August 25th, 2006

Acknowledging our Commitment

In December of 2005, Margaret and I made
a lasting commitment to each other. Approaching a year later, we
finally understand what that means well enough to explain it to
others, to ask our friends to support us and to publicly acknowledge
it. We're going to do that this December. I've decided to try and
write about this because we haven't found much to draw on when looking
for other examples of what we're trying to do. I think the world
would be a better place if people involved in non-traditional
relationships shared their experience. Then, those contemplating
doing something similar could go into the experience with more
information both about parts that worked for people and about the
risks and challenges.

So, what are we trying to do? We want to
publicly acknowledge our commitment, ask our friends to support us,
and have a celebration. Almost inevitably any discussion of this
quickly turns to what it isn't. Why is there a focus on what it
isn't? I think because there are a lot of wrong ideas that people
could come away with: they might think that Margaret and Kevin are
having trouble or that I am no longer looking for life partners. I
also think people struggle to find metaphors that allow them to
understand what we're doing in terms of something they are familiar
with. It's easy to latch on to the idea of life-long commitment and
conclude that Margaret and I are getting married. We're not. However
that does seem to be the closest metaphor, and even Margaret and I
find we're drawing from the symbology and shared understanding of
marriage. We've tried other starting points: as an example, we've
tried describing this as something closer to engagement except more
permanent. At least for me, that really didn't work. I've found
relying on marriage as a metaphor to be a bit frightening. It's
something a lot of people (including me) view as sacred. so, there's
a question of whether what we're doing is important enough to be
associated with marriage, or whether we are somehow misusing those sacred symbols.

But whatever starting point we choose to try and describe this to
people, we are doing something different so we need to help people
understand the differences between what is actually going on and the
initial starting point. Will people end up understanding the
important parts? Will they end up thinking we are crazy or freaks?
There's also the question of what to do about the people who will
inevitably think what we are doing is wrong. This ends up with a long
discussion of the positive and negative effects of social norms and
what you should think about before going against these norms. I may
come back to that in a future entry. How much energy is it reasonable
to expect people to put into understanding your confusing, complicated
non-traditional life?

Another huge question is whether people
will understand how important this is to us. One of the challenges in
putting together this event will be correctly conveying the importance
so that people will come and so that they will approach it with the
right frame of mind. However we also want them to walk away feeling
that we've done something that matches that level of importance. It
would be easier to do that if we were getting married because people have a good understanding of the importance of marriage. Even if the ceremony is casual, people understand it is important to the participants. But for the
actual event, we're going to be creating something new. We don't want
something religious. Hopefully we will come up with something that
works for us and for our friends.

I think that sets the stage for
what we're trying to accomplish and for why it is challenging and for
a lot of the questions that have been going through our minds. Don't
forget that on top of this, there is the normal event planning
questions: how much should we spend, where should we hold it, who
should be invited, how formal? At one level, I'm really happy that
I'm doing this. At another, I wonder what I've gotten myself into.