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The Wedlease: For Those of You Who See Your Relationship as a Rental Property

Wedding_ringsI’m not surprised that Paul Rampell, who proposes in The Washington Post that couples who don’t wish to commit for life have the option of signing a marital lease instead of a marriage license, specializes in estate services such as estate planning.  A “wedlease,” he calls his idea.  His proposal is a good example of how metaphors can shape thought in very practically meaningful ways.  Citing high divorce rates, Rampell recommends that the legal partnership of marriage be adapted to include arrangements that do not last a lifetime, but rather a period of years specified by the couple:

Two people commit themselves to marriage for a period of years — one year, five years, 10 years, whatever term suits them. The marital lease could be renewed at the end of the term however many times a couple likes. It could end up lasting a lifetime if the relationship is good and worth continuing. But if the relationship is bad, the couple could go their separate ways at the end of the term. The messiness of divorce is avoided and the end can be as simple as vacating a rental unit.

Ah, yes. As simple as vacating a rental unit. No mess.  Not bloody likely, I’m afraid.  Rarely does a relationship, marital or otherwise, end with the simplicity of someone moving out of a rental property.  I imagine that Rampell is thinking of the legal mess, and not the emotional and psychological mess, that comes with divorce, but that in itself is a problem.  He’s addressing marriage only as a legal structure, and not at all as a bond between two human beings.  Can you say divorced from reality?

Only someone locked into his metaphor could compare a human relationship to a rental unit and think this similarity means that the end of a “wedlease” partnership will come without mess.  Please. Even rental property agreements have their messy side.  Sometimes people refuse to abide by the rules to which they’ve legally agreed.

I told my my wife about this proposed “wedlease,” and she laughed.  “That’s a stupid idea,” she said. “Most people don’t take very good care of the property they lease.”  Indeed.  We rent ourselves, and while we respect the property, keeping it clean and notifying maintenance when something needs repairs, we don’t give it the care we would if we owned it or planned to live the rest of our lives within it.  We’re not attached to it.  Treating our marriage with this emotional distance would spell disaster for our relationship.

Rampell asks why society doesn’t make the legal structure of marriage more congruent to human behavior.  The answer to this is simple.  One of the purposes of marriage is to direct and compel behavior.  People make vows, publicly, and henceforth there is a public expectation that the couple will keep their vows.  The legal structure of marriage reenforces this expectation.  Marriage sets ideals the couple has to work towards.  Hard work? Always.  Chance for failure?  You bet. Are these challenges good reason for society to stop encouraging married couples to make a lifelong commitment?  I suppose that depends on whether you think people treating marriage as a rental unit is a good idea.

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87 thoughts on “The Wedlease: For Those of You Who See Your Relationship as a Rental Property

  1. I can’t see why this would be a remotely good idea regardless of what you think of the high divorce rate. As you pointed out, ending a rental lease is messy enough and I can’t see how a temporary marriage would be any better. Divorce is more often than not a messy enough even if all parties are acting with full muturity and rationality. The current system works well enough.

    Another problem are kids. The temporary marriage lease would work best with childless couples because there would be no issues about child support and visitation at the end of the temporary marriage. Kids create issues regarding child support and visitation. Even if a couple decides to make their marriage permanent, do we want to risk the possibiltiy of a marriage ending in the middle of a pregnancy and have a couple go through the process of getting extended or made permanent during a pregancy? Just leave well enough alone.

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    • I can’t see why this would be a remotely good idea regardless of what you think of the high divorce rate.

      My read is that it’s best purpose is with respect to the division of individual and marital assets, like a prenup on steroids. However, I don’t see what this would accomplish that a prenup couldn’t.

      Another problem are kids…

      “Honey, let’s amend the lease to take into consideration custody arrangements in the event we get divorced.”

      Oh, that’ll go over real well.

      do we want to risk the possibiltiy of a marriage ending in the middle of a pregnancy and have a couple go through the process of getting extended or made permanent during a pregancy?

      Not that I’m a fan of the idea in general, but as a structural concern, this isn’t a big deal. Real estate leases have pre-determined options to renew that are exercised by giving notification or by have automatic extensions unless lessees elect not to extend.

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    • Actually the kids thing MIGHT make a technically-temporary but significantly-longer-lasting-than-seems-to-be-assumed-here relationship make sense.

      There are demonstrable advantages to raising children in a two-parent household. Hence, people might want to commit to raising their children together but not to the full-blown till death do us part version. However, such a relationship would obviously need to last at least 18 years, longer if you want to have more than one and/or stay together while they’re in college, which is longer than the longest term he suggests. I’m not sure how many people who can make it 18+ years don’t want to make it permanent.

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  2. Even his analogy doesn’t work. Anyone who has parted ways with a roommate at the end of a lease term knows it is rarely without at least a few bumps in the road. Who takes the couch you bought together? What is a fair “buy-out”price? Who is on the hook for damages? What if one person wants to stay and the other doesn’t? Is the vacating party required to find a subletter?

    Fail.

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  3. Is there a potential positive side effect of this arrangement? By changing the incentive structure, would this potentially reduce one, or both, sides taking the other for granted? If you knew the other party had an easy out after five years, or if renewal is coming up, potentially you would be less likely to ignore and treat the other person shabbily.

    Not that I’m endorsing this idea, just playing Devil’s advocate.

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    • Does just having a live in boyfriend or girlfriend cause people to not treat their partner shabilly? After all, with a live in boyfriend or girlfriend the party thats feels that they are taken for granted can leave with relative ease, provided that they have a place to stay. If you have a long-term boyfriend or girlfriend that you don’t live with, its even easier to end the relationship technically. Relationships are always harder to end in practice even if there are no material concerns. People still treat their partners shabilly. This really won’t help.

