Marriage vs. Life Partnership: Which is Better?

By: Lisa Brown

In the latest edition of Essence Magazine, there’s an article in the Sex and Love section by Kevin Noble Maillard, titled, “Not Married, Not Single.” In the article, Maillard discusses how it’s time for society to rethink what makes a committed relationship and a happy family. He mentioned how when he was growing up, he would be in church and he would constantly stare at the images of this perfect family on the front of a cardboard church fan. The composition was always the same and it seemed to convey the message that this was marital stability and ultimate respectability.

This is the picture of what a so-called “successful” marriage and family life looks like to a lot of people. We know in the eyes of religion and church, that marriage is highly regarded and looked at as the only way to achieve full happiness with a mate. However it is the same way in the eyes of the law as well. It’s almost as if society is saying if you choose not to be married, especially if you’re planning on having children, then you simply have made the wrong choice. Marriage is supposed to be the ultimate goal for everyone, so they say.

But what if marriage is not for you? There are so many people who attempt the married life once, twice, maybe even three times and still fail. Should they just give up or keep trying? At what point do you just accept things the way they are and actually become mostly satisfied with your love life, whether you’ve tied the knot or not?

Maillard also mentions that when you think of all the forms you have to fill out, like at a doctor’s office, jobs, etc., there aren’t any boxes for co-habitating or room-mating. So basically, anything outside of the realm of marriage is “single.” But what if you’re not single? You might be in a great, stable and satisfying relationship but it won’t be recognized or looked at as real or authentic because there’s no marriage license. Maillard thinks we should celebrate the families that exist before us rather than reprimand people for ‘shacking up.’ I must say that I am inclined to agree with him. It does makes so much sense. I think that everyone’s relationship isn’t meant to be the same way. Just because two people have chosen to live differently, doesn’t mean it’s wrong or should be looked down on.

According to the Pew Research Center, only 51 percent of people are married in the United States. That’s the lowest recorded rate in American history. For Black women, the percentage rate is even lower. In a study done by the Joint Center for Political and Economic studies, by age 30, nearly 81 percent of White women and 77 percent of Hispanics will be married. Only 52 percent of Black women will marry by that age. Those statistics can be disheartening to say the least.

For me, it makes me wonder where I will fit in. I personally am a religious woman. I’m a Christian to be exact. I do believe in the institution of marriage wholeheartedly. However, I am aware that things happen and sometimes our plans in life get derailed. It’s not necessarily our faults, it just happens.

I watch a show every Thursday night on the Discovery, Fit and Health channel called, “Secretly Pregnant.” It’s really interesting. Last night, a Black woman who was from a very strict religious household was pregnant with her third child. She’s 36 now but had her first child at age 19. Of course, her parents were extremely disappointed in her and the relationship was very strained afterwards. She’s in a good relationship currently, but is not married. So her parents felt she was living in sin and were very judgmental, so that’s why she was “secretly pregnant.” She was trying to find a way to tell them about it without disappointing them further. It seemed she was seeking their approval, even though she’s a grown woman. She and her boyfriend finally sat down together and told her father first, then her mother. Luckily, their reaction was a positive one. They acknowledged the fact that she is a grown woman, she has to make her own decisions. But, her mother still wants to see them get married. So her story ended on a happy note.

There are so many parents out here who have that belief and if you are their child and you end up pregnant out of wedlock or in a relationship, having babies and no ring is on your finger, they will damn near disown you! It’s so extreme if you ask me. I, personally could and would never do that to my child. As a parent, you always have to stick by your child’s side no matter what. Respect the fact that they have to grow up at some point and make their own decisions, whether you agree or not.

Now, I can so relate to people like this because my mother and grandmother are the same way. They both want me out of college, in my career field, in a relationship and married before I decide to bring life into this world. Both of them feel this is the only way to go in order for things to work out. My mom feels this way especially. It’s so unfair for her to try and plan my life for me, but that’s what parents do. At the end of the day, you still have to find your own way and be happy with that. My mother actually had me out of wedlock at age 27. She too kept her pregnancy a secret for seven months, before my grandparents found out. At the time she was still living in their home. But, surprisingly, my grandparents didn’t really judge her; they embraced the fact that she was carrying a child, their first grandchild and wanted to make sure everything went smoothly. And it did, 24 years later, I’m still here. I think she’s trying to keep me from going down the same path she went down. It’s just a way of shielding me.

Certain benefits that married couples get may be hard for you to obtain if you’re only in a partnership. Things such as custody battles over children, health matters, property/assets, inheritance and wills can get complicated. But it doesn’t mean it can’t work out. You just have to ask questions, find out what forms and/or contracts need to be signed to ensure that both you and your partner are all right, and can catch any curve balls that life may throw at you.

Lisa Brown is a magazine journalism student at Columbia College Chicago.  In addition to journalism, she also writes fiction, penning poems, stories and songs.


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