Quit being 'affianced' and start getting married: It's better for the kids

Same-sex marriage: Why are we still talking about this? Of course people who love each other should be able to lawfully marry. Despite the determined efforts of our president and his supporters, this is still America. You know, the place where basic freedoms are for everybody? Denying gays the right to marry is un-American, which ought to be argument enough for anyone who isn't an oak-bottomed bigot. Duh.

But there's also a powerful practical argument for gay marriage: Marriage--of whatever flavor--is good for kids. Anything that's good for kids is good.

What brought this to mind was not a driving need to leap into the overcrowded waters of this debate, but the weirdness of it going on at a time when the institution of marriage has apparently lost its allure for vast sections of the population. I'm talking about the numberless ranks of the "affianced."

From the front page to the obits, fiancés are simply everywhere: "X, who was fatally shot Monday in an apparent gang-related incident, was 'a really sweet guy and a great dad,' according to his fiancée, Y." There seem to be all these couples out there who are neither dating, nor going steady, nor simply living together, nor married. No, they exist in a special state with a pretty French name. Never mind that they have a couple kids together--they somehow haven't gotten around to getting married. But they are affianced.

(It's interesting to track the changing meanings of words, because, oh, do they move fast. For example, just a few years ago, "inappropriate" had a precise meaning, which was something like "not suitable for this situation." Now, thanks to judgement-free psychologists and educators, it's just a five-syllable synonym for "bad," and is used to describe anything from belting a teacher to burping at the dinner table.)

Being affianced is clearly not the same thing as being engaged, which is about having enough time to plan the wedding and scrape together some household goods for two people who are going to marry. A wedding is pretty much always in the picture with an engagement. So, if we try to interpret being affianced as the same thing as being engaged, we have to believe that we are talking about exceptionally judicious, careful individuals who have yet to make up their minds about whether they are really right for each other. Even after the second kid has appeared, they're still weighing the wisdom of taking the next step.

Doesn't scan: The existence of the babies strongly implies impulsivity.

So, if having a fiancé doesn't mean you're engaged, what does it mean? Does it mean you have a boyfriend and kids and you're hoping he'll marry you, but you haven't been able to guilt him into it? And what about the rules: Is a gift of jewelry involved? Can you be affianced before the first pregnancy, or do you have to wait? Is there a time limit? Or can you still be affianced at your kids' weddings?

Without knowing the answers to any of these questions, the fact that both forms of the word "fiancé" are used almost exclusively by women leads me to think that this blessed state is either 1) a holding-pattern for unwed mothers whose boyfriends prefer not to give up the freedoms of a single male, or 2) exclusively post-mortem.

The New York Times reporters who compiled the obits for the Sept. 11 victims were embarrassed a number of times before they learned to be wary of anyone identifying herself as a fiancée of the deceased. Anyone can claim to have been engaged to anyone, and "fiancé" looks so genteel and dignified in print. So much better than "the deadbeat father of my kids."

I harp on this not because I think too many young, unmarried people have sex. (Repeat after me: Other people's sex lives are None Of My Business.) The problem is that too many of them absent-mindedly have kids--kids who will almost certainly be poor for the rest of their lives. And who, living in Arizona (The Selfish State!), are absolutely assured of crappy health care, bare-bones social services and a pathetic education.

No matter what word you wrap around all that, it's bad for the kids. And what's bad for kids is bad. Not inappropriate. Bad.

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