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    • Does just having a live in boyfriend or girlfriend cause people to not treat their partner shabilly? After all, with a live in boyfriend or girlfriend the party thats feels that they are taken for granted can leave with relative ease, provided that they have a place to stay. If you have a long-term boyfriend or girlfriend that you don’t live with, its even easier to end the relationship technically. Relationships are always harder to end in practice even if there are no material concerns. People still treat their partners shabilly. This really won’t help.

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  4. Perhaps we could have something like a “pre-nuptual” agreement that could hammer out stuff like “we’re only getting married to trade security for snuggles and thus The Party Of The First Part is entitled every duration to the price of a motorboat so long as The Party Of The Second Part gets to do some motorboating”.

    And people who are stupid can just say crap like “but we’re in looooooove”.

    And either option would be available to folks inclined to yoke themselves.

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  5. Since most divorces take place in the first 5 to 10 years, I see nothing wrong with having marriages that have a sort of probationary period. I don’t know if calling them “leases” makes much sense, though.

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    • Since most divorces take place in the first 5 to 10 years, I see nothing wrong with having marriages that have a sort of probationary period.

      In effect, they already do given that a couple can choose to divorce at any time. Why pay the legal fees to get something that you already have?

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      • Well, I suppose it’s a matter of paying the legal fees at the beginning or the end, and as expensive as divorce is, I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t save most people money in the long run to explicitly treat the first 5-10 years as a trial period.

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      • Chris,

        I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t save most people money in the long run to explicitly treat the first 5-10 years as a trial period.

        Assuming a divorce where a couple splits amicably, I would agree. Once the egos get involved, it can become a “screw you” game of epic proportions. I’ve seen too many of those.

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    • I’m with Chris here, at least as far as saying, sure, why not letbpeople do it (although I don’t quite grasp how it improves on a pre-nup). But I think its fundamental flaw is not the inevitable messiness of breakups, but the unpredictability of their timing. People who form businesses together often break up, too, and with the same kind of unpredictable timing, but they don’t normally make use of specific-time-limited incorporation contracts.

      I’d be fine with making them available, but I wouldn’t expect them to be used often. That particular stack of forms would probably get pretty dusty.

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      • if you know that you can get out next year, you might be willing to push through what turn out to be short-lived or situational rough patches.

        In general, the knowledge of even the faint possibility of some future escape route (even if never utilized) can be, IMO, psychologically beneficial as sort of a “safety valve” for exactly this reason. It’s when people start to feel trapped (“You are NEVER leaving!”) that they can start to behave even more irrationally, like cornered animals, and making even worse decisions and magnifying every tiny slight into something catastrophic.

        Also, marriage is generally essentially a monopoly-granting contract; it’s no surprise that it often results in monopoly-like poor service provision on each partner’s part. :-(

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  6. “That’s a stupid idea,” she said. “Most people don’t take very good care of the property they lease.”

    Hmmm. Some people don’t take good care of property they lease because they don’t own it, while other folks might lease because they realize they won’t take good care of the property in any event. One person’s bug is another person’s feature.

    But I’m not sure the leasing metaphor can be legitimately extended to marriages anyway. It’s perhaps a catchy and somewhat useful short-hand to get people to think outside the box to a degree, but one which can’t be pushed on too hard since a marriage isn’t property. Metaphorically speaking, it can be viewed like garden that needs tending, or a house that requires maintaining, but in reality it’s neither of those things. It’s for the most part a structural (ie., legal) relationship between two people based on – in the ideal case! – mutually shared emotional commitments of a certain type and which is rarely attained in real life. Anymore, anyway.

    I’ve always held a sneaky suspicion that having marriage contracts/agreements came up for periodic renewal would be a good thing since doing so would require the individuals involved to make a conscious choice to continue to sustain the arrangement. I don’t see that as a bad thing, myself, since commitment without choice is just habit, no?

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    • since commitment without choice is just habit, no?

      I agree with this, but to me one of the points of marriage is that it requires a more deliberate choice to break things off than to stay together. And the decision to get married is a choice expressly made to make it more difficult to end things.

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      • And the decision to get married is a choice expressly made to make it more difficult to end things.

        Sure, I get the sentiment. I just think it’s more of a bug in the institution than a feature. And that it creates more problems than it solves. Eg., what is the problem that “making a marriage difficult to end” supposed to solve? And why shouldn’t the purely internal motivations of each party be enough to sustain the marriage through difficult times? If individuals aren’t valuing the agreement anymore, then why should they honor it?

        And I don’t mean those questions rhetorically. I’ve never heard a good answer to them and that could be why I’m inclined to think that the addition of external compulsion (for lack of a better word) is actually counterproductive to the institution itself.

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      • Or this: the argument that a marriage ought to be difficult to dissolve is similar to the Christian argument for the belief in God: God gave you free-will so that your love of him won’t be coerced, but if you don’t love him he’s gonna be pissed!

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      • Stillwater, presumably long term monogamy is good in such a way that people who stick with it through everything are thankful that the barriers to exit are high because they would have left during a rough patch and in retrospect they feel that doing so would have been a mistake.

        The idea is that since people tend to be better off if they stick it through a temporary rough patch in a long term relationship, entering into an institution with high barriers to exit can help them through moments of weakness which are predictable. Its like publicly committing to a diet and getting your friends and family to nag you into keeping to your diet when your will flags. We know losing weight is tough, and our will is limited. That means we are going to be tempted and we are going to do things we will later regret or at least do things we think we will regret unless we put our self in a situation that we feel “compels” us to make the correct decision when the chips are down.

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      • I agree wholeheartedly with Stillwater on this.

        I do not think that making breaking up harder is good at all – i think that marriages should be simple and fairly easy to both get into and get out of in legal terms. Splitting up is already a very though thing to do for the people involved, there is no point in making them suffer more because laws were based on the religious idea that marriages should be forever.

