‘So when are you guys going to get married?
‘Yes, I’ve decided to talk about that wonderfully awkward question. Why is it that if you’re heading towards 25 and have surpassed the 5-year anniversary mark, marriage becomes an instant hot topic? Well let me tell you, if you have a baby and out of wedlock, the conversations only become much more frequent. Now don’t get me wrong, getting married is something I want (something we both want) but it forever gets more and more awkward as old fashion tradition still appears to dictate a lot of finer details around marriage.
Pre-baby days – Who doesn’t have a go-to photo spot!? (aka the front door)
As a woman who believes in marriage and pretty much everything it stands for, it forever leaves me in an awkward position when people ask. There is usually an echo response from the right hand side to others that’s along the lines of ‘oh no, not yet‘ or a spiel about lack of money, want for other things, not the right time, etc. – all of which might be very well be true but still leads to some kind of awkward smile between you and your partner and no doubt a slightly sympathetic comment from the questioner that sounds something like ‘well all in good time‘. What is a woman who wants to get married supposed to do? Do you just wait to be asked? Is this too old fashioned? Is it too ‘cringe’ or ‘desperate’ to ask your boyfriend? In this modern day and age with equality, should you make a decision together? Why are there so many taboos around women wanting to be married – I have so many questions! The tradition of marriage is one that can sit quite uneasy with many modern day women. From becoming your husbands ‘property’, folding your identity with the change of a surname to giving up your rights to be a wife, these were once traditions that are now unapologetically out-dated. With the rise in Feminism and standing up for women rights worldwide, a light has continued to shine on changing practices and traditions that once saw women as nothing more than objects. How have things changed is the western world? Am I going to have to wait until my Dad gives my boyfriend his permission?
The media has always done a cracking job of keeping taboo subjects in circulation year in year out and to no surprise I had no trouble finding content on the subject of marriage online. Just over a month ago, I came across and article on Cosmopolitan online with the headline ‘Don’t Ask Your Girlfriend’s Dad if You Can Marry Her’ – What an eye catching title! After reading I found despite it being an article for American Cosmo, the content was still relevant. The article talks about how asking your girlfriends father to marry her has become an out-of-date, sexist practice which let’s be honest, is rather true. The tradition stands that the groom-to-be would ask the future brides father out of respect but Cosmo questions whether there was any respect spared for the bride-to-be at all. This dates right back to when getting married was seen as a ‘change in ownership’ of the woman she was to become her husbands property. Fair to say this is no longer the case for the majority but worryingly will still be a normal practice in some cases.
Cosmo found that in 2015 in a survey carried out my TheKnot.com ‘more than three quarters of men ask for permission from their partner’s father or parents before they propose. By contrast, only 58% of brides say they knew a proposal was coming, but just weren’t sure when – for 40%, it was a complete surprise. In other words, more men talk to their girlfriend’s father about a plan to marry than talk about marriage, in serious and relatively immediate terms, to the woman they actually want to marry.’ Now isn’t this ridiculous?! Going back to my point about feeling somewhat ashamed of wanting to get married and not wanting to wait around to be asked – ARE WE SURPRISED!? For decades women haven’t had a say in this decision-making process and with the rise in Feminism, this was bound to change. Despite the negative connotations around asking a girlfriends dad to marry her, the article goes on to say that in modern times it should be all about total inclusion. Marriage should be an on going discussion between a couple even if ‘will you marry me’ is asked instead of mutual agreements and that ‘it’s possible to involve all of your parents in a conversation about your impending marriage in a respectful way‘ which I totally agree with. For me marriage isn’t just another step to take or another event to plan, it’s about declaring your love as well as becoming that team, a united front and being a family taking on the world together so would be more millennial to include both your families.
What makes me want to get married? I think it’s a combination of love, trust and sometimes-questionable tolerance for one another and that humble connection that brings happiness and keeps you grounded. It’s the joy you bring one another and the commitment that defines your relationship. Adding a baby into the mix is a serious decision but it’s one that has nonetheless made our relationship stronger. With these thoughts and reasons in mind, marriage always enters the discussion here; as for me I am bothered on astronomical levels that our son and I don’t share a last name. For me, it goes back to what I previously said about being one unit. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t be ‘one’ and that it should be compulsory to take your partners surname (they could take yours or neither) but for me it makes me feel very separate from my boys. In 2014, in an article by The Guardian, it was found that between 2009 and 2014 an estimated 600,000 women had been stopped whilst travelling with their own children with a fair few being noted as being a result of having differing surnames. This mortifies me and the idea of being stopped to prove I am my son’s mother sounds nothing short of arduous.
Aside from my personal feelings, the bigger thing for those around us is the legal side of having a child and being unmarried. Turns out that if you have a baby out of wedlock, the only one who truly has responsibility for that child is the mother. Now automatic parental responsibility also goes to the husband or female married partner of the child’s birth mother if they are treated as the child’s legal parent or if you are an adoptive parent… But what actually is ‘parental responsibility’? The Citizens Advice Bureau explains that parents/guardians with parental responsibility are entitled to have a say in all areas of the child’s life such as the where they will live, their health, education, religion, name, money and property. Parental responsibility then lasts until the child reaches 18 or gets married between 16 and 18. Who can get parental responsibility? If you don’t have parental responsibility, you might be able to get it. You can get parental responsibility for your child by in the following ways: ‘registering (or re-registering) the birth of your child together with the child’s mother, making a parental responsibility agreement with the mother and registering it at court, obtaining a parental responsibility order, becoming the child’s guardian (which would only take effect on the mother’s death) or marrying the mother.’ The biggest worry for me is if anything should happen to either of us (*touch wood*), what happens to our little man? What are we legally entitled to? After digging a little further I came across these explanations: ‘Living together – If one partner dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything unless the couple owned property jointly. As an unmarried couple, you need to make wills if you wish to make sure that the other partner inherits. If one partner dies without leaving enough in their will for the other to live on, the surviving partner may be able to go to court to claim from the estate. If you inherit money or property from an unmarried partner, you are not exempt from paying inheritance tax, as married couples are. Marriage – When your married partner dies, you will inherit under the will of the dead partner if it makes provision for you. If either married partner dies without making a will, the other will inherit all or some of the estate.’ What have I learnt? We basically get nothing unless we get married or have a will… we don’t have the latter (*googles ‘writing a will’*). Even if you don’t have a child, marriage binds you both legally in many different ways and whether we like it or not, trying to break tradition isn’t always easy and the subject of marriage is no different. Getting married still holds a lot more significance than just love.
One year makes a huge difference
I never really thought that the order of either getting married or having babies would make much of a difference to my life. Always knowing I wanted both, I set aside the traditional marriage then babies ideal when I got pregnant just over a year ago now, I’m not sure I would have chosen to have a baby before marriage now knowing how it would make me feel and what it would legally mean. With all of the things I have discussed about my personal opinion, tradition and the coverage in the media, I have definitely come to the conclusion I now feel being unmarried with a child does make a difference. Maybe it will change in the future but I’m sure it’ll be ‘all in good time’!
Love to all,
One Curious Mother x
PS. If you have children and you’re not married or if you are and you have had any positive or negative experiences with deciding to get married, sharing surnames or anything else – I would love to hear from you!