He or she has stuck by you during your most trying times, makes chicken soup when you are sick, takes you to lots of fun events, listens and offers advice when you’re confused, gives you a shoulder to cry on when you were sad, understands you like no one else does.
Some people do — or at least say they do, although many, including me, question if that’s a good idea.
But others see the idea of marrying a best friend quite differently, as in actually marrying your best friend, not a romantic partner, regardless of his or her sex — a concept dubbed mate-rimony.
A study of singletons in the United Kingdom indicates that friends matter more than spouses:
- 4 out of 5 singles say friendships last longer than romantic relationships
- 45% of singles turn to their friends before family for emotional support
- More than one in four single people would go to their friends first if they needed money urgently, and men (31%) are more likely to do so than women (23%)
I certainly have friends whom I’ve known longer than my romantic relationships — how about you? And don’t almost all of us, especially women, share our romantic and familial woes with our friends, often before we address it with our romantic partner?
Those conducting the research predicted we’ll see more friends “tie the knot” via mate-rimony contracts to get the financial benefits of marriage. That study was two years ago, and we have yet to see anything like that be recognized (and granted, it was for an insurance company so I take it with a grain of salt). Still, I have heard of people who are not romantic partners wed just to have children with the benefits of marriage, such as a gay man and a lesbian, so who knows how popular it is? In any event, it isn’t the first time the idea of sharing benefits with friends has come up.
Many singletons make marriage pacts with their good friend — a loose “If we don’t find ‘The One’ by the time we’re 40, let’s just get married” deal. Admittedly, it would be a marriage of comfort, companionship and convenience without much — if any — passion. Well, hate to break it to you but passion rarely lasts in a long-term marriage anyway; most marriages end up being more about comfort and companionship (or resentment and contempt). Is it wrong to marry that way from the get-go — and maybe have an open marriage so you get all the comfort benefits of a long-term partnership while having all the passion of new sexual partners? In our research for The New I Do, many couples admitted they tied the knot more for companionship and financial security than passion.
The New York Times asked a similar question in a Room for Debate — why do lawmakers make such a big deal out of marriage as more of us struggle to define family. As law professor Kevin Noble Maillard states:
Legally speaking, the only way in America to recognize family is through marriage, blood or adoption. This is a problem. Not everyone can get married, and not everyone wants to…. There is no legal room for best friends forever and all the legal benefits that marriage confers. … The laws reflect our society’s awkward and narrow ways of thinking about family. If friends want to recognize each other as a committed unit, nothing is going to stop them from living together, making joint purchases, even raising children.
Family law’s focus on marriage to the exclusion of other forms of friendship can encourage people to prioritize one comprehensive domestic relationship over other relationships. Indeed, if individuals want the state to recognize their relationships with other adults, they generally must enter into a marriage or, increasingly, a relationship that mirrors marriage. That encouragement can in turn perpetuate gendered patterns of care because extensive amounts of care are expected of such relationships, and women are still more likely than men to be the primary providers of that care. Friendship, in contrast, does not consistently demand the same amount of care, in part because friendships are not presumed to be exclusive or comprehensive and in part because friendships are presumed to embrace norms of equality and autonomy over norms of domestic dependency.
In other words, why does the state care if you love and have sex with the person you live with as long as you care for each other and other people who matter to both of you — especially your children, but also parents, siblings, relatives? “Let’s take the current marital package of benefits, obligations and default rules, and let individuals choose whether to assign it to one person or to diversify,” Rosenbury says.
I admit it makes a lot of sense — what matters more is the caregiving, not the passion and sex (which come and go and often make us a bit crazy), and the kindness, appreciation and generosity friends share that is often absent in long-term marriages. Andrew Sullivan says it best when he questions why society emphasizes romantic love over friendship:
Friendship uniquely requires mutual self-knowledge and will. It takes two competent, willing people to be friends. You cannot impose a friendship on someone, although you can impose a crush, a lawsuit, or an obsession. If friendship is not reciprocated, it simply ceases to exist or, rather, it never existed in the first place. … friendship delivers what love promises but fails to provide. The contrast between the two are, in fact, many, and largely damning to love’s reputation. Where love is swift, for example, friendship is slow. Love comes quickly, as the song has it, but friendship ripens with time. … we don’t “fall in friendship.” … For friendship is based on knowledge, and love can be based on mere hope… You can love someone more than you know him, and he can be perfectly loved without being perfectly known. But the more you know a friend, the more a friend he is.
Still, the vast majority of us want sex, passion and romantic love. Maybe we just shouldn’t be raising children with those people!