        We already – as a society – decided that marriages are not forever with divorces. Might as well avoid more yet more suffering from the people involved.

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      • I’m married. It never occurred to me that one of the reasons to get married was to “make it harder to break off”.

        At all.

        Frankly, that sounds like a reason NOT to marry. A flaw in the entire concept of marriage. It’s coercive and as likely to lead to worse outcomes than better ones.

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      • I’m not talking about ten foot walls with barbed wire. But it’s a way for people to invest, and feel more comfortable to invest, in the marriage.

        If marriage were something that it were easier to walk away from. Easier socially, legally, and financially, there is very little chance I would have moved across the country five times for my wife’s career. Why should I, if we have to discuss the whole “Should we remain married?” every five or ten years? It is the implied permanence that makes it easier to sacrifice for our marriage.

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      • I’d happily move because I love my wife, not because “a divorce is such a hassle”.

        I’ve been with her for over a decade. The hassle of hiring a lawyer and dividing up property is nothing. It’s a phone call, a few meetings, and some papers — assuming it’s not acrimonious, and if it WAS I’m pretty sure the fighting and hatred would make the extra legal stuff easier to bear.

        I’m a freakin’ pro-gay marriage atheist — so maybe that’s why I view “marriage” as a useful term for “long-term relationship with legal benefits and obligations” rather than as some sort of weird straight-jacket.

        I wouldn’t stay married if I was unhappy. If things got bad, I’d work on it — not because I was “married” or because a divorce is a pain, but because I have a decade+ invested in my relationship with my wife. And if it was not reconcilable, I’d leave.

        Nowhere in the “stay/go” logic is there “oh, goodness, it’s harder ’cause I’m married”. It’s not even a minor factor.

        Nope. It’s the person and the relationship. Entirely. I don’t understand your viewpoint at all.

        It’s like, I dunno, some people just persist in viewing marriage as….not a binding commitment, but more of a fence. Like a deliberate obstacle, placed out of fear and hope that somehow a locked gate will prevent you from screwing up — even though it’s your gate, and you locked it and you own the key.

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      • Morat, I wouldn’t just move once in a theoretical sense. I did repeatedly, to great damage of my career. Based on the notion, however, that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together. That we married is a part of that.That marriage is permanent is a part of it. That she had no hesitation about marrying me is a part of it.

        If someone objects to the notion that marriage is too entangling and gosh, there should be less barriers to exit, that’s a red flag. A sign that perhaps I should not sign a 15-year lease with this person because they want a marriage contract to last ten years. A sign that I should not sacrifice my career and future financial livelihood because it’s too much ask that their leaving be made anything other than easy.

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      • *shrug*. I’ve met plenty of married people, and I can assure you: Marriage should be very easy to exit.

        Barriers to exit do not save good marriages, but they do prolong bad ones. Barriers to exit do nothing but harm. No-fault divorce has probably been one of the greatest boons for abused women in the last half-century.

        Louis CK had a bit about it, when he got divorced. he mentioned he was recently divorced, and the crowd made sympathetic noises, and he roasted them for it. Because, as he put it, “no good marriage ever ended with divorce“. THAT would be a tragedy, and worth feeling sad about.

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      • Wyrmnax,

        Splitting up is already a very though thing to do for the people involved, there is no point in making them suffer more because laws were based on the religious idea that marriages should be forever.

        I’d like to say something pithy about how the religious roots of that view are deeply intertwined with an institutional structure wherein men were accorded the power to own other people as property. Unfortunately, nothing comes to mind.

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      • We should separate what people may want out of lifelong marriage and what the state should do. People may want lifelong commitment and the marriage contract is for them. Others may want a 15 year commitment and the wedlease is for them. Objectively, I cannot say one goal is any better than another, but for those who place a high value on lifelong relationships, you can see why making the commitment public provides additional considerations to stay on. Of course these do not provide genuine barriers to exit, but surely you can see how public commitments have an effect on future behaviour even if there is no legal sanction or barrier to annulling said commitment.

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    • having marriage contracts/agreements came up for periodic renewal would be a good thing since doing so would require the individuals involved to make a conscious choice to continue to sustain the arrangement.

      And I suspect that choice would have other beneficial effects in-between renewals. As I alluded elsewhere, when we treat marriage like we treat a monopoly contract neither party can easily break, we encourage monopoly-like selfish behavior from each party. Why should I be nice, or work on our problems, if I know that she cannot ever leave me? At best I can say, “eh, I’ll get to it later; after all, we have the rest of our lives”; at worst I can just say “fish it, I’ll do what I want, what are you gonna do, leave me? HA! You can’t!”

      Why should Comcast ever fix the problems in our relationship, if I cannot get service elsewhere?

      Some small amount of “she could possibly leave me, so I better be nice to her” is probably GOOD for a relationship. Just like if Comcast knows that Time Warner is an option for me, they will treat me better.

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      • I think this is pretty much covered by divorce law, though. I think for my part, the effect of this law (if universally adopted) would be to arrange things so that a non-renewal wouldn’t be as big of a deal. Keeping a greater eye on my own career, sacrificing less, keeping our finances separate.

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  7. Discussions about Marriage which involve notions of Property always sail up onto the reef. People aren’t property: leasing is a bad model. Perhaps what’s needed is some notion of a Master Services Agreement with subordinate Statements of Work along the way.

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  8. From a lawyer’s perspective, focused on rights and ownership, the existing system of no-fault divorce works just fine, at least in broad strokes and allowing that individuals may have bad experiences with it above and beyond the inherent unpleasantness of a divorce. The principal issues that I see relate to custody and raising of children, and assets of indeterminate, or at least dependent, origin, in the absence of a prenuptial agreement for disposition of these matters.

