I’m For Commitment, Just Not Marriage

 For this week’s Man Up Monday, Carlos Andrés Gómez explains how the love of his life opened him up to a new model of life-long commitment. 

“You’re pushing it, boy. I’m givin’ you two months… tops. You need to get it together,” and everyone laughed on cue.

I had suddenly become the punch line at the wedding rehearsal, flanked by my girlfriend’s mother, sister, grandmother, and extended family and friends. The hilariously extroverted and, up-until-that-moment earlier, endearingly charismatic wedding planner had turned on me. He’d just asked me if my girlfriend and I were married and how long we’d been together, to which I’d told him “no” and “almost three years.” And then came his ever-predictable response.

A question came into my head: Get what together? Conform and become another mindless robot just doing “what people do”? Does “getting it together” mean hitting the two-year mark, taking two months’ salary to buy a fat rock, locking it down, and starting a family?

♦◊♦

I’ve never felt compelled to do what I was told. Call it freethinking or an issue with authority; my first impulse has always been to question what I’m told, at best, or, on principle, just doing the opposite (which I now recognize as being equally silly). Whether it is being dictated to me by a random stranger, my parents or one of those ubiquitously clichéd societal narratives we all know and are forced to grapple with, I will always be introspective and critically engaged in the decisions I make. How am I not going to think deeply and profoundly about the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with? It blows my mind how blasé some people approach marriage.

When I think about a commitment like marriage, I immediately think about other big commitments I’ve made in life. For example, I remember getting an apartment with my best friend right after college. Being so young and naïve, we were just excited to be all grown up (finally!) and living on our own. I think we assumed that every day together would just be an endless party. With a rigorous daily grind at our low-paying social service jobs and the high cost of living in New York City, it was anything but. Let me put it this way—we lived together for a little over three years and it was an absolute miracle that we both made it out of that apartment alive! And that’s not saying anything bad about either of us. We’re both pretty easygoing, well-intentioned dudes.

Truth is, it’s just damn hard to live with another human being. No matter how much you love them and no matter how well you get along, it’s tough because human beings are work. Each person has his or her own annoying living habits and personality quirks. And that’s not even getting into how complicated things then become when you mix in sex and physical intimacy. And speaking of sex—one person for the rest of my life?  That was just one of multiple concepts I couldn’t wrap my head around in my early twenties. I wasn’t even sure monogamy was possible.

Of course, along with marriage comes the whole lifelong commitment thing.  I was scared to death of commitment in my early twenties. In college, I quickly became overwhelmed with panic when my then girlfriend suggested I move in with her and “start to build a life together.”  As the words left her mouth, I had this dreadful vision: a white picket fence, golden retriever, monotonous nine-to-five job in a cubicle, and two well-behaved boring kids sitting in the back of our gray minivan.  In other words, moving in with my girlfriend at the time symbolized the death of all of my dreams, the embracing of mediocrity, and a slow spiral into predictable, spirit-numbing adulthood.

For the majority of my life, all of my associations with marriage have been negative. Marriage makes me think of resentment, squelched dreams, boredom, and, above all, divorce. My own parents’ failed relationship, which ended in divorce when I was in the eighth grade, probably has a lot to do with it. By the end of middle school, I could easily count on one hand the friends whose parents were still together (and some of those probably shouldn’t have been). It built this profound aversion in me to the institution of marriage. It made me feel like marriage was cursed, as though by entering into such an arrangement, you were just biding your time before inevitable failure.

I met my current partner over eight years ago. We were friends and then a bit more than friends, for years, but never fully committed. She was my biggest supporter and closest friend, this breathtaking woman who was mature and funny and fiery and rational and huge-hearted and, oh, by the way, gorgeous. What I loved about her, and made me want to always be with her, also became the source of tremendous anxiety and what triggered in me this enormous desire to run. The thoughts kept coming up, Carlos, this woman is incredible. You can’t just date someone like this. You know what this leads to …

So I had finally found the most amazing woman, which created for me this impossible dilemma—I only wanted to be with her but I still never wanted to get married. When we finally decided to be in a committed relationship, it felt nothing like any other relationship I had ever been in. I felt free and alive like no other point in my life. Each day together felt fresh and thrilling. I felt like the best version of myself I had ever been. I felt overwhelmed by creative energy while remaining at peace and centered, something I had never been able to achieve on my own or with anyone else. She was like this miracle worker who made everything about me better.

