Why should we get married, especially if we’ve been married before? That seems to be a popular question nowadays!
“Matthew McConaughey Engaged to Camila Alves,” blares the headline on a popular tabloid website. Along with the article about the newly engaged couple is a romantic photo of the two kissing in front of a Christmas tree.
It’s hard not to notice the other headlines on People’s site—one about Sinead O’Connor divorcing her fourth husband after 18 days of marriage, another about Mel Gibson’s ex taking half his millions in their divorce settlement.
The McConaughey/Alves engagement serves, in the face of the uglier side of marriage and divorce, as a story that is both unconventional and cautionary. After all, McConaughey and Alves have four years of unwedded bliss together—and two children, Levi, 3, and Vida, almost 2.
A FAMILIAR SCENARIO
It’s certainly a scenario I can relate to. My partner, Joseph, and I have been together for over five years. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and we’re doting parents to our son, CC (as well as Joe’s three children from his previous marriage).
And yes, the “previous marriage” plays into our not having gotten married as soon as we were able to. Joe and I have both been married before. While neither of us had to suffer through particularly acrimonious divorces, we both learned that having a piece of paper proclaiming us “married” is not what truly binds a couple together.
I’ve never been so committed in my life, so much so that it feels natural to call Joe “my husband.” But when I make new friends, I’m quick to mention that it’s not official, so that I’m not being deceitful. And I’ve been surprised by how often women I meet volunteer that they, too, are unmarried moms—happy with their children’s father, but with no plans to marry any time soon.
MARRIAGE ON THE DECLINE
Statistical data reveal that it shouldn’t be a surprise. Recent census data show that men and women are waiting longer to marry, and that the number of married adults in the U.S. is at a record low. According to the Pew Research Center, which analyzes Census reports, the number of adults over the age of 18 who are married is at barely half (51%) in contrast to 72% in 1960.
And where has the incidence of unmarried co-habitation risen most dramatically? In Hispanic households. For many Hispanic women, waiting to get married is about practicalities. Take Ileana, 36, who lives with her partner and their toddler son. When I ask her if she consciously chose not to marry before having a baby, she answers yes, and explains, “There is a timeline on having children, and there is not a timeline for getting married. We knew we wanted to stay together, and we knew we’d get married at some point, but we wanted children.”
Finance does factor into such a decision—for me and Joseph, too. We don’t want to marry just for the sake of it; we want to have a special celebration with friends and family. Financially that’s not feasible for us right now, and we’re perfectly content to wait.
Sure, there’s the option of a visit to City Hall for a very no-frills affair just to make things legal, but that feels like it’s for the sake of getting married, and not about something special to share with your family. As Ileana puts it, “Our biggest hurdle is the financial one and especially now, having a child. We want to spend our money on doing things for him.” Is there a wedding in the future for her? Absolutely. “I think there’s something inherently valuable about sharing your feelings with someone and making promises in front of all of your friends and family, and celebrating that properly,” says Ileana. But she’s happy to wait, too. “We already feel married. We’ve committed to each other a hundred and fifty percent, and we’re in this for the long haul.”
There used to be a tremendous stigma against having a child “out of wedlock.” Take a look at the soapy 1957 drama Peyton Place: one of the biggest reveals of the movie comes replete with a swelling orchestral soundtrack and a mother’s tearful confession that she was never married to her daughter’s father. Her daughter is so horrified that she leaves home, vowing never again to return. Now cut to the mega-popular Sex and the City television series, in which Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) has a child with her boyfriend and eventually marries him—and no one blinks an eye.
WAITING FOR THE RIGHT TIME
Matthew McConaughey knew what his priorities were. “I always wanted to be a father,” he said in an interview a few years ago. “It just took the right woman and the right time to make it happen.” He and Camila Alves seemed blissful with the way things were, and took their time before taking their relationship to the next level. “He’s a man—he’s my man—and we’re a family,” Alves said in an interview pre-engagement, and that sentiment is echoed by the female half of another unmarried celebrity duo, Angelina Jolie. Clearly, finances are not an issue for Jolie and her partner Brad Pitt, but they, too, seem content remaining just as they are for the time being. “We built a family,” Jolie recently told Marie Claire. “He is not just the love of my life, he is my family.”
And that’s what it seems to be all about, this decrease in marriage—the idea that there is a family without official, legally binding marital vows. First comes love, then the baby in the baby carriage, and then marriage… maybe.