    But as a husband, I can offer from my own experience that the social cachet of an apparently permanent relationship would be greatly diminished were the relationship explicitly indicate to be for a term of years rather than indefinite. Taking a degree of exception to above, I think there is more to it than habit or preference — as indicates, a choice is involved. And a change, a change in one’s life and in one’s attitude towards life. This change may not happen during the ceremony (ideally, it has happened already by the time the ceremony occurs) but it is a new way of living one’s life.

    If it’s a new way of living one’s life for ten years and then if I don’t like it I can go try something else, well, that’s just not the same thing. This would devalue the choice and the commitment, such that the barrier to entry into such a relationship would be lower, the willingness to endure a bad such relationship until its expiration would increase, and the chances of a lifelong relationship forming out of the temporally-limited one would be greatly diminished. As a result, I believe overall happiness would diminish.

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    • What is it people dislike so much about people who aren’t/choose not to get married past a certain age?

      What’s the deal with this cachet? It seems like self-satisfaction to me. A club. Something whose special status we could relax about entirely and make a lot of people’s lives a bit to a fair amount better, while making no one’s life who gets what they get out of marriage from what it intrinsically gives them via commitment to another person worse, and only claiming back benefits that an arbitrary increase in social status that is artificially attached to the institution gives others. Not that that’s likely to happen: membership has its privileges.

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      • Also:

        the duty of every citizen to raise up a strong and healthy progeny of legitimate children to the state.

        …Weren’t we talking about this particular attitude (with X in for “raise up a strong and healthy progeny of legitimate children”) just yesterday as viz. the way Hitler looked at stuff & whatevs?

        Do we just happen to be down with this particular instance of X? What does that say generally about our attitudes about our duty to the state?

        (I realize you may not actually be endorsing that view, but as is so often the case, you don’t give any indication what your attitude about the thing you cite is.)

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      • Generally speaking, I find single people past the age of 30 to be losers.

        Very rarely do you find someone in that category who is single because they have too many to choose from. Derek Jeter? George Clooney?

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    • MD, I’m a bit confused as to who is denigrating those who don’t get married or choose not to marry past a certain age? Not saying this attitude doesn’t exist, but I don’t see it in Burt’s comment and am wondering where you are coming from here. What aspect of the “special status” would you like to see relaxed?

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      • Just to be clear, I’m slightly overstating here just to provoke the discussion, or really just to make the point. And I definitely didn’t see dislike in Burt’s comment at all; only the observation of the opposite of it afforded to those who make the choice in question. In the absence of that social approval, could there be uniform and true neutrality? Sure. I’m not sure to what extent the dislike is there, but I think I’ve heard enough pointed advocacy for marriage, in some cases almost without respect to personal preference or situation, in public discourse, as well as here, to justify my wondering the how much affinity or respect for those who don’t follow that instruction may significantly decline from that choice. But I don’t insist it’s there & I can’t prove it is, so if we just want to leave at me having unfounded suspicions, I’m perfectly okay with that.

        As for what I’d like to see relaxed, I guess I’d just like for people not to accord people a special cachet as Burt calls it owing to their marital status. I’m actually not completely sure what this consists of; I had a mind to ask Burt to expand on it. But I also just kind of didn’t want to hear about it. It’s clearly real enough to him.

        I’m certainly not asking for any particular change on anyone’s part. This is just kind of idle wishing that society’s attitude could change in a certain regard that it isn’t likely to.

        Incidentally, where this puts me wrt to the topic of this post is that I actually wish marriage were a much less strong social norm than it is (even if I’m fine if it remains as statistically common as it is), but that it be understood to be a more binding commitment than it has now come to be – in order to make it less attractive, more serious, and thereby less lightly entered into pursuant to social pressure. OTOH, that preference actually isn’t so strong that I would want to deny people the option to enter into the kind of contract described in the post if that’s what they want. Actually, I think I’d be for that kind of contract becoming a more common arrangement, because now that I think of it, I think if it became popular it would, over time, come to be thought of as something other than marriage, between “boyfriend-girlfriend” and “spouses.” I would be very much for that kind of new social institution developing. I’m against people entering into a kind of commitment that’s meant to be binding and lifelong when that’s not what’s right for them just because they don’t really have a better option available to them, and there’s social pressure to do so nevertheless. It’s an interesting question what the disposition of such a hybrid institution would be wrt the social convention of marriage – and what the position of advocates for marriage would be wrt to that question. As I say, ironically I might come down with more traditional marriage advocates in not wanting the new institution to be called marriage and come with all (though I hope it would come with many, and would probably be okay if it came with essentially all) of its privileges, but I imagine that on the prior issue – whether such a hybrid should be brought into being at all – we’d be on staunchly opposite sides.

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      • I am actually open to there being something in between marriage and mates. I would probably recommend people against going that route for the same reason I generally recommend against premarital cohabitation, but I would be open to it being a legal option. Conferring some of the rights of marriage but with fewer financial entanglements. And not called “marriage.”

        Largely for the same reason that I support the concept of covenant marriages, for those so inclined, though it’s not the route that Clancy and I would have gone through. To me, one of the benefits of the existence of marriage is that it provides a grounds to discuss commitment levels. Different levels of union, from marriage-lite to marriage to covenant marriage, could provide more avenues for discussion between couples.

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      • The cachet of which I wrote above, , is entry into “the club.” Marriage carries several social assumptions along with it:
        You are “settled down” and have attained a level of maturity and therefore are worthy of being taken seriously.
        You have acquired a set of experiences held in common by a large number of other people.
        You have begun to form a family and therefore are addressing the world from a point of view that prioritizes fulfillment of responsibilities and personal, stability.
        And don’t minimize the importance of “Now you’re just like the rest of us!”

        An old law partner was in the National Guard. His military career had been languishing at O-3 for quite some time, longer than perhaps it should have given his intelligence and abilities. Then he got engaged to be married and took his fiancée to several Army events. O-4 suddenly got approved where before there had been no slots available. Coincience? I think not, and neither did the recently-promoted Major.

