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On My Life as an Un-Wife

How an unmarried but completely committed couple manages their money

  • By Judith Levine, YourTango
  • April 04, 2014

unmarried but committed

A marriage may or may not be a union of love, but it is always a union of property. No matter how you conduct your affairs—joint or separate checking accounts; rooms, even homes, of your own—the state regards you as a unit. The day you sign the license, you and your spouse are taxed as one. And if you break up, you become half of one: it divides your wealth in two. Prenuptial agreements can prevent the foregoing, but prenups are not always enforced (and they never supersede child-support laws). Anyway, lots of people find prenups distasteful. Marriage, they feel, is about love, not property.

Paul and I have been together for 17 years. Neither of us has ever been married, and we don't intend to marry each other. There are no practical reasons to do so—no kids (unless you count our elderly diabetic cat, Julius), no employer-paid health insurance—and several tax-related reasons not to.

The reasons we've resisted marriage differ. Paul's are fairly straightforward. Periodically, he's looked around at married couples and found them no happier or more committed than unmarried couples. My own reasons are more ideological, but the ideology has a burning strain of emotion. An old-fashioned anarchist-feminist, I despise the idea of the state legitimizing my personal or sexual liaisons. I'd like the state to get out of the sexual-licensing business altogether, actually, for couples gay, straight, bi, or none of the above. But as long as all of the above can't take advantage of the institution, I won't either.

I don't want to oversimplify marriage or romanticize living together. The former isn't a static or mindless category of the unexamined life; the latter isn't a full-time orgy of keeping love alive. But marriage, to me, offers a ready-made commitment I'd rather go without. I prefer having to make the choice to be, or not to be, with the person I am involved with, to remember, without the aid of a gold band or the vision of dueling divorce lawyers, why I am with that person.

Mainly, though, my aversion to marriage is about love and property. Marriage creates a kind of human property. Women may no longer be chattel; in spite of ongoing wage inequality, most wives are neither their husbands' emotional slaves nor their economic dependents (thanks to feminism). Still, marriage implies ownership: each spouse owns the other. I have never craved an identity or a relationship that can be named only in the possessive: "my husband, my wife."

As for material property, I'm uninterested in forming a limited-partner corporation in bride's and groom's clothing. And just as I don't want the state blessing my union, I'd like to avoid it dividing the spoils should that union fail. A love relationship between unmarried people who live together is not legally a partnership of property, and that's how I like it. 

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