs that did not, and could not, last that long. At the time, it was hard for me to not hope for a marriage component. But each relationship was incredibly meaningful. Learning how to appreciate their temporality has been an important lesson, one I’m only now putting into practice.

This is me and my sweetie Luscious in 2009. Our relationship was incredibly meaningful to me but I had a really hard time because I put a lot of pressure on it to be a forever thing instead of just relaxing and letting it just be. She passed away a little over a year after we dated (Photo credit Tanja Tiziana)

This is me and my sweetie Luscious in 2009. Our relationship was incredibly meaningful to me but I had a really hard time because I put a lot of pressure on it to be a forever thing instead of just relaxing and letting it just be. She passed away a little over a year after we dated (Photo credit: Tanja Tiziana)

Releasing myself to love someone who I don’t believe is someone I want to partner with is scary. Am I cutting myself off from the possibility of meeting the future Mx. Branlandingham by honoring a love that exists in a way that is not suited for partnership?

My friend Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha recently suggested to me that maybe I’m not destined for marriage. Maybe I’m destined to have a full life on my own that is punctuated with these amazing affairs. I try to live that way, not waiting to experience all of the joy and wonder of my life right now for the partner I’ve been believing for, but I also do still think that as I come into more and more the person I’ve been working to become, I’m opening myself up for the right partner. The person I would have wanted for a partner three years ago is very different than who I would want now.

Settling into this comfort, with the unknown about partnering with someone, has been made possible by seeing the myriad of amazing examples of how queer relationships can work in my friends’ lives. We certainly don’t see it in mainstream media culture, where there is nary an open relationship, polyamorous agreements or a long term partnership that doesn’t put a ring on it.

This is my ex-partner Seth. We were together for just about three years and loved each other like family. We both changed a lot and breaking-up was the most loving thing we could do for each other, even if I couldn't see it at the time. I still have so much love for Seth and appreciate her in my life.

This is my ex-partner Seth. We were together for just about three years and loved each other like family. We both changed a lot and breaking-up was the most loving thing we could do for each other, even if I couldn’t see it at the time. I still have so much love for Seth and appreciate her in my life.

I know people who have multiple primary partners, one partner and “another” partner. People who have had long term sweeties that cross international borders who still have other girlfriends. People who are partnered with only one person, have two kids, own a house, have intricate estate planning documents, but are not married and don’t know if they want to get married. People who are married and have non-monogamy arrangements. People who manage to put a ton of effort into their relationships whether they be primaries or poly side dishes. People who don’t have any love relationships at all and are very comfortable with that.

This idea that pledging forever is the only way to legitimize a love relationship is incredibly limiting. It also isn’t actually a strategy for success. Successful relationships grow and change as they make room for the participants to grow and change. This idea that love has to be forever to be legitimate is also a way to get stuck in something that hasn’t been working for years. (Hello, Lesbian Bed Death.) Your relationship is totally valid if it worked for some period of time, even if it isn’t working anymore.

Marriage is like a chlorinated community pool that we now have access to. I think that people forget that queers have been swimming in the ocean the whole time. We have always had to be creative about how we create our love relationships and, now that we don’t have to be creative, I hope we still can be.

Queers do a lot of things to feel like we honor or legitimize our relationships because society doesn’t always honor or legitimize our relationships, and marriage is just one option we have right now.

I wonder if we could have these teaching moments with well-meaning friends and relatives who want to know when we’re going to tie the knot with our beloveds. Tell them, “I think there are lots of ways to honor love with someone that don’t necessarily involve getting married.” People who see things in black and white might not be able to see the whole color spectrum, but maybe some of them will.

I want to believe that showing up for a love relationship, regardless of whether or not you’ve said forever, is the moment that counts. I don’t need someone to tell me “I’m going to be with you forever” in order to give them my love now, hold her hair when she’s getting sick, hold his hand when he’s hurting.

Waiting for a forever pledge feels like some kind of weird contract. I don’t want a partner who only shows up for me emotionally because I’ve agreed to continue to show up for them. I want it to be authentic, a consistent choice that they make to be in my life. I don’t want to be someone’s default.