        Other words speak to a degree of informality — “This is my girlfriend,” is too ambigiuous to convey the degree of importance attached to the relationship. “Fiancee” or “Beloved” get closer. But “Wife.” Everyone knows what that is.

        That’s what I mean by social cachet.

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  9. There’s a great scene in the Frank Capra movie The Best Years of Our Lives that I only vaguely remember, but the film is about returning GIs and their problems returning to civilian life. The young wife and husband are going through this painful divorce (which took like five years back then) and she says to the parents “We’ve fallen out of love…” The older mother turns to the father and says nostalgically, “Can you remember how many times we’ve fallen out of love?”

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  10. Paul Rampell’s theory relies on the basis of gov’t still being in the mix sanctioning these arrangements. It’d be better if they were reomoved in toto from them.

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  11. Here’s a wacky question: is there a group of folks agitating for this?

    This is one of those “change the definition of marriage” things that strikes me as, seriously, changing the definition of marriage.

    The overlap between “Marriage” before and after “Same-Sex Marriage” was not significantly changed muchly. (It’s more that the changes that had been taking place for decades were codified.)

    Are folks agitating for something like this?

    Because if this is just a handful of guys with a “wouldn’t it be *AWESOME*” theory, this is a solution in search of a problem.

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    • Yeah. Stuff like this actually sort of backs up accusations by conservatives that proponents of SSM actually do want to redefine marriage. Of course, most (I hope?) don’t. But once SSM is settled, I expect I will be siding far more with conservatives more than liberals on discussions of marriage.

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      • Buck up, you certainly beat the “It’d all be solved if government just got out of marriage entirely!” crowd.

        Who would be, I am sure, the first to scream if denied access to their spouses in a hospital, for the piddling little reason that they’d never gone and had power of attorney straightened out and didn’t carry the forms everywhere.

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      • If it’d work like Rent A Center, they’d pick up the spouses in question and then bring them back.

        Presumably they’d be stationed in a singles bar of some sort but I’d be okay with a handful of these Repo Men being centered in various churches or synagogues. You get married in the Southern Babtist Church and the marriage expires, WHAM, they send out the agents and bring the spouse back.

        Which now makes me ask a couple of serious questions: Who in the sam hill benefits from this proposed policy? If there are unintended consequences (bad ones), who is most likely to be harmed?

        The back of the envelope work I’m doing tells me “dudes, chicks” and in that order. Am I wrong about that?

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  12. One of the purposes of marriage is to direct and compel behavior.

    I think the two people in the marriage should receive a good deal of deference in determining what’s going to be directed and compelled. So I think those commenters who are down on the wed-lease idea could opt for current, lifelong vow-type marriages, and those people who think this option is right for them could opt for these wed-lease / pre-nup on steroids type marriages. It would just be another option, and if no one opted for it for the reasons various commenters lay out – exiting my marriage should be harder than waiting out the clock for instance – then that would be ok too. I don’t think it’s a stupid idea though, given the fact of no-fault divorce it just shifts some defaults in the marriage contract around from a default continue to a default discontinue. If it works for that couple over there, who am I to object?

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  13. After reading all the comments here, the thought occurs to me that maybe the problem isn’t that marriage is too hard to get out of, that may or may not be true. But for something that’s hard to get out of it’s awful easy to get into. I mean… go down to the county clerk’s office, a few bucks for a marriage license, maybe wait a couple days, find a J.P. and a couple witnesses and boom! you’re joined in presumably lifelong mortal wedlock.

    But getting out? Oh, that’s going to be a huge hassle and cost you some serious moolah. At least if there’s any property or kids involved.* Maybe if getting married was even just as difficult and involved a procedure as say, buying a house, and involved as many forms, credit checks, and legal documents folks would see it as the kind of really comprehensive commitment that it ideally is.

    I’m talking full disclosure here, both on the ramifications of the commitment being entered into (“Historical averages indicate that 51.3% of marriages end in divorce by the end of five years.” Pauses, looking up, “And, yes, all of them were just as much ‘in love’ as you two.”), and specific characteristics of the other party being proposed to marry, (“Susan, I hope you’re aware that according to Tommy’s ex-girlfriends–my there were a lot of them!–he tends to turn into a ‘class-A asshole when he drinks’. Turning to Tommy, “And, Tommy, Susan’s exes–“, pauses, whistling for effect, “busy girl! Anyway, they report that blowjobs were ‘rare as hen’s teeth’ as little as six months into the relationship.”

    * For reasons I won’t go into here my first marriage went to hell less than a year into it and we were divorced just about two years after first getting hitched. But not having significant property beyond the TV and stereo and no kids I don’t remember it being expensive. Just took a while what with mandatory waiting periods.

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    • To return to my argument that there are two things that we’re talking about when we talk about marriage that are two very different things that we jump back and forth between in the same sentence (sometimes the same breath)…

      Marriage in the Eyes of the State may, in fact, be exceptionally easy to enter into. Just go to the Justice, ask the janitor to witness, kiss, pay your $25 dollars, and TAH-DAH, you now have gotten yourself married.

      Marriage in the Eyes of God? Without getting into too many details, it’s even easier to achieve this one. Practically free. Kinda.

      Marriage in the Eyes of the State is usually just making official that which already exists.

      Making MES it more difficult won’t change that which needs changing.

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      • I can’t read your mind, dude. What is it that you believe needs changing?

        As to the rest of your comment… I dunno. MEG is sort of a weird concept for me seeing as I’m an atheist and all, but I guess you mean something along the lines of “a loving and committed relationship”?

