Marriage and Partnership, Part II

I posted a little over a week ago on a term I found on the blog Fastidious.  While the post was somewhat of an excoriation of Fastidious’ use of the term, for the most part, it was an exploration of “shack-up whore” from a feminist perspective.

Among the responses to the post was a lengthy comment from Fastidious herself, to which this post is a lengthy reply.  Quoted material in this post is from Fastidious’ comment except when otherwise noted.

To read the original “Shack-up Whore” post, click here.  To read Fastidious’ comment on that post, click here.

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First, the things you got from my post:

1) The label “shack-up whore” is not particularly “unnerving” to me, it’s simply abhorrent to me.  I do have “feminist leanings” because I am a feminist. 🙂

2) I was not upset that cosbysweater08 didn’t discern a rant from an argument (it was pretty clear he’d not read my blog before, so he was unfamiliar with my stylistic inclinations); I found your blog when I was researching/responding to his trackback on my blog, and I read deeper into your blog while I was there.

3) I was unfamiliar with the term “shack-up whore,” found the phrase obnoxious, and found only one definition during my search, which was the one I shared in my post.

In your definition, which is different from the one I found, “shack-up whore generally refers to young women who fall prey to the idea that living with a young ‘man’ without marriage is the same as living with a husband in wedlock.”

Semantically speaking, your definition is full of pitfalls.  What age range do “young women” fall into?  Why is “man” in quotes?  The language and use of quotation marks seems to indicate that while they may both be in the same age range, the “man” isn’t really a man (if he doesn’t marry the young woman?), and that “young women” are more easily “prey” than young men.

Once again, there is the (semantic, anyhow) assumption that women are powerless, or that their power and security come from marriage to a man.

No, living with a man or a woman without marriage is not the same as living in wedlock.  For one, it’s a helluva lot easier to extract oneself from a simple living arrangement than it is to extract oneself from a marriage.  And for the “young,” or even the “not-so-young,” this may be a more desirable arrangement for that reason, and/or for a host of others.

“Boyfriend has no obligation, really, to care for girlfriend, see her through illness, sacrifice for her, provide for her, etc. He’s only made some sort of agreement with her, and she’s agreed.”

And neither does “girlfriend” have obligation, really, to care for, sacrifice for, and provide for “boyfriend.”  Again, semantically, you’re putting the woman in the subservient and needy role. He has “made” the agreement, and she has agreed to the agreement he’s made.

What makes an ideal partnership, IMHO, is that both partners care for and provide for their partner, period.  Without the necessity of swearing that they’ll do it forever and ever (which, frankly, is an impossible promise to make, even if you mean it very sincerely at the time).

And, in my humble experience, a marriage contract is no real guarantee of these sorts of provisions, nor are these provisions, in reality, enforceable under a marriage contract.

If a woman, a “shack-up whore” as you say, is “middle-class, educated, and economically independent,” then why should she feel the need to obligate a man to do these things for her?

Certainly, one hopes that she can find a positive and long-lasting partnership if she desires it, but should she try to parley it into marriage at the earliest possible moment in order to avoid being labeled a “shack-up whore”?

Or should she protect her economic independence by carefully weighing whether or not marriage makes sense?  After all, a bad choice–or even a good choice that goes bad over time (for a host of predictable or unpredictable reasons)–could just as easily cost her that economic independence as improve upon it.

Too, people who have amassed a certain amount of property or family or debt or other situations in which they might not wish to entangle their partners may feel that it’s a better arrangement to remain unmarried than to enmesh their beloved in their affairs or to go through the webwork of legal fees and paperwork to sort everything out just so that they can have a certificate from the Clerk of Courts saying they’re hitched.

It might simply be easier and more desirable to have a Power of Attorney for the really important stuff.

“I do hope that from the lists there, you can see that I do have my tongue firmly in my cheek. If a woman chooses to co-habitate with her boyfriend/lover/non-husband, no problem. I’m not going to shun her or say that she needs to wear a scarlet letter.”

No, you’re going to call her a “shack-up whore.”  Which isn’t particularly nice, either.

Getting back to the definition I found:

I commented on how a woman who is in a difficult economic situation and who is either on the street or sees that as a real probability, might consider “shacking up” with a man as a safer, better situation.  Your response:

“I’d hate to think that a woman would somehow needs a man in order to survive if she finds herself in difficult economic situations.”

Well, you can hate to think it, but my point is that a woman’s choice to “shack up” may, in this case, be a survival mechanism—and it may seem like the best decision (among, perhaps, many unpleasant choices) in certain situations.

So, it is hard for me to see how a person in a much more fortunate position can pass judgment on that decision.  That you were referring not to homeless women, but to women who simply choose, out of their own free will and not under duress, to live with their partners without a marriage contract makes the relative position from which you pass that judgment different, but doesn’t make the judgment more valid.

