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If all goes well, Crystal Harris and Hugh Hefner will be wed tonight, New Year’s Eve.

I know what many people — perhaps even you — are thinking. She’s 26, he’s 86, and let’s not pretend that a 60-year-difference in age doesn’t mean something. For some, it means Harris is a gold-digger, for some it means Hefner’s a perv, and for some it means both. And for many, even those who don’t buy into the gold-digger/perv thing, there’s a feeling that there’s no way their marriage can be a “real” marriage, something I’ve written about beforeWhat is a real marriage

Which leads me to ask, what is a “real” marriage?

  • One in which the couple is close in age?
  • One in which the couple is on the same economic footing?
  • One in which the couple has the same goals?
  • One in which the couple desires to make a public and legal commitment?
  • All of the above?

I’m hard-pressed to put a definition on what makes a “real” marriage, but it seems others have it all figured out. Some want to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman to create a family. But not every committed couple who marries in a “public and legal” way wants to have children — is their marriage not a “real” marriage? And, some couples who marry in a “public and legal” way are unable to have a family of their own and may not have the desire and/or financial wherewithall to “create a family.” Does that somewhat diminish their marriage? I sure hope not, although it seems that childfree couples aren’t given the same respect as those of us who have kids.

People marry for many reasons besides the desire to have kids. In the work we’re doing for The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, Susan Pease Gadoua and I ask soon-to-be-married couples to check off all the reasons why they’re getting married. Often they list the same reasons, but one time the guy checked off “to have sex” as one of the reasons he wanted to get married.

When he read his reasons out loud and “sex” rolled off his lips, the look on his fiancee’s face was priceless.

“You want to marry for sex?” she asked, somewhat horrified.

He immediately got sheepish as he defended himself: “Well, they asked us to check off all the reasons, so, um, yeah …”

There’s no right or wrong answer to the question, Why are you getting married? Marriage is an agreement between two people, and that agreement — to love, honor, cherish, etc. — doesn’t include a full disclosure of why they’re marrying this person at this time with these motivations. We don’t really know why a particular couple is marrying, but we assume it’s because they love each other. But love is rarely the only reason we marry — we marry for many reasons, including sex, evidently. And, love alone is a crappy reason to get married.

So then why are we so quick to judge a marriage like Hugh Hefner’s and Crystal Harris’? It’s clear they have an agreement, even if it’s unstated, just like any other couple entering a marriage. Their agreement may not be the same as ours and we may not want to marry for the same reasons they are — and we don’t even know their reasons for marrying; we’re just judging what we think they’re marrying for! — but that doesn’t mean their marriage is any less “real” than anyone else’s.

What makes a marriage real? A number of people tackled that question on the Straight Dope’s message board. Marriage is “simply a social contract between two people and the community. That’s really all it is. The joining of two people and their lives. How they choose to interact with each other is entirely up to them. Wild monkey sex every night, or perhaps an occasional hug once a year … or just an email once in a while. Different strokes and all that,” writes one.

I think that person is pretty much spot on.

How do you define a real marriage?



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