        MES on the other hand isn’t really about love and commitment. It isn’t even really about the relationship between the two people at all, other than defining who can and who can’t do enter into it. Basically, of a certain age, not currently married to anyone else, and no closer relations that first or second cousins depending on the state. What it’s really about is the relationship of the union, the newly incorporated entity of thee and thine if you will, to the rest of society. It’s akin to a birth certificate, or even better, adoption papers, which legally establishes that the people in question exist in a particular relationship that has legal consequences. Apropos to the subject of this post, it can be compared, albeit imperfectly, to a property deed that establishes and proves a legal relationship (in this case, ownership) between you and a particular tract of land.

        I don’t know if you’re one of those types (like Damon, above) who hold that the state should get out of the marriage business, but the sentiment strikes me as about as coherent (i.e., not very) as the state withdrawing from the business of recognizing property relations.

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      • Oh, I was saying that if we wanted to make it more difficult to get married, we’d have to make it more difficult to get married In The Eyes Of God.

        Marriage in the Eyes of the State only acknowledges the marriage that already exists. (I argued that SSM was a legal recognition of a marriage that already exists. Of course gay folks can get married… THEY DO. The question is whether the government acknowledges this or not.)

        To bring us back, I have no idea how to make Marriage in the Eyes of God more difficult. It’d involve changes in the culture, at a minimum. Like, significant ones.

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      • Okay, I think I see where you’re coming from. I think I would still quibble, though. Basically over definitions. I think most people, people like Kyle, for instance, would see MEG as being the result of clerical blessing. And for straights, that has also coincided with MES, with the clergy acting as agents for the state for this particular purpose.

        That seems like a meaningful distinction when talking about the current state of affairs of SSM. But do straights do that? Have a church wedding that has no legal force and remain legally single? (Once again, for reasons I need not get into, my wife and I DID separate the two by getting married by a JP and then later having a church ceremony with family and all. But note that the order that things happened.)

        It seems to me that you’re munging being in love and having certain feelings, and even holding certain sentiments of commitment and fidelity, with a kind of common-law marriage in the eyes of God. Or something; you need to flesh that out for me.

        Because prior to getting legally hitched my bride and I lived together, felt love for each other, and had at least a tacit understanding of fidelity and commitment. The legal marriage didn’t really change any of that, other than perhaps making some of those tacit understandings more explicit. But what DID really change was the status of our relationship in the eyes of the society.

        And I think that shift in societal understanding to recognizing the particular status of our relationship and having certain rights and responsibilities kick in as a consequence is what marriage is all about. And while there is a distinction between MEG and MES that’s a relatively recent societal development. It’s always been about declaring that relationship to the community, and having that declaration sanctioned and certified by some authority, either secular or clerical.

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      • It seems to me that you’re munging being in love and having certain feelings, and even holding certain sentiments of commitment and fidelity, with a kind of common-law marriage in the eyes of God. Or something; you need to flesh that out for me.

        Marriage in the Eyes of God isn’t exactly something that I can exactly define. Being an atheist, I also don’t quite know the Mind of God and don’t have His thoughts at my disposal.

        I *DO*, however, think I have enough of a grasp to tell various theological purist types that when they argue that two people aren’t “really” married that they don’t have the competence to make that argument. I mean, we both know that Richard and Mildred Loving were “really” married despite Virginia’s failure to recognize the union, right? (And would have remained so had the Supreme Court chosen to uphold Judge Bazile’s ruling on some vague 10th Amendment grounds.)

        Well, it’s kinda like that.

        But what DID really change was the status of our relationship in the eyes of the society.

        While that’s true, I see that as a lot more analogous to Marriage in the Eyes of the State… and Richard and Mildred’s marriage in the face of the surrounding society provides as good an example of why as any. (Hell, the arresting sheriff even said “that’s no good here” when confronted with the marriage certificate.)

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      • I’m not sure that the Loving case really shows what you’re trying to get at here since they were legally married in Washington D.C. They only got into trouble when they tried to live as husband and wife in Virginia. Meaning that they had publicly declared their relationship and had it certified by an appropriate authority.

        At this point I’m not sure what the f*** exactly were arguing about but I guess I’m still a bit vague on what you meant by saying, “Marriage in the Eyes of the State only acknowledges the marriage that already exists.” It seems to me that normally MEG, MES, and whatever you mean by “marriage that already exists”, are coincident. The only exceptions being those cases where a church is willing to sanction a marriage that the state refuses to recognize.

        Again, prior to our MES my wife and I had a Significant Relationship, one that included elements of fidelity, exclusivity, and commitment as well as a tacit understanding of likely permanence. But I wouldn’t call that a marriage as that all was privately held between us. The public declaration of such and the certification by authority was what made a marriage.

        Hell, I doesn’t seem that the Commonwealth of Virginia, the statement by the police officer notwithstanding, held that the Lovings weren’t married. Quite the contrary, in fact:

        Based on an anonymous tip,[8] local police raided their home at night, hoping to find them having sex, which was also a crime according to Virginia law. When the officers found the Lovings sleeping in their bed, Mildred pointed out their marriage certificate on the bedroom wall. That certificate became the evidence for the criminal charge of “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth” that was brought against them.

        The Lovings were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia, and Section 20-59, which classified miscegenation as a felony, punishable by a prison sentence of between one and five years.

        It’s not that the Lovings weren’t married, the Lovings broke Virginia law because they were married. That’s different–and a lot worse!–than the situation facing contemporary same-sex couples. At least since the Lawrence v. Texas decision, gay and lesbian couples aren’t being prosecuted for cohabiting or for getting married in a state that allows it and living in a state that doesn’t. It’s “just” that the marriage isn’t being recognized by the state in question. Of course that’s still a Big Deal and a Grave Injustice but it’s not as bad as being actively prosecuted and subsequently fined or imprisoned.