And that was enough for me, for a while. The years came and went. We went to multiple weddings together, including her sister’s that I mentioned earlier, and watched many people we care about publicly declare their love. I felt satisfied by what I had been able to pull off—the healthy committed relationship without the downsides of marriage. I was a magician. I had tricked fate. I had found a way to avoid one of my greatest fears in life. Or so I thought …

Her associations with marriage are the opposite of mine. She grew up in a healthy, united family, surrounded by friends who, for the most part, also came from two-parent households. For her, marriage symbolized a defining union between two life partners wanting to bring their families together and publicly celebrate their love. Hearing her describe her feelings about both weddings and marriage began to slowly soften my perspective. Damn, I thought, there is something so beautiful and poetic about having a celebration to honor the love you share with your life partner. And to share that day with every other person you love? Wow. That must be incredible.  

That was my first surprising turn toward considering marriage. The wedding ceremony was something I did find value in. On the other hand, the marriage, or more accurately, the culture surrounding marriage, was what I feared most. And, of course, the marriage is the most important part. As one of my dear friends once told me, “Too many people plan weddings, not enough plan marriages.”  He’s been happily married almost twenty years.  Needless to say, I listen very carefully whenever he shares relationship wisdom.

I would openly communicate with my girlfriend (and even others who’d ask) about my fears and concerns surrounding marriage. I needed to wrap my head around my past associations with marriage and deconstruct the fears I had surrounding it. My partner would listen, ask gentle questions, and try her best to be patient, but with each passing anniversary, I could see the anxiety and fear growing in her eyes.

During the holidays I would watch her beautiful family—two of her sisters in healthy marriages, her parents married for over forty years, and relish in the joy we all shared together. I want this, I’d think to myself, Not that you have to be married to have this. But there is something so unique and special about this communion of family, this ceremony of loving each other, and this ritual of affirming what we mean to each other.  

I pictured the wedding ceremony we might have and how beautiful it would be to share that day with every other important person in our lives. I thought about fatherhood. I thought about our children being able to share both of our last names, all of us being the same unit—a family, a distinct, unbreakable home. I watched friends, who’d had similar issues to mine, remake and redefine marriage on their own terms. Question tradition and then either defy certain customs or recreate them for their own needs. I witnessed the relationships of our friends in which roles became more fluid. Those relationships became my blueprint for the real possibility and promise of a life I had long ago almost ruled out.

And then, one day, late last year it happened. Two and a half years later than I was “supposed to” I finally felt ready. I admitted to myself that I wanted to get married to the woman of my life. And this past winter we got engaged.

Which is not to say that I no longer have any fears surrounding marriage, but I have an overwhelming and profound sense of belief that we can build a life together on our own terms. I know it is possible because I have seen it done. And, sure, it will be scary and hard work at times, and also rewarding and humbling and beautiful and inspiring. I look forward to building a family we can call home. I look forward to my partner and I constantly re-envisioning and remaking our own ideas about both commitment and marriage … for the better.

 

Also watch Carlos Andrés Gómez perform slam poetry on the subject of masculinity, commitment, and marriage in the video I Want to Be a Better Man… But I Wait.

Image of couple waiting for marriage license courtesy of Shutterstock
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About Carlos Andrés Gómez

Carlos Andrés Gómez is an award-winning poet, actor, and writer from New York City. A former social worker and public school teacher, he costarred in Spike Lee’s #1 movie “Inside Man” with Denzel Washington and appeared in the sixth season of HBO’s “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry.” His first book, the coming-of-age memoir “Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood,”is available now from Gotham Books, an imprint of Penguin. For more on the book or to keep up with Carlos' blogging, please visit his website: http://www.CarlosLive.com/ or follow him on Twitter@CarlosAGlive.

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this. You found the only reason to ever get married and it was, and will be, worth the wait. There is no magic time frame and supporting the artificially inflated diamond cartel is unnecessary. Your fiancee’s family and your friend have it right–it is the marriage that matters, not the wedding. Unfortunately, you experienced one of the undiscussed fall out’s of divorce-the ability to believe in the value that marriage can bring. It is more than just a committed relationship. It is a way of thinking and being. It is this that can remove the “work” of living together because, if done right, you will get more than you ever have to give.

