When I wrote about How to Tell Your Catholic Parents you’re Moving in with your Boyfriend last week, a commenter who disagreed with my decision suggested every relationship, no matter how unique, must go through “standard procedures.” He was respectful in his disagreement and this post is in no way intended to bash or disrespect him. It’s just that his words made me think. Are there indeed standard procedures that every relationship must have and, if so, what are they?
I was under the impression this commenter thought marriage before living together to be one standard procedure. Perhaps there are others, too. Growing up in the Catholic church, the “standard procedures” appeared to be as follows:
- Date/ Fall in love
- Get engaged
- Get married
- Move in together
- Have children
- Raise children
There’s nothing wrong with that plan at all. In fact, I’m sure many people have gone on to have fantastic relationships following that exact order. Still, I know people who would cross some things out. Maybe they don’t believe in marriage or don’t want children. Maybe they already have a child even though they’re not with anyone at the moment.
Depending on who you are, you may even add some milestones. Meeting the parents might be a big deal, for example. Maybe you want to go on a week vacation, just the two of you, to see how you interact.
All these ideas are largely centered in Western ideas and Western religions, though. I’m sure there are successful relationships around the world who follow a completely different trajectory seen as standard in their culture. If they can be happy by following different standards, are there really and standards that must be followed?
The reason I believe there is no one path and no standard for relationships is because each person is unique. We have unique beliefs, dreams and ideas. Different things make us feel happy and fulfilled. Knowing that, it makes no sense to me that such great uniqueness could find happiness following the same relationship standards. Moreover, I have seen people deviate from what is considered traditional and go on to have very happy lives. Many, if not most, of my friends live with a significant other or have lived with a significant other in the past. Some have very happy, health relationships, though they don’t believe in marriage and/or want children. I’ve read stories of people having open relationships or celibate relationships who are also very happy.
How can all those people be happy if there is only one set of “standard procedures” that lead to a happy, healthy relationship?
If that wasn’t enough to convince me of my opinion, then seeing the harm so-called traditional marriage can cause certainly does. It wasn’t that long ago that divorce was illegal in the United States, making it virtually impossible for a person to escape an abusive or destructive spouse. Throughout history, beating one’s wife or raping her wasn’t seen as wrong and still isn’t in some countries. I still read stories about women who are forced to marry their rapist because of how the culture views a women who dares have sex outside of marriage. Never mind that it wasn’t consensual.
The hard truth is, traditional marriage hasn’t, until recently, been about fulfillment or happiness. It was just what you did. Maybe a man could get by without getting married, but a woman? Without the ability to work or own land, how could a woman not marry? What did love, happiness or anything else matter. Simply having a guy who was kind would be enough. In some countries, families were (and still are) frantic to marry their daughters who are little more than an expense. They throw dowries at the feet of men, nearly selling them off. A woman can make no money, after all. Not if she can’t work.
I realize most of these ideas are about women, but they are high on my list because I am a woman. Maybe there are aspects of traditional marriage that are detrimental to men as well, but I can’t think of any. At the end of the day, regardless of gender, I feel marrying someone who you don’t at least like, let alone love, wouldn’t be great. Marrying someone who couldn’t make you feel fulfilled and happy in life is just a shame. But then, it’s only been in recent years that people around the world have the ability to gain all the old benefits of marriage on their own. A single person can gain food, shelter, income, land and even children on their own. It makes people think differently about what they really want in a marriage. More than once I have been asked if there is even a point to the ceremony anymore.
Well, I certainly still believe in marriage (“why?” is a blog post for another day), but I certainly don’t think the ceremony must follow a specific procedure any more than my relationship. Marriage should celebrate the unique individuals being wed. Likewise, a relationship should follow whatever path unique individuals feel will lead to a happy, health future together.
Do you believe in “standard procedures” that every single relationship should follow? Do you have your own standards you want for yourself? Is there a specific formula that will lead to a happy, healthy relationship, not matter who you are?
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