This is not a divorce story, but marriage is not for me.
When I was growing up, I held a number of assumptions about how my adult life would be.
I would work in a large corporation, breaking balls right left and centre, casually smashing through glass ceilings — all while wearing sharply tailored suits. I’d have my own house. I would not be filling said house with children, but I would live in it with my husband. Said husband would be my best friend and partner in crime and not harbour any retro opinions of the “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” variety.
There was never any question that marriage would be a step along the great path of life. Meet the right man, fall in love, marry after a couple of years (try before you buy and all that).
It didn’t turn out like that
Needless to say, very few of my childish assumptions turned out to be accurate. I tried working in a corporate environment and hated it. I do like to wear a suit on certain occasions, but generally work at home in something a lot more comfortable. Like many people of my age or younger, spiralling real estate prices have meant that property ownership has slipped out of my grasp — perhaps forever. Bye-bye to that dream of having my own four walls! Ciao, bella, ciao!
On the other side of the ledger, in the column marked “Bang on!”: I was right about not having kids — I’m still happily childless and intending to stay that way.
And: The Other Half is the best partner I could ever have hoped for. Meeting and falling in love with him was an absolute cinch. We got in touch through an online dating agency in mid-July 2008, went on our first date a week or so later and got together properly in mid-August. I moved in with him pretty much straight away and at no point in the last 14 years have we ever (seriously) doubted that we’re in it for the long haul. It is so very rare in life for things to be this easy-peasy so I consider myself very lucky indeed.
Marriage is not for me
And yet — and YET! — we are still not married. I thought that marriage was going to be a logical, almost automatic consequence of being together and wanting to stay together?
In the time we’ve been a couple, we’ve seen our peers get hitched (and, in some cases, divorced again), settle down, buy houses, have kids and do all the normal life things that grown-ups do. We, on the other hand, are still wholly untouched by any kind of urge to tie the knot. What is going on here? Is there something wrong with “us”?
It was the pandemic with its long periods of lockdown and having almost no new topics for conversation (and maybe our approaching 40th birthdays too) which prompted us to finally face up to the marriage question. The conversation went something like this:
Me: We’re almost 40.
Him: Yes, indeed.
Me: We are not getting any younger. Our chances of dying in any given year are only going to go up.
Him: Yes, I know. Thanks for reminding me.
Me (getting back in touch with my oh-so-dry-and-boring inner lawyer): Then it would probably be a sensible idea to get married so that if something happens to one of us, the other is in a more secure legal situation. Like having a statutory entitlement to the other one’s widow’s pension.
Him: Yes, I totally agree.
Me: Let’s get married then.
Me: Do you actually want to get married?
Him: Honestly? I just can’t get excited about it.
Me: I can’t either. I just…don’t really want to.
Him: Do you still want to be with me?
Me: Yes, of course! No doubt!
Him: Then the problem is marriage and not the relationship.
Me: Yes. Say — is it acceptable to be middle-aged and still have a “boyfriend”/“girlfriend”?
Against this backdrop, I think we can all agree on two things:
1) We are not going to be winning any prizes for being the world’s most romantic couple any time soon;
2) We are absolutely on the same page in the Big Book of Meh about the subject of matrimony.
What to do?
How do we move forward here? The issue of how we structure our life together and ensure that both of us are in a secure legal position in the event of Bad Things Happening is a permanent fixture. And you don’t get those legal goodies without entering into a legally recognised union of some description.
Austrian law has now opened up the possibility of a civil partnership for heterosexual couples, which gives us an alternative to marriage. And a pretty useless alternative at that, as it comes attached to more or less identical rights and obligations as its more traditional sibling…just with the added risk that it might not be fully recognised in certain countries (and who knows where the wind will carry us?) What, actually, is the point?
All the feelz
On a purely subjective level, the civil partnership feels more “modern” and does not come with anywhere near the amount of historical baggage that marriage does. It has simply not been around for long enough for people to associate it with unappetising things like women being the chattels of their husbands, having to surrender their property upon marriage, having to gain the consent of their husbands to take on employment and other nasty little barnacles that cling onto the underbelly of HMS Misogyny.
Marriage feels weightier, more momentous and a whole lot more likely to attract the social pressure to have a wedding — a thought which neither of us can stomach. We don’t especially like going to other people’s weddings, so why in hell would we want one of our own? Nope — a quick registry office “do” and lunch afterwards with close friends would do the job nicely — and save a bunch of cash.
All of the above are valid and relevant considerations…but they are all about FEELINGS. Nowhere is there a compelling legal or factual argument for civil partnership over marriage.
As a rule, both partners keep their surnames in a civil partnership. You can do that with marriage too.
The rules for dissolving a civil partnership in Austria are more or less identical to those applicable to divorce.
Celebrations for both marriage and a civil partnership can be as decadent or as low key as you want.
The question is miles away from any kind of resolution and the discussion is going nowhere. It drives my legal brain — which longs for neat solutions and pragmatic paths forward — to distraction.
I know right now: 2023 is going to be another year of kicking marriage into the long grass…
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