    • Dane Polemics says:

      A commitment to marriage (in this case the “right kind of marriage”) has nothing to do with the individual you’re marrying, time frame, or whatever, and everything to do with submitting to ideological dogma. Fear of marriage is the only natural response to something an idea so alien and teleological. I would like to read about a relationship that overcomes this violent, authoritarian social contract in favor of a relationship that are supported by mutually aiding, inspiring and loving one another. The alternative is a suffocating structure manufactured from from 2,000 years of patriarchy and taxed by the state.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    Cliché as it sounds, your marriage is what you make of it. There is no such thing as Marriage (with a capital M), meaning there is no such institution that just is the way that it is and is always the same for everyone and it just means X and never means Y. Your particular marriage is something you create with your specific partner on your own terms. So, make your marriage what you want your marriage to be like.

    I agree with your friend that people think about weddings much more than they do marriages. I didn’t realize until a few years into my marriage that I never really gave much thought to what being married really meant or what I wanted from it. I got married because it just seemed like the next thing to do. THAT has to be one of the worst, riskiest reasons to get married. Getting married to make your family happy also sounds to me like a horrible reason to get married.

    It’s great to get advice from people who have been married for a while, but remember that your marriage will not be exactly like anyone else’s. Whether it lasts or not has everything to do with how well the two of you negotiate the contract, how well each of you and the both of you get what you want and need. Work out what your particular marriage will be like before you get married.

    I doubt you will follow this advice, but I also recommend getting advice from someone who has never gotten married, or someone who has not been married for a while. It’s okay to picture what your life would be like without getting married, it doesn’t mean you don’t love her. It’s okay to add up pros and cons, and it’s okay to think about what you will lose by getting married.

    Please, please, please do not have children just because you think everyone else does or because it just seemed like the next thing to do or because your family will be happier. Think about the consequences there, too.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    P.S. I recommend reading a few GMP posts by men who’ve gotten burned by divorce. Just so you go in eyes wide open.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Wouldn’t his parents’ divorce, and growing up with nearly all the people in his young life being divorced, be enough for him to have his eyes wide open? I mean, he’s been with this woman for 8 years, right? His whole point is that his eyes are VERY wide open, and he’s choosing to do it anyway.

      That’s the entire context, wellokaythen.

      • wellokaythen says:

        (Oh, sure, call me to task for not paying attention to the whole article…. ; – ) )

        You’re right, he does have quite extensive experience with the ways that marriage can go wrong. However, I got the sense from the article’s language like he just forgot all about that experience and is a totally new person who has left those associations behind. If so, so be it, good for him. I just hope that he is not getting married as a kind of therapeutic approach for rehabilitating his earlier view of marriage, or as a way to solve the problems his parents had. Keeping a simple faith in the future, despite all your life experience, may not always be the best approach to life.

  4. Thoughtful essay!

    We knew each other for a decade, engaged for 7 years (3 of those years on opposite coasts), before getting married…yes, a relationship is a lot of work (even with someone you love!)….

    “Fear of commitment, of the death of all dreams, …of accepting a mediocre life….” yes, very real fears…

    I guess it helps to pick someone you can grow with and learn from…and not just going by some program…

  5. Hm. I like your article and can relate to certain parts of it but I still don’t know about marriage. I am a 36 year old woman in a loving committed relationship for over 6 years. We’ve been engaged for almost 4 years. For me, it’s not the commitment issue at all. I WANT to be in a life-long committed partnership. I have a different perspective on it. It’s just that I don’t think I need to sign a legal contract to have that… that’s the part I don’t get. I don’t need the government to define my relationship’s legitimacy. Especially when the same rights are not extended to all peoples.

    • @erin..

      I must agree with you. For most Americans, marriage above all else has been consecrated as a Holy union. It’s roots are primarily in religion, though not exclusively.

      The state should have no say whatsoever over the nature of marriage. Individuals should be free to create and establish marriages of their choosing.

    • Not buying it says:

      Thank you erin for spilling out how a lot of us feel men & women, if marriage as a social contract had as much value in reality as a large segment of society make it to be whether it’s religious or defined by new age political correctness (feminism) we wouldn’t have the dismal stats numbers of marriage failure we have decade after decade, in reality the numbers are even more drastic in certain segments of society, %75 to %90 among the educated affluent so called enlightened in certain parts of all the countries in the western world specially the good old U.S.A.

      The odds are so awful that if it was a business company issuing these contracts it would had been out if business by law suits for fraud long time ago, so way are these people are jumping into it so naively regardless of society pressures is beyond me.

    • erin. amen.

  6. Just what exactly is this “new model of life-long commitment” which was revealed through the love of your life?

  7. “Too many people plan weddings, not enough plan marriages.”

