While many women view getting married as the culmination of their romantic lives, it’s important not to forget that for some, practical considerations are equal to or outweigh the romantic ones. Although there’s a lot of talk about the rising cost of living, debt, and financial strains leading to couples moving in together before they are necessarily ready, we don’t like to think about marriage being dictated by practical reasons in the same way. But sometimes that’s exactly what happens.
And when romanticism and pragmatism collide, it can be an ambiguous area. A decision to get married may be purely romantic, purely practical, or somewhere in between. Even when you go into marriage with what you think is a clear rationale or set boundaries, things can get very murky. So for many who find that practical considerations—from visas to tax breaks, health insurance, and more—influence their decision to tie the knot, they have to work out just what marriage means to them.
Partnership Just on Paper
It seems that with even the most practical of arrangements, it can become difficult not to be affected by making the decision to legally bind yourself to someone else. “My boyfriend and I were in our late 20s and had been together for about two years when we moved in together,” says Nancy, 31. “We saw moving in together as a step forward in our relationship, and we were both excited about that—and like many New Yorkers, we were also looking to save money. Once we'd made the decision to move in, though, I also realized that we could soon qualify for a domestic partnership in NYC—which would mean that my boyfriend could get on my health insurance.
We both saw it as a practical, straightforward decision. We said very clearly at the time that the only reason we were doing this was for the insurance, nothing more. (We were also talking about marriage at the time but weren't ready for that.)”
But even when it seems like it’s all about the practicality, it’s hard to ignore that you are, even in a private way, legally binding yourself to another person. “When we got to the courthouse, I did feel a bit emotional, and I did have to admit that it felt nice to be making our relationship ‘official’ in some way,” says Nancy, “but overall we stayed pretty grounded about it. We ended up breaking up a little over a year later, but neither of us ever regretted having gotten the domestic partnership.” And for Nancy, it was more straightforward than for most.
In many cases, the line between romance and practicalities is much less clear.
The Sped-Up Romance
For some, it's definitely a romantic move; rather than just being a matter of paperwork, it acknowledges the seriousness of their relationship—just a little more quickly than they may have done it otherwise. “I was never someone who dreamed of getting married or really visualized it at all,” says Salinda, 28. “The visa was definitely the biggest, most immediate factor in making the decision to get married. Because my student visa was expiring, we had to be really practical about the state of our relationship.
Either we were very serious and, in that case, had to make a serious decision about getting married or go our separate ways. We made the decision quite practically, and now that we're married I can say I'd make the same decision again. It has only deepened our love for each other, despite the unending bureaucracy of the visa system.”
The sentiment was echoed by her partner, who also found that the marriage deepened their affection. “The most important lesson I learned about weddings, and marriage, is that while the big day is a ceremony for you and your wider community to celebrate, the marriage is a gift that people give themselves, and that can mean whatever it will mean to them,” her husband, Ben, adds.
Because the first ceremony was a quiet affair to get the paperwork sorted, they are planning a wedding in California next summer for their friends and family to celebrate.
Working Out What It Means to You
Salinda’s decision to celebrate her marriage at the time and have a second wedding is worth noting. Because for couples who decide to marry due to practical constraints, one overarching theme was that they needed to decide what it meant to them. Each couple had to work out the significance for themselves. For some, it was obvious. For others, less so. Just because it’s for practical reasons doesn’t mean it’s simple.
“The hard part was deciding what it meant,” says Zoe, 30, who married her partner for a mixture of visa and financial reasons. “Is this it? Or is this just something we do on paper until we’re ‘really ready’ and decide to have a big ceremony? Will it feel weird to do that years after we’re technically already married? Even though I thought we were on the same page, when my girlfriend and I started to talk about the logistics of getting married for a visa, we found we had totally different takes on what that meant.
There was a lot more compromise than I expected. It’s not just going to the courthouse.”
Because even when there are external catalysts that make you decide to get married, it doesn’t mean the marriage isn’t as unique and special as any other. Just like any marriage, for some it may be very significant and for others, more relaxed. And just like every couple, you need strong communication skills and a lot of compassion to navigate it. Because it’s still a bond, and that’s bound to affect you as a couple—even if you didn’t expect it to.