An objection needs to be made to this notion in relationships where people say they're committed and in love that they "don't need a piece of paper," i.e. marriage, to prove it.
Do you remember buying your first car?
I remember when I bought my first car as an adult. In fact, it was the Honda Civic we just sold to make room for the Accord we got for our growing family. I had that sweet Civic for about 10 years and I clearly remember all the work it took to get that car.
I had to call the Credit Union to find out if I was even worthy of a loan. Thankfully I learned that I had so-called "excellent credit" which merely meant the interest rate on the car loan was lower than it would be for other types of credit; still, it was a loan and there was interest. However, this empowered me to get a car when I didn't even own a bike and yet somehow needed a way to get to work and drive around the state in order to raise support (if you're even the least bit curious, check out this post on what I was doing 10 years ago).
The next step was to go buy the car. I had it narrowed down between a stylish, blue 4-door Dodge Neon that had a good bit of pickup. The only problem for me was that it was a Dodge Neon. I wasn't a man who knew a lot at the time, but I didn't have too many friends clamoring, banging down doors to pick up used Dodge Neons. I took that as sign toward future resale value of the car. The challenger was a trusty, beige, 2003 2-door Honda Civic that had some sweet wave graphics on the doors, which, if I bought the car, I knew I would never ever ever try to take off. Let me be honest, they were what put the car over the top and I decided to buy it (sure, the resale value was a plus too).
Then came time for me to own the car; well I guess I didn't technically own it given that the bank held the title, but it was going to be my car. I only had to take one major step. You know what that is, right? Yup, I had to sign the paperwork. The paperwork wasn't massive, but there was a feeling that came with working through all those documents and signing my name to them. I was committing to this vehicle; I was claiming it as my responsibility; I was making promises to the bank that I would be good for the loan. In short, I was formalizing my relationship.
Do you remember that feeling? Now consider this: don't most of life's significant decisions and relationships as an adult involve signing a contract, a piece of paper? Think about it. You had to sign a commitment to the college you attended. You sign a commitment for the car, whether it be buying a car or selling it and signing the title away. You sign mountains of paper when purchasing a home.
Paper is powerful. The verbal or understood agreement is formalized and made tangible through the unchanging, static document that contains your personal signature. It exists separate from the words you said yesterday, say today, and will say tomorrow. In terms of a car purchase, it exists as an emotionless reference point for when you don't feel like paying a loan back, saying, "oh well, you committed and have to pay it somehow."
And this is the confounding, challenging beauty of the piece of paper for those people who say they don't need one. When do people say that anyway? When everything is going well in the relationship, of course! Without it, when things aren't going as well, people will say that they are glad there is no paper because it was inevitably going to end anyway.
But this is why we all need to see that the most significant decisions in life, especially a committed relationship where marriage is being considered, need the piece of paper. It is the objective reminder both in good times and bad what the commitment is really about.
In an age where much of life is getting less and less formal, especially relationships, I believe we need to remember the power of paper.