How Marriage Changes Relationships

I’ve been thinking a lot about what marriage means lately, partly because I’m rapidly approaching 30 and have totally fallen for the cultural trope of WHAT THAT MEANS and partly because I went home for a visit recently and got bombarded with the all of the future questions. You know the ones: Are you thinking of settling down soon? Have you guys talked about marriage? What about kids? Um, is there a timeline here…? Also, while most people get bugged by these questions by different people over like, all the time, I live abroad. That means that I get all of the questions from everyone all at once. Sigh. Thanks for forcing me to face all of the big questions at once, guys! (Not.)

So yeah, marriage has been on my mind — but not in the stereotypical diamond-hungry, approaching 30 way. Instead, I’ve been thinking a lot about what getting married means to me, what it means to my partner, and what it means in general. Is it just a piece of paper, like so many people say? Is it a lifelong commitment, like what I’ve seen my parents do? Or is something you commit to for a period of your life and it doesn’t last until one of you dies and maybe… That’s OK?

Ugh. So many questions and, at this point, I have very close to zero answers. In fact, I’m starting to think that I won’t get just one answer to any of these questions, because it seems like marriage is as varied as the people who do it. There are millions of reasons to get married; millions of reasons not to get married; and millions of reasons to stop being married. While we so often want things to be really clear and black and white, the reality is that our relationships only exist in shades of grey. I’m even starting to think that the answer to the age-old question, “How will I know?” isn’t “You just will” but “You just won’t.” Marriage, it seems, is a leap of faith above anything else — maybe that’s the only universal truth about it.

But what the hell do I know? This is all just speculation at this point: I’ve never been married. However, over the past couple of years I’ve been trying really hard to expand my perception of love, relationships, and marriage beyond my parent’s lifelong monogamy example. I mean, it’s a really great one — they’ve been married for almost 30 years and while there have been ups and downs, they’re pretty damn solid — but it’s also only one perspective. Here are five more, just to make things a little more complicated. See, what did I tell you? Marriage really is different for everyone.

1. SarahKat, 31

Years married: 4

Our relationship has really only changed on paper. In reality, it's mostly an excuse for high-fives and yells of "Married people FTW!" and the like. I do feel a sense of warm, fuzzy security, and we do have less frantic sex (both less frantic intensity and less frantic frequency), but everything is generally just… Mellow.

2. Heather, 51

Years married: 25

More committed.

3. Kathleen, 31

Years married: Less than 1

We are more in love. Deeply committed, happily taking each day as a team.

4. Jess, 33

Years married: 3

My husband got lazy, fat, and lost his sex drive. He's totally given up, like marriage was some final frontier and now he gets to coast. On all fronts.

5. Ben, 35

Years married: 3

People ask how long we've been married and I have to keep track. Other than that? Over time your trust grows, allowing more flexibility for experimentation and just being yourself.

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