Are unmarried couples taken less seriously?
Do people still see your relationship as more casual if you haven't formalised it through marriage?
At a recent funeral I was a bit taken aback when my mother introduced my partner with “This is Nicole’s friend.” Now just to be clear he’s been my “friend” for seven years, we’ve lived together, travelled overseas together and, you know, sleep together so I was slightly nonplussed in both the formal and informal sense of the word.
I was bewildered because obviously he’s much more than a friend and unbothered as I knew my mum wouldn’t intentionally diminish our relationship (hi Mum!) So when I finally asked her why, she said she didn’t believe in defining relationships. When pressed, she did reluctantly admit she would’ve gone with the proper term of “husband” rather than “friend” if we were married.
In fact, she touched on a complaint I’ve heard from quite a few people that there needs to be another term invented for more serious, but still unmarried, long-term relationships. De facto is plain ugly, it sounds like ‘legalese’ and the only time I don’t feel a cringe seeing it is in tax documents where it belongs.
I personally don’t have a problem with boyfriend or girlfriend, but I can see why its critics find it too immature for many circumstances (I always feel immature so I’m not overly fussed.) The alternative neologism, ‘manfriend’, has been bandied about on the internet but it’s too cutesy for me.
I especially hate the term “lover” except when you’ve gone through a messy break up and are now dramatically proclaiming “I have taken a lover”, in which case I enthusiastically endorse it. So that leaves me with my personal favourite – partner. I like to imagine that it makes me sound mysterious. Am I talking about my business partner? My boyfriend? My girlfriend? Who knows! I am an enigma! I know some people find it too formal, but I think its mix of non-specificity and seriousness is its strength.
During the time my partner and I have been together I have one pal who met a guy, got engaged, married said guy, bought a house with him, fell pregnant and now has a teeny tiny adorable baby, so I can understand why people sometimes might think I’m a touch meandering in my approach to relationships. My feelings on marriage are much the same as my feelings on maxi dresses, I love it on others but right now it’s a bad fit for me (though maybe in a couple of seasons?).
But I don’t think that being married is automatically proof that a couple is more committed or more serious, so it irks me when I’m reminded that not everyone seems to feel that way. I’ve been on the receiving end of a couple of “So are you two getting married any time soon?” interrogations from friends (okay, they were well-meaning queries. But it’s hard not to feel like there’s some sort of implicit criticism when it’s phrased as something you should’ve already gotten around to – like overdue taxes or cleaning out the lint tray in the dryer.)
I’m of the school of thought that the relationship won’t be any more “real” just because I have a wedding, the only thing I imagine would be more real would be the debt I would have to go into to finance the damn thing. And yes, I could just go to a marriage registry but it’s actually the party part of a wedding that would be the drawcard for me – the idea of gathering your nearest and dearest to celebrate that you’ve had some measure of success in the love lottery is quite sweet.
I also sometimes feel others think you’re more likely to break up if you’re unmarried, but as a child of divorce I don’t think having a piece of paper should make you any more or less likely to stay together if it’s not working. For me right now, I just can’t imagine that the feelings of happiness I get from my relationship would be any different or any greater just because of a ring, a party and a certificate.
While I’ll probably continue being mildly irritated at being asked “When are you two tying the knot?”, I do realise if we actually did that it would only upgrade us to the inevitable next question “When are you two having kids?” So I guess faced with that knowledge, I will happily link arms with my partner and announce “Best friends forever!”