By Amy Alkon
My boyfriend of eight years and I love each other to death and are very happy. Still, I'd be lying if I said it doesn't bother me that some people think we aren't in a "real" relationship because we aren't married and live separately. Is there a way to get them to respect the validity of our relationship without walking down the aisle? — Unwed
Being married does allow for some convenient social shorthand. "Meet my husband" is easier than "If I eat a bad clam and end up puking my guts out at 3 a.m., this is the man who'll be holding my hair back."
You can either rebel against convention or be accepted by the masses. Expecting to have it both ways is like running off to the jungle to live with revolutionaries and then demanding your tent be equipped with a microwave and a panini-maker.
Is it possible that in some small way, you buy into the thinking of your detractors? Like one of those Louis Vuitton handbags that cost as much as a Ford Fiesta, a husband is a status symbol for women — one that women have been psychologically primed to want. Because women always have a high potential cost from any sex act — pregnancy and a mouth to feed — we evolved to look for reliable signals that a man will commit.
The most reliable are what evolutionary psychologists call "costly signals" — those so pricey that only a man who truly loves a woman would be willing to shell out for. A diamond engagement ring is one of these, as is a man signing a contract to spend the rest of his life with one woman when it's in his genetic interest (and lots of fun!) to pursue a more McDonald's-like dream: "Billions and billions, um, serviced."
This isn't to say your unaccredited love lacks value. In fact, a marriage license is like a dog license. If you don't get your dog a license, it doesn't mean he isn't real or worthy of a head scratch. But where unmarried partnerships do fall short is in the legal protections department. Rights that come with marriage — like the right to be by your partner's bedside in the hospital — will, for the coupled but unwed, require filling out documents to get. You can have a lawyer draw these up, but my boyfriend of 11 years and I used Nolo's WillMaker Plus 2014 software, which, for about $40, has the essentials — a will, a living will, and power of attorney for health care and for finances (designating somebody to, say, pay your mortgage if you get clocked over the head and are too comatose to do it yourself).
Unfortunately, WillMaker Plus is PC-only, but the health care directive and power of attorney only ask for names and contact info of the people you're designating, so if you have a Mac, you could fill this out on a friend's PC without worrying about identity theft. As for the will, Nolo's editor suggested putting in only the most general details about your accounts and attaching a letter with the specifics.
In other words, with a little paperwork, it really is possible to not have your wedding cake and eat it, too — that is, if you can come to accept that your relationship's approval ratings will never match those of that married woman you see in the supermarket aisle screaming her husband into a small pile of ash.
Along came polygraph
My girlfriend is really insecure and gets furious that I meet my ex-girlfriend for lunch a few times a year. This ex and I broke up years ago, but I'd never cheat anyway, and I've explained that I have zero romantic interest in her. Still, she's a good friend and part of my life. How can I make my girlfriend understand? — Badgered
Some people read poetry; your girlfriend lives it: "How do I love thee? You'll soon find out — after I attach this car battery to your nipples and interrogate you about your lunch." Although your girlfriend's the one coming at you with the clamps, the truly unreasonable person in this relationship is you — dating an insecure person and then expecting her to act otherwise.
Sure, you could encourage her to build her self-esteem, but until she hits bottom — like in a breakup — she probably has no incentive to change. You need to either accept the trade-offs — the hassle, the not being trusted — or leave and get into a relationship where, as the saying goes, "love means never having to say 'I'm sorry the shackle attaching you to the basement wall is a little tight.'"
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Alkon is the author of I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle to Beat Some Manners Into Impolite Society.