    YUP. My thoughts exactly when it comes to marriages.

    I think the divorce rate would be a lot lower if people took responsibility for their own emotional well-being rather than used their partner as an emotional crutch.

    I think the best marriages consist of two people walking the “Endless Path” with their partner– a path where each person continues to pursue personal-growth… which will then fuel the growth within their own relationship.

    This post knocked my socks off. Thanks to your mother for birthing you.

    • @mika…

      While I can appreciate your comments, I think what has to grow is the union. While as individuals we should strive daily for personal growth, that does not automatically translate into the growth of the marriage. Only when both people are totally and unselfishly committed to the success of the marriage will it work in the long run. Otherwise, it (marriage) is doomed.

      It is not about the growth of the individuals. It really is about the growth and vitality of the marriage. There is just way to much emphasis in our culture/society today on me me me. All this garbage about “loving one self”. “you deserve it”……is simple narcissism. There is nothing wrong with a healthy self image.

      What ultimately will happen when you focus too much on this “personal growth” is not an “Endless Path.” Rather you will be on a path to the end.

      • My intention was not to imply that personal growth was ALL you need for a successful marriage.

        I just think the vitality of any relationship strongly correlates to the vitality and health of each individuals’ own internal mindset. How can a marriage grow if the people within in are stuck in stagnation mode?

        Our actions and behaviors are fueled by the beliefs that were instilled from our childhood. A lot of those beliefs are limiting and many relationship issues arise due to preconceive notions of our “inner child.” That’s why I think personal growth (especially emotional intelligence) is essential for the health of one’s marriage–thus creating a space for a each person to be unselfishly committed to the success and vitality of the marriage. Just my thoughts.

  8. I’ve had similar experiences. My own parents have been in a rotten relationship for over 30 years and non of my relatives have loving, ‘healthy?!’, relationships. But it’s not the ‘failure’ of marriage that frightens me. It’s more the ‘expectations’ that bothers me – the expectations from myself and others, on ‘me’ (or my role as a woman). Marriage is a ‘pre-defined’ social value. Yes, indeed, people are ‘re-defining’ it everyday now, as we ‘re-define’ manhood and womanhood. But still, marriage is marriage, man is man, woman is woman. I guess, choosing to step out of it is also a way of redefinition, perhaps like an androgynous approach, the third sex, the third kind of union. Perhaps?! Just a thought.

    I have nothing against marriage, especially people who choose it to be a part of their lives. Celebrating love is a beautiful thing and it is wonderful that they have chosen this path. Love is what matters to me. Be it 3 seconds, 3 months, 30 years. As long as we can stand up to it, as long as we can be honest about it and true to it (not to its representation!!), as long as we have the courage to tell someone in the face with deep respect that we do not love them anymore when our hearts say so, we’ll never fail. In this case, I yet have a lot to learn.

    • @mia…

      “Love is what matters to me.”

      Yes, however marriage is not always love. Often it is simply a PRETENSE of love.

      “……..as long as we have the courage to tell someone in the face with deep respect that we do not love them anymore when our hearts say so, we’ll never fail.”

      Many people do not do this because their sole motivation for marriage in the first place was what they could get out of the other person. The focus should be on what one can do to strengthen the union and give to the other person.

  9. Thank you for sharing – a lot of us share similar fears!

  10. Beautiful essay! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Interesting story with good insights. I hope marriage turns out to be the right decision for you.

  12. Very inspiring!
    Perhaps you have touched on the possibility that because more people don’t listen to their inner selves telling them they are ready to make a real committment, divorce rates are so high.
    It’s always wise not to heed the societal conventions just because that’s the way its done.
    Real committment comes from within. Thanks for sharing

  13. I think more couples should take it in steps and honor commitment for awhile before considering marriage. From my experience, man who thinks slowly takes commitment more seriously than one who wants to jump right in. It’s like practice for the main event and can avoid a lot of heartache in the future.

  14. “Too many people plan weddings, not enough plan marriages.” – I like this quote a lot. Who is your friend and can I credit this quote to him when I use it in the future?

  15. John Schtoll says:

    As a contract, marriage is the worst contract ever written.

    Think about it, One person can decide to break the contract and has a very real possiblity of receiving all the benefits of the contract while giving up all the responsibilities in the contract.

    Would you sign this contract.