        The Lovings were married because Washington D.C. said so. People like our own Russell were married (as far as I’m concerned) because they had a ceremony in a church with family and all that. In those cases you’re correct in saying that subsequent state recognition is just acknowledging that which already exists. But that wasn’t the situation in my case and it’s not the situation in any case, it seems to me, that doesn’t face some legal impediment.

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      • Meaning that they had publicly declared their relationship and had it certified by an appropriate authority.

        And I’m arguing that the “certification” was little more than MES on top of the MEG that existed prior… and the MEG would have existed even if Virginia didn’t recognize it.

        Just like a same-sex couple might have been married in 1985 despite living in America.

        It seems to me that normally MEG, MES, and whatever you mean by “marriage that already exists”, are coincident. The only exceptions being those cases where a church is willing to sanction a marriage that the state refuses to recognize.

        Well, given the SSM debate that we’ve had quite vigorously over the past few years, I’d say that the “only exceptions” are interesting. Very interesting indeed.

        But I wouldn’t call that a marriage as that all was privately held between us.

        And I would not gainsay you.

        I got married to my wife in a private ceremony (there were just the two of us) and we were married long prior to any religious solemnization or state recognition.

        I imagine that there are some who would say “you weren’t *REALLY* married” and, I imagine, they’d start talking about religion or the state. From my position, I don’t see them having the competence to make the argument that they’d be making.

        Now if *YOU* say that you weren’t married when you were in a similar boat, well, I don’t have the competence to say “yes, yes you were”… any more than someone else would have the competence to tell me that I wasn’t.

        Hell, I doesn’t seem that the Commonwealth of Virginia, the statement by the police officer notwithstanding, held that the Lovings weren’t married… It’s not that the Lovings weren’t married, the Lovings broke Virginia law because they were married.

        I find the statement of the police officer to be pretty illuminating insofar as it mirrors much of the attitudes toward gay marriage today. There are states where gay people can get married and there are states where the authorities would look at their marriage certificate and say, yep, “That’s no good here.”

        No arrests necessary. Just a shrug when the marriage certificate is proffered.

        But that wasn’t the situation in my case and it’s not the situation in any case, it seems to me, that doesn’t face some legal impediment.

        There are a lot of cases out there that face “some legal impediment”.

        But to go back to the original argument, the problem with marriage isn’t that it’s too easy for the state to recognize marriages. It’s that it’s too easy to enter into the whatever-you-want-to-call-it that the state would end up recognizing (or failing to recognize).

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      • And I’m arguing that the “certification” was little more than MES on top of the MEG that existed prior… and the MEG would have existed even if Virginia didn’t recognize it.

        But that “little more” makes all the difference, doesn’t it? Otherwise, why do we even know or care about the Lovings’? Why are we having all this struggle over SSM?

        Just like a same-sex couple might have been married in 1985 despite living in America.

        Yeah… like a same-sex couple getting married somewhere in Europe fer instance, and then moving back to America. The Lovings were married in the eyes of the State. Just not the state they were living in.

        Well, given the SSM debate that we’ve had quite vigorously over the past few years, I’d say that the “only exceptions” are interesting. Very interesting indeed.

        Sure its interesting. A tragic injustice, even. Have I ever argued otherwise? But realistically, the “normal” situation, the typical situation, is, always has been, and always will be bog-standard opposite sex couples getting married. And in those cases, the normal situation has been for MES and MEG to be coincident, as opposed to MES following after MEG in some way as you seem to be insisting.

        I got married to my wife in a private ceremony (there were just the two of us) and we were married long prior to any religious solemnization or state recognition.

        I imagine that there are some who would say “you weren’t *REALLY* married” and, I imagine, they’d start talking about religion or the state. From my position, I don’t see them having the competence to make the argument that they’d be making.

        Now if *YOU* say that you weren’t married when you were in a similar boat, well, I don’t have the competence to say “yes, yes you were”… any more than someone else would have the competence to tell me that I wasn’t.

        [Raises hand…] Yep, I’m going to say you weren’t “really” married. Why? Religion? Well there’s little risk of two atheists getting into an argument on that account. The State? Well… not really, given that I’ve already stipulated that a gay couple having a wedding that has no legal force is still married in some sense of the word.

        I’d say it’s because your little ceremony, as sweet and personally meaningful as I’m sure it was, had absolutely zero effect on the world. In the world outside of Jaybird and his sweetie, not one single thing had changed. If you had at least seen fit to invite a couple friends or maybe your parents to witness your ceremony, I might be able to allow that you were married at least in some weak sense of the word. Outside of yourselves, was there even one person who would have considered you married, who would refer to you as husband and wife?

        And even if there were such a person or persons…. why? Marriage isn’t just a private promise between two people. It’s a public commitment. Your lovely little private ceremony simply doesn’t qualify. Not because I don’t personally like it but because it doesn’t pass even the most liberal definition of marriage. It’s… Going Steady. Shacking up, maybe. Seriously Considering It, perhaps. But not marriage.

        Look, you should know me well enough by now to know that I’m not any kind of conservative traditionalist. BUT, words mean things. They convey specific concepts in order that we may communicate. If a word can mean anything you want it to, anything at all to satisfy your whim, then the word actually doesn’t mean a damn thing. I got into it with some libbie types over at BHL on this topic, and this one guy was sort of like you. Claiming that he and his “wife” had married each other in a private ceremony and no one could say any different. When I pointed out that that wouldn’t be terribly effective if he wanted to visit her in the hospital and her family objected, he got terribly annoyed at me and all “Watch them try to stop me!” Well… tell it to the cops that are dragging you out and the judge fining you for disturbing the peace. Nobody gives a shit for your private little marriage “ceremony”.

        And really… what kind of commitment are making if you’re not willing to take on the legal obligations and responsibilities that go with marriage anyway? If it’s a thing for you then call it a thing and be happy with that but don’t pretend that it’s a marriage.

