In last week's Modern Love there was a story about a boy who proposed to a 24-year old girl. She freaks out, even though she loves him, but wants to focus on her career. She promises that she doesn't need a paper to prove her commitment to him forever. As years go by, she sometimes wishes she said yes, but she's still mostly happy with her decision. Jessica Bennett worked hard at her career as a journalist, and became a reporter at Newsweek before landing the role of Tumblr executive editor. She even co-wrote a cover story for Newsweek titled The Case Against Marriage.
Our argument took romance out of the equation. As we explained it, Americans were already waiting longer to marry, and fewer than ever believed in the "sanctity" of marriage. As urban working women in our 20s, we no longer needed marriage to survive - at least not financially. We weren't religious, so we didn't believe that unmarried cohabitation or even child-rearing was an issue.
But we were also cynical. As children of the divorce generation, we had watched cheating scandals proliferate in the news. We had given up on fairy tales, and we didn't know how anybody could see the institution of marriage as anything but a farce. It was "broken," one sociologist told me. So, what was the point?
"Happily ever after," we proclaimed proudly, "doesn't have to include ‘I do.' "
She convinces her boyfriend that he doesn't believe in marriage, and he doesn't care about the article. But things take a turn when Bennett decides she wants to get married but her boyfriend does not. He eventually breaks up with her, six years to the night he proposed:
In the end, we had no shared bank account or property. We didn't have to go through a trial separation or mandatory counseling. We had spent seven years living in a 600-square-foot New York City apartment, inseparable and intertwined. Yet in the end, the relationship ended in one night. No discussion required.
As I tried to make sense of it all, I had a glimpse into why that sheet of paper had been so important to him. Sure, it may well be a jaded tradition, an antiquated ritual. But it's also a contract.
When he was packing his stuff, I remembered a conversation my Newsweek co-author had had with her mother about our article. "I'll tell you why you need marriage," she told her. "Because it makes it harder for the other person to leave."
Bennett discovered that while the whole idea of "happily ever after" may not exist for many, "there's something to be said for uttering 'I do.'" And does this revelation mean she might have still been with her ex had she said yes all those years ago? "I'll never know," she writes.