Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Marriage is about the people, not the piece of paper
Marriage for kids? I just found out I'm pregnant. I'm slowly getting to be very happy about this news even though it was not, ahem, planned.
My boyfriend wants to get married before the baby comes. But is a baby the right reason to get married?
I've not always been supportive of marriage because I've seen what happens to friends when they divorce, and it wouldn't have been nearly as messy if that slip of paper was not involved and they could have just walked away.
If it helps, we're both mid to late 30s but haven't been together very long.
Carolyn: With a child, do you really think either of you will be able to "walk away"? Would you want that?
The slip of paper can be a nuisance, but it can also be an advantage.
The image I have in mind is of a decorative border fence around a garden. A foot-high frill isn't going to keep anyone in or out, but having it there is usually enough to keep adult feet on the sidewalk and out of the flowers (dogs and children will ignore it, which fits the metaphor nicely).
While my own view is that it's not necessary for a strong, committed relationship, a marriage can help a couple's mind stay focused on the commitment.
I also don't think piece of paper = mess.
Married people end marriages amicably on a regular basis, and unmarried people split messily on a regular basis. It's the people who make the messes, not the institution, and they usually do so by tuning out warning signs on their way to becoming more and more entangled.
It has been a while since I said this, so I'm glad for the chance to say it again: The No. 1 question to ask yourself before committing to a mate is, will s/he make it ugly if we break up?
If the answer is yes, run.
If you're not sure, then you don't know each other well enough yet to commit any more than you already have.
If you feel confident you're with someone decent and honorable, then that's one check in the "go for it" column — not the deciding one, but an important one.
If you're sure he wouldn't make a breakup ugly but you're deluding yourself, well, then by definition you won't be aware of this, so all I can do is urge you not to work too hard to talk yourself into anything.
Let's say he is the ugly-breakup type: Since you're already expecting a child together, you're already well past the ideal point to get away.
However, that doesn't mean it's too late to protect yourself. If nothing else, you know in time to avoid deeper entanglement and avoid agreements that assume everyone plays fair.
Forewarned, you can now look into the legalities of having and raising this baby outside of a marriage.
I didn't mean to make this all about the worst-case scenario.
The worst case simply illustrates that people make many decisions of consequence, and marry/don't marry is a big one, but not the only one.