That you generally don’t like “women who live as shack-up whores” then becomes a matter of simple prejudice.

But about marriage and partnership:

I am not against marriage per se, but I do think that many (if not most) people who get hitched have a pretty romantic view about how smoothly life will sail them along.  Marriage, as it stands, is a contractual arrangement into which people ought to enter with the hardest noses they have–for both their and their partner’s sake.  But they don’t.

This may seem cynical, but it’s a view based on 1) the current divorce rate, 2) the older age at which, statistically, people are getting married, and 3) my own experience.

Latest marriage and divorce figures from the CDC show, in 2008, 7.1 marriages per 1,000 total population and 3.5 divorces. The divorce rate, of course, never applies (in a couple’s view) to an individual couple–at least not when they’re in the throes of romantic ecstacy.

But it is a fact based on not just the supposed “loose morality” some like to use to explain it, but because of economic and social factors as well.  It’s harder to have a “traditional” arrangement now.

Do I have to explain “traditional arrangement”?  A married heterosexual couple–“man and wife,” with the “wife” staying at home to raise the kids in a nice little house in the ‘burbs with the man making the money and the wife doing the childcare, housework, and shopping.

The older age at which people marry (median age for 2007: 27.7 for men, 26.0 for women–US census figures through infoplease.com) gives them more time to establish their own households with their own household goods and possessions.

Not everyone acquires a ton of property during those years as a single person, but it’s (I hope) a pretty easy idea to swallow that people living on their own for a greater amount of time acquire more property than do sweethearts who get married out of high school and their parent(s?) households.

And property is a pretty significant aspect of marriage because, while property laws are different in different states, separate property often ends up becoming at least partially marital property, either through joint work/investment on that property during the marriage or through claims during a divorce.

For my own experience, I’ll call upon my own writing on the subject from my journal files:

When I was in my late twenties, I married a guy who seemed normal and stable and whom I thought would never leave me.  We had a child a couple years later because the time seemed right and that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re married.  It ended in divorce after 6 ½ years because I felt like I had two kids—after the first year [after our son was born], when I was able to stay home, I was always working to support us, plus doing the majority of the housework, and my husband would berate me about being a crappy mom because I was always tired and frustrated…

Society also tells you that you should get married—as if a piece of paper and the nod of church and/or state authorities will guarantee a happily ever after.  I heard all the advice that marriage takes work—I worked like hell and that’s all I did.  My brother, raised in the same home as me, ideal by society’s standards, is on his second marriage and is helping his new wife raise her kids by her previous marriage to a deadbeat.

Traditional societal roles haven’t been workable for some time, but they are still called upon in order to judge people.  It is almost impossible for either parent to stay home and raise the kids, and it’s not necessarily [emphasis added] the best thing for the kids.  Many marriages end in divorce—other couples stay together for the kids and some of those give their kids a great example of a crappy relationship to emulate.  If we want our kids to be happy, perhaps it is our job to show them how to find healthy and stable relationships without the pressure of being right on the first try.

If we want our own lives to be happy and healthy and stable, perhaps we should do what works for us and our families and our kids instead of relying on outdated ideals that, statistically, hardly work for anyone.  We could also work on reducing our prejudice that if something worked for us (or didn’t, but we stuck with it anyway), it ought to work for everyone else.

While we may have a societal prerogative to promote stability in relationships–especially those that involve children, that stability is not guaranteed by or enforced through the marriage contract as much as some might like to believe.

I have lots of friends who are married: I’m happy for their happiness, and I worry for them when they hit rocky times, and I’m sad for them when things don’t work out.  Just like I do my unmarried friends.

I’m also careful with my language around my son in terms of relationships–I don’t say, “when you get married,” I say (on the rare occasion I talk to my seven-year-old about marriage) “if you get married.” Because I don’t want him to believe, as I did, that you’re supposed to get married or that marriage is inevitable.

What annoys me is when married people (or even unmarried people) refuse to accept the validity and stability of a relationship when there’s not a state and/or church sanction involved. I was told second-hand about someone on the board of a local organization who questioned my right to a “family membership” together with my partner and my son.

His comment?  “Let’s see the marriage certificate.”  The funny thing is–there are quite a few gay and lesbian couples who have family memberships in that organization–but I guess they have an “excuse” not to be married?

My ex-husband fought to enter a clause in our divorce agreement that neither of us could live with another person that we were not married to until our son was eighteen years old.  I fought against that not because I wanted to (as he claimed) “expose” our son to a string of “boyfriends,” but because I thought it was dangerous to enforce marriage as a condition of cohabitation when marriage is frankly not always the best arrangement.

Finally, I don’t know nor do I really care if I qualify for Fastidious’ general dislike by conforming to her version of the label “shack-up whore.”

What counts, in my book, is not a certificate from the state or sanction from a church, but the fact that my partner and I have a kind, loving, and stable relationship that has made and continues to make both of our lives easier and better.

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