    “A cable company has a contract that allows them to cease providing you with cable service at any time they choose WHILE you still have to pay the whole or partial monthly fee for life OR until they find another customer to take over paying the fees”

    Or how about this one

    “You are a partner in a law firm, one of the other partners leaves this firm of their own free will and you have to give them 50% of the assets of the firm and provide them with a month salary at least equal to what they were earning during the partnership for life or until they join another firm and if you happen to land a big client while they are no longer with your firm, they can come back and demand a percentage of this new clients business , and and also, if they fall on hard times, they can come back 20+ years later and demand more money to maintain their lifestyle”

  16. Your amazing article resonated with me and is in line with my research on adult children of divorce. I’ve interviewed over 200 women raised in divorced homes and they seem to take two paths – they’re either “nesters” who plunge headlong into commitment (often with the wrong guy) or they fear commitment. It was interesting for me to read a males’ perspective on one of these patterns. I will continue to follow your work and hope you check me out on Facebook and Twitter. Regards, Terry

  17. A very good article Carlos. I appreciate the fact that you stressed on commitment in marriage as that’s what holds the marriage or any relation intact not the papers you sigh. So if there is no commitment there should be no marriage and also if the commitment wanes after marriage than separation is better as living with someone who loves someone else and not you can even be life threatening or in other words its like “sleeping with enemy” ;)http://www.lifenstory.com/frmViewStory.aspx?C1=22

  18. A commitment to marriage has nothing to do with the individual you’re marrying and everything to do with submitting to ideological dogma. Fear of marriage is the only natural response to something an idea so alien and teleological. I would like to read about a relationship that overcomes this violent, authoritarian social contract in favor of a relationship that are supported by mutually aiding, inspiring and loving one another. The alternative is a suffocating structure manufactured from from 2,000 years of patriarchy and taxed by the state.

    Regardless, this is more of a response to the comments following this article and the assumptions underlying their frenzied support for “the right kind of marriage”. Carl is still cool in my book and at least acknowledges and questions some of these assumptions.

  19. Personally, I am all for people being able to choose to marry for spiritual or religious reasons according to their own beliefs.

    What really bothers me is why the state has to get involved in any way, shape or form, other than for protection of children (i.e. when parents divorce, kids must be taken care of) which is a separate and distinct matter from marriage.

    After a tough divorce and aftermath, as a man, why risk it? Why not keep a good long-term relationship without all the legal implications it causes? I wish you luck man — she’d have to be pretty much my soul mate for me to even consider it.

  20. Hello,

    I’ve found this a very interesting article about a topic and questions that pop up in my mind regularly. However, one question that I didn’t find answered… what happened with your question about monogamy? My friend and I often talk about that. You can promise to do your best for a person for the rest of your life, but you cannot promise to be attracted to only that person for the rest of your life. You cannot control nature’s instincts. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to act upon it, but still. How do you and other people in committed relationships or marriages deal with this? If you do not have sex with the other person that you desire, you are withholding yourself, you are going against your nature’s feelings for what reasons? Because you are afraid it will be the end of your marriage, because you don’t want to hurt them…?
    What is the true reason for people not to give in to this nature’s instinctive desire of another human being who is not the person they love? Fear? Not the right reason in my opinion…

    Truly loving someone means giving them the freedom to be themselves, right? How do you apply this to desiring another person?

    • Well this is ultimately the conundrum that breaks most marriages. I think the flaw is thinking you should only be attracted to your partner. You’re not being neutered, you’re getting married. My wife and I often openly discuss people we find attractive in order to create space for us to share and depower some of these feelings. She has also expressed to me that should I find myself utterly compelled to act upon an attraction that I should talk to her first – she won’t be happy but it will be better than lying. You go into a traditionally monogamous marriage with the promise not to cheat on your partner (the lines of that – kissing/flirting/sex) being defined by the two of you alone. You can’t hope to just switch off the desire to look, but marriage is about (for me) accepting that that is as far as it may go for the sale of my wife and our marriage. It’s not that hard but i think it’s made harder if you make it more restrictive than it needs to be.

      • Anonymous says:

        And perhaps a better way to explain this is that trust is key to any relationship. If you and your partner decide upon a marriage that enables you to pursue sexual relationships outside of our marriage, that’s great. The trouble comes when you lie and ‘cheat’. But it’s worth considering that we restrain many of our natural instincts as part of society in order to form more cohesive relationships. For example, the instinct to smack people who walk slowly in front of me or to yell at my boss for having his mouth open when he chews are best restrained :)

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