        I find the statement of the police officer to be pretty illuminating insofar as it mirrors much of the attitudes toward gay marriage today. There are states where gay people can get married and there are states where the authorities would look at their marriage certificate and say, yep, “That’s no good here.”

        No arrests necessary. Just a shrug when the marriage certificate is proffered.

        No argument from here, so I’m not sure what your point is. Actually what I find illuminating is that the marriage certificate that the cop said “was no good here” actually was Exhibit One against the Lovings as proof that they broke the law. Not the law against miscegenation, but the law against a black and white being married. Far from having no effect, it had great, and negative, effect against the Lovings.

        But to go back to the original argument, the problem with marriage isn’t that it’s too easy for the state to recognize marriages. It’s that it’s too easy to enter into the whatever-you-want-to-call-it that the state would end up recognizing (or failing to recognize).

        What do you mean? Falling in love and having a committed relationship? How the hell ya going to regulate that? Anyway, that’s not a marriage; it’s a Committed Relationship. Significant Other. BFF with Benefits. I was just speculating that perhaps it might make sense if taking the next step from CR to MES should be a somewhat more difficult process, perhaps on a par with the hassle of dissolution.

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      • The Lovings were married in the eyes of the State. Just not the state they were living in.

        And what effect does this distinction you’re making have on such things as inheritance law, hospital visitation, and so on? I daresay that jumping the border to Canada and getting married and coming back would result in diddly squat on those.

        Yep, I’m going to say you weren’t “really” married

        And, again, I’m going to say that you don’t have the competence to make that claim. Now, of course, you could use the force of law to deny such things as “hospital visitation rights” and “automatic assumption of inheritance” and so on… but those are the trappings of Marriage in the Eyes of the State.

        Outside of yourselves, was there even one person who would have considered you married, who would refer to you as husband and wife?

        Probably not, no. But let’s say we could find a couple. Some hippie dippie weirdos from California. Then what? How many people would it take? I mean, if our take on it were not sufficient?

        Falling in love and having a committed relationship? How the hell ya going to regulate that?

        Well, I imagine that it would take significant changes to the culture. Murali has discussed a handful of times what happens with Brahmin in Singapore and the societal expectations with regards to dating.

        I was just speculating that perhaps it might make sense if taking the next step from CR to MES should be a somewhat more difficult process, perhaps on a par with the hassle of dissolution.

        And I suspect that if what we change is not the culture but the rigmarole involved in MES acknowledging the relationship, we’ll find ourselves in yet another situation where couples are pairing off and having silly little ceremonies of their own while the more privileged withhold benefits from them because… well. I can’t say I really understand their motivations. “Protecting marriage”, maybe.

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  16. It seems to me also that our instincts about this subject are contingent on facts that may change in the future and, indeed, have changed quite a bit over the last couple centuries.

    We currently have a norm, a typical life-pattern, of spending the first 20-30 years growing up and finding ourselves. Then spending anywhere from 20 to 40 years having and raising children and finally having a few years or a couple decades in retirement.

    So what would a typical life-pattern look like if instead of living for 70 or 80 years we lived for a couple hundred? Or a couple thousand? Would “till-death-do-us-part” still seem like a reasonable proposition even as a theoretical ideal?

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  17. Since reading this early this a.m., I’ve been trying to recall divorces amongst my friends and acquaintances.

    In the last decade, there’s only a couple. In the 1980’s and 90’s, they were much more common.

    But there’s not much change in the rate or relationships that end; it’s just that the ‘rent-a-spouse’ relationships don’t seem to slide into marriage so much now, they live together instead. Which leads me to think what’s really needed here is some sort of cohabiting agreement, rather like a prenuptial agreement; specifying the legal means of separating into two households when the ‘lease isn’t renewed.’

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  18. I think “leases” is a bad metaphor.

    What about marriage as a choice to elect someone to a position of power within your life. Would this change the perspective?

    People do treat things–although a person is not a thing–badly that they are renting–but they tend to believe in the candidates they vote for for office–unless those candidates then betray them.

    Obviously, the metaphor isn’t perfect–but it does get more to the sense of this is a person you are choosing–and that if they fuck up, you want to get rid of them.

    Now–perhaps divorce is the answer for this–but turning the metaphor around–do people think that we should have elected officials like we have marriages with divorce? Why don’t we just elect presidents who are there forever except if we, as a country, decide to divorce them.

    Would that work? If so, why not?

    I think these are some of the kinds of questions that are involved in this kind of situation. Just like Congress Critters tend to do a lot more stuff when they know they are up for election sometime soon–having expiration dates on marriages might keep people paying attention to the other a bit more.

    Anyway.. just a thought. I personally think the original idea of short-contract marriages–with lifelong renewal options are a good thing. But then, I committed to my current wife and stood by her and her 3 stepkids for 9+ years before we got married…. and the marriage was really just a contractual afterthought because of various benefits and the fun buttons it produced in other people.. (by that, I mean the buttons that I get to push when I say, “MY WIFE THINKS…” rather than “my life-partner” or other terms.. People react differently.. so why not make them react more.. )

    In the end–if your commitment is based on being forced by a marriage contract to stay together.. then it’s rather sad. Public condemnation and shame as a motivating factor is pretty vile in my book–it treats people as dependent on others approval, rather than as autonomous individuals making their own choices and living up to them..

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    • By the looks of your blog, Professor, I think you would be a good fit around here if you stuck around and commented a lot.

      So I’m asking you to do that. Please. Maybe there’s a chocolate chip cookie in it for you.

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      • Cool. I must note that by politics–I’m a liberal.. but more of an “old-school Truman Liberal’ than anything else…

        I do like interacting with smart people though.. so I’ll work this into my loop… I like posting on Dreher’s and Larison’s blogs also..

        Ps–note that Prof. Woland is merely my pseudonym.. it’s from a great novel.. :)

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