I think marriage is an awesome choice we have now. I am super stoked to go to my friends’ weddings and celebrate all of their permutations of love. If marriage is the right choice for you, that is awesome. If marriage ends up being the right choice for me, you better believe my dress is going to make your jaw drop and my party is going to be epic. And the future Mx. Branlandingham is going to be beyond my wildest dreams. In the meantime, though, my life will remain extremely fabulous and I will wear gowns whenever I feel like it. It is the Bevin way.

 Instead of getting married on May 17, 2008 I had a "Celebration of Personhood" as opposed to "Couplehood." My bestie Rachael flew in from Atlanta for it. We're still besties and I didn't marry the wrong dude.

Instead of getting married on May 17, 2008 I had a “Celebration of Personhood” as opposed to “Couplehood.” My bestie Rachael flew in from Atlanta for it. We’re still besties and I didn’t marry the wrong dude.

I used to believe I was a failure because I didn’t have a forever love partnership. Maybe partnering with the wrong person would have been more of a failure. As I recognize that wisdom comes from mistakes, maybe nothing is a failure at all. I’ve learned so much from the times I’ve screwed up — like that time I put my friend on the spot while on the beach.

That friend, by the way, is still with her partner, nearly a decade in and they’ve weathered a ton of great and hard changes in both of their lives. A wonderful example of a life lived and loved queerly.

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Bevin blogs about the relentless pursuit of her joy at QueerFatFemme.com.

Bevin has written 7 articles for us.

18 Comments

  1. Thumb up 6

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    Thank you for writing this piece!

    My girlfriend and I were just talking about the problem with thinking that things that are not “forever” are all for not.

    We don’t apply this logic to any other relationship. One does not avoid getting close to one’s parents simply because they will probably die before you die.

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    This was a great piece! Being more immersed in the queer community, I’ve often come away from these sorts of discussions with the question of “am I missing out on something by being that let’s-date-to-get-married serial monogamist?” but I’m perfectly happy in a comfortable future-white-picket-fence relationship. I don’t need my love to be radical, but I’m also really glad that other permutations of love are becoming more normalized in my worldview.

    So, question for those who are definitely not like me for romance: Is the goal to normalize any kind of relationship, or is there a desire to keep things radical by not conforming to expected ideas of fairy-tale romances?

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    The question I’ve started having with my dates and relationships is more, “Is this something that fits in my life?” and “Does this person make me feel like being the best possible me?” I’ve started slipping away from marriage and forever as a goal, because, well, what’s the point if I can’t enjoy right now? I’ve missed out on so many things because I was wishing for something to fit my vision of what it should be, not asking if it was healthy, or if I was having fun right now.

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    you know, it’s funny. before i was married, i never wanted to get married. when i was married, i loved being married to that person, but i hated how stifled i felt, because i didn’t get to express my queerness. now that we’re divorced, i’m quite happy being in a relationship and not worrying about where it’s going. i feel better overall about marriage, but less connected to it personally, and i don’t know if that will ever change. so i’m happy that i get to choose my relationships now and choose the creative ways i can express them.

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    Think about the ways we queers fuck. When straight, vanilla people say “having sex” you can basically assume they mean cis-penis in cis-vagina sex. When queer people talk about “having sex” these activities can include basically anything that gets either of them off.

    THIS.

  6. Thumb up 7

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    You know how sometimes you read just the right thing at just the right time, and you can’t help but feel like it can’t possibly be a coincidence? Yeah, that.

    I was just thinking about how this works with me and my not-exactly-girlfriend. We love each other, but we already know that we just won’t work together for the long run. We both want such different things in our lives, and we have vastly different needs as well. So the question keeps coming up: why do it at all if we already know it won’t last? We’re going to break each others’ hearts, and yet, it feels worth it.

    It was very comforting to hear someone else validate a relationship like ours for a change.

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      I have a friends like this and at first I was annoyed because they broke up and ~*~*~lesbian drama~*~*~ but after they came to an understanding that they are not “girlfriend and girlfriend,” they are so much happier and functional. I didn’t get it at first but after reading this article and your comment, I can almost see how it makes sense now and how I could be open to such an arrangement.

      Thanks for your personal insight, it gave me a lot to think about because I’m totally going to start courting this girl “who is open to dating women,” without expectations of her being my girlfriend-> wife, dogs and cats as fur babies.

      I JUST WANT SOMEONE TO CONSENSUALLY LEG-HUG!

      my legs feel so alone….

  7. Thumb up 0

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    nice article. I personally have no idea what will come of myself, but I know that that’s OK, and the not knowing is very liberating.

    I remember one of my old law professors (a REALLY old guy) who had done family and property law, yelled at us when we peppered him with questions about pre-nups. He screamed if that was our attitude about it, don’t bother getting married, bad things were already happening, we didn’t have the right attitude for it anyway. It was probably a generational thing, but to each their own.

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    This is a very classed and culture bound issue? I can’t imagine a version of reality in which I have enough money for it to be worth fighting over in court so marriage doesn’t seem like a commitment to perpetual sharing of assets, but a way for me and my partner to merge families /right now/ because this is something we want to do /right now/ – and if later on we change our minds, that’s okay.

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    Everywhere else on the internet, love advice says, “if you love each other that means commitment and marriage and fidelity and sacrifice and monogamy forever and ever etc.” Like there is only one way to have a mature, meaningful relationship.

    Articles like this make me so grateful that I am lucky enough to be a queer person. Realizing you’re queer forces you to question the whole boy-girl-marriage-baby dance, and in turn opens you up to a world of happiness options and love possibilities.

    Thank you for this!

  10. Thumb up 2

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    “I thought no one would want to just casually date me because I’m the kind of person you need to save for when you get serious. ” -> all of this. I feel this all the time. girls are never casual with me.

    Also, my cis-bf and I have been on and off again for years. We get together whenever it works out in our lives to say we’re together, but I’ve never stopped loving him. One of my lez friends recently told me it would terrify her if she kept coming back to someone, if they were that ‘inevitable’. It used to scare me too. But in our time apart I’ve definitely grown and learned more about myself. I just appreciate the time we get to spend together (and we very occasionally talk about a far off future where we live in the same place). We could end up married, or life partners, or we could end up just best friends. And all options are okay with me.

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    Yes! I love this. Being queer has made me think critically about what a successful relationship is in ways I never did when I thought I was straight. Now I am very open and talk to the people I’m dating about the very fact that I don’t like to say “forever”. It’s simply unrealistic. Nothing lasts forever. I might get married, and that would be if I was truly amazingly in love and believed it would be for the duration of the time we could spend together, and wanted to publicly share that…but even then, it would be making a conscious decision everyday to honor that commitment, not a single choice made and then chaining me in place forever. QUEER IT UP PEOPLE! Yay!

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    “Marriage is like a chlorinated community pool that we now have access to. I think that people forget that queers have been swimming in the ocean the whole time.”

    This is brilliant. Reminds me of all the straight people who assume that, given the choice, any queer person would choose to be straight coz it’s “easier”, and don’t get how interesting and exciting and fun it can be to be queer.

  13. Thumb up 0

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    “Think about the ways we queers fuck. When straight, vanilla people say “having sex” you can basically assume they mean cis-penis in cis-vagina sex. When queer people talk about “having sex” these activities can include basically anything that gets either of them off. It can be your turn, my turn sex, it can be a whole pervy BDSM scene with no penetration, it can be a wild clusterfuck of pleasure, switching dynamics, roles and sex acts. It can also be cis-P in cis-V sex.”

    Quibble: straight, vanilla people don’t always mean cis-p in cis-v sex when they say sex. Some (granted, I doubt it’s the majority) straight, vanilla people count oral sex and manual sex as sex, and most of them count anal sex as sex. But, yes, with straight-vanillas, sex that isn’t cis-p in cis-v isn’t universally assumed to be “real” sex, or at least sex without any qualifiers, by their presumably straight, vanilla audience. Which is where the phrase “hook up” comes in handy! Hooking up covers a broad range of activities, including heavy making out, some-but-not-all clothes off, dry humping, oral/manual sex, cis-p in cis-v, anal sex, any kind of mutual or one-sided orgasms, etc. It’s a versatile euphemism! Kind of like “fuck.” A lot of straight people assume fucking means cis-p in cis-v sex, but they’ll usually acknowledge that it includes any vaginal or anal penetration with a penis or strap-on, and sometimes they allow the word to be more flexible as well.

    Personally, I like the Reggie Watts video for my definition of fucking. But I’m queer, so…

    http://laughingsquid.com/music-video-for-if-youre-fucking-youre-fucking-by-reggie-watts/

    Also the “Is it sex?” flowchart! (Is at least one of you naked? Are either of you orgasming or trying to orgasm? Are you hungry?–>Eat a sandwich.)

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