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Marriage Isn’t the Only Way to Be a Family

Newlywed feminist writer Jill Filipovic says although marriage is still a “sexist institution,” it “makes you family.” Does it?

We attach a lot of meaning to marriage — love, commitment, children, financial security, etc. But does marriage make you a family? That’s what attorney, feminist writer, author and newlywed on why she changed her mind about marriage.

It was not an easy decision for her — marriage is still “a sexist institution” — but, it also offers something else, she notes:

Marriage makes you family, which was especially important to us, since neither of us particularly want children; and family means sticking together through the tough spots, and coming out with a love that is deeper and stronger for it.

As a twice married and divorced woman, I had to think about that. Did marriage make me family? Now that I’m divorced, am I no longer part of a family? And was marriage the only way to stick through rough spots and become deeper and stronger?

Clearly I have a family — the one I was born into. But I also created one with my first husband by melding his family and mine. Then I created another with my second husband — not only melding his family and mine, but also having two children with him, which added an extra layer to the idea of “family” because he and I will forever be tied together because we had children together — a much more enuring bond than a marriage license.

Families by marriage don’t always last

But here’s the thing — not all of those families lasted. I lost contact with my first husband’s family when we split and he married again (and he lost contact with mine), and I lost contact with my second husband’s family when we split although my children are still (happily) connected to them. I lost both my parents in recent years and although I have a sister, I no longer talk to her — for healthy but complicated reasons.

So my family now consists of my sons and me.

Which made me think that family can come and go, Clearly it’s not just a matter of “sticking together through the tough spots” because my former husband and I did that … until stuff happened and we couldn’t. And then the family I “had,”while friendly, wasn’t really mine anymore; it was his. And my family was no longer really his.

But even our family of origin can come and go, too. As I mention above, my parents are gone and I am estranged from my sister, so there goes my family of origin. My situation is hardly unique; there are from parents, siblings, children.

So who’s my family? Outside of my sons, my most enduring family is the one I have , many of whom I have known for 20-plus years. For whatever reason — probably because we haven’t melded money and homes, and there’s no sex to complicate things! — we have been able to maintain deep bonds and stick through the “tough spots.” We support each other — emotionally, and sometimes physically and financially.

Marriage ‘validates’ relationships

Most of us tend to prioritize romantic-sexual relationships over other types of relationships, especially if we wed; as Filipovic notes, “It’s silly that marriage is the clearest path” to how we validate a relationship and family, “but in the United States, it is.”

That’s too bad.

Interestingly, defines family a bit more broad-minded (but, sadly, not broad-minded enough to consider live apart together, LAT, couples or even long-term committed cohabitors): A family consists of two or more people (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption residing in the same housing unit.”

So it isn’t just marriage that makes a family. And as more people choose to remain single, may become more important — and perhaps even more enduring — than families of origin or by marriage.

I absolutely wish Filipovic and her new hubby, Ty McCormick, the best, and hope they are able to stick together through the tough spots, and come out with a love that is deeper and stronger for it. I’m just not convinced they — or anyone — has to tie the knot to accomplish that, or to become a family.

Want to individualize your marriage? (Of course you do!) Then read (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on .

Written by

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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