Last week a student asked me, "A real marriage or a registered partnership?" I said, "A...uh...real marriage." In the Netherlands, couples have three choices if they want to get legal about it. They can get a samenwoning contract, which literally means together living. They can get a registered partnership, which is essentially the same as a marriage. And they can get married, which, in the Netherlands, has exactly the same rights and obligations of no matter what the gender of the people getting married.
Fred and I are currently samenwoning. It's just a contract that says who pays for what, how expenses are shared, and what happens if one of us should die or if we happen to break up. Like who gets the apartment, anything regarding alimony, how long I have to move out, etc. It almost sounds sort of morbid, like a pre-nup sounds to some people, but I felt more secure after we got it. There's a fuzzy little line between being practical, clear and legal and preparing for a venture to fail, but we've sided with being practical. It's natural for both of us. The whole process of getting the contract was really enlightening with all the questions we had to ask and the minutia of the Dutch legal system that I became aware of. And we hired one of those translators who translates everything into English automatically while the notary was talking in Dutch. Sort of fascinating to watch him work. Difficult to pay attention. I had to focus on him while Fred listened to the notary.
There are a few differences between marriage and a registered partnership. I found a link explaining it at the Dutch Embassy in Washington, DC. Here's a summary of the differences:
- The conditions for entering into a registered partnership and getting married are the same.
- There are a few small differences in the form the ceremony takes. The marriage vows cannot be changed, but a couple entering into a registered partnership may decide for themselves what vows they wish to take. A marriage can only be blessed in church after the civil ceremony has taken place. This is not the case for registered partnerships.
- A marriage can only be dissolved by court. A registered partnership can be terminated by the partners themselves. Legal separation only applies to marriage, not to registered partnership.
- The rights and obligations partners have towards each other are the same in both cases.
- There are major differences in the relationship with children. In law, a child born of the marriage between a man and a woman has both spouses as its parents. This is not the case where two women or two men are married, or the couple - either same sex or different sexes - has entered into a registered partnership.
Being single and childless into my forties has kept me in a sort of extended adolescence in a way. I never had the responsibilities of kids, so I've been free to think only of me (and that someone special) for a longer time. Even now, with Fred, if we want to go to Croatia for three weeks, we just have to get someone to feed the fish and collect the mail. There are no kids to think about. We still won't have kids, but it feels really grown up. (It's so hard to explain this without sounding completely dorky.) It's not like million of people haven't done it before, but I certainly haven't.
Fred is so great. He's just a genuinely sweet and very funny guy. It's been amazing to get to know him over the past five or so years. The bi-cultural thing hasn't been a picnic, but it's been fascinating, and Fred is really supportive and loving. I can't imagine anyone I'd rather spend the rest of my life with.
The ceremony will be on September 19. It'll be a small affair, just Fred and me and our witnesses. Two of Fred's sisters will be there. Our good friend, Butch, will be here from NYC, as well as my friend Patty (who is more a part of my heart than a friend). So don't feel bad if you're not invited - you're in the majority. Fred is insistent on keeping it really small, and I agree. He's not one for the spotlight. We'll have a party later. It's much easier to mingle and refill drinks than to stand in front of a crowd and have all eyes on you.
The picture above is of a couple of figures that our friend, Butch, sent last week. Butch is good for things like that. Very thoughtful. Thanks, Butch! You can decide which is which. Neither of us wear our hair exactly like that, but we might if we had more follicles that were producing hair.
Wish me luck. We've got a lot of stuff to do in the